Operating system: OS X 10.12 (Sierra) and above /Windows 7 (64-bit) with Service Pack 1 and above
Cost: From £99
DxO is best known for its highly-regarded Raw optical and noise correction tools, but with the launch of PhotoLab 2 it’s soon to be known as one of the most powerful Raw image editing packages, holding strong against competitors such as Adobe Lightroom, Capture One Pro and Skylum Luminar. With unique features that take it above and beyond basic Raw processing, let’s take a look at what makes PhotoLab 2 a worthy consideration for your editing workflow.
While the name PhotoLab may not be familiar, the software is the natural evolution of DxO Optics Pro and features a number of upgrades that make it a more well-rounded option for image cataloguing and Raw processing. PhotoLab 2 is available in two flavours: Essential, which costs £99; and Elite that’s a little more expensive at £159. And makes the perfect accompaniment to DxO’s new and improved Nik Collection 2 plug-ins, which will be reviewed in our September 2019 issue.
The software is also a one-off payment with no subscription, which may appeal to photographers unhappy with Adobe’s subscription-based model. A free 30-day trial of the Elite version is available with no restrictions in features so you can fully try the software before committing.
When you open images in PhotoLab 2, one of the first things you’ll notice is that the software will scan your images and offer profile downloads for the camera and lens combinations used to take the images. Then, when you open an image in the Customize tab, a number of corrective adjustments are applied automatically that include lens corrections, noise removal, haze removal, sharpening and tonal improvements. These can be left in place, increased or switched off with additional manual controls available for processing your images.
The powerhouse behind all this is its Prime technology, which makes light work of getting images to look their best. DxO Prime Denoising technology reduces chroma and luminance noise in high ISO shots to reveal more detail and sharpness. DxO ClearView removes haze from images and works well, but like Dehaze in Lightroom, it has to be used sparingly to avoid adding too much contrast to images. SmartLighting reveals detail in dark and light areas of images with the ability to adjust the effect manually. Local adjustments are possible using U-Point technology and are a new feature that has been integrated into the software since DxO’s acquisition of the Nik Collection.
Alongside these control points are also an adjustment Brush and Graduated filter, which allow you to control the look of specific parts of images. Plus, the Repair tool intelligently helps you to remove dust spots and small unwanted elements.
Performance and ease of use
The PhotoLab 2 interface is simple and clear, with strong similarities to other Raw editing software so there will be no surprises. The software is divided into two sections: PhotoLibrary and Customize. PhotoLibrary is used for browsing image folders, selecting images, organising images into projects and using the new search tool to locate pictures. The latter is crude and while it works more selectively when searching for camera settings, lens or dates, searching for folder keywords often doesn’t work. A file tree on the left of the interface allows you to select folders but the downside is that it includes your entire computer, rather than allowing you to ‘load’ specific folders into the software to keep things simple. It’s certainly not a deal breaker and once you’re in your main image folders it’s easy to find what you’re looking for.
Customize, as the name suggests, is where you process your Raw images manually or by using built-in or personally-created presets. At first glance the adjustments panel appears more complicated than Lightroom, for instance, but it’s actually very intuitive.
Between the automatically applied settings, local adjustments and standard global adjustments, it’s quick and easy to process images. With little work, images can be made to look their best and the Prime technology that lies behind the lens corrections and noise reduction is very selective indeed.
As well as the new Nik Collection, PhotoLab 2 is compatible with the DxO FilmPack and ViewPoint plug-ins that allow you to apply analogue film effects and correct complex perspective issues in your images, but these are of course an additional purchase.