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DxO PhotoLab 6 review: A powerful alternative to Adobe’s editing suite

DxO PhotoLab 6 shown in its PhotoLibrary mode, where you can view, browse, search, tag and label your creations. You can also apply presets and export final versions from each thumbnail’s right-click menu.

It’s been five years now since DxO relaunched its long-running Optics Pro Raw editor under a brand-new name, DxO PhotoLab. One of the strongest rivals to Adobe Lightroom, PhotoLab is available for both Windows and macOS, and has long been a favorite of ours thanks both to its automated lens/exposure corrections and its powerful – arguably, class-leading – DeepPRIME denoising engine.

It’s likewise been a couple of years since last we looked at PhotoLab 4, so before we introduce the new PhotoLab 6, perhaps a little catchup is in order. In the intervening version 5, PhotoLab finally received support for Fujifilm X-Trans cameras, answering the pleas of the Fujifilm faithful. It also took on the clever U-Point local editing tech that DxO first inherited when it bought Google’s Nik Collection suite, and offered better image management tools to boot.

Now here comes PhotoLab 6, yet another major release from the French company to see us through the next year, and this one promises to be more capable than ever. Updates include an uprated version of the DeepPRIME engine, a more powerful retouching tool, integration of keystoning features from DxO ViewPoint, a new internal color space called DxO Wide Gamut, tools for soft-proofing your creations prior to printing, and a raft of minor enhancements to image management, cropping and more.

Key features

  • Comprehensive image management and editing features
  • Accepts raw files from 500+ different camera models
  • Automatically corrects lens defects for thousands of lens/body combinations
  • Allows both global and local editing
  • Very approachable interface, given the number of tools on offer
  • Excellent image quality with good performance
  • No subscription necessary

DxO PhotoLab 6 is available immediately for both Windows and macOS systems, with a choice of two different versions. The base PhotoLab 6 Essential is priced at $139 for new users or $75 if upgrading from PhotoLab 4 or 5. The flagship PhotoLab 6 Elite – which you’ll need if you want access to the new DeepPRIME, retouching and keystoning tools – is priced at $219 for new users or $99 if upgrading.

Getting to know DxO PhotoLab 6

Given the scope of PhotoLab 6, I won’t be attempting to cover every feature in the program in the interests of readability. For those of you who’re not already familiar with PhotoLab, though, we’ll start with the nutshell tour of its capabilities, as well as a few shortcomings versus the competition. At the same time, we’ll consider the differences between PhotoLab’s two differently-priced editions.

Although it started life primarily as a Raw editor, PhotoLab has grown to encompass photo library management features as well. You can use it to rate, color-label or keyword your images, view their metadata and make prints. And while you can’t import batches of photos – PhotoLab just browses your existing directory structure – you can nevertheless group collections of images together as projects or project groups, even if they’re stored across multiple locations.

DxO PhotoLab 6 in Customize mode, where you’ll be doing the bulk of your editing. To make finding tools easier you can either search by keyword, or you can filter by category and whether the tool is active or not.

PhotoLab’s editing features are comprehensive, offering a wide range of global and localized adjustment tools. These are grouped quite logically in six different categories, and you can not only search for individual tools by name or functionality, but also filter by favorites or by whether a tool is currently active.

The most important of these tools – such as lens, exposure and color corrections – can be applied entirely automatically, giving you good results with almost no effort. A healthy selection of presets are also provided for artistic effect, and you’re shown thumbnail previews for each so you know exactly what to expect.

Essential edition users will miss out on some of the best bits

It’s important to note, though, that some of the most useful tools in PhotoLab 6 are to be found only in the more expensive Elite version. You can find a full list of differences versus the Essential edition or prior PhotoLab versions on DxO’s website, but we’ll note the key feature differences here.

Image quality comparison: Here we’re looking at image quality versus Adobe Lightroom 12 at both programs’ defaults and with lens corrections enabled. Click here for the full-sized shot from Lightroom, and here for the PhotoLab 6 version.

The lower-priced Essential edition lacks both the DeepPRIME/DeepPRIME XD denoising algorithms and ClearView Plus haze correction. And in a showstopper for most Fujifilm shooters, it also lacks support for X-Trans Raw files.

You’ll also lose the built-in keystoning corrections of PhotoLab 6 Elite, although if you own DxO ViewPoint it will integrate with the Essential edition, giving you these and several other tools regardless.

As for what’s missing versus the competition, the most notable shortcoming of PhotoLab is that it only supports single-shot photography. Multi-shot techniques like panoramic stitching, focus stacking and HDR aren’t supported by PhotoLab, so you’ll need to use it in parallel with another application if you need these capabilities.

No Denoising HQ noise Reduction PRIME noise reduction DeepPRIME noise reduction DeepPRIME XD noise reduction

PhotoLab also doesn’t directly support camera tethering, although if your camera has its own tethering software you can easily have DxO PhotoLab monitor a folder for new images as they’re shot. There’s also no way to view geotagged images on a map, nor to have your images keyworded automatically based on their subjects, nor to create slideshows or web galleries.

More powerful (but still not perfect) noise reduction with DeepPRIME XD

DxO’s DeepPRIME noise reduction was already among the best in the business, but for PhotoLab 6 Elite it’s been uprated once more with the new DeepPRIME XD. The earlier algorithm remains available should you prefer it for a given shot, as do the earlier HQ and PRIME denoising algorithms (these last two are the only options for Essential edition owners).

Like the PRIME and DeepPRIME tools before it, DeepPRIME XD can’t be previewed on your full image as it requires too much processor time. Instead, you get a small, movable 100% crop in the right panel in which to see your adjustments.

To be clear, the difference between the already-capable DeepPRIME and DeepPRIME XD isn’t exactly night and day. But if you’re viewing your photos up close the improvement can still be quite noticeable, with the XD variant delivering crisper detail and less noise. The difference is especially noticeable in bokeh or deeper shadows.

As with DeepPRIME before it, DeepPRIME XD’s improvements come courtesy of AI algorithms. While these mostly do an impressive job even at their default settings, they can sometimes introduce unwanted artifacts. And with DeepPRIME XD’s results being crisper than those from the non-XD algorithms, those artifacts can be even more noticeable when examining results up close.

DeepPRIME vs. DeepPRIME XD: The new denoising algorithm yields even cleaner results, but can make artifacts all the more noticeable in the process. Click here for the full-sized DeepPRIME image, and here for the DeepPRIME XD image.

It’s in repeating patterns where you’re most likely to spot these defects. For example, in the crops above, it’s easy for the human eye to notice the entire rows of bricks that have seemingly merged to become one, as the algorithm couldn’t recreate the repeating pattern in the brickwork. And below, the fine latticework is marred by spurious invented ‘detail’ in the holes.

Hopefully future versions of DeepPRIME will address these occasional shortcomings, because otherwise it’s pretty astounding what these algorithms can manage even with extremely noisy shots. Even as is, with DeepPRIME XD you’ll be able to get usable results at far higher sensitivities than you’d normally consider shooting.

DeepPRIME vs. DeepPRIME XD: Note the spurious ‘detail’ invented by the algorithms inside the gaps in the latticework. Click here for the full-sized DeepPRIME image, and here for the DeepPRIME XD image.

Vastly improved cloning

DxO has also revisited its cloning tools in PhotoLab 6, with its ReTouch tool being much more versatile than PhotoLab 5’s Repair tool.

As before, you can brush over an object you want to remove from the scene, and PhotoLab will attempt to fill the hole with data chosen to match the surrounding area. But now you get more control than just choosing where to clone from. For one thing, you can now change your selection after the fact, adding to or subtracting from it with a simple brush stroke, and adjusting the feathering/opacity.

ReTouch tool comparison: The ability to mirror your source selection is particularly useful for shots like this one, where I borrowed from one side of the cockpit to patch a distraction on the opposite side. Click here for a full-sized before shot, and here for a corrected one.

You can also rescale, rotate or even mirror the source selection, which can make it much easier to fill holes without leaving noticeable repetitions. For example, in the aircraft cockpit image below, I cloned an area from the right side of the image, mirroring it to cover up some distractions on the left side of the cockpit.

Much, much more complex cloning operations are possible with a little effort. Below, you can see that I’ve cloned out an entire person from the shot while recreating the bridge and buildings they’d obscured; this took just a couple of minutes’ work.

ReTouch tool comparison: Here I’ve removed an entire person and cloned in a plausible-looking fake building front and wall behind them. It can be tough to avoid some luminance and hue shifts like those in the wall, though. Click here for a full-sized before shot, and here for a corrected one.

My results here aren’t perfect – the cloned wall in the foreground has picked up a slight tint, and there’s a bright spot on the front of the recreated building – but it’s an extreme example and one that’s still easily good enough to pass a cursory examination.

One improvement I’d like to see in the future is a way to visually connect the source and target areas when zoomed in. Especially when mirroring your selection, it’s likely that your source and target will be at opposite sides of the image. What’s wanted is either a way to split the screen so both can be seen at once, or perhaps to overlay a ghost of the target onto the source while it’s being moved.

The ReTouch tool’s ability to transform, rotate and mirror selections is very handy. Here, I’ve cloned a section from the right of the cockpit to cover a distraction at frame left.

Built-in keystoning for Elite users, and ViewPoint integrates nicely too

PhotoLab 6 now includes built-in tools for correcting keystoning, but they’re available only in the Elite version. If the tool seems familiar, that’s because it has existed for years now via the separate DxO ViewPoint app, which integrates with PhotoLab if installed. But now, Elite users can correct keystoning without needing to spend the extra for ViewPoint.

The ReShape tool now allows hand correction of local distortions. You can manually control the grid size and select/move multiple points at once. Note that the tool comes with the separately-purchased ViewPoint 4, which seamlessly integrates into PhotoLab 6.

Of course, if you do own ViewPoint it will still integrate itself, even into PhotoLab 6 Essential. Doing so will give you access not only to the keystoning corrections but also to ViewPoint’s other tools like anamorphosis correction and tilt/shift-like miniature effects.

New to ViewPoint’s roster of tools – and thus PhotoLab’s if the two are installed side-by-side – is a ReShape tool which divides your image into a user-controlled grid, then lets you distort the image locally by moving points on the grid.

ReShape tool comparison: In just a few seconds, I’ve subtly straightened the wheelhouse and smokestacks of the boat, and squared up the bollard on the right. Click here for a full-sized before shot, and here for a corrected one.

You’re stuck with the grid size you choose at the start of the operation, but you can select and move points en masse, making it easier to work with a more fine-grained grid. In my example above, I’ve adjusted the grid to make the ship’s bridge and smokestacks stand straighter, and to straighten the bollard.

Minor tweaks: a new internal color space, soft proofing, and more

PhotoLab 6 has some other changes, too, albeit not as easily-demonstated as DeepPRIME XD, ReTouch and ReShape. Firstly, the program uses a new color space called DxO Wide Gamut internally. (The legacy color space of previous versions remains available, predominantly for use with images you’ve already edited.) The new color space has a wider gamut than Adobe RGB, and in concert with a wide-gamut monitor can help avoid clipping of highly saturated areas. Its effects can also be felt in the haze-busting ClearView Plus tool, which can make use of the added color data to produce better results.

DxO Wide Gamut comparison: The effect of processing in the new color space is most noticeable in deeply saturated colors like the red tomatoes. Note we’re looking at sRGB-processed output for the web here, though. Click here for a shot processed in the Classic (Legacy) color space, and here for one from the DxO Wide Gamut space.

Also new is a soft proofing mode which helps you match the look of images on-screen to those you’ll see in your final prints. DxO has also added the ability to color label your images for organization.

The program now surfaces more EXIF and IPTC metadata fields, making it easier to locate the shots you want based on their capture info and tags. And the crop tool has now been improved to allow for rotation during the cropping process without first needing to switch to a different tool.

Image quality comparison: Here we’re looking at image quality versus Adobe Lightroom 12 at both programs’ defaults and with lens corrections enabled. Click here for the full-sized shot from Lightroom, and here for the PhotoLab 6 version.

Conclusion

DxO PhotoLab has long been one of the primary competitors for Adobe Lightroom. It continues to offer consistently excellent image quality and a vast array of automatic and manual controls to get the look you’re after. And with its new release it’s even more capable than before.

Its primary shortcoming versus Lightroom continues to be the absence of any support for multi-shot techniques like panoramas, HDR and focus stacking. That’s something we’d really like to see addressed in the next major release, as it would be much easier to recommend over Lightroom were those features available.

But realistically, most of us won’t be using multi-shot techniques on more than a small fraction of our shots. And even when those edge cases arise, you could use a free or payware third-party app to fill the gap.

For the majority of your shots, PhotoLab will give you results that are just as good as – if not noticeably better than – those from Lightroom. And it makes good results exceptionally easy to obtain, as the automatic algorithms are reliable enough to do the bulk of the heavy lifting for you.

Image quality comparison: Here we’re looking at image quality versus Adobe Lightroom 12 at both programs’ defaults and with lens corrections enabled. Click here for the full-sized shot from Lightroom, and here for the PhotoLab 6 version.

Our biggest concern with PhotoLab 6 is that it feels like too much is being held back from customers of the Essential edition. The base level really doesn’t offer a huge amount of improvement over its prior release given that you’ll be paying only a quarter less than upgrading Elite users.

On the one hand, we can understand DxO’s need to push users to reach deeper into their wallets. But on the other hand, it feels a wee bit unfair to require Fujifilm users in particular to pay nearly twice as much to be able to process their Raw files.

Still, it’s worth noting that there are no ongoing subscriptions here. Within less than two years of purchase, even the more expensive PhotoLab 6 Elite edition will end up costing you less than an ongoing subscription to Lightroom alone. And it will do so while giving you Adobe-beating noise reduction and all-around excellent image quality.

While we’d like to see a bit more on the table for Essential edition users – and we really want to see multi-shot imaging added to the mix – we can nevertheless give DxO PhotoLab 6 a high recommendation.

What we like What we don’t
  • A generous selection of image management and editing tools
  • Approachable and logical user interface
  • Excellent camera and lens support
  • Out-of-the-box image quality that rivals or betters Lightroom
  • Accurate, automatic lens corrections based on real-world testing
  • Generous selection of presets make it easy to get quick results
  • Good performance overall
  • DeepPRIME XD gives even cleaner images than ever
  • ReTouch tool’s transformations make it much more useful
  • Integrates nicely with ViewPoint if installed
  • No subscription needed
  • Essential edition misses out on some of the biggest and best features
  • No multi-shot techniques like panoramas, HDR or focus stacking
  • No tethering or geolocation
  • DeepPRIME XD can’t detect and regenerate recurring patterns like brickwork, and emphasizes artifacts more than DeepPRIME
  • Cloning from opposite sides of an image with ReTouch can be tricky to do accurately


Author:
Mike Tomkins
Source: Dpreview

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