Review: DxO PhotoLab adds Control Points
DxO acquired the Nik collection of software from Google in 2017, and photographers have been anxiously awaiting updates. So far what’s been delivered is a rebranding of DxO OpticsPro to DxO PhotoLab and the incorporation of easy-to-apply local adjustments, including Nik-developed Control Points.
Forgoing the meticulous selecting and masking often required for local adjustments, in DxO PhotoLab 1.1 you simply click to set a Control Point in the area you want to adjust. U Point Technology incorporated in the Control Point analyzes luminosity, contrast, and color, and applies your correction to the pixels with those characteristics in the area you targeted.
Sliders control over 10 image adjustments with raw images: exposure, contrast, microcontrast, ClearView, vibrancy, saturation, color temperature, tint, sharpness, and blur. In DxO-speak these are called the “Equalizer.”
To take advantage of the U Point Technology select the Local Adjustments tab in the Customize module. Right-click an area outside the region you'll be working on, which opens a radial menu. Control Point activation is the uppermost wedge of the circle. Other new tools include auto mask, an eraser brush, new mask, reset, a masking brush, and a graduated filter. The Equalizer is incorporated into the control point, auto mask, masking brush, and graduated filter options.
Control Point is the most impressive of the local adjustments. With the Control Point active, click where you want to adjust. You'll get a circle you can enlarge or reduce to cover the region of interest. The software analyzes the image information under the click point and the Equalizer sliders appear. Moving a slider up or down applies the adjustment to pixels similar to those under the selected area. Moving the mouse side to side allows you to set the adjustment precisely. It is astonishing how well this works. Other pixels in the circle are miraculously unaffected.
The number of control points you can add to an image seems limitless; you can add a control point inside another control point. With a cmd/ctrl + click you can add a control point that protects a region from adjustment, even within another control point. If the region you need to adjust is too large for a single control point circle, click on a similar area, adjust the circle size, and the previous settings are applied. Control points work so well and are so easy to apply I use them constantly to adjust the color temperature and soften skin in portraits, especially where there are multiple faces. Multiple control points allow you to adjust the background in a portrait without affecting the hair as long as there is sufficient contrast between the two.
The other local adjustments are equally useful. The Auto Mask uses edge detection to create a mask along a well defined edge between two regions. The inner circle of the brush detects the image pixel information that you want to mask while the outer circle performs edge detection that prevents pixels under it from being masked. It isn’t necessary to use a lot of care when brushing on a mask. It may look like you’re covering too much of the region that you don’t want masked, but when you apply adjustments with the Equalizer, they only apply to the regions that were beneath the inner circle. Auto Mask works great for adjusting the sky in landscape photos where there’s a distinct edge between the horizon and the sky. I had less luck using it with portraits.
The Graduated Filter local adjustment is also quite useful for adjusting skies, although the feather can encroach into areas where the adjustment is not wanted. In general I would have preferred more control over the feathering with the local adjustment tools, other than Control Point, to make the selections more precise.
The other tools in the local adjustments radial menu, the erase brush and masking brush, function the same as these tools would in other imaging programs. The reset wedge resets the active local adjustment. There is also a reset icon in the menu bar that resets all of the local adjustments.
While local adjustments with U Point technology are the big news in DxO PhotoLab, there is a smattering of other added improvements. The Repair tool is rebuilt from the ground up to provide faster more accurate results when spotting dust and small defects. Its size is not adjustable, but some control is provided by zooming to different magnifications.
The balance of DxO PhotoLab 1.1 remains the same as DxO OpticsPro despite the new name. There are two modules: Organize and Customize. The Organize module is not a digital asset manager, although you can set tags and ratings in it. As with Adobe Bridge, the Organizer utilizes your existing file structure. When you bring an image file into the Customize module, PhotoLab automatically applies an image adjustment by reading the camera/lens combination from the EXIF data, finding that information in its database of 40,000 camera and lens adjustments, and applying it to the image. If the camera/lens combination is not available on your computer, PhotoLab prompts you to download it. Often times, this is as much adjustment as your image needs.
Should you decide to further refine your image, the necessary global tools are available in the right panel of the Customize module. And now thanks to the Local Adjustments tab in version 1.1, you can apply 10 adjustments locally. What you cannot do in DxO PhotoLab are compositing, HDR, and panorama assembly. As with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Capture One, DxO PhotoLab is best utilized as a raw file processor for a single or a group of similar images.
DxO PhotoLab, like OpticsPro, is available in two editions: Essential and Elite. Both include Lightroom plug-ins, but the Elite edition includes DxO ClearView image enhancement and Prime noise reduction. The Essential version is available for $99 and the Elite for $199. Both allow installation on a combination of up to five Mac or Windows computers.
With the release of DxO PhotoLab 1.1, you will have a difficult time deciding between it, Lightroom, and Capture One for your raw file processing needs.
Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, California, specializing in still life and macro photography.