Tuesday, November 1, 2005

DxO Optics Pro 3.0 is a must for RAW photographers


By James Booth

As many of you know, high-end digital cameras shoot in a format called RAW. In essence, RAW is the "raw" data from the image sensor, before it has been processed and converted into a more familiar format, such as JPG. For more information on the RAW image format, checkout John Roling's article "A RAW deal" in the May 2005 issue of Connected Photographer Magazine, http://www.connectedphotographer.com/issues/issue200505/00001529001.html.

In order to make any use of these RAW files, you need a RAW converter. In most cases, the manufacturer of your camera will supply the conversion program with your camera. But horror of horrors, some camera makers actually make you buy the RAW converter for their camera. And like many other industries, third party manufacturers have produced their own RAW converters, including features the camera makers don't.

In this article, I'll be looking at DxO Optics Pro v3.0, a third party RAW converter that packs a complete darkroom's worth of features into one program. The RAW converters supplied with cameras are, of course, camera specific, and the other third party converters can be used with any camera that produces RAW files, but DxO Optics Pro strays from both of these formulas.

Let's go pro

Although it was created to work with pretty much any digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) that produces RAW files, Optics Pro is not only camera, but also lens specific. During the setup process, DxO will ask for the camera and lens you use, and will load the specific module for that combination. Should you change camera or lens, you can download additional modules. The purpose in having camera/lens-specific modules is that Optics Pro corrects for the aberration inherent in every lens, something I have yet to find in any other converter.

As you can see in Figure A, Optics Pro displays your loaded RAW files as thumbnails, letting you process individual, or whole batches.


Load your RAW files as thumbnails to begin your workflow. (click for larger image)

From the workspace, you can add and remove images, rotate your images, and flag images to specifically NOT be processed. The real magic is done in the image-editing screen shown in Figure B, where the exposure controls appear.


Tweak your images in the editing screen. (click for larger image)

When it comes to correcting your images, Optics Pro offers three levels of interaction: fully automatic, key controls, and expert. Fully automatic is as you would expect, automatic. Optics Pro will apply all of the corrective measures it feels are appropriate for each image. The Key Controls option in Figure C gives you access to the most essential control features (white balance, exposure, histogram), yet remains easy to operate for those who are new to image correction.


The Key Controls are a happy medium those new to image correction. (click for larger image)