DxO PhotoLab 3: The Best Digital Darkroom?

DxO PhotoLab 3 Image

DxO PhotoLab 3 DEALS

No matter the software you currently use for editing and managing your RAW files, use it for long enough and you will always be itching for extra features. DxO PhotoLab 3 is one of the many RAW converters out there, with its main focus being on quality of output and lens correction. As the company also owns the long-standing and highly-regarded Nik Collection, some of these technologies have filtered through.

The software is available in two flavors, the Essential and Elite editions. However, with stiff competition from Lightroom, can DxO PhotoLab 3 check all the boxes for not just being a great RAW converter, but also an image management tool?

Interface

The Elite version owns the most features, but there is also a slight upsell in the form of the DxO FilmPack and ViewPoint 3. These additional software add-ons offer functionality such as filmic tools and corrections. The Nik Collection comes bundled with the Essential version. This is a great way to try out the software if you’re already interested in the Nik Collection, but there doesn’t seem to be a discount if you already own the full-blown version.

DxO PhotoLab 3 Image-2

One other point that will save Fuji owners some time: the software is incompatible with Fujifilm X-Trans files. Therefore, you will have to look elsewhere for your RAW conversions.

Just like any competent RAW converter, there are two main areas for image organization and for editing. The PhotoLibrary is where all the images can be browsed and filtered, while the Customize section is for all the editing. In both sections, images can be previewed in both the top and bottom of the screen, with the option to see either or none. The PhotoLibrary is not as in-depth or extensive as something like Lightroom, which means there aren’t as many organizational facilities. But at least virtual projects can be created and image folders can be viewed in linear lists.

Basic searches can be performed, as with image ratings and virtual copies. This means that if you only need basic image cataloging, PhotoLab does the job. It can’t, however, be considered a full-blown digital asset management tool if that’s your preferred way of working.

The Customize section is where all the meat and potatoes of image editing is performed. As so many of us are used to using Lightroom, it’s hard not to constantly compare. The screen layout in the Customize window follows the same formatting as Lightroom, with all the editing tabs on the right side with the histogram, image tabs at the bottom, and metadata and presets on the left. Each section of the screen can be dragged around and resized, depending on your own working preferences.

One of the nice features here is that the program automatically detects the camera and lens, performing basic corrections on distortion, chromatic aberration, edge softness, and vignetting. Basic lighting corrections are also applied via the Smart Lighting options, which can be manually adjusted if need be. Once a preset is applied this is the most automatic way of working, but you will soon want to dig into the manual controls on the right-hand side of the screen.

DxO PhotoLab 3 Image-1

Each panel section can open up sub-panels, which can clutter up the view quite quickly. Therefore, it’s a good idea to close every main panel after use and be aware that the same tool may be in more than one place. Global adjustments are as easy to set in place as with Lightroom, but the real power comes with the local adjustment tools. This is where the Elite version comes into play, with familiar brushes, gradients, and radial filters, while also pulling some of the functionality from the Nik Collection.

The U-point technology is a bit strange to use at first, as it provides individual sliders for adjusting things like tone in a certain area. Control points are used and once you get into this method of working, the process becomes very quick and intuitive. The full array of tweaks can be performed to the likes of exposure, contrast, and sharpness.

DxO PhotoLab 3 in Use

Just like any other RAW processor, image editing is nondestructive in PhotoLab 3, with all the changes stored in metadata. After processing, images can be exported in a variety of formats, with options to save output settings. This latest version also brings the much-needed ColorWheel, with enhancements to color adjustments and management of local adjustment masks.

For anyone who likes to color grade in their RAW software, ColorWheel is a great way to select a color palette for global or local adjustments. The Repair tool can now more easily identify the source, while there is a new Clone tool which more seamlessly heals an area of an image.

All the drop-down menus and sub-items can get complicated quite quickly. But if you are already familiar with one of the more popular RAW editors, it’s a straightforward process to apply your own workflow. All the essential tools are included, while also being enhanced with Geometry, Viewpoint, and the FilmPack, which is a wonderful way to produce a filmic look.

Can It Replace Lightroom?

Adobe Lightroom is arguably the most popular contender in this market, not just because of its image management features, but also because of its seamless linkup with Photoshop. On paper, Lightroom has similar editing tools, with lens profile corrections and the ability to use presets. However, the tools in DxO PhotoLab 3 feel more in-depth and fine-tuned. But then, Lightroom has a better image management system. There are also other options on the market such as Luminar and On1.

One of the conditions of Lightroom ownership is a subscription payment system, while PhotoLab is a one-off price. Therefore, it’s a good idea to try out both pieces of software before you commit.

 DxO PhotoLab 3Adobe Lightroom
Image ManagementYesYes
Output File TypesTIFF, JPEG, PNGTIFF, JPEG, PNG
Image Editing ToolsYesYes
Camera SupportNot FujifilmAll camera types
Preset SupportYesYes

Quality Is the Focus of DxO PhotoLab 3

It’s not all plain sailing for DxO PhotoLab 3, especially for Fujifilm owners (though there is support for the Fujifilm GFX 100). The Elite edition has all the fun features and you’ll need to buy a few extra programs for full functionality. However, as a RAW editor, the tools are fantastic and the lens correction and noise reduction facilities are second to none.

The global and local adjustment tools are very precise and also reasonably quick until you utilize heavy noise reduction with tons of adjustments. In other words, from the quality of output, PhotoLab is a fantastic choice. If you don’t mind its more basic image management tools, you get on with it just fine. But if you need more extensive cataloging features, there are other tools on the market that do a better job.

However, all being said, if the quality of output is your primary goal, PhotoLab is an excellent RAW editor. That’s if you don’t mind its particular quirks, complex nature, and price point.

The Review

DxO PhotoLab 3

9
DxO PhotoLab 3 is a professional-level RAW editor, with excellent tools and features. The image management facilities may not be as extensive as the rest, but the quality of image output more than makes up for things.

Pros

  • Image output
  • Editing tools
  • Noise reduction

Cons

  • Very limited Fujifilm support
  • Complex
  • Price point

DxO PhotoLab 3 DEALS

Review Breakdown

Design

Performance

Tools

Features

Price

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