by Ian Burley
A brief introduction to DxO Optics Pro
Optics Pro is a pretty remarkable RAW image processing package from the French company, DxO Labs. Although they are best known among photographers for the Optics Pro package, they also provide sophisticated digital camera and optical test platforms for the camera industry, and for photography journals like us here at Four Thirds User. Indeed, the company's expertise lies at the heart of many camera phones currently on the market, for example. Another side to a related company is the development of systems for detecting if a swimmer is in life-threatening difficulties in swimming pools; a project that has already saved lives.
Another interesting offering DxO makes is its DxOMark RAW file rating and comparison database. It's well worth a look if you are interested in relative camera performance, though it has to be said that some of the data in the DxOMark database is controversial.
DxO for Olympus E-System users for the first time
Olympus E-System users may not have paid much attention to DxO Optics Pro because it's a camera-specific product that has not, until this week, with the introduction of DxO Optics Pro 6, supported E-System cameras and lenses. Knowing, as I do, what users of Optics Pro achieve with this software in conjunction with other cameras brands, I'm very excited about the news of E-System support; it's something I have been lobbying both Olympus and DxO to deliver for several years.
This article is not a review of Optics Pro 6, but I hope that it will give you a taste for what Optics Pro aims to do and why it's different from your average RAW image processor.
Before distortion correction (above) and after correction (below). This was taken using a Zuiko Digital 12-60mm SWD lens. @12mm, and is the full frame area. The laptop screen pictured has a 12 inch diagonal. I adjusted the correction to 90% of the full correction power as the 100% setting exhibited what looked like a slight pincushion effect, although this may have been a trick of the eye. Note that the correction is automated and based on a real world profile of the lens characteristics built by rigorous testing of the lens in the DxO lab. In addition, falling verticals can be manually corrected via a key-stone correction option.
What's different about Optics Pro?
DxO Optics pro is a RAW conversion tool with a difference. DxO bases its RAW conversion engine on real world data derived from testing and profiling combinations of specific camera bodies and lenses. This enables a high degree of automation to be possible. As the system knows the nature of imperfections to be tackled, based on actual hardware profiles, it means precisely targeted corrections can be applied - automatically. As long as you use a supported combination of camera body and lens, Optics Pro is very effective at managing noise, chromatic aberration, vignetting, sharpening, and optical distortion, among other parameters, without any user-adjustment required. A batch processing system is provided for processing a large number of files. Although automatic corrections make Optics Pro stand out, there are plenty of options for manual fine tuning .
Below is an example of an Olympus E-3 ISO 3200 RAW file processed using Optics Pro 6. The first image is a re-sized, but otherwise unaltered camera JPEG. Its white balance is too warn, there is a lot of both luminance and colour noise, and there is subdued detail in both the shadows and the highlights.
You can download the original E-3 RAW file to take a closer look yourself. Also, you can click on either image to download a full-size JPEG file.
Above, before processing with DxO Optics Pro 6 and, below, after. The only manual intervention I made was to use the eye-dropper tool to select a grey point for white balance adjustment.
Noise, colour accuracy and colour balance, contrast and sharpness are all considerably improved. There is more detail in the dark areas of the picture, without sacrificing the lighter areas. In a matter of seconds Optics Pro 6 has produced a result that would have taken me much longer using a more conventional RAW processing tool.
DxO are not arrogant, and certainly don't pretend that they can compete with the likes of Adobe and the slick and fast user interface of Photoshop Lightroom, for example. So DxO have engineered a plug-in that enables the two applications to be used side by side. Optics Pro 6 is now more closely integrated to Lightroom than before and I will be exploring this aspect of the new release later.
Supported E-System camera bodies and Zuiko Digital lens combinations
Below is a table of supported E-System lens and camera body combinations at the time of writing. I am hopefully that DxO will fill the gaps indicated by the red 'x' entries in the future, and add more lenses and bodies, too, although it's probably not very likely that models prior to the E-410 and E-510 will be supported for market reasons.
Finally, there are two versions of Optics Pro; Standard and Elite. Functionally, they are practically identical, though some camera bodies are only supported by the more expensive Elite version of the software. For Olympus users, that means the E-3. All the more expensive professional-spec. camera bodies DxO supports are designated 'Elite' category. I guess that the number of users of these more exclusive cameras is smaller than the mid-range and budget models, so DxO needs to charge more to recover its considerable costs in testing and profiling hundreds of combinations of camera body and lens.
A one month trial copy of Optics Pro can be downloaded from DxO's website. If your camera and lenses are supported, I highly recommend you make use of this facility.
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