In the Cold War, the U.S. and Soviet Union famously competed over the size and lethality of their nuclear arsenals. Digital camera makers are engaged in their own arms race of sorts over increasing ISO levels. And while this competition doesn’t put life at risk (probably), it does pose a risk to image quality as image noise remains a continuing threat.
DxO’s cadre of computer geeks have calibrated over 3,000 cameras and lenses for OpticsPro 11 to ensure that photographers can use the editing app not only to purge their images of noise, but to process and enhance RAW photos quickly and effectively.
Now on version 11, OpticsPro has a faster PRIME denoising engine and sliders that, according to DxO, are twice as responsive as the earlier build. There’s a new spot-weighted option for its Smart Lighting tool, which automatically finds faces in an image and adjusts the lighting to accentuate them. With the tool, you can also manually select faces if they’re turned sideways or aren’t picked up automatically. You’ll also find a new automated red eye removal tool and a micro contrast tool to enhance fine details.
The program now supports a full-screen display mode, an extended white balance range and new keyboard shortcuts.
Unlike other programs that start you off with a blank slate, OpticsPro automatically generates an image that’s auto-corrected by its algorithm. This initial automatic correction hits very close to the mark. However, the camera/lens profiles that power these corrections aren’t automatically downloaded when you buy the program, so you’ll be prompted to download them whenever the software encounters a new combination. (The modules are free, however.) The process is quick and very up-to-date and OpticsPro won’t need to restart after the module has been added.
You’ll have the option to view an uncorrected image side-by-side with the program’s quick fix and have ample control to further tweak the image if you want to make changes. You can make edits to exposure, color, white balance and even apply image presets.
We tested OpticsPro with high ISO files from Nikon’s D5 and D500, two cameras that have pushed sensitivity to heretofore unimaginable levels. We ran test exports in DxO, Corel AfterShot Pro 3 (with the Perfectly Clear Noise removal plugin) and Lightroom. There was no contest. DxO’s noise reduction tool stood head and shoulders above the others.
Noise reduction is available in two flavors—HQ, which prioritizes a quick fix, and PRIME, which is the most effective on high ISO images but takes longer to process. There is some detail loss in some images, but across a broad uniform area (like wood paneling, a sky, etc.) the noise reduction is incredibly effective. Pushing the luminance slider allows you to remove even more noise, though here detail loss becomes more pronounced as you slide up the scale.
Our other favorite tool is the new micro contrast setting, which punches up fine detail in the image. Combined with the Lens Softness tool (which ironically is aimed at increasing the sharpness of your image), you can rather quickly coax out sharper, more detailed images.
OpticsPro makes it extraordinarily easy to coax improvements from your RAW files—far easier than Lightroom alone. But, on our Mac (2.6GHz Core i7 with 16GB of RAM and Intel HD Graphics 400) at least, it proved very sluggish, particularly when generating image previews. Even with lens and camera profiles downloaded, browsing through images and generating thumbnails was a fairly slow process relative to other programs we’ve used. However, the program is much swifter (usually) while applying edits and exporting files.
DxO OpticsPro 11 is a must-have RAW processing tool. The ease with which it allows you to remove noise, punch up images and process files is extraordinary. If they bulked up the organizer a bit and improved the program’s overall speed, we’d be over the moon. OpticsPro is sold in a $129 Essential Edition and a $199 Elite Edition. You’ll need the Elite version to get PRIME Denoising, Clearview, the anti-moire tool, preset editor, color rendering profiles and more. We think the Elite edition is worth it for the Denoising alone.
DxO Optic Pro 11
PROS: Excellent automatic corrections and noise removal; clean user interface; micro contrast tool.
CONS: Can be very sluggish; lacks extensive organizational tools.
PRICE: $129 (Essentials); $199 (Elite).