Saturday, June 30, 2018

DxO PhotoLab Software Review - 30 Jun 2018



I've been using Imagenomics Noiseware Noise Reduction software as a plugin for Photoshop CC2018. I love it. I think it does a wonderful job of cleaning up noisy images without significant loss of image detail. However, I do have one issue with it.

Noiseware has a tendency to crash Photoshop. Every 5-6 images, or so. This means that I have to re-open PS to continue my workflow. Its not so much of an issue, but it does get annoying when you've spent time adjusting an image and forget to save it before applying noise reduction.

So, this morning I decided to do a quick search to see what people were using these days for their NR software. DxO PhotoLab Software appeared to be a lot of people's favorite for noise reduction. It has a 30-day full-version trial. I decided to download and give it a try. With no prior experience with the software, this is what I learned about it, and how it compares with Noiseware and Adobe Lightroom's noise reduction tools.

DxO PhotoLab has a Lightroom feel to it. You open projects much like you would in Lightroom. I have to admit I found it immediately frustrating that I couldn't just open an image file without having to Open a Project. I haven't taken the time to figure out how to import images (not the focus here). I was able to take an image from within Lightroom and transfer it to DxO PhotoLab.


Once inside DxO PhotoLab Software the layout has toolbars on the right that allow for all of the adjustment one could ask for. If you don't have Lightroom, this is a great software option. Since I was focusing on noise reduction, I didn't bother to make any adjustments to the original image as shown below:


I normally make image adjustments in Lightroom, then send the image to Photoshop CC2018 for Levels adjustments, image repair (Spot Healing or Cloning), and noise reduction. I prefer to do this outside of Lightroom even though it handles it all pretty well on its own. So, I decided to do some comparisons of the image shown above to see how all of these packages compare. I first opened the RAW image (it was converted to DNG when imported into Lightroom) to see the ORIGINAL before noise reduction. I zoomed the image to 300% to show amount of noise:


Note the lack of chroma noise (red and green splotches caused by RGB sensor trying to make other colors) in the DNG image. Luminance (pixel or sensor noise) noise is evident in the amount of graininess to the image.  Here is the same image opened in DxO PhotoLab Software:


Here you can see evidence of chroma noise, as well as Luminance noise. With no other adjustments you might also notice a slight color shift to the cooler side of the spectrum. I'm guessing that somewhere in Photoshop there is a default setting that has noise reduction activated, but with settings at zero. This is what the DxO image looks like if I select noise reduction but leave everything at zero.


Note that chroma noise has disappeared even though I've not made any noise adjustments. Just activating the button for noise reduction seems to automatically remove chroma noise. Now this looks similar to the DNG file opened in Photoshop.

Since I normally adjust Luminance noise reduction to a value between 40-50%, I decided to adjust this image to 50% Luminance noise reduction and compare it with Noiseware and Lightroom:




Of the three packages it appears that DxO PhotoLab has the most noise, while Lightroom (middle) has the softest look. It appears that Noiseware provides a nice mix of noise reduction while retaining detail. Here is a composite of all images in one:


Conclusions? As much as I like DxO PhotoLab Software and would feel very comfortable using it, I don't believe that it offers an improvement over my current Lightroom/Photoshop/Noiseware workflow. If I had to purchase a standalone software package to handle my image editing in the absence of Adobe then I'd very much consider this purchase. Also, I'm going to spend more time exploring Lightroom's noise reduction and sharpening tools; while doing this little exercise I found that I could do a very nice job removing noise and adjusting sharpness without needing Photoshop and Noiseware.

Here are the final images from all three at 100% crops:




The end products are pretty much a toss-up. DxO Lab (top), Lightroom (middle) and PS/Noiseware (bottom) all generated pleasing images. Again, this is high-level pixel peeping, so the bottom line is, use the software that you like best! 

- No Horned Grebes were harmed during this experiment.

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