Tag Archives: DxO Review

2578 – Truth Doesn’t Make A Noise

A few days ago DxO came out with their flagship RAW converter product DxO Optics Pro in its all new and shiny version 9. Five years ago, back in 2008, I have already evaluated and then bought DxO Optics Pro 5.3, but later I lost interest in the program. Photoshop was faster, offered me much more flexibility, and using plugins like Noise Ninja or Topaz DeNoise, I could get comparably good noise reduction.

I looked into it later with version 7, but at that time I used the Panasonic LX5, and although that camera was supported, DxO did a mediocre job on its files.

With version 9 DxO has introduced a new, improved noise reduction mode called PRIME, and that’s the reason why I got interested again. Can DxO Optics Pro 9 possibly give me an extra stop in low light?

Actually for me the interest is rather academic. So far I have set my Olympus OM-D E-M5 to go no higher than ISO 1600 in Auto-ISO mode, and along with the excellent image stabilization and my preference for static subjects this has sufficed all the time. In fact most of my images are made at base ISO, and only a few go higher than ISO 800.

Currently I use Lightroom’s built-in noise reduction capabilities. Lightroom is not quite as good as Topaz DeNoise, but as long as I don’t go higher than ISO 1600, I see no difference. Apart from that, Lightroom behaves very predictably. If you fiddle with the sliders in Topaz DeNoise, you get a slightly better result if you do the right thing, but if you don’t, it can be easily worse.

As I remember DxO, it could also be customized in many ways, but the analysis that determined the parameters in auto-mode was normally sufficient to produce a good result. If at all, DxO smudged away a little too much detail for my taste.

What I also remember is, that DxO was slow. It just didn’t feel like a program that I wanted to use all the time. This is another point that needs revisiting with DxO Optics Pro 9.

The Windows installer is a big download with 317 megabytes. It comes complete with the .NET runtime 4.5, and the package seemingly contains both 32 bit and 64 bit versions. The actual correction modules for supported lens/body combinations are not contained, they are downloaded as needed.

Well, my first impression when starting the program was, that it is even slower than I remember. It may be that I am spoiled by Lightroom’s fast operation, but fact is, that DxO is maddeningly slow. It is slow to start up, and once you “develop” an image with PRIME noise reduction enabled (and that’s the one thing that I am after), it begins to remind you of early home computers. I’ve tested on two dual core computers, my laptop with 2.4 GHz, and a somewhat aging desktop with 3.2 GHz, both running an up-to-date Windows 7 64bit on 8 GB memory. On both computers it took between 10 and 15 minutes to render a single image.

Insane? Well, depends on what you want and how you look at it. DxO tells us that the PRIME algorithm looks at about 1000 pixels in the neighborhood of each pixel rendered. Clearly this explains the times, and we will see, that the results are indeed very good. How good? Well, I’d say DxO delivers the best noise reduction performance that I’ve ever seen. If you care to look at pixel level, it is clearly better than everything else, and it delivers that stunning performance even while running in full automatic mode.

I guess it’s time now for some examples. Let’s begin with an ISO progression. The images were taken at daytime in an indirectly lit room. I’ve used the OM-D E-M5 with Olympus 45/1.8 at f8, the camera mounted on a tripod, release delayed by 2 seconds. In order from top to bottom the ISOs are 200, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800 and 25600. Each image has a crop from the original out-of-camera JPEG on the left and the DxO version on the right. You can click on the images to open them in full size.

There is clearly a an advantage for DxO above ISO 1600. Even at ISO 3200 the original JPEG begins to get fuzzy, and from there on it only gets worse. Low frequency color noise turns up, and from ISO 6400 up the colors get more and more washed out.

Both versions lose fine details, but DxO delivers smooth images without color noise. The detail retained seems pretty near the maximum possible and DxO holds colors pretty well.

This is not what I use high ISOs for though. Let’s look at the same progression, but this time it’s dim, artificial light, in other words, the typical light that forces you to use high ISOs.

Now it gets clearer, doesn’t it? You can see an obvious advantage even at ISO 1600, and the difference in luminance noise, color noise and purity of colors is stunning once we get to ISO 12800. I would still consider ISO 25600 unusable for my purposes, but the DxO version of ISO 12800 is actually pretty good.

Care for one more progression? Here is an outside scene at night:

This is pretty much the worst case for photography: most of the image is almost black, the few lights of some remote houses are extremely bright. There is dimly lit foliage on some remote trees.

We can see that DxO eliminates dead pixels. That’s fine but expected of a RAW converter. Again we see better colors in the DxO version. Better, you ask? Well, they match what we got at base ISO, thus DxO must be right, right?

You can compare the images in detail and in full size from a Flickr set that I’ve created.

Especially when you look at high ISO night images, you can see that the high ISO camera JPEGs show some banding in the darkest spots. Just look at the sky in the ISO 25600 night shot. Now look at the same image developed with DxO. Quite a difference.

Now let’s look at a part of the ISO 200 night image in Lightroom. I’ve applied a steep curve to extremely lighten up the shadows. Color noise reduction is on Lightroom’s default, sharpening and luminance noise reduction are turned down to zero. As to be expected: there is noise in the shadows, and if you look at the roof, there is horizontal banding as well. Of course you can’t see that in a normally exposed image. It’s just what you get when you abuse a digital image sensor.

Finally let’s have a look at a screenshot from Photoshop. You see the two ISO 25600 versions above, left the camera JPEG, and below the two ISO 200 versions, again left the camera JPEG. To all four images I have applied the same extreme curve.

Immediately you see that DxO has set a much more definite black point. This black point is retained even at extreme ISOs. At base ISO the camera JPEG shows a mottled pattern of magenta/green in the shadows. There are also sharpening artifacts. Not so with DxO.

To come to a verdict is not so easy.

DxO Optics Pro delivers very good image quality. It’s noise reduction is definitely the best that I’ve seen so far. If you frequently shoot at high ISOs and want to retain every bit of detail while keeping colors natural, DxO is the best tool on the market. It will be most interesting for people who shoot action or use long lenses in low light.

As an all-purpose RAW converter DxO fails miserably, at least for me. It is just too slow in general operation, even without PRIME noise reduction, and once you apply PRIME, it is impossible to use it for more than a few select images.

Thus: used as a special noise reduction tool, DxO Optics Pro 9 earns my recommendation. Whether you need such a tool is up to you.

The Song of the Day is “Truth Doesn’t Make A Noise” by The White Stripes. Hear it on YouTube.

1167 – Vienna Waits For You

I’m on the train to Carinthia. It’s been a little complicated, the train was shorter than expected, I stood on the wrong end and had to go through the seven cars, all through to the front, but now all is well. I sit in the only car with electric current, in the right place at the window to have space for the mouse, I can work and I have an internet connection. The place was marked as reserved, so although hundreds of people must have walked by, nobody sat down. I found out though that the reservation was for the other direction, Villach to Vienna. A lot of luck, I’d say ๐Ÿ™‚

I saw this bicycle yesterday when I left work. It looks like the bikes that those foreign, underpaid people use, who deliver our newspapers since the privatization of postal services. I have no idea why someone has sprayed “Vienna” on it, but it’s always nice to know where you are ๐Ÿ˜€

The Song of the Day is “Vienna” from Billy Joel’s 1977 album “The Stranger”. 1977?? Oh dear, I’m growing old. Hear it on YouTube.

792 – Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Well, I shouldn’t promise things that I can’t deliver. These are images of yesterday afternoon, and when I posted the lens index, I had all of them already taken but none post-processed. Doing so took me until mid-afternoon today, but I guess it was worth not rushing things, and there are even lessons to be learned.

Weather in Carinthia is crazy at the moment. Villach has about a foot of snow, Klagenfurt has none. They are 40km apart with a height difference of 50 meters. There is only a lake in between, no mountain range, no nothing. For all practical reasons they should have the same weather. It’s only they don’t. This was the third weekend in a row, that I arrived in Villach during snowfall. The only reason that the snow does not pile up higher, is that we are too low. Half of the snow does not make it down to us and ends up as rain.

Unfortunately rain makes the snow quickly fall down from the trees, and somehow this looks bleak and sad. I wanted to have real snow, freshly fallen or at least looking like that, and so I took the car and drove the street up Mount Dobratsch. You know it by now, it’s that mountain that broke apart during an earthquake in 1348, the year when the Great Plague arrived in Europe. As if the plague wouldn’t have been fun enough.

From 700 meters on the road was solid snow, but I had no problem driving all the way up to 1750 meters. From there I could have gone up to the summit, but as I had entered dense fog at 1600 meters, I was not sure if it would be a good idea to go any higher. I took some images up there, made some wrong steps and was suddenly in deep snow up to my chest, in short: it did not look promising. Not winter wonderland, only winter, fog and no view. And here comes one of the lessons:

Every now and then someone posts about how RAW is inconvenient, how they don’t see a difference, how much less hassle JPEG is, while it provides superior or at least comparable image quality, and so on and so forth. Ken Rockwell is famous for it (and for all other sorts of interesting viewpoints, some remarkably lucid and some simply ridiculous), but even David Ziser did it for some length of time (Lightroom had him converted), and my friend Paul Lester does it still.

Actually there is nothing wrong with that, as long as it works for you. It certainly did for David as a highly successful wedding pro, and it obviously does for Paul. For me it does not.

JPEG is much too restrictive for me. I like to do extensive post-processing, enjoying the work in Photoshop almost as much as the actual shooting, but that is not my point today. The point is that without a RAW file, a good RAW converter and an arsenal of tricks in Photoshop, some images would not be possible at all. This is one of those images.

Take your time, click on the two versions, the second, the pale one being what the camera saw (and I as well, to be honest), and the first one what I did in DxO and Photoshop. Can you do that with a JPEG? No, you can’t. You would have to stretch the image so far beyond its capacity, that half of it would suffice to render it a mess.

Look at the JPEG from the camera: there is no contrast at all, no texture in the snow, and from that image alone, you’d get no idea of what it looks like up there. Sure, sure, I said I didn’t see much more than the camera, so why would I want to make an image that would not be true to reality? But that is the wrong question.

If I only had the JPEG, I wouldn’t need to bother showing it at all. This gray mess, what it is about? Well, not much more than bland grayness. You can’t really tell how the snow covers these barns, you can’t see how it smoothes out any jagged form, the picture is a complete waste of storage. As a JPEG shooter you’d have to throw it away.

So, obviously there is a reality of soft, ondulating forms up there on the mountain, and shooting JPEG, the true-to-reality plain JPEG, you can’t show it. Well, in RAW you can.

When I work on such an image, I always try to get the best RAW conversion possible. I know I’ll have to stretch the image contrast beyond believe, and I know that all flaws in the RAW conversion software, all flaws in my own technique will be amplified and thus revealed. Knowing that, I always begin as solid as possible, and since almost two months this means to convert the RAW in DxO Optics Pro. I have already written a lot about that program, I am still satisfied with it, and at the moment I use it for all high ISO and for all snow images.

Why for snow, you ask? Well, the reason is, that I need to stretch contrast, and often also to dramatically increase saturation. RAW conversion artifacts and lens flaws like chromatic aberrations would become dominant in such an image. I have experienced that once with a conversion done in Adobe Camera RAW (I believe it was this image), and when I then tried the same process based on a conversion by DxO, it was dramatically better.

DxO reaches that level of precision by doing much of its work before de-mosaicing. One good example is noise. In all these images I begin with a straight conversion in DxO, using one of the presets. I use the Photoshop import plugin to pull it as base layer into Photoshop. Then I duplicate that layer, push local contrast using Photo Lift, multiply this layer with reduced opacity and normally also a mask, often apply a photo filter adjustment layer to fine-tune colors, strongly saturate with “Hue/Saturation” layers in various blending modes, apply levels and a contrast curve globally, may add further local contrast with a masked curves layer, and finally apply a vignette.

All that of course increases noise, even if the original image was taken at base ISO (which is true for all these images), and in case of the barns covered in snow, I even had to apply a surface blur to the Photo Lift layer, but still, when you amplify so much, some noise is inevitable, and then it is of utmost importa
nce how this noise looks like. The noise that remains in images converted by DxO looks … crystalline. Not like digital noise at all. It does not harm any image, but it actually enhances snow images.

Most of these images were made using the Sigma 10-20, a fine ultra-wide lens for DX format sensors, the one exception is the barn image, for that I used the Nikon 18-200 VR. Have you ever changed lenses standing up to your chest in snow and not knowing how to best get out of it? Funny, I can tell you ๐Ÿ™‚

The Image of the Day was taken on the way up, at a height of about 1100 meters, at the same place where I shot the last of the series, on my way down, like all other images.

There is another lesson though. Just look one more time at these images. They all look slightly different, don’t they? Just rightly so, I’d say, given that they were taken in different places and over the time of about two hours. And still, they make no proper series. Remember my SoFoBoMo book? There I had shot all images in an afternoon, but it has taken me weeks to post-process them in a way that they had the same look.

All the images on this page look fine individually, but were I to make them a true series, for example a book, I would have to invest much more in visual coherence, probably giving up individual “truth” for the flow of the series.

The Song of the Day is “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” from the 1992 Manhattan Transfer “Christmas Album”. Hear it on YouTube.

790 – In The Darkest Place

Yup, I did manage another entry ๐Ÿ™‚

I had a lot of stress today, we are at a very critical point with our software project, and like with all extremely distributed software systems, there are things you simply can’t test. You can run simulations, but they never turn out like the real thing. Thus, when we already thought we were done and began to roll out the beast (it’s a software distribution system in the large), all kinds of strange phenomena turned up, things that can only happen in the wild, and today was the worst in a week. I still have not fixed it, but at least I know now, what has caused the system to resonate and to hammer our oracle database with hundred thousand queries per minute. Actually pretty impressive that it survived ๐Ÿ™‚

Anyway, back to photography. This is an image from my way home tonight. It’s 1/30s at f4 and ISO 2200, underexposed by -1.7 EV, that means actually an equivalent of somewhere around ISO 6400. I could have used f1.4, but I really wanted some depth of field here. The image out of the camera did not look promising, Adobe Camera RAW did a bland job, and again DxO Optics Pro did it nicely, providing me with a nice, contrasty image without ugly noise, an image that I could build upon in Photoshop.

The Song of the Day is “In The Darkest Place” from the 1998 album “Painted from Memory”, a collaboration of Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach. Another nice song, still a nice album, but again no video found. The sound sample from Amazon may give you an impression though.

778 – My! My! Time Flies!

When I posted “771 – And Winter Came” a week ago, I was met with mild mockery. I admit, there was not much snow to be seen ๐Ÿ™‚

These two images are from Saturday, the first one from the morning. It had snowed from Friday afternoon all through the night, and when I went fetching breakfast in the morning, I made this shot, using the Nikon 70-300 VR at 300mm.

The image out of the camera had almost no contrast and definition at all. It was shot at ISO 200, the Nikon D300’s normal ISO, and it was exposed more or less “to the right”, thus I saw no reason to favor the precision of DxO Optics Pro over the convenience of Adobe Camera RAW, especially as I wanted to take the image to Photoshop anyway, but this turned out to be an error.

Mind you, this is a color image, but of course there was no color at all. Trying to push local and global contrast, I quickly found out that Adobe Camera RAW had introduced all sorts of tiny color artifacts, and pushing contrast greatly amplified them. Of course simply working with layers in “Luminance” mode would have hidden that, but wanting to fix it at the root, I re-developed the image in DxO Optics Pro, and, boy, did that make a difference. This is one of those areas where DxO shines: precision. There was a lot of fuzziness, that is to be expected when one looks through 500 meters of dense snowfall with an effective focal length of 450mm, but there were no color artifacts at all. Impressive. Read more about DxO in my ongoing series of posts that document my experiences with it.

The second image, the Image of the Day, was shot in the afternoon when something almost like the sun began to shine through the clouds.

This image is a rule-breaker. One of the things that Craig Tanner constantly preaches, is that in photography, two is an odd number, and that so often when one has the choice to use one, two or three of a kind of subjects, either one or three are preferable to two. The reason is, that two subjects of the same kind tend to look boring and symmetric, redundant in a way.

Well, here it works. We have two trees, symmetrically arranged, but everything else is asymmetric on multiple layers.

The other thing normally not to do is to have a fence or something like that in the foreground, running across the frame. It makes the image inaccessible, keeps the viewer out. Here we have something similar, in fact the edge of a pond, and although it works like a wall in front of us, the two trees provide a mighty and powerful door frame, leading the eye through and into the winter wonderland behind.

I took this image to DxO as well, trying different presets until I found one that would work as a good start. Then, in Photoshop, I copied the layer, applied Photolift (more about this useful plugin here) for a strong push in local contrast and put the result in “Multiply” mode with reduced opacity, added some curves layers with masks for local contrast adjustments, and strongly pushed saturation. A levels adjustment, a curves layer for global contrast, some vignetting, some sharpening, and that’s it. With the exception of saturation adjustments, this was a similar procedure to the one used on the snowfall image, only more subtle in the contrasts.

Update – Monday: I don’t do this normally, but last night I have processed another image of this series. I would have normally displayed it together with today’s post, but it really belongs here, to the other images of one marvelous winter day in Carinthia. Here it is.

The Song of the Day, “My! My! Time Flies!“, is another one from Enya’s new winter album “And Winter Came”. See a video on metacafe.

764 – Good Day Sunshine

Villach was a good choice after all. I moved only about 20km to the west, but the weather is remarkably better here. Much less fog, much more sun.

Yesterday I spent insane amounts of time processing that image of a silly sign in Vienna, building layer upon layer until I was at 28. Stupid, huh? Well, my only excuse is that I didn’t have any other image and was curious if I could make it at least remotely usable. I may have managed that, but certainly not more ๐Ÿ™‚

When I finally left for shooting, it was around 3pm, a sunny afternoon with about one hour to go. So far I don’t know all those convenient places around the corner, undoubtedly to be discovered soon, thus I sat into the car and played safe.

I took the street down south, about 10km by car, about 6km line of sight from home, over some hills and through a forest, and then reached Drobollach, a village on the northern shore of Faaker See, one of the many beautiful lakes in Carinthia. The village is situated on a small hill, overlooking the lake, and behind that, Mittagskogel, the most prominent mountain in Villach’s surroundings. You’ve seen it many times before, the last time here, but now we are much nearer and it is the pyramid shape as seen from Villach, that is normally associated with this peak.

From the very same point one has another interesting view, and yesterday the light was extremely favorable: To the north-east, prominently sitting on top of a mighty rock, there is the small parish church of Sternberg, another landmark that you have seen, once in a slightly tilted image.

Both images so far have been taken with the Nikon 70-300 VR at 300mm. I really love the effect that the compression has on the hills, especially under this dramatic light.

Maybe less than a kilometer further on, the street leading around Faaker See touches the lake, and for my convenience there is even a place to park the car. Small wonder that when I arrived, I found a woman taking pictures.

I changed to the Sigma 10-20, the sun was almost down behind the mountains in the west, and I had to hurry. For this image I climbed over the guard rail and crouched down almost at water level. The mountain in the background is Mittagskogel again. Quite a difference between 15mm (equiv) and 450 mm (equiv)!

From that slightly dangerous vantage point there was not much more to get, at least not with this lens, thus I got back up to street level and took some bracketed exposures of boats and landings during the sundown. I still have my tripod in the apartment (maybe I should get a third :), and it probably would not have done me much good anyway. I only had some minutes left and needed to go as near as possible to the fences, in order to get them out of view.

I took these images with the intention to run them through Photomatix Pro 3.1 and Essential HDR 1.0. Photomatix claims much progress in automatic alignment and the elimination of movement artifacts, while Essential HDR points to its superior tone mapping algorithms.

Of the five bracketed shots I have only tried the one that ended up as Image of the Day, and both programs failed. Both did a good job in aligning the handheld shots, but Photomatix produced ugly tone mapping results (at least when you don’t like the “typical” HDR look), and Essential HDR, while much better at tone mapping, introduced hard to remove artifacts at extreme highlights, where even the darkest exposure had burned out.

This is not a general criticism of these two programs. Both can produce extremely good results and have done so for me in the past, but under these exact conditions both failed. No problem when you have a fallback strategy.

I ended up developing the five images in DxO Optics Pro, letting the program correct lens distortions, and then combined them as layers in Photoshop CS3. The first step was to select all five layers, use “Edit / Align layers …” and crop the result. Then I have applied masks manually, added some saturation and contrast and cloned out a lens flare. Not so bad, I guess.

The Song of the Day is “Good Day Sunshine” from the 1966 Beatles album “Revolver”. Hear it on YouTube.

759 – Try Some, Buy Some

A bicycle? I must be back to Vienna ๐Ÿ™‚

Over the last two weeks I have spent quite some time with DxO Lab’s new version 5.3 of DxO Optics Pro. When I began processing today’s image, taken at f1.4, 1/60s and ISO 3200, I found that the demo had expired and I was back to Adobe Camera RAW and probably Noise Ninja. I reined in my first impulse to finally buy DxO and began working on the image with my usual tricks. I even uploaded the result to SmugMug, but the more I looked at it, the more I felt the need to go back and try it once again with DxO.

The result is, I did it, I am now owner of a license of the standard version of DxO Optics Pro, and I am glad that I did it. The result is clearly better than my first effort with Photoshop alone. I spare you another comparison on pixel level, fact is that I see a difference and that the difference is big enough to make me shell out the money.

DxO is not perfect. We have seen that Adobe Camera RAW plus Noise Ninja can outperform it under pathological conditions, and it also lacks in terms of workflow. Rather than acting as an import plugin, I’d like to see DxO being integrated into Photoshop as an alternative RAW converter, but all that is nit-picking. In practice DxO gives me the best RAW conversion that I’ve ever seen, at least for the Nikon D200 and D300. I probably won’t use it all of the time, but when I need it, it will be available.

The Song of the Day is “Try Some, Buy Some“, David Bowie’s George Harrison cover from the 2003 album “Reality”. Hear the album version and a live version on YouTube, and when you’re already there, why not compare it with the Harrison original?

744 – The Cross

In Saturday’s post we saw that DxO 5.3 performs fine on the noise front, but it won’t boost your D300 to ISO 25600. Well, at least it did not boost mine, I suppose it won’t do yours either ๐Ÿ™‚

In all that pixel peeping we have completely ignored what other things DxO can do. Today’s image is old as well. I have not shot a single image today, not even test shots.

This one was shot in the cloister of the dome of Magdeburg, Germany, in early June 2006. Here is the original JPEG out of the D200. It does not exactly show my abilities at their best. It is tilted by accident, the subject, the cross, is hardly visible at all against the strong back light. This is clearly a case when I would have had to use a flash. I can’t remember if I had been allowed to do so, maybe not, fact is that I didn’t.

The Nikon 18-200 VR, the only lens that I had at that time, is nice, but it shows strong barrel distortions (well, actually something more complex than simple barrel distortions) on the wide end, and I even had to point the lens slightly upward to get everything into the frame. Not exactly ideal for an architectural shot.

DxO handled all that nicely. The 18-200 is a supported lens, thus all distortions were removed automatically, along with chromatic aberrations. Using Photoshop’s “Shadow/Highlight” to lighten up the foreground would have produced halos, thus I would normally have used a curves layer with a luminance mask. DxO does this with one slider under “DxO Lighting”. Basically they analyze the image, automatically isolate regions according to tonal value, and then apply contrast and exposure to these regions independently. This works really well and is extremely easy.

For the correction of tilt and perspective distortions I have used a simple tool where you paint a rectangle into the image and then drag the corners of the rectangle to indicate the desired correction. You can immediately see the outcome in a second window. I have first seen this in Paint Shop Pro and always missed it in Photoshop. You can choose to automatically crop the result.

Well, that’s it for Sunday. This series of posts about DxO will go on as I discover things or find ways to demonstrate features that I like.

The Song of the Day is “The Cross” from the 2002 Blind Boys of Alabama album “Higher Ground”. Sorry, no video.

743 – This Is A Test

Yesterday I did not shoot anything but some test images, none of them did I want to make Image of the Day. This is from the archives, an image from the crypt below the Dome of Speyer, Germany. I shot it with the D200 in July 2007, using the Nikon 18-200 VR at f8, ISO 1600 and 1/3s, handheld. I’ve converted it with DxO and added some local contrast later in Photoshop.

I am still in Carinthia, it’s Sunday now and I have managed to install DxO 5.3 yesterday evening. We can carry on with the review.

Let me begin with a correction. In “741 – Just Another Day On Earth” I originally said that “what Adobe Camera RAW does and DxO seemingly not, is the automatic elimination of hot pixels“. This is wrong. Yesterday I found out that DxO can automatically eliminate what they term “dead pixels”, it’s only not on by default, and it is hidden down in the options for noise reduction. Sorry for the false alarm.

In a comment to that post Nick Jungels said that

Looking at DxO Optics, the noise performance seems very, very similar to running Noise Ninja. At least in my one comparison the pictures were virtually identical (as far as noise goes).

Have you compared the DxO versus any of these other noise reduction options?

At that moment I had not, this is what I want to look into today, and here is the image that we will look at in some variations and detail. You see now why I used an old image for the Image of the Day?

I made three versions of this image: At ISO6400 and correctly lit, at ISO 3200 and one stop underexposed, and finally at ISO 3200 and underexposed by three stops. All three images were shot handheld with the D300 and the Sigma 50/1.4 at f4. High ISO noise reduction in the camera was set to “low” (from a standard of “normal”), exposure times were 1/60s and 1/250s. Fairly normal values for low light street photography. Let’s begin with a 100%crop:

You really have to click on the image for the 100% view to see the differences. Left is the result of Adobe Camera RAW 4.6, in the middle the same with Noise Ninja applied, and on the right is the output of DxO.

As to processing: First I have created the DxO image on standard settings, with the preset for high-ISO images applied. This produces stronger contrast, dark shadows, uses stronger noise reduction and also takes care of dead pixels. Then I have loaded the original RAW file into Adobe Camera RAW, without sharpening and with the exposure parameters set to automatic. Later in Photoshop I used adjustment layers to match this much lighter image to the look of the output of DxO. Basically I pulled all there was into Photoshop, and then toned it down, along with all noise. I think this is fair and as comparable as it gets.

There are quite some differences. Obviously the quality of Adobe Camera RAW without noise reduction is not really acceptable. There is a high level of noise, grain is coarse and we see much color noise as well.

Applying Noise Ninja made the image much better. This is not the detail that we expect from a 12 megapixel image, but for ISO 6400 it is the best that we can get without inventing detail.

DxO delivers a tad more sharpness, but that was to be expected as it did some sharpening and Adobe Camera RAW was set to do not. What’s obviously better, is color noise. Noise Ninja took care of the high-frequency color noise, but some low frequency noise, i.e. big color blotches, remained. The difference is not dramatic, but it is there.

Looking at the differences at 200% is more revealing. DxO produces a very fine grain on pixel level, Noise Ninja struggles with color noise. Overall I’d say that the result of DxO is more pleasing, looks less like digital artifacts, but you really have to care about pixel peeping to get a kick out of it.

Let’s do the same once again, this time with an image taken at ISO 3200, but underexposed by one stop. At 100% we see basically the same situation.

Please ignore the systematic tonal differences and the color difference in the dark tones. That’s an artifact of my method. I simply was not able to exactly match outputs. Let’s concentrate on noise instead.

Noise levels are slightly lower, the difference between Adobe Camera RAW + Noise Ninja and DxO is hardly visible.

At 200% it’s pretty much a tie, but from the looks I’d prefer DxO again. The fine grain actually looks nice, not like typical digital noise at all. On the other hand: both are clearly acceptable.

Then I turned to the ISO 3200 image underexposed by three stops, effectively pushing the image to ISO 25600, and this is the point where DxO breaks spectacularly. I did not even include a 200% comparison here, it is obvious. DxO smudges away detail like mad. I have tried for quite some time to find settings that would improve the result, but to no avail. In fact, this seems to be the best it can do under these conditions.

And Noise Ninja? Still riding the waves. The result that it produces is unusable as well, but compared to DxO it does not break, it degenerates slowly.

What’s the verdict now? If forensics is your job and you need to get the last information out of an image, even if you won’t be able to use it for any aesthetic purposes, then Noise Ninja is your tool. In any other case DxO seems as good or better, partly depending upon your aesthetic preferences.

In my eyes this result is not disappointing, not at all. After all, Noise Ninja is one of the best noise reduction plugins on the planet, one of three or four tools that constitute the state of the art. That DxO plays in that league and maybe slightly tops it, is quite remarkable, given that noise reduction is only one card in DxO’s game.

What about the price? Currently Noise Ninja and Neat Image cost around $70, Nik Software’s Define 2.0 is sold by Amazon for around $80, while DxO Optics will cost you $170 or $300, depending on your camera. Thus you’ll clearly have to need something else out of DxO’s portfolio to justify the purchase.

We’ll look closer into these things in other posts. Stay tuned.

The Song the Day is “This Is A Test” from Wendy James’ 1993 collaboration with Elvis Costello Now Ain’t the Time for Your Tears

Sorry, no sound samples, but looking for Wendy James on YouTube will give you some videos and an idea of what to expect.

741 – Just Another Day On Earth

These are images of Thursday. I took some in the morning and then late in the evening. All images were converted with DxO 5.3, but with the exception of the last, none was shot at particularly high ISO values.

Speaking of DxO, I’m just speeding through the documentation to get an impression of what a workflow with this tool could look like.

My first impression, just from working with the program without any consultation of the docs, was one of overall simplicity. There are two versions, a standalone program and a Photoshop/Lightroom plugin. I don’t have Lightroom, thus I can’t say how it’s activated there, but in Photoshop you get into the plugin via “File / Import”. Makes sense after all.

Once in the program, regardless which version, you are first presented with a file browser where you can select the images that you want to process. DxO is a batch/pipeline oriented program and employs a “Project” metaphor. A project can contain any number of images. Those get processed in a batch and the result is either that all images are opened in Photoshop (plugin) or get stored in a format of your choice, in the same or a different directory as the original (normally RAW) files.

As I said, I’m just now looking into the documentation. All images so far were processed in “experimental mode”, and I can say that the user interface is intuitive and simple. You begin on a “Select” screen where you include images into your project, walk through a “Prepare” screen where you can specify how each image is to be converted and then start the conversion on a “Process” screen. On my quad-core processor, processing was two images at a time, we’ll see what it does on a dual-core processor when I have installed it in Carinthia.

Speaking of multiple installations, the program has to be activated and activations can be transferred from one computer to another, but as far as I have seen, activation on at least two computers is permitted by one license. That’s quite OK. The idea is to have it on one Desktop and a laptop. We’ll see how that finally turns out for me, because I regularly use two desktops and a laptop.

DxO has one fully automatic mode, a lot of image presets, e.g. for slightly low or high key processing, one tuned for high ISO images, presets for different saturation/contrast combinations, etc, and of course you can set everything manually and save that as a preset.

Whatever you do on the “Prepare” screen, manually setting details or applying presets, it is always immediately displayed in a big preview that can be zoomed in up to 200%, thus you always exactly see what you do.

If you don’t set anything at all, the image gets converted in fully automatic mode, and what that does is usually quite OK. It may not be your desired look, but so far it has always produced a usable result. Automatic processing includes geometry correction for supported lens/body combinations. Some of my combinations are supported, some not.

All of the images in this post were converted by the plugin version using presets. Then I have added further processing in Photoshop, but usually not much.

What Adobe Camera RAW does and DxO seemingly not, is the automatic elimination of hot pixels. This is a bit of a bummer, but no worse than Capture NX.

EDIT: Sorry for the false information, by now I have found out that DxO in fact can automatically eliminate hot pixels, it’s only a tad hidden and not on by default.

One final thing that may be interesting from a workflow perspective: The standalone version of DxO can produce linear DNG files, i.e. DNG files that already contain a demosaiced image. These files can be processed by Adobe products and retain the flexibility of RAW files. I’m not really sure about the consequences, but this could mean that it would be possible to batch-convert all your files and e.g. apply only demosaicing and noise reduction. Anyway. We’ll see soon.

That’s it for today. This series of posts about DxO will continue as long as I learn useful things. Stay tuned.

The Song of the Day is “Just Another Day” from Brian Eno’s 2005 album “Another Day on Earth”. Hear it on YouTube.