Lightroom-3 vs DXO-7 – as of 2012
(C) Copyright 2012-2017 David j Dilworth
Lightroom and DXO Optics Pro are leading RAW image photograph correction programs. DXO, a French program, is not well known in North America. This article compares and contrasts how Lightroom and DXO work for Fine Art, Landscape, Wildlife, outdoor Fashion, Portrait and Architectural photographs. That means developing one image at a time as high quality as possible often made with poor lighting. (Wedding and Sport photographers typically have different demands: They generally need to correct hundreds of images quickly and easily, and (in general !) are not quite as fiercely demanding of the highest quality.)
This article comparing Lightroom 3.4 and DXO 7.1 began as a “cheat sheet” for fine art photographers to whom I teach DXO. Now lots of people have asked to read it, so I cleaned it up a bit for general usage.
Why LR Version 3 and DXO 7 ?
This article was written in 2012. I have made only the faintest of edits and additions to describe updates as of 2017. You may find incomplete sentences. If anything is unclear, let me know and I’ll help. (I’ve added Amazon links to some of the products mentioned here. If you buy anything through this article it will not cost you a penny more, but it will send us a few dimes to help provide you with articles like this one.)
Yes, I do realize LR 4 is shipping – and that many will use it. However, since –
1) LR4 no longer runs on the two most popular operating systems :
Windows XP for PCs, or Mac’s S now Leopard (OS 10.6.7 or any 32 bit Macs). This means PC users need to use LR 3, and
2) LR 3 is still for sale at B&H.
Because of all this, a good technical comparison of LR 3 vs DXO 7 may be useful for a while.
So to begin —
The article briefly compares and contrasts the two programs’ ability to correct Exposure/Brightness, HDR, Contrast, “Fill Light” or “Preserve Shadows” Correcting Horizons, Crop, Lens Aberrations, Tilt/Shift Building Straightening (Keystoning), Color corrections, Saturation, Vibrance/microcontrast, Sharpening; Luminance, Color and Pattern Noise, and Dust spot removal. It also covers a few issues such as File Structure and Complexity, Correction History – and some unusual “features.”
If there is enough demand AND if I can find any time, I will include comparison images to illustrate many of the functions and problems.
Both programs are non-destructive; meaning they do not tamper with the original image.
LR 3 can often help provide very good images rapidly.
However, DXO generally makes higher quality images than Lightroom.
Lightroom is easy to use, measured as dramatically more intuitive and slightly more than 1,000 times easier than the same operation using Photoshop ;-). (For those who don’t get my sense of humor let me explain: Photoshop is notoriously (and deliberately) painful to use and learn, but even so there is no reasonably objective way to “measure” ease of use.)
Most LR adjustments respond fast enough to see the results onscreen allowing, indeed inspiring experimentation with controls. Its History list of changes and ability to easily make a working copy enhances your ability to experiment. It is easy to add a copyright watermark.
However, compared to DXO, Lightroom’s limits, quality and range of adjustments make it feel like a toy.
DXO by contrast operates like a professional tool. DXO’s image correcting processes (Light, Geometry, Detail) are notably higher quality and almost always provide a much larger range for correction than Lightroom’s – with the very few exceptions of illuminating details in bright areas, such as Clouds, and fixing color noise in severely underexposed images.
DXO image correction controls operate independently of each other. As opposed to LR where several controls frustratingly affect other adjustments (e.g. Fill light changes affect mid tones, contrast affects color balance; brightness affects saturation).
- With DXO, each adjustment (except HDR) seems to operate wholly independently, without affecting the other light settings.
LR’s overall design strategy has some painfully goofy limits such as requiring “Import” of every image before it can be corrected. Then if you want to do something so simple as rename images or move your images to a better named folder – you will need expert help. Aaaaak. LR feels designed for speed rather than high quality, making it seem like a pumped up toy pretending to be a professional tool.
DXO 7 by contrast is a precision Raw image development program that delivers sharp control of your images with enough high quality range to correct even strong camera and exposure errors. While not always as fast (though never slow), it has power and capability to bring out the best in your images; especially with underexposed images you gave up on with other programs (its shadow detail recovery is by far the best I’ve found) or poor contrast (its single image HDR is very good).
DXO provides camera-lens software modules for each combination of your camera and lens that corrects optical distortion magically. (For example the coma-free Samyang 14 mm lens has optical distortion called mustache because it wavers several times across the image. Yet, when properly set up, DXO straightens all its wavy lines perfectly. Amazing! LR doesn’t even come close.)
The downside is if DXO has not yet released the module for your specific camera and lens its an unsupported BIG pain in the ass to make it work with those images. (dd: 2017 update: DXO does provide thousands of modules, but after 2 years, nothing yet for Canon lenses on a Sony A7RII and workarounds are difficult.).
In my experience, it takes slightly more experimentation and patience to make DXO turn out notably better images than Lightroom. This is primarily because experimenting with adjustments in DXO takes longer than in LR. Thankfully DXO has an abundance of independent automatic corrections for you to try until you gain ability at using it.
This is an overview of the most commonly used controls used to develop and prepare a raw photograph for printing as a Fine Art work.
Image Selector (picking a photograph to correct) – while both work, neither is adequate. LR is painfully awful, DXO barely better.
LR – weak at best (it gets a D minus). You can’t just work on an image – you have to import it first.
WTF? – Then you must be extremely careful not to rename the RAW file or move it to another directory – or LR refuses to find it or your adjustments.
DXO – Better, but only Fair (C minus). No silly import required – just click to the folder you wish and then click on the image you want and start processing it. But with more than 1,000 files (est) DXO ribbon of thumbnails slows down. DXO only previews the few images that show in the previews – so you can’t quickly jump from files named A to those named Z, it reloads each thumbnail every time you scroll beyond the few images showing.
Poor : DXO loses its index order (date, etc.) upon startup and defaults to name sort. It does have a “project” function to work with a subset of files, but it should not choke finding files in a normal folder.
Both programs could benefit from FastStone’s design: Rapid thumbnails stored in a database – show up only seconds after program startup, keeping previous index sort order. Click an image to open for fullscreen, then one command to start editing.
Menu Choices for Corrections – DXO easily better
DXO – scrolling up and down the seemingly hundred choices is easy and
intuitive. Controls are clear, independent of each other and have adequate range
to fix bad captures.
LR – OK, mostly makes sense, but awkward to move from one “Palette” (Light to Detail) to another. Control descriptions are often unclear (“Recovery” – of what?) and Lightroom has no offline Help ! LR controls often do not have enough range (or ability?) to fix what are simple corrections in other software (e.g. noise).
Lightroom wins here. Its update of exposure / light adjustments typically has no notable delay.
Previewing changes onscreen – Lightroom wins
LR – fast in most cases – allowing easy experimentation. However, sometimes LR takes so long it seems locked up.
DXO – somewhat slower. Sometimes does rapid, but not instant, preview of changes. This delay of a several seconds for each change discourages experimentation with correction adjustments. It can be notably faster than LR when finally converting images to JPGs or Tiffs for printing.
Zoom in and out – DXO far better.
DXO – Painless zoom: scroll button on mouse, though it does have three modes (zoom, pointer and hand) that operate differently.
LR – Awkward, limited and slow. Only allows zoom in two preset steps (default = Fill screen or 1-1 at 72 dpi).
DXO Shadow Recovery is dramatically better than LR, however LR seems to do bright cloud details better.
LR3 – good and fast, but has two choices (far apart from each other) that are not clearly distinct (exposure and brightness. dd: These are combined in LR 4). This is mitigated because the exposure is updated so quickly – it inspires experimentation. Provides good detail in bright clouds very well – often better than DXO.
DXO – *** Recovers Shadow Detail very well – without harmful side effects (without worsening Pattern noise or making LR’s awful “fill light” haloes). However, this is hampered because the exposure changes are sometimes updated so slowly it discourages experimentation.
HDR (High Dynamic range) DXO wins – better by a mile
LR3 – not automatic or easy. Need creative use of other controls to get this. Surprisingly LR seems to do highlight details better than DXO 7 – as in clouds.
DXO7 – Really good at pulling details out of shadows without affecting other light levels or making haloes. Painless, it has 3 levels plus an intensity slider. While most other DXO controls seem independent of the others (unlike Lightroom where moving any adjustment affects up to half a dozen other settings), HDR adjustments (Gamma, Shadows, Contrast) affect the exposure. So when you make a change to an HDR setting you have to go back and adjust exposure.
Contrast – both passable, LR better by a smidge.
LR3 – Confusing. Two different places to correct Contrast – that are far apart on menus. (Which do I use? Are they different? Are they additive?)
DXO – OK, but preview does not show contrast changes below 75% magnification. This means you can’t see contrast changes for the whole image when they are bigger than about 15 megapixels or so – unless you have a huge monitor.
“Fill Light” or “Preserve Shadows” – DXO by a mile. LR only allows small limited adjustments.
DXO7 – Excellent, brings light with great detail. Adequate range. Clean
transitions – no line between dark and light areas. Subjective: A DXO image employing “Preserve Shadows” looks like the object. The same image area using LR’s Fill light rendition often looks like an abstract painting.
LR3 – when employing “Fill light” at more than about 20% LR leaves an ugly transition line (~ haloes) between dark and light areas. Limited range – needs more stops, but poor programming on this function probably dictated the limited range.
Correcting Horizon — both adequate, neither excellent. LR = easy, DXO more precise and provides three different methods.
LR is easy. Press “R” to get a grid. Move mouse pointer to a side and you can adjust angle by about as little as half a degree.
DXO – very precise and far more control. You can specify horizon angle to a tenth of a degree (at least 5 times sharper than LR) and adjust it with scroll wheel. There are several other adjustments (e.g. height etc.).
Crop – LR easier, but DXO gives more precise control. (This is a good theme for comparing the two products in general.)
LR – Easy, but precise control is not possible as it makes you do crop from the whole image showing. Finding status of aspect ratio toggle is awkward.
DXO – Allows precision cropping; you can crop a single bead in a necklace. Easy to use when you can find it. While it is on the “Tools” panel, it is buried under the menus (under Geometry, then Crop). Turning off size ratio lock is needlessly awkward.
Lens Geometry Aberrations – DXO wins by a mile, LR = Good
LR – Adequate. (I hope to provide some grid images to show the difference).
DXO – Excellent. World class. Straightens and un-warps images back to the way the scene looked before the lens distorted them even with wildly warping lenses.
Manipulating Lens Geometry – LR3 & DXO7 both allow serious geometry changes, far beyond anything that needed for corrections. (Artists take note) This allows seriously warping images and shapes.
Tilt/Shift Building Straightening (Keystoning – DXO by far.
LR – It works, but it’s weird, awkward and limited.
DXO – Powerful, fast and easy. Its range is so wide, Digital manipulation artists might love this tool.
Both do an adequate job. Both have color temperature and tint sliders, and both have eye-droppers to pick a white pixel to base the rest of the image on. DXO has a few more default white balance choices (Sodium Lamp, Underwater, etc.) than LR.
Both have extensive and adequate controls for individual color correction including ability to adjust tone curves for R,G and B separately and combined.
LR – Adequate range, colors seem uniformly adjusted.
DXO – Adequate range, colors seem uniformly adjusted.
LR – Adequate, maybe slightly better and larger range than DXO.
DXO – Adequate, but limited range. Not an exact match. I used DXO’s micro-contrast for this comparison.
ICC profiles – DXO easily better.
DXO – makes it very easy to use and change profiles. It even lets you chose your camera body ICC profile.
LR – they work well — if you can overcome install headaches.
LR – none, though you can make up or buy presets.
DXO – lets you choose tones and “Preset” color filters from menus.
Sharpening – DXO – good job, bordering on excellent. LR – unusably awful.
DXO – “Lens Softness” gives remarkably high quality detail sharpening – without harmful side effects. Outside sharpening usually not needed.
LR – “Sharpening” has such awful side effects I do not use it. I learned to use its “clarity” slider instead. Images need an 3rd party sharpening program.
Noise, Luminance – Both DXO and LR are so poor I use an outside program after setting noise reduction to zero.
LR – Poor compared to Noise Ninja or Neat Image. Very limited range of noise reduction and quality is poor. I leave it to an outside Noise program.
DXO – Poor compared to Noise Ninja or Neat Image. Maybe slightly better than LR.
Noise, Color – LR slightly better at small grain color noise and extreme underexposure.
LR – Excellent on small color noise (with no noticeable side effects), but doesn’t fix larger color blotches.
DXO – Generally exceptional. However, with a few seriously underexposed images it is not quite adequate, lacks power (control range) – sometimes leaves blotchy color noise. The images I’ve tried this on were so far gone (underexposed) I was perhaps “reaching for the moon” when nothing could get them back.
Noise, Pattern – Both Fail. Non-existent.
If your exposure is 4-5 stops underexposed – neither LR3 or DXO can even usefully reduce Canon 5D2 pattern noise. Astronomy image programs do a far better job.
Dust Removal – Both weak. LR works, DXO poor but might get telephone lines.
LR – Ok, but slow, sometimes seems like it is locked up. Spots out dust with circles you can easily adjust for size and opacity. Automatically searches for good location to replace dust. You can move replacement cloned spot and or use “heal” which allows some feathering. Sometimes system goes away for so long it seems locked up.
DXO – Poor. Often useless or inexplicable results. Paints out dust with draggable circles. This gives better control and quicker feedback than LR. DXO claims their method works to remove telephone lines from images, but I never got it to work acceptably. Splits screen into Before and After. Sadly, the split screens don’t always match up (notably after cropping) – so you can’t see what you are adjusting. Yuck. Can NOT adjust spot opacity and feathering. Can seem even more useless than it is because the results of dust removal are invisible unless you are zoomed in to 75 % or larger. Worst of all the “Before” screen uses the original exposure level. This means if your image is too dark – you can’t even see the dust you are trying to remove. Aughhh. I stopped using it.
Dead pixel removal – DXO has it, LR doesn’t
Moire removal – DXO has it, LR doesn’t
Grey Equalizer – DXO has it, LR doesn’t
File Structure and Complexity – DXO – reasonable, LR awful.
DXO uses a single text file for each photo called a sidecar (“Image.dop”) where adjustments are stored (excellent). To rename the image outside DXO you only have to rename the image and the sidecar file. You can move them both to another folder easily and resume where you left off.
Lightroom has wildly complex set of (non-text) files and folders for storing adjustments for each photograph. Adjustments are stored as proprietary files in a enormous Byzantine file structure stored somewhere away from the RAW files. Once you have imported an image you can’t rename it or move it without losing your adjustments unless you follow a gratuitously complex set of steps.
Automatic Adjustments – DXO wins — miles ahead.
LR only has one automatic adjustment – for exposure.
DXO give you dozens of automatic adjustments; an “Auto” choice for each of the dozens of corrections you can make to lighting, color, geometry, details etc. This feature shows how dramatically more capable DXO is than LR; underlines how LR seems like a toy compared to a professional tool.
History – both good, LR excellent.
LR – excellent history list – you can jump to any in a long list of well described points in your adjustments and your image will instantly revert to that point.
DXO – Ctrl-Z works rapidly but is missing context and reference points.
DXO could use LR’s history list.
Export with Copyright (“watermark”) Overlay – LR good, but with very odd placement limits.
LR – good, but can’t position watermark easily (or at all) in some reasonable places on image. Allows easy adjustment of opacity and fonts. Can use a PNG or GIF.
DXO – none. No watermark. Must use an outside program.
Dual monitor support
LR – Yes
DXO – No
Remove Dead Pixels:
DXO works well.
LR – not so much. On long exposure night or star images DXO removes tons more hot spots that LR.
Wacky “features” – Simple
DXO Won’t show preview or color noise changes when screen size is below 75%. (This is because recalculating the entire image take a long time.)
DXO can’t apply watermark or copyright. No big problem. Many 3rd party programs can do it easily.
DXO – no redeye removal – no big loss. use third party program.
LR infuriatingly won’t allow you to delete or rename a photo while in Develop mode.
DXO – Has no Print command – But never noticed until I read it in another review. I don’t print from DXO or Lightroom; I export my files as TIFFs and Jpegs for printing by a commercial printer.
Wacky “features” – Strong, as in WTF ?
Lightroom 4 won’t run on the most popular operating systems (XP or Apple Snow Leopard, or earlier OS 10.6) for absolutely no good reason.
DXO sometimes accesses the floppy drive for no possible valid reason.
Lightroom – cuts off width by 350 pixels !
I have an image developed in DCRAW 5498 x 3367 pixels
Lightroom exports the same unadjusted file as 5150x 3433 pixels ???
If you want the highest quality images from your RAW photographs, DXO is almost always a better choice. Except if your images have a lot of high brightness detail such as powerful clouds or horribly underexposed images with massive color noise – for those images Lightroom may do a better job.
Very superficial Update of these notes in 2017: Both programs have advanced (DXO is now at ver 11 and LR vers 6), but not always in an improved manner.
Both programs are quicker and now require 64 bit machines. LR abandoned Windows XP support with version 4.
DXO has much better luminance noise reduction – essentially now often usable without a 3rd party noise reduction program.
DXO (by version 9) lost its ability to autoadjust nearly every one of dozens of adjustments. The previous set of autoadjusts was a huge help to beginners so they could experiment with adjustments and learn the program much faster. Quell dommage !
LR has cleaned up some of its confusing menus (like “Contrast” and its weird interspersing of light and dark adjustment sliders).
LR (7?) soon will only be available with online subscription. You will not be able to run it without a live web connection.
Neither program still provides any Pattern noise reduction.
# # #
Its the Light.