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Even Better RAW with DxO PureRAW

I've been a fan of DxO PhotoLab and its predecessors for years now. I've also found the software clumsy and difficult to integrate into a Lightroom workflow. But now, you can get the fantastic noise reduction and optical correction benefits of DxO without all the hassle.

You may be familiar with DxO as the company behind DxOMark, the renowned lens and camera sensor rating source. Camera manufacturers compete to achieve the best DxOMark scores they can, often featuring them in their advertising campaigns. Industry-recognized bragging rights can mean increased sales. Whenever I buy a new camera or lens, I always check with DxOMark to see its ranking.

I first became aware of DxO back in 2006 with the release of DxO Optics Pro when searching for a better way to convert RAW files. The company, based in France, had its beginnings a few years earlier with the release of a high-end product known as Analyzer used by labs and camera makers to test optical systems for distortion. The chances are good that they indirectly had a hand in producing or tuning whatever digital camera you are shooting.

But as a maker of end-user software, they've struggled. The underlying technology is outstanding, but the program was lacking in the user-interface department. You had to learn to think the way it did, not vice versa. Finding where to click for certain features wasn't intuitive, and it didn't integrate well with Lightroom. Over the years, they have released a steady stream of updates, slowly addressing these deficiencies while continuing to up the ante on the capabilities. It's always been a great program that was hard to use. I've always wanted to love it, but they made it difficult.

In 2017, DxO acquired Nik Collection of plug-ins from Google and announced that they would be resuming development. Google purchased Nik Software back in 2012 but was always more interested in Nik's Snapseed than their plug-in collection. Eventually, Google did offer the Nik Collection as a free download, but by that point, it was suffering from compatibility with current Adobe offerings. Google bought it but never updated it, so it was good to see the collection find a new home. At the time, though, Nik was itself having financial difficulties. In the end, both DxO and the Nik Collection have prospered, so all was well.

As part of the Nik acquisition, DxO gained the U-Point technology Nik had introduced as part of Nikon's Capture NX, another bit of software that has had a rather complicated history I won't go into here. But suffice it to say, it made DxO much simpler to use, and the company changed the name to DxO PhotoLab. Yet none of this addressed a fundamental shortcoming of an alternate image editor in a Lightroom-centric world. Whether you love or hate the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription model, Lightroom is the center of the world for digital darkroom workflow. Using DxO PhotoLab took extra effort, and while I've kept my license reasonably up-to-date, I only use it for "problematic" images that Lightroom can't handle well. DxO can do a fantastic job of correcting optical distortions and cleaning up noise. It can eke out more usable detail from images than just about anything else.

This week, DxO has thrown a new wrinkle into the mix with the release of DxO PureRAW. The program simplifies workflow by front-ending Lightroom with a dead-simple interface that does with DxO does best. Just drop your images on DxO PureRAW. The program uses AI technology to remove distortion and noise, exporting a new DNG RAW file for you to continue editing in Lightroom or Photoshop as needed. You get the best of both worlds: DxO's core functions and the streamlined workflow of Lightroom with only a minimal addition.

DxO PureRAW uses what the company refers to as "DeepPRIME technology" that employs AI. It does all the work without you fiddling with any controls at all. DxO has used their extensive expertise and custom camera and lens profiles to train the software. Once it's finished improving your RAW file, you can proceed to perform any needed adjustments as usual. On everything I've tested it on so far, I like what I see. Images from older cameras that are more likely to suffer a degree of noise naturally see the most improvement, as do those shot with lenses with geometric, chromatic, or other forms of optical distortions. Even the cleanest of RAW captures show should come out looking at least somewhat better.

I do find the product name "PureRAW" to be a tad strange, but what's in a name? The purest RAW is the RAW straight out of your camera. The results from PureRAW will generally improve upon those sourced without it, so let's just call it "better" RAW, perhaps. Regardless, call me impressed. My hunt for a way to integrate DxO into my workflow may finally be over.

Nothing comes for free, but DxO PureRAW can be had for a limited-time introductory price of $99 (regularly $129). There is a free 30-day trial if you want to see what it can do on your RAW files. For comparison, the full version of DxO PhotoLab 4 retails for $199. And there are a few caveats to keep in mind. The linear gamut DNG files output by DxO PureRAW will bigger than the original RAW captures, more so if you shoot lossless compressed RAW. Still, hard drive space today isn't the limiting factor it once was. And obviously, all this processing will benefit from having a relatively new computer. There a few RAW variants not yet supported. If you shoot a camera with a Fuji X-Trans CMOS sensor or an iPhone 12 Pro Max, you'll be disappointed. But support for traditional Bayer matrix sensors seems quite good.

Give DxO PureRAW a try. I think you'll like it.

Date posted: May 2, 2021


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