Product Spotlight: DxO Optics Pro 8

May 2nd, 2013

I admit it: I’m part of the horde. I, like every other photographer I’ve ever heard of, love getting new photo gear. New lenses, bags, even the little things like blissfully pristine screen covers are really exciting! However, having tried out a slew of new photo editing programs since college, I have to admit that new software usually feels a bit more like a test (the ‘Can I Figure it Out Without My Brain Exploding?’ test) than something straightforward enough to be fun. There’s an amazing amount of things you can do to images digitally these days, and I’ve experienced my fair share of copycat editing environments and unintuitive controls. So, when the day came that I opened up DxO Optics Pro 8 (my new editing software), I will admit I had my very best skeptical face on. But, I was pleasantly surprised!

To give a little backstory; my favorite ultra-wide lens can capture an incredibly large area (it’s a 10-20 mm) so I love to use it to photograph big buildings and epic-looking scenery, skies, etc. But, I can’t say I looked forward to correcting the inevitable distortion issues that crop up when using such a wide lens. A few lucky photographers might have access to a multistory building across the way, a handy-dandy 15′ ladder, or a tilt-shift lens to correct perspective in-camera, but most often when I find myself in these situations unplanned, I have to instead tilt my lens upward.

Now, while tilting the lens away from center may not be a big deal for 50 mm or telephoto lenses, the more my ultra-wide tilts, the more distorted the image perspective gets. This means straight lines keystone (tilt inward or outward), the visual distance between me and the subject starts looking VERY far away, and for some lenses, straight lines actually bend into curves along the outer edge of the frame. Plus, wide-angle lenses in general have a tendency to add extra vignetting on corners, which can darken the whole look of the image. Fortunately, with DxO, I discovered two things: 1) new software CAN be intuitive, and 2) these edits can be quick and painless! DxO corrected all of the issues with the images in this post, just by moving a couple of sliders.

Full disclosure here: I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes really messing with perspective and pushing the images to the extremes of distortion can yield some fun, artistic results! But, the average viewer usually prefers a more realistic-looking image that better matches what the eye sees. Same goes for preferring evenly bright images with lots of detail in both shadows and highlights.

Optics Pro 8 is great because it helps bring images back to their original gloriousness in a couple of clicks and definitely doesn’t take a gigantic, scary-looking user manual to figure out. The total editing process takes place in three tabs:

    1.    Organize – select the folder of images on your computer that you want to edit (no importing necessary)
    2.    Customize – where the editing magic happens!
    3.    Process – select a file format etc. and save the finished edit

After selecting my folder, the software checked for which lenses I used on the images, and auto-provided downloadable modules with correction presets for those specific lens profiles. Very handy for quick editing!

Since I wanted to adjust the images manually, though, I clicked over to the Customize tab. The options here include some really powerful general editing adjustments, like white balance, a very cool feature called “Smart lighting,” and contrast.

In my first image, a lot of things were going wrong, and not all were the fault of my lens. Despite being an 80 degree, beautiful summer day, the image looks cold, dark, and like it’s entirely possible I was in the middle of falling backward when I snapped it. So my first step was to use the Smart Lighting feature, which simultaneously brightens shadows AND brings detail back into highlights. Then I correct the color balance to match how the warm afternoon rays had made the scene look in reality, and used the awesome “micro-contrast” slider to get back some details. Next up: fixing those tilted lines.

When it comes to wide angle lens correction, the most important tools I need are keystoning correction, distortion control, and vignetting adjustment. I did have trouble locating where the keystoning controls were initially, but a quick visit to their Getting Started help guide showed me how to switch out of the basic workspace called First Steps and into the advanced workspace. You can switch between the two at any time, or customize each workspace to include more (or fewer) options.

In another image of some pretty epic clouds completely dwarfing the Golden Gate Bridge, I straightened the crooked horizon line, added some correction for pin-cushioning, and used the keystoning tool to fix the seriously skewed lines of the bridge. This automatically cropped out the outer portions of the image that extended out of frame as a result, while retaining the original aspect ratio. That last bit is a GREAT time saver, as programs like Photoshop require users to crop images manually after making similar lens corrections.

One feature that’s hard to miss when using this software is their before-and-after correction preview. Instead of having to hunt for a previous point in a history panel, or click on an eye check box to reveal the original image, you can check this just by clicking on the image itself in the central window. While you’re still holding the button down, this shows the image “As shot.” As soon as you release, the customized image displays again. I really loved this and found myself previewing constantly, which helped prevent accidentally going overboard on any one adjustment.

Plus, when you’re using the keystoning tool, you have the option to use a side-by-side view of the image (pre-correction & post-correction), which updates in real time as you move the sliders.

After that, a quick adjustment using the vignetting slider takes care of the darkened corners, and I was ready to move on to my next photo. Once all of the images were edited, I just clicked-and-dragged them into the Process panel, where DxO applied my preferred save settings, and saved the finished edits.

In the end, correcting the images took all of about 2 minutes, and I’d have to say my skeptical face was replaced with what was probably a pretty satisfied-looking smirk. I passed the test! And in turn, DxO passed mine.

Not only is Rebecca one of the awesome ZenMasters who helps Zenfolio users with their accounts on a daily basis, she is also a very talented photographer. Having grown up in West Africa and Montana, Rebecca is no stranger to breathtaking scenery. Her images, whether they are landscapes, interiors or portraits, showcase the subject in the best way possible. Take a look at her stunning images here: