advanced photoshop
Aug
2

RAW Wars

Posted in:
General, by Adam Smith

Find out what’s the best RAW convertor on the market

Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) software has been seen as the benchmark for converting RAW files for some time now.

However, that all could change with the introduction of DxO Labs’ own challenger – Optics Pro 8 Elite.

In the following sections, we take a more in-depth look at both software, testing all the new functionality on offer and making a definitive decision as to which is king: Adobe Camera RAW or DxO Optics Pro 8 Elite?

Tackling RAW conversion

In the comparison stakes, DxO Optics Pro 8 Elite has a very intuitive interface, which presents a coherent order that runs us through the correct stages of creation.

Panels are also fully customisable, which means we can base our editing workflow around the most commonly used options, before proceeding to the final stage of processing.

Identifying the images for editing in DxO Optics Pro 8 Elite is incredibly simple with the Organize panel. This enables us to root through folders from our hard drive and selected images are viewable from the thumbnails at the bottom of the editing space.

Once images are selected, DxO Optics Pro 8 Elite automatically recognises the camera’s model, body and lens from file metadata, matching this with a profile and correcting the file. This mechanical recognition is incredibly useful and takes a lot of the guesswork out of the editing process.

RAW Wars

Users perhaps inexperienced with file types will be quickly educated, as the software provides detailed JPEG and TIFF option settings. There’s also the option to create DNG  files, which is surprising as this software makes little attempt to read them.

ACR, on the other hand, has a simplified thumbnail, preview and editing panel, with the processing capacity to create JPEGs, TIFFs, PSDs, DNGs and even open files as Smart Objects. Sadly, there is no browsing option incorporated into the latest version, with Bridge taking care of the cataloguing and workspace layout.

The art of RAW conversion is now laid in the hands of working professionals, with software now capable of providing much more control than the technology inside our cameras. Instead of letting the tech decide, we can now make judgements ourselves, using powerful yet easy-to-use options. How these are presented makes an intuitive workflow all the more productive.

Fix Noise & chromatic aberration

There are two schools of thought concerning photographic noise. One suggests that noise contains an element of detail, the other that detail shouldn’t be allowed to exist. In truth, there’s no escaping it.

Camera Raw and DxO Pro 8 Elite have many similar noise-reduction options, although DxO does go into greater detail with its Chrominance and Grey Equalizer features, which help smooth out and hide away the noise generated across an image.

Camera Raw has a similar set of features in its Detail panel, where we find the Sharpening options and the Noise Reduction panel. These enable us to reduce the noise in colours as well as colour detail. One thing that Camera Raw doesn’t have is a dedicated option for dead pixels.

This is where DxO rises above its rival. If we have an old camera, or images that are speckled from broken or dead pixels on our sensor, the Pro 8 Elite Dead Pixel slider will simply eradicate such artefacts instantly.

RAW Wars

Sadly, Camera Raw’s own noise-reduction functionality is found wanting in comparison.

We can export to Photoshop and run all sorts of image tweaks, but its aberration tools really are second place to DxO’s. Pro 8 Elite’s database and recognition of lenses and bodies – as well as its automatic image updates dependant on the spec listed and selected – far outweighs what can be done with Lens Correction options in Adobe’s solutions.

Camera Raw does have a Lens Profiling option, but this is sadly a little less user-friendly in its approach.

DxO’s Lens Softening tool, on the other hand, is a game-changing image sharpener, which uses image data to set the softness into three key areas – Global, Detail and Bokeh.

Images can be restored to a useable standard, as if they were sharp all along. Camera Raw competes by coupling several options, including Contrast and Sharpness tools and the Clarity slider, all applied to bring back edge detail efficiently.

Colour correction capability

The colour-correction tools available in both DxO Pro 8 Elite and Camera Raw provide cutting-edge functionality. Options are available in both to select profiles already installed and immediately proof imagery, all while completely controlling colour.

In Camera Raw, we’re instantly greeted with the Vibrance and Saturation controls, as well as a Histogram to show us channel information.

We also have controls dedicated to white balance, which we can override or create first-time effects using presets. Most importantly, we have individual Hue, Saturation and Luminance controls, which mean that we can alter a selection of tones.

A complement to these controls comes in the form of the Split Toning panel, where we can tone the shadows and highlights, as well as add a more stylised look to our images.

RAW Wars

This can be enhanced further by the software’s Adjustment brush. This enables us to paint onto an image non-destructively, by using a mask over the selected area and editing with various adjustments.

Sadly, DxO doesn’t have an Adjustment brush for painting. It does, however, have Global and specific HSL controls, as well as the Tonal Curve option, which adjusts the RGB value of an image.

Another DxO function that’s very useful is its Color Rendering option, which enables us to target our colour rendering to a camera body, film style or ICC profile. This helps maintain a solid colour profile.

Verdict

For us, DxO Optical Pro 8 Elite is the clear winner, due to its incredible sharpening options, extensive lens database and chromatic aberration tools.

Where Camera Raw should have won with its Adjustment brush and Split Toning, it pales in comparison when combating noise and pixels and hasn’t advanced enough with its automation.

Seeing as DxO is a stand-alone editor, as well as a processor, it’s a clear Adobe competitor.