DxO PhotoLab 6 verdict
PhotoLab 6 has a number of important improvements over version 5 which make it an even more appealing buy for quality fixated photographers. The PhotoLibrary organizing tools are at last catching up and the new DeepPRIME XD processing is simply superb. Add in the excellent editing tools, local adjustments and now in-built perspective corrections, and you have perhaps the best non-destructive RAW processor and editor there is.
+Improved cataloguing/organizing tools
+Superb DeepPRIME XD processing
+Now with in-built perspective correction
+Powerful ReTouch tool
+Great global and local adjustment tools
-You need the more expensive Elite Edition for all the features
-Not really for beginners
DxO PhotoLab 6 is both a RAW processing and lens correction tool and a powerful non-destructive photo editor. It uses DxO’s proprietary RAW demosaicing and processing process alongside lab-generated automatic lens correction profiles and new DeepPRIME XD processing technology to produce the best results from RAW files you’re likely to see.
RAW processing and lens corrections are only a part of what PhotoLab does. It also has extensive editing tools for optimising images, and local adjustments inherited from DxO’s acquisition of the Nik Collection. It ranks alongside Adobe Lightroom and Capture One for the quality and scope of its non-destructive editing tools, and you might find its own unique approach better than its rivals’. We all work differently and DxO’s approach, using self-masking ‘control points’ is definitely different, and definitely effective.
NOTE: I also have DxO FilmPack 6, ViewPoint 4 and Nik Collection 5 installed, and which may appear as buttons, icons or panels in the screenshots below. My comments, though, are restricted to features in PhotoLab 6 alone.
New features in PhotoLab 6
DeepPRIME XD: First there was DxO’s PRIME denoising, which was visibly better than regular noise reduction processes. Then came DeepPRIME, which used AI to combine spectacular levels of noise reduction with excellent detail retention in high-ISO shots. And now there’s DeepPRIME XD (eXtra Detail) which does exactly what it promises, delivering unprecedented levels of fine detail in high-ISO images which were previously just a cloudy mush.
PhotoLibrary improvements: Potentially just as useful on a day to day basis is what DxO has done with its previously somewhat weak PhotoLibrary panel. You can now create nested Project Groups (folders) to store your Projects (albums), making PhotoLab 6 a much more effective large-scale cataloguing tool. It’s now possible to add color labels to images for smarter filtering, and PhotoLab 6 supports a wider range of EXIF And IPTC tags, bringing it more in line with rival programs.
New Retouch tool
PhotoLab already had a basic but effective healing tool for removing sensor spots and smaller objects, but PhotoLab 6’s new ReTouch tool takes this much further, with more control over your clone source, even offering scaling capabilities. This makes it all the more likely you’ll be able to do necessary retouching entirely within PhotoLab and not have to use an external editor like Photoshop.
DxO Wide Gamut working space with Soft Proofing mode: This is more of a behind-the-scenes improvement but an important one for DxO, which takes color science very seriously. DxO Wide Gamut is an ultra-wide working space devised by DxO to avoid the limitations of existing color spaces, especially in the handling of highly saturated colors. DxO Wide Gamut is purely a working space, not a profile you use for output – you can use PhotoLab’s Soft Proofing tool to see how images will render on different output devices.
How PhotoLab works
PhotoLab 6 has two windows. Its PhotoLibrary Window is where you browse and organize your images and, until this version, was a fairly basic image browser in the same vein as Adobe Bridge, say. However, with PhotoLab 6, DxO has made it much more effective as a cataloguing tool – and perhaps the only one you’ll need.
You edit individual images in the Customize window (just double-click a thumbnail in the PhotoLibrary view). PhotoLab will automatically apply a lens correction profile, offering to download new ones if they are not already installed), so your images will be optically corrected right from the start. PhotoLab will also apply some basic Smart Lighting corrections to even up the shadows and highlights.
From there, you can either browse and apply preset looks (if you have DxO FilmPack 6 installed, its additional presets and controls will be integrated) or you can make manual adjustments yourself using the tools in the right sidebar. These might look pretty technical to newcomers but they are now grouped into tabs to make them easier to navigate.
PhotoLab 6 is a non-destructive editor, so any changes you make can be undone, altered or redone. And if you want to try out different looks or treatments, you can create ‘Virtual Copies’ without having to duplicate actual image files.
The local adjustment tools are especially interesting. You can apply local adjustments with a freehand brush tool, radial or linear gradients, and with DxO’s unique ‘control points’, which work over a circular radius but automatically mask the image using the colors and tones you click on. You can fine tune the masking with Chrominance and Luminance sliders, and a new(ish) Control Line tool combines selective masking with a gradient tool.
Image edits and Virtual Copies only exist ‘virtually’ within PhotoLab. To produce a permanent edit you can print, share or archive, you need to Export it.
Interface and usability
PhotoLab 6 can look complicated to the uninitiated, but that’s pretty unavoidable give its power and in-depth controls, but DxO has done a good job of simplifying the interface over successive versions. As with any software, you’ll probably only use a set of tools that suit your own way of working, and it doesn’t take too long to work out where they are.
The twin-window setup of PhotoLibrary and Customize panels is straightforward, and since the PhotoLibrary is based around live folder browsing, there’s no import process and no need to ‘synchronize’ your folders if you’ve added or moved images outside of PhotoLab.
The local adjustment tools are pretty quirky, both in the way you select them from a mini control panel, and the way you make adjustments using attached sliders overlaying the image below. Managing multiple adjustments is made easier with the ability to name your masks and quickly find and modify them later as required.
Quality of results
PhotoLab 6’s RAW processing is just about the best there is. Sometimes, with some cameras, Capture One is as good, even a whisker better, but both of them are easily superior to Adobe’s RAW processing, both in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw (it’s the same Adobe Camera Raw engine).
PhotoLab 6 edges further ahead with its lens corrections. These don’t just correct distortion, corner shading (vignetting) and chromatic aberration, but edge sharpness too – as far as I’m aware, no other software attempts edge sharpness correction. The upshot is images that flatter the equipment you used to shoot them and, as DxO will say, the more modest your gear, the bigger the improvement.
And then there’s DeepPRIME XD. I thought DxO’s previous DeepPRIME noise reduction was spectacular, but this is something special. As before, it’s too processor-intensive to display live over the whole image – you have to export images to apply the DeepPRIME XD process – but the results border on the uncanny. I’ve tried lots of noise reduction software before, but nothing comes close to this. DxO says it’s the only process to combine RAW demosaicing and denoising simultaneously.
I would say if image quality is your top priority for photo editing software, then DxO PhotoLab 6 should be at the top of your list. It’s not the easiest program to use, and certainly not the cheapest, but for quality first and foremost, I think its only rival is Capture One, which costs even more.
Value for money
There are some things you buy because they are the best tools for the job, and some things you buy because they are the cheapest. DxO PhotoLab 6 is definitely in the first category. You wouldn’t buy this to save money (though DxO does periodically run offers), and if you complain about what it costs, you’re probably not DxO’s target audience.
The Elite Edition is the one I would recommend. It’s the most expensive, obviously, but this is the one that has the DeepPRIME XD processing, DxO’s rather good ClearView Plus tool (like Adobe’s DeHaze tool but subtler) and sundry other more advanced features.
The other thing is that to get the full PhotoLab ‘experience’, you might also need to have FilmPack 6 and ViewPoint 4 installed, which pushes up the cost still further.
My opinion is that PhotoLab 6 and its add-ons are not cheap, but neither are they particularly expensive. You wouldn’t buy it to save money but to get the best quality, and I’d say you definitely get your money’s worth.
Every new version of PhotoLab is significantly better than the one before, which poses a problem for reviewers like me who already raved enough about the old one. But software moves on all the time, and the bar keeps on getting higher.
I’ve been a bit critical of DxO’s previously rather basic PhotoLibrary feature and felt it dragged down the software itself somewhat. But PhotoLab 6 fixes that. I also felt that leaving out perspective correction tools was mean, almost cynical, but that’s been fixed too. And then with DeepPRIME XD, DxO has taken its already exceptional noise reduction process and made it sharper, crisper and better, restoring a level of detail far beyond what you thought your camera was capable of.
PhotoLab has always been one of the best-quality photo editors you can buy, and version 6 just adds to that. But don’t take my word for it – you can download an unrestricted 30-day trial from the DxO website and make your own mind up.
- More DxO PhotoLab articles
- DxO PhotoLab vs Lightroom vs Capture One
- DxO Nik Collection 5 review
- DxO FilmPack 6 review
- DxO PureRAW 2 review
DxO store and trial versions*
DxO PhotoLab 7 Elite: $229/£209
DxO ViewPoint 4: $99/£89
DxO FilmPack 7: $139/£129
DxO PureRAW 3: $129/£115
DxO Nik Collection 6: $149/£135
• 30 day trials are available for each product