DxO PureRAW 1.2 verdict
DxO PureRAW is not a photo editor, but a kind of RAW ‘preprocessing’ tool that generates special ‘Linear DNG’ RAW files of a much higher starting quality. It’s especially effective for Lightroom users, where it easily beats Lightroom’s own RAW processing. It’s expensive, however, the one-off processing can be time-consuming and the Linear DNG files take up more space. And, as ever with DxO, it can’t work with Fujifilm X-Trans files.
+ Superb RAW processing and noise reduction
+ Extremely simple to use
+ Can also output optimised JPEGs
– Processing takes time
– Not compatible with X-Trans raw files
– Linear DNGs almost 3x the size of the original RAWs
What is DxO PureRAW?
DxO PureRAW produces ‘part-processed’ RAW files in the little-used Linear DNG format. They can be read by other software just like any other RAW file, but they have already had DxO’s proprietary RAW demosaicing, lens corrections and noise reduction processes applied.
• See also: Best image editing software – what to look for, how to choose
The idea is that photographers still get the RAW workflow they’re used to, but with superior ‘pre-processed’ RAW files to work with.
DxO’s RAW processing is arguably the best there is right now, its DeepPRIME denoising process is uncannily good at restoring high ISO images and its lens correction profiles go further than anyone else’s by not just correcting distortion, chromatic aberration and corner shading, but edge softness too.
DxO PureRAW is like a spin-off from DxO PhotoLab, which is DxO’s flagship program and uses the same raw processing, optical corrections and denoising technologies.
Who is DxO PureRAW for?
DxO PureRAW is ideal for anyone who wants to extract the maximum quality from their RAW files but doesn’t want to make the switch from their current workflow to DxO PhotoLab, the company’s flagship image processing and editing tool.
It’s aimed particularly at anyone with a Lightroom workflow who is unhappy with Lightroom’s own RAW processing (or Adobe Camera Raw’s). Once PureRAW has created Linear DNGs from the original RAW files, Lightroom can open and work with these Linear DNGs just like regular RAW files. The difference is they use DxO’s demosaicing and denoising processes, not Adobe’s.
Linear DNGs work with other programs too, such as Exposure X and Capture One – though Capture One does seem to struggle to render folders containing more than a handful of Linear DNGs. It will also apply its own sharpening on top of DxO’s, by default, so you’ll have to turn off sharpening for those files.
How useful is it?
For Lightroom users, PureRAW could prove extremely useful. The processing phase does take a little time – perhaps an hour or so for a large batch of images with DxO’s DeepPRIME noise reduction applied – but this can carry on in the background, and you only have to do it once.
Apart from the processing time, there is another downside. The Linear DNGs produced by PureRAW are almost three times the size of the original RAW file. That’s basically because the original file only has ‘un-demosaiced’ red, green or blue color data for each pixel, whereas PureRAW reconstructs this into full color RGB data for each pixel.
The larger files may not be an issue for photographers who use large capacity external drives for image storage, but they make PureRAW less appealing for cloud storage – especially anyone using Lightroom CC (the web version), which insists on storing ALL your images in the cloud.
There’s something else. PureRAW is no good for the majority of Fujifilm users. DxO’s RAW processing engine can only work with regular bayer sensors as used by almost every other camera maker. Most Fujifilm cameras however, use Fujifilm’s own X-Trans color filter array, and PureRAW can’t process those.
Are the results good?
PureRAW’s results are pretty exceptional. At low ISOs you may not see too much difference in noise levels, but you will see the effect of DxO’s powerful lens corrections and sharp detail rendition. As the ISOs rise, however, the differences become more and more spectacular.
Any attempt to estimate the ISO ‘gain’ from DxO’s noise reduction would be just that – an estimate – but compared to Lightroom/Adobe Camera Raw, I would put it at a couple of stops at ISOs of 1600-3200 and a lot more further up the scale. PureRAW has changed my mind about the quality and usability of a lot of my old RAW files shot on older cameras. It’s genuinely transformative.
As well as applying lens corrections and denoising, PureRAW also optimises the dynamic range of the image. That’s not to say you won’t have to do some more work on the shadows and highlights later, but you will see more tonal range to start with.
If you don’t want to wait for the slower DeepPRIME noise processing ,you can use DxO’s regular, older, PRIME denoise tech or just its regular (faster) default noise reduction.
Also, if you don’t want those big Linear DNG files, you can output JPEGs instead – and you will get JPEGs with a much better tonal range, less noise and better optical corrections than you will get from in-camera JPEGs.
Is it worth the money?
DxO PureRAW is pretty expensive for what is basically a RAW converter, costing $129/£115. What it delivers though is a substantial improvement in RAW image quality, especially for Lightroom users.
It’s a lot to pay for a single-function software application, but we all spend many times more than that to get a sharper, better-corrected lens, or a camera that delivers better low-light image quality. With DxO PureRAW, you might not have to!
DxO’s intention with PureRAW was to shoehorn its RAW image processing and denoising technology into the Lightroom workflow with minimal disruption, and it certainly achieves that. In fact, the PureRAW processing stage takes place before your images are even imported into Lightroom, so there’s no disruption at all.
I haven’t tried every RAW-capable photo editor on the market to make sure it can read DxO’s Linear DNGs, but every one I’ve tried so far is fine with them. And the fact is, PureRAW delivers better RAW files and better processed RAW results than any of these other programs – sometimes by a margin so small you might not worry about it, true, but sometimes by a margin so large that you just can’t ignore it.
There is a free trial, though, so you can decide for yourself whether you can get along with the processing time and those bigger Linear DNG files and – in particular – whether you think the quality improvement is worth it. I certainly do.
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