DxO PureRAW 2 verdict
DxO PureRAW 2 is a very interesting utility and a significant upgrade of the original program. You can think of it as a ‘raw preprocessor’, producing DxO enhanced RAW files for other software. Its DeepPRIME noise reduction is exceptional, its lens corrections go further than most, and its new Fujifilm X-Trans supports and Lightroom integration close up any remaining gaps left by the original. It looks expensive, but it’s hard to put a price on what PureRAW can do for image quality.
+ Superb RAW processing and noise reduction
+ Extremely simple to use
+ Can also output optimised JPEGs
+ Lightroom integration
– Processing quicker but still takes time
– Linear DNGs 2-3x 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 very, very good, and right up there with Capture One’s. But where it takes the lead is with, its DeepPRIME denoising process, which is uncannily good at restoring high ISO images. It goes further than most with lower ISO images, as DxO’s lens profiles don’t just correct 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.
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- DxO PureRAW review
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.
DxO PureRAW 2 Lightroom integration
The key new feature in PureRAW 2 is its Lightroom integration. You can now launch PureRAW as an external converter within Lightroom, bypassing Adobe’s own RAW processing engine and using DxO’s instead. When it’s done its work, PureRAW 2 returns a processed Linear DNG to your Lightroom catalog alongside the original RAW file.
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, plunging into a massive and escalating memory leak, on my machine at least. Capture One 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. One approach could be to pre-process all your RAW files in PureRAW before importing them into Lightroom. Indeed, this was the only way with the previous PureRAW version. 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 – though this can carry on in the background, and you only have to do it once.
What’s changed now is that you can select only those images which need the DxO magic from within Lightroom itself. So for example, you could isolate all the high-ISO images from a shoot or a collection, and just process those in PureRAW.
Apart from the processing time, there is another downside. The Linear DNGs produced by PureRAW are around 2-3 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 (the web version), which insists on storing ALL your images in the cloud.
Lightroom integration is not the only news in PureRAW 2. It now AT LAST supports Fujifilm X-Trans files. Previously, DxO’s RAW processing engine could only work with regular bayer sensors, but starting with PhotoLab 5 DxO introduced ‘beta’ support for X-Trans files and in PureRAW 2 the X-Trans support is complete.
Quality of results
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. The older the camera and the worse the quality, the bigger the transformation.
The ability to launch a PureRAW conversion from within Lightroom emphasises the sometimes painful inadequacy of Adobe’s own noise control. Sorry, Adobe, but it’s true.
As well as applying lens corrections and denoising, PureRAW also optimises the dynamic range of the image when it exports JPEGs. With Linear DNGs there’s no improvement in dynamic range, just lens corrections and noise control.
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, but that hardly seems worth it just to save a little time. The DeepPRIME process is so good that you are unlikely to want anything else.
Remember, 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. What it delivers though is a substantial improvement in RAW image quality, especially for Lightroom users. At low ISOs the differences may not be obvious (but they are there), but the higher the ISO, the bigger the difference. It’s no exaggeration to say that PureRAW can transform images that were unusable before into images that aren’t just usable, but actually rather good.
PureRAW 2 might look expensive 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. And with version 2, you can use PureRAW both before the import process and afterwards, when you have a better idea of which images need it..
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 it can change your mind about past images you previously thought were unusable.
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.
DxO software downloads and pricing*
DxO PhotoLab 6 Elite: regular price $219/£199
DxO ViewPoint 4: regular price $99/£89
DxO FilmPack 6 Elite: regular price $139/£129
DxO PureRAW 3: regular price $129/£115
DxO Nik Collection 5: regular price $149/£135
• 30 day trials are available for each product and bundle deals are available.
*Check for the latest offers at the DxO store