In November, DxO just announced they will be releasing DxO Optics Pro 3.5.
Maybe a bit of history is in order.
DxO started with DxO Analyzer package used by magazines and websites in order to evaluate the quality of lenses and cameras. Taking some shots of specialized targets at specific distances and camera settings, reviewers to analyze quantitatively things camera design compromises such as image sharpness, ISO noise, vignetting, chromatic abberation, and spherical distortion.
Pre DxO Optics Pro 3.0
Later they decided to use the results from such measurements to reverse the effects of such compromises, digitally. This is because information about the camera you used, the lens, focal length, aperture, shutter speed, sometimes even the distance it focused on are recorded with each image as part of the EXIF information in the file. Using that information + the measurements it is possible to do a limited reversal of the distortions created by optical limitations.
Since those distortions are really hard to work with when stitching panoramics, it was very nice to have this product around. Also, if you owned cheaper lenses, you would see a greater benefit. I think architecture photographers could also benefit highly.
In that early version, you had to purchase the base product and then a module for each camera body you owned and another module for each lens you owned. It could get quite expensive as well as be very restricting when you upgraded your body..
With version 2.5?, they changed the policy so that you wouldn’t have to pay extra for different bodies. Instead there were two tiers: Pro and Elite, where Elite also covered >$3000 camera bodies. This meant that if you upgraded from say a D100 or D70 to the upcoming D200, you wouldn’t have to buy a module. They also lowered the prices of the lens modules.
How I use DxO 3.0
In July they introduced version 3.0, they added the following: a “lighting engine” which basically tries to automatically dodge and burn your shot and a “noise engine” which is an automatic version of programs such as Neat Image.
Because it messes with the exposure settings, the lighting engine is worthless for panoramics. The noise engine is too conservative and isn’t as good as working a photograph with Neat Image. However, DxO also improved a lot of the workflow features with this release including adding things such as unsharp mask that one would usually do in Photoshop. This meant that I could take RAW photographs, run it through this overnight, and have a set of pretty good proofs ready for people with almost no processing. For example, Caitlin took my photos and dropped the horrible ones for a birthday party and a wedding she filmed.
Sure, the white balance and contrast on some of them need a little work which can’t be recovered from the JPEG. Sure, some can do with a little retouching. But consider that Caitlin has to do all the work because I won’t look at my event photographs because I find it depressing (too many bad or missed shots), with DxO automatically processing the photos, she can do all the editing within iPhoto. Consider that in both examples, the proofs from the official photographers are still not done. These photos were ready as stills for the DVDs she has finished as well as the full-sized downloads are available to her clients and family and friends for free right now. Big difference.
Also, I could now create a custom workflow to export TIFFs without the “lighting engine” but with the “noise engine” at various ISOs for doing digital blending to create images such as this from 5×12 images in a fraction of the time it took me to produce this from 2×12 image because I could skip the entire DNG processing stage in Photoshop.
What’s in DxO 3.5
Well this isn’t a 3.5 thing, since it is effective today with version 3.0, I think the #1 advantage of DxO will be unrestricted access to the lens modules. Personally, I already have all the modules for all the lenses I own so it is a non-issue, but it will save me a lot of money when I buy a lens, especially a cheap one. (On the plus side for me is that since I own more than two lens modules, I will get Version 3.5 for free.) I think this step will be very important because a lot of people probably have been put out about having to purchase so much stuff in addition to their lenses—I know I almost was.
The second thing is that they will be releasing a “starter” tier for people with bridge cameras. Too bad it only cover the recent ZLR cameras instead of the very first digital ZLR: my old Olympus C2500L.
The next thing is that Version 3.5 will have a new optics engine which will no longer crop to the smallest image when fixing spherical distortion. I currently lose a lot of the corners with my 12-24mm which causes me to sometimes process images without spherical correction. Maybe with this new engine, I’ll be able to recover some of the image when stitching a panorama. The engine is also supposed to have improved image sharpness and an extrapolation of chromatic abberation fixes into the violet range. *shrug* The problem is I never really took the time to evaluate that to notice any improvement.
It’s also is supposed to have some improvements to the user interface. Right now the preview mode is useless on my Mac, maybe with these improvements, it will be usable.
Finally, it will be a lot faster because they’ve optimized the code. This is a non-issue for me since I just leave the processing running overnight on my Powerbook and Caitlin won’t allow me to use her PowerMac 2x2Ghz G5 because she is compressing or rendering video on it.
Testing it for yourself
Download the 21 day free trial and see this list of supported camera/lenses. Remember, there was a bug in the old D70 firmware which made it improperly record focal length coming from the kit lens resulting in improper correction.