DXO Photolab 3: New Features Investigated

Last Updated: October 25, 2019

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Today DXO has released the latest version of their RAW conversion software, Photolabs 3. It offers a small number of new and improved features that we will look at below.

This article isn’t intended to be a full review of the software (that will come later), but a look at what has changed and if the new features are worth the upgrade price.

Check it out at www.dxo.com/

Photolabs 3 Quick Overview

In case you aren’t familiar with this software, DxO PhotoLab is a fairly powerful RAW converter. It has a strong feature set and can produce very good results.

There are a couple of features that Photolab has that makes it stand out from other RAW conversion options:

  • PRIME Noise Reduction: Photolab is often considered to be a market leader in noise reduction for High ISO images. It employs a complex algorithm that reduces noise while retaining fine details that may become masked when using other software. It only works on original RAW files and can be quite slow to process, but the results can be very good.
  • Lens Corrections: DXO tests many camera and lens combinations in a lab to precisely determine what corrections are needed to bring the most out of your images. As a result, Photolab does a very good job in correcting for any flaws in your lens (distortion, sharpness, aberrations).
  • Local Adjustments (U-Point Technology): DXO has developed a smart system that allows you to easily make local adjustments to specific areas of a photo. U-Point technology allows you to choose a point on your photo that you want to enhance (eg, a yellow flower) and will auto-mask the surrounding area so that only the colours you want to adjust are affected.

New Features

The HSL Tool (Colorwheel)

The new Colorwheel tool promises to make adjustments to colours easy. Capture One Pro users may notice some distinct similarities between this new tool and the ‘Colour Editor’ in C1.

To use the tool in PhotoLab 3 you simply select a colour that you’d like to adjust from the selection of 9 options, optionally make adjustments to the range of the colour you have selected (all blues, or just a specific shade?), and then adjust either the hue, saturation, luminance or uniformity values.

The tool is very easy to use and does the job well. The ‘Colour Editor’ in Capture One Pro is often touted as one of it’s huge strengths. With this new tool DXO has certainly stepped up their colour editing ability.

Below is an example of how easy it is to change the hue of the sky. Select the ‘blue’ colour and spin the wheel to the new colour:

Keywords

This is an improvement that I am quite interested in. I have never been able to use PhotoLab as my primary workflow tool as it has always lacked an easy way to find images. In previous versions of the software, if I want to re-visit an old photo I would need to know in exactly which folder the image is located, or use a different software package to find the image and send it across into Photolab.

In Photolab 3 I can now search for details about the image in order to find what I’m looking for. Keywords, Shooting details (Camera, ISO, Lens, etc), Dates, File Types, Ratings… and more are all available to search. Whats more, Photolab 3 will index the folders that you choose so search results are displayed quickly.

Testing this feature worked quite nicely. You can combine keywords to narrow down results (Find photos containing the keyword ’Tiger’ AND taken at ‘ISO 100’), but there isn’t a way to expand a search (Find the keyword ‘Tiger’ OR the keyword ‘Lion’).

Screenshot of Photolab's Search panel
PhotoLab’s new search panel

Another limitation I have noticed is that the results are limited to 1000 images. That sounds like a lot, and will probably be enough in most situations, but I can certainly envisage times when I would need to look through more images than that. For example, if I want to search for an image of a Black Kite in flight that has a specific look, searching for ‘Black Kite’ and ‘In Flight’ will return about 3000 images in my current library.

PhotoLab also shows a list of your previous 5 searches so you can quickly click on a previous one to see the list of images again without having to re-enter your search terms. I’d like to see this expanded a to include a user-definable ‘favourites’ list.

Unfortunately features for adding keywords to images are still severely lacking in Photolab 3 and are best done in a different software tool. Hopefully DXO will make some improvements in this area soon.

Screenshot of PhotoLab's Keyword panel
The PhotoLab 3 Keyword Panel is very basic

Local Adjustments Masks Manager

This new panel allows for easier management of any local adjustments that you have made to the image. It shows a list of any masks that you’ve applied so you can easily go back and make further adjustments. It also allows you to turn the mask on and off (helpful to be able to see what effect your changes have had) or invert the mask if you so desire.

This is a welcome feature if you tend to have quite a few local adjustments on an image as it will certainly help with their management. I’d like to see a further feature that would allow you to name each mask though, as it would make finding a specific one easier (Clicking on a mask named ‘Left Wing’ is easier than clicking through several different ‘Auto Mask’ entries to find the one that is applied to the left wing of a bird photo)

Screenshot of Photolab's Local Adjustment Masks Manager
The new Local Adjustments Panel. Can you tell which layer applies to the bird’s left wing?

Repair Tool Improvements

The Repair Tool is used to remove relatively small objects or blemishes from photos (such as sensor dust, a stray hair or distant signpost). It has always worked quite well in PhotoLab, but it has seen some improvements in this version.

There are now two modes the tool will operate in:

  • Repair Mode: In this mode Photolab will reconstruct the area you want to repair by sampling another area in the photo. PhotoLab has improved this mode by letting you choose which sample area is being used to reconstruct your area, including the ability to use an area from a different photo. 
  • Clone Mode: Allows you to replace an area of your photo with an exact copy of another area in your photo. This can work really well in areas with a uniform colour or repeating patterns.
Screenshot of PhotoLab's Repair Tool
PhotoLab 3 Repair Tool in Action removing sensor dust

Should You Upgrade?

So, the big question is: Should you upgrade from previous versions of PhotoLab to the new version 3? I think the answer depends on how you use the software.

If you have a new camera and/or that isn’t supported in PhotoLab 2, but is in PhotoLab 3, you don’t have a choice. DXO does not make new camera/lens profiles available to older versions of the software. 

If you use PhotoLab as your primary photo editor and RAW converter, and you ever manipulate the colours of your photos, I think the new HSL tool is reason enough to upgrade. 

If you do RAW conversion with PhotoLab as part of a more sophisticated workflow (eg. Send your RAW file from Lightroom into PhotoLab -> Convert the RAW with PhotoLab -> export back into Lightroom as a .dng or .tiff for further processing) then the new features probably aren’t going to make a very big difference to you and you can probably save your cash (assuming of course that your camera/lens is supported in your current version).

Conclusion

PhotoLab 3 is a small step forward in terms of features. The new Colorwheel will make colour adjustments easier for those that do them, and the image search will make finding photos easier.

However, I feel that there is really not enough here to warrant a new software version or the relatively high price of the upgrade. If I hadn’t wanted to take a look at the new features for this review I would not have spent the AU$100.

This release feels like a bit of a money grab from DXO for what feels like quite a minor update. Unfortunately they also provided a similar update to their Nik Collection recently (released basically a bug-fix version as a paid upgrade) so it seems to be a bit of a trend from them.

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