DxO PureRAW announced: Hands-on with DxO’s excellent RAW processing/preparation app
posted Wednesday, April 14, 2021 at 9:00 AM EDT
DxO, the company behind PhotoLab 4 and the Nik Collection by DxO, has announced DxO PureRAW. The software is designed to be used on RAW image files ahead of Adobe solutions or other photo-editing programs. Leveraging DxO's extensive experience and the company's exclusive technologies, DxO PureRAW removes noise, chromatic aberrations, unwanted vignetting, distortion and insufficient sharpness from RAW images.
Using DxO's DeepPRIME technology, which is backed by artificial intelligence, DxO PureRAW enhances sharpness and details while simultaneously removing noise from an image. Of DeepPRIME, DxO writes, "Trained through deep learning using millions of images analyzed by DxO's laboratories, [DeepPRIME] delivers a revolutionary improvement to digital noise reduction while also demosaicing photos more effectively." In a traditional approach, noise reduction and demosaicing are performed separately, with each introducing defects that degrade the quality of the other process.
DxO develops custom optical modules for each supported camera and lens combination to scrub RAW images of optical defects, such as distortion, vignette, chromatic aberrations and suboptimal sharpness. Even great lenses have optical issues, and DxO's optical modules aim to compensate for them.
Since DxO PureRAW relies so heavily upon DxO's carefully-crafted camera and lens calibrations, which it has been doing since the company's founding in 2003, DxO PureRAW doesn't have quite the same level of camera and lens support as Adobe Lightroom. You can see a full list of supported cameras here. From there, you can also see which lenses are supported by clicking 'View lens modules.' There are more than 400 cameras supported by DxO at this time and over 60,000 camera and lens combinations.
DxO PureRAW can do a lot. The new software is designed for more than just processing RAW images from the latest and greatest cameras. DxO also believes that PureRAW can breathe new life into older RAW images that might otherwise be unusable due to high noise levels. PureRAW also brings out the fine details in otherwise clean images that were shot using low-resolution image sensors.
If you increase sharpness using a slider, you are typically increasing sharpness across the entire image, even the areas that aren't in focus. DxO PureRAW works differently. Because the AI technology underpinning PureRAW has been trained on millions of images, the software is adept at increasing detail only in areas that are in focus, thus ensuring that the soft, out-of-focus areas of your image remain soft. So DxO PureRAW makes sharp areas sharper, keeps soft areas soft, and significantly reduces noise and fixes optical issues.
Hands-on with DxO PureRAW
That's a lot to achieve. How well does it work in practice? I've been able to work with DxO PureRAW ahead of today's announcement, and it works very well. Before getting into my hands-on impressions, though, what are the workflow options with PureRAW? After all, it's a bit unusual to think about using an app to prepare RAW files and then editing the RAW files in a separate app.
DxO knows that many photographers use Adobe Lightroom to manage and edit their images and open Photoshop to make more advanced edits. There are numerous other competing apps photographers can use for editing photos, including DxO's own PhotoLab 4 and software from Skylum, Alienskin, Exposure and more. PureRAW is a way to take full advantage of DxO's fantastic DeepPRIME noise reduction and demosaicing technology without having to greatly alter your existing workflow. You don't need to abandon your favorite software to use DxO's technology and excellent optical corrections.
When you first start up DxO PureRAW, you're greeted by a barebones user interface. The first thing you do is add your images to PureRAW. You do this by dragging and dropping files or by using the browser window to select your images. Next, you click on 'Process photos.' From here, you choose your processing method. There are three options: HQ, PRIME and DeepPRIME, with DeepPRIME offering the best results at the expense of longer processing time (more on that in a moment). You choose if you want the processed images to be .JPG files or RAW .DNG files. If you're processing your RAW files for further editing, .DNG is the way to go. Finally, you select where you want the processed images to go.
In terms of performance, DeepPRIME processing is resource-intensive. The better your GPU, the faster the processing. My 2016 15" MacBook Pro was a high-end notebook at the time of its release, but it shows its age these days. To process a RAW image from a Nikon D850, PureRAW takes just under a minute. So in my case, I would want to make my image selects in my typical RAW image editor and then process only the images I want to edit in PureRAW. For users with more powerful machines, it may be less of a concern.
The time it takes to process images in PureRAW is worth it, in my opinion. The software enhances the look of RAW images. How noticeable the impact depends upon the photo in question, but even when working with sharp photos captured with good lenses at low ISO, PureRAW adds a lot of detail and pop to a RAW image.
As you increase ISO, the impact of PureRAW becomes more evident. The image below was shot at ISO 2000, which isn't very high but high enough to see quite a bit of noise.
The image below was captured on a Nikon D850 at ISO 6400. Night sky images are often difficult to process because when you reduce noise, you also eliminate some of the dimmer stars in the sky in many cases. DeepPRIME doesn't have this issue, and accordingly, neither does PureRAW. The visible noise is gone while the detail is not only preserved, it's enhanced.
We can see the impact of optical corrections on this same image viewed to fit the display. The image was shot with a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR lens, which is a very good lens. However, even great lenses have optical issues, such as distortion, vignette and chromatic aberration. You can see the impact of proper vignette correction in the shot below.
PureRAW also does a great job of sharpening areas that are supposed to be sharp without adding false detail to out-of-focus areas. In the two 100% crops below, shot with a Sigma 60-600mm lens on a Nikon D500 DSLR.
Overall, I am very impressed with DxO PureRAW. It is a great way to process and prepare RAW files for additional processing and editing. It's also a suitable way to give a RAW image nice pop, such that it loses the typical 'flat' look that RAW images have when you import them into software like Lightroom. However, there are downsides, including that DeepPRIME processing is resource-intensive and takes a considerable amount of time when processing a large batch of images.
Pricing and availability
DxO PureRAW is available now for Windows and macOS. Until May 31, 2021, PureRAW is available at a special introductory price of $99. After May 31, the software will cost $129. A free trial version is available for download. I know that it's difficult to see the full impact of DxO PureRAW in 640-pixel wide screenshots. I highly recommend downloading the free trial for yourself and testing your own images in PureRAW.