DxO PureRaw review: Impressive noise and lens processing for any editing app
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DxO PureRaw review: Impressive noise and lens processing for any editing app

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Introduction

For years now, DxO Labs’ Optics Pro and PhotoLab products have impressed photographers with their automatic lens corrections. And more recently their CPU-intensive PRIME / DeepPRIME noise reduction technology has also garnered plenty of praise, as we saw in our recent DxO PhotoLab 4 review.

Yet while DxO has earned more than a few plaudits and built a devoted following for its software, it has never gained quite the mass-market appeal of rival Adobe. With PureRaw, it aims to address this with a new approach.

DxO tells us that of the roughly 10 million photographers currently shooting in a Raw format, 90% use Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom or some combination of the two in their workflow. And of those who don’t, many more will already have moved to non-DxO third-party rivals like Capture One, Exposure and more.

DxO PureRaw brings the company’s famed denoising and lens corrections to photographers that don’t want to change Raw processors

Instead of trying to persuade them to learn another new and complex interface and venture into the unknown by switching to the fully-featured PhotoLab editing platform, PureRaw gives them the opportunity to bring DxO’s most popular capabilities right into their existing workflow with almost no fuss.

Now, you can have the benefit of DxO PhotoLab’s denoising, demosaicing and lens correction tools, but keep all the familiar apps, tools, shortcuts and more that you love in your current digital darkroom utility.

Key Takeaways:

  • Get DxO’s much-praised noise reduction and lens corrections without ditching Photoshop, Lightroom or their rivals
  • No new interface to learn; keep all the tools you love
  • Extremely simple, straightforward design
  • Choose from HQ, PRIME or DeepPRIME denoising
  • Output as Linear DNG with noise/lens corrections
  • A rather steep price may keep many would-be users away

Available immediately for both Windows and macOS, DxO PureRaw is ordinarily priced at $129 (€129 / £115). A launch discount available through May 31, 2021 will reduce this to $89.99 (€89.99 / £79.99).

How it works

DxO PureRaw is incredibly simple. Files can be dragged and dropped between DxO PureRaw and your imaging app, or for that matter your operating system’s file explorer. Alternatively, you can click a button within PureRaw’s interface to directly browse your directory structure for files to process.

PureRaw’s adjustments are limited solely to choosing which denoising algorithms to use, and whether to enable lens corrections or not.

Processing your chosen files couldn’t get much easier. First, you choose your desired denoising engine for the entire batch of images: The faster HQ engine, the much more processor-intensive – but higher quality – PRIME engine or the AI-powered DeepPRIME engine. (For most images you’ll want either DeepPRIME or HQ, depending upon whether you favor image quality or performance, respectively).

Next you choose your output file type and storage location. By default, PureRaw will save your processed images as partially-processed Linear DNG Raw files in a DxO subfolder of their original location.

The streamlined process does mean you can’t tweak the level of noise reduction nor preview its results prior to processing

If you prefer, you can convert straight to JPEG rather than Raw before handing off to your third-party app, or set a custom location for the processed files to be stored. Lens and camera body profiles are downloaded automatically as needed, and individual profiles can be deactivated as preferred on a per-batch basis.

PureRaw can be used in a drag-and-drop fashion or export directly to third-party apps. Adobe’s are automatically detected, and the user can add other programs with the custom option.

Once you click Process Photos, PureRaw will do its thing and then offer to show you side-by-side, before-and-after comparisons of your just-processed images. You can then drag them back to your chosen app, click the Export button to have them transferred for you – optionally along with a copy of the unprocessed, original Raws as well – or click another button to see the processed images in Explorer.

Obviously, this simplified and streamlined process means that you can’t tweak the level of noise reduction applied as you could in the full PhotoLab app. Nor can you preview its results prior to processing.

Once your images have been processed, PureRaw allows you to review the results in comparison to the uncorrected Raw.

But PureRaw also adds very little extra fuss to your workflow, though there are the minor inconveniences of greater storage space requirements and the time spent processing, which we’ll come back to in a moment.

And given that you can output in Linear DNG Raw format, it also means that you retain all the main advantages of your original Raw file in your third-party app, such as better white-balance correction and the possibility of recovering lost highlight or shadow detail. You just get the added benefit of DxO’s lens and noise corrections with as little extra effort as possible.

Image quality

If you already own and use PhotoLab, incidentally, you can already do something very similar by exporting images to disk in DNG format using PhotoLab’s Denoise & Optical Correction option. But interestingly, I’ve found that PureRaw doesn’t always apply exactly the same adjustments as does DxO PhotoLab at its default settings, which suggests DxO may have tuned its algorithms a bit differently to account for the lack of manual overrides in PureRaw.

For the most part, the differences between PureRaw and PhotoLab’s renderings are slim to nonexistent. But just occasionally, the two apps can yield noticeably differing results.
Photo by Mike Tomkins

I’ve run dozens of images through PureRaw and PhotoLab at defaults, and found that while perhaps a quarter of my images seemed absolutely identical regardless of which program I used, around half those processed via PureRaw showed slightly stronger sharpening than in PhotoLab’s defaults.

I also spotted a few images where PureRaw used slightly stronger noise reduction or vignetting correction than PhotoLab, as well as a handful where PureRaw cropped in a little tighter.

There’s a clear difference between an untweaked Raw opened and saved in ACR, and a Linear DNG from PureRaw that was opened and saved in ACR. Click or tap for full-size ACR default and ACR+PureRaw images.
Photo by Mike Tomkins

But really, the differences from PureRaw’s results were very slight in all cases, and very similar to what you can get from PhotoLab without any user intervention. And its results in terms of noise reduction were clearly leagues ahead of what I could’ve managed with Photoshop or Lightroom’s own tools and a similar level of effort.

Performance

Given its ease of use, I think the biggest concern for most users will be the added time taken to process images in PureRaw before starting work in your third-party app.

Results will obviously vary with your hardware, and all my times below were recorded using my 2018 Dell XPS 15 9570 laptop running Windows 10 version 20H2, PureRaw 1.0.10 and PhotoLab 4.2.1.

When considering the times below, it’s also important to remember the time you’d have expended if trying to make the same corrections in your existing app without PureRaw, of course.

Even after enabling profiled lens corrections and manually hand-tweaking the noise sliders, ACR is still far behind the result from PureRaw. And that’s despite spending more than twice as long to edit the ACR-prepared image as PureRaw took to process its version with DeepPRIME. Click for full-size ACR default and ACR+PureRaw images.
Photo by Mike Tomkins

In HQ mode, PureRaw took around 13 seconds to process each image, versus about 11 seconds for PhotoLab 4. Switching to PRIME, I measured a time of 32 seconds per image in PureRaw, and 26 seconds for PhotoLab. Finally, DeepPRIME was a bit faster in both apps, at 27 seconds per image for PureRaw, and 24 seconds per image for PhotoLab.

I must admit, I was surprised to find PureRaw 1.0 a little slower than PhotoLab with identical images. Given the very streamlined interface and lack of user adjustability, I’d expected that it would perhaps edge PhotoLab’s times just a little. The difference is relatively small, though.

Conclusion

What we like What we don’t
  • Simple, streamlined interface with almost no learning curve
  • Impressive image quality benefits with a minimum of fuss
  • Solid integration with Adobe products and other digital darkroom software
  • Might be too pricey for some users
  • Simplified interface doesn’t give users any control to tweak the output

DxO PureRaw presents an interesting proposition for diehard users of Photoshop, Lightroom and their many non-DxO rivals. In one simple, lightweight app, PureRaw now gives you access to arguably the best feature of PhotoLab: The PRIME / DeepPRIME denoising engine.

And it doesn’t require that you switch your digital darkroom software or make any big changes to your workflow at all. Nor do you even have to manually intervene, beyond choosing which denoising engine to use.

We do, however, have one reservation – the price. At $129 list, DxO PureRaw costs just as much as DxO PhotoLab 4 Essential edition.

DxO PureRaw’s pricetag is steep, but it offers big IQ improvements with no work at all

Sure, PhotoLab 4 Essential lacks the PRIME / DeepPRIME denoising algorithms, but it’s otherwise a pretty comprehensive digital darkroom app. In fact, PureRaw’s list price is only a third less than that of the full DxO PhotoLab 4 Elite.

That feels like a big ask for what’s clearly a much less capable and powerful application. But at the same time, PureRaw offers the chance to get really, really powerful denoising and decent lens corrections with barely a moment’s conscious effort.

And it does so without forcing you to learn a new app if you’re already satisfied with your existing one in most other respects. There is, essentially, no learning curve at all.

For frequent high-ISO shooters who can justify its high list price – or those who score the limited-time launch pricing available through May 2021 – DxO PureRaw will definitely offer you a very noticeable improvement in some of your images with almost zero work.

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