DxO PhotoLab Vs PureRAW – Which is Right for You?

by Jun 8, 2021Photography Blog

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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DxO PhotoLab Vs PureRAW – Which is Right for You?

Recently DxO launched their PureRAW product which I reviewed on Lenscraft at the time. Since then, I’ve received a regular flow of emails, often from DxO PhotoLab owners, asking if they should buy PureRAW. In this article, I want to explain the differences and similarities between PhotoLab and PureRAW as well as how you can make PhotoLab do the same thing as PureRAW.

What is DxO PureRAW

DxO PureRAW is a pre-processing tool for RAW files. It works by converting your original RAW file into a DNG file. In doing so, it takes care of the critical Demosaic step of the RAW conversion and applies high quality lens corrections which DxO are well known for. You can then process the resulting DNG file with your preferred RAW converter.

What DxO PureRAW does

At this point I want to stress that if your preferred RAW converter is DxO PhotoLab then there is no benefit from using DxO PureRAW. PureRAW uses the same RAW processing engine and optical corrections as PhotoLab, so you won’t gain anything by pre-processing the RAW file. But if you use another RAW converter like Adobe Lightroom, the quality improvement when using PureRAW may be quite noticeable.

Interestingly, if you have DxO PhotoLab you can make it do the same thing (perhaps even better) as DxO PureRAW. Let’s look at a simple scenario to explain how and help understand what PureRAW is doing.

A Basic Scenario

Imagine a situation where you are using Adobe Lightroom to manage your photos and edit your RAW files. You have used Lightroom for years and have invested a lot of time into organising your photos with it. You also like the Lightroom editing tools in the Develop module but see some issues in the image quality that you think could be improved.

This is the ideal scenario for DxO Pure RAW. Your workflow would be to use Lightroom to select your best images and then pre-process those to DNG files using DxO PureRAW. You can then process the resulting DNG file in the Lightroom Develop module using the Lightroom editing tools. The benefit is that PureRAW has handled the Demosaic of the RAW file and applied optical corrections. Because of this you may see an improvement in the image quality of the photo. I say may, as Lightroom handles some RAW file types and lenses quite well but is poor with others.

Now let’s look at how to achieve the same benefits using DxO PhotoLab.

Replacing DxO PureRAW with PhotoLab

As you may be aware, DxO PhotoLab is a full RAW converter and extremely capable as an editing tool, not to mention a library manager to organise your photos. What happened when DxO created PureRAW is that they took the RAW processing engine and lens corrections from PhotoLab to create the software.

There are four sets of corrections that are probably (I can’t be certain) applied in DxO PureRAW:

  1. DxO DeepPRIME Demosaicing and Noise Reduction.
  2. Lens Sharpness correction.
  3. Chromatic Aberration correction.
  4. Distortion correction (based on the DxO lens modules).

By applying these same corrections to an image in DxO PhotoLab and then exporting the image as a DNG file, you can achieve the same quality of results as processing the image in PureRAW.

DxO PhotoLab settings to match PureRAW

You can also make applying these settings easier by creating a Preset in the PhotoLab Preset Editor. A single click on a preset is then all it takes to apply these settings to any image and group of images.

After applying your default settings, you can apply any other adjustments to the RAW file before exporting the results. This is a significant advantage DxO PhotoLab has over PureRAW. Because it’s a full feature RAW editor you can do much more than you can in PureRAW.

Exporting the Results

When you are ready to export the corrected image, click the small export icon to the bottom right of the PhotoLab interface. This shows a square with an arrow pointing up.

Exporting the results from DxO PhotoLab

After clicking the icon, you will see a dropdown menu showing the various export options. To the left of this you can also see an “Export to Lightroom” button in the screenshot. This button reflects the last export option used which in this case was Lightroom. For example, if you selected the “Export to Disk” last time the button shows “Export to Disk”. You could then click the button instead of the export icon.

Let’s start by selecting the “Export to Disk” option. This displays the “Export to Disk – Options” dialog where you can select the type of file you want to create.

DxO PhotoLab export to disk options

When the dialog opens you can select the settings you would like to use for the export. In this screenshot, you can see that the DNG format is selected using the option “All Corrections Applied” on the right. It’s also possible to select a DNG export with only the optical and denoise corrections applied, which is what PureRAW will do.

As part of the export, you can select the location where the new DNG file should be saved. In this example it’s set to be in a DxO subfolder created in the same folder as the original image. Again, this matches the DxO PureRAW behaviour.

To speed things up for future exports, it’s worth saving your settings by clicking the “Add New Option” at the bottom left of the dialog. This creates a new preset you can use in the future to select the settings you want to use. You can then click the Export button to create the new DNG file for processing with your preferred RAW converter.

Exporting to Lightroom

Whilst the above description produces the same behaviour as DxO PureRAW, it also has an option to export to Lightroom or other applications. Let’s look at how the integration to Lightroom works in PhotoLab.

After selecting the files to export and clicking the export icon, pick the “Export to Lightroom” option in the menu. This displays the “Export to Lightroom” dialog.

Export to Lightroom PhotoLab option

Here we can select which version of Lightroom to export to if you have multiple versions installed. Do bear in mind some versions of Lightroom may not be recognised as compatible and therefore don’t appear in the list.

You can then select the format of the export. As before I have this set to export as a DNG file with all corrections applied. Notice however that there isn’t a location option. The new file is automatically created in the same folder as the original RAW file.

After clicking the Export button, the new DNG file is written to the folder. Shortly after, Lightroom will detect the new file(s) and import it to the Lightroom Catalog. If you check the “Collections” panel in the Lightroom Library module you will find a new collection containing the exported DNG file(s).

Lightroom Library module and Collection

As well as creating a new collection including all the new DNG files that were updated, if you select your original image folder with the new DNG file grouped into a stack with the original RAW file.

Differences Between DxO PhotoLab and PureRAW

At this point, you may be wondering what the differences are. Both DxO PhotoLab and PureRAW allow you to process RAW files into DNG files whilst applying DeepPRIME technology and DxO optical corrections. Both also integrate with other RAW editors.

Well, as far as I can see, there are three broad differences:

  1. DxO PhotoLab offers many more adjustments than are available in PureRAW. For example, Exposure Control, Smart Lighting, and ClearView Plus to name a few. With PureRAW you are limited to DeepPRIME and the DxO Optical corrections.
  2. Adjustment control. With PureRAW you can turn the corrections on or off. It’s all or nothing or at least it is with the current version at the time of writing. But in PhotoLab you can select which options you want to apply and even adjust the strength of those settings.
  3. DxO PhotoLab currently cost around £179 for the Elite version which is what you need for the DeepPRIME technology. Compare this to PureRAW which is currently £115.

In summary, both products can be used to do the same thing, but PhotoLab provides additional features which you may feel are worth the additional cost. But, if you are never going to use the additional features in PhotoLab you will probably find PureRAW better value. Just be sure to check the results with a trial version of the software before purchasing.

You can download the trial version of both packages from the DxO website.

Download DxO PureRAW trial.

Download DxO PhotoLab trial.

Please be aware that I am a DxO affiliate.

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