Don’t write off DxO Optics Pro as a one-tricky pony. It’s brilliant at correcting lens aberrations and perspective and maximising the quality of your RAW files, but the lack of any localised adjustment tools can tempt you into migrating to another app as soon as you’ve fixed the basic issues. But don’t be in such a rush, because you could be missing out on some of Optics Pro’s best features – especially if you’re a fan of black and white.
I’m going to use this colour image to introduce some of the hidden power in DxO Optics Pro’s adjustment tools. There’s more to explore for black and white fans, including some very nice toning effects, but this should be enough to whet your appetite. DxO Optics Pro may not offer localised adjustment and enhancement tools, but it can apply tonal adjustments every bit as subtle, delicate or powerful as its rivals.
01 Style – Toning
Part of the battle is knowing what tools DxO Optics Pro actually offers, what they do and where to find them. It’s a brilliant program, but it’s very technical. The right sidebar is home to a tottering tower of panels and expanding sections which sometimes appear to cross over and always seem to be getting in the way of each other. Here, I’ve created a much simpler workspace with just the tools I need – and I’ll demonstrate how to do this in a follow-up post.
For now, the first step is to use the Style – Toning panel to convert the image to black and white. It’s that simple. DxO Optics Pro does also have a Channel Mixer panel, but I’m not going to bother with that for now. All I need to do here is select B&W from the Style menu.
02 Tone Curve
Black and white thrives on contrast, so you’re likely to spend a lot of time in the Tone Curve panel. I’ve applied a pretty straightforward S-shaped curve here, adding a control point in the highlight region and pushing it upwards, then adding another in the shadows and pushing it downwards. This steepens the curve in the midtone section, which is what gives the extra contrast. Whole books have been written (probably) on the power of curves adjustments, and those in DxO Optics Pro are as powerful as any.
03 Selective Tone
Now for DxO Optics Pro’s secret weapon – the Selective Tone panel. DxO heavily plugs its Smart Lighting slider for lightening shadows, but I prefer to work in this panel instead. The results look much the same to me, and you get more precise control over all areas of the tonal range.
So here, for example, I’ve lightened the Shadows, so that the lighthouse is not so strongly silhouetted, and I’ve also lightened the Midtones slightly. I’ve then lowered the Highlights value to hold tone in the sky and the bright clouds on the horizon.
DxO Optics Pros isn’t simply applying another kind of curves adjustment here. It’s adjusting these tonal regions individually without affecting the rest. Many programs try to do this, but I think DxO probably does it best of all – but do watch out for edge effects where there’s a big difference in the adjustments for neighbouring zones. Take a look at the shadows on the sand in the lower part of the picture here – just inside the sunlit areas there’s a narrow grey margin created by the shadow adjustment. I’ve left this in so that you can see what to look for. This happens if you push the adjustments a little too far and, frankly, if you’re simply unlucky with the subject matter and lighting.
I’ll finish off with the Contrast panel, which actually has two sliders – one for a regular Contrast adjustment and a second for Microcontrast. The effect of the Contrast slider is no different to an S-shaped Tone Curve adjustments, so usually there’s no point in doing both. The Tone Curve panel will give you more control, and the Contrast slider is just a quick fix.
The Microcontrast slider is more interesting. Like the localised contrast tools in other programs, it increases the contrast around object boundaries to make them stand out more clearly, without increasing the contrast globally. Here, it’s visibly enhanced the details and textures in the lighthouse. Microcontrast is a brilliant tool for giving black and white images that hard-edge ‘punch’ that many of us will remember from the days of film.
05 The finished image
This has been a whistle-stop tour, but hopefully it’s shown that there is more to DxO Optics Pro than meets the eye, especially for fans of black and white photography. The key features are DxO Optics Pro’s ability to recover the widest possible dynamic range from your RAW files, the adjustments possible with the Tone Curve panel, and power of the Selective Tone panel.
If you own DxO FilmPack 4, it goes a whole lot further still, and it’s fully integrated into the DxO Optics Pro workspace – but that’s a topic for a future post.