DxO Optics Pro 9 has just been released, and one of the new features is an improved Smart Lighting feature with what DxO claims is even better highlight recovery. According to DxO, it can now recover highlight detail even when the information is not in the original RAW file.

I thought it would be interesting to try this out by processing the same image in both Optics Pro 8 and Optics Pro 9. And, for good measure, I thought I’d run it through Adobe Camera Raw 8 too.

01 Highlight recovery with DxO Optics Pro 8

DxO Optics Pro 9 highlight recovery

In DxO Optics Pro, the default profile conversion uses ‘Smart’ exposure compensation which increases or reduces the overall exposure automatically to best preserve shadow and highlight detail. The DxO Smart Lighting panel below also applies a ‘Slight’ shadows adjustment to brighten the darker areas of the picture to allow for any negative exposure adjustment.

02 Manual exposure adjustments

DxO Optics Pro 9 highlight recovery

It’s usually worth adjusting the exposure compensation slider manually to see if there’s even more highlight detail there to be recovered. I’ve reduced the value slightly, but it’s obvious from the histogram at the top of the tools panel that there are no more highlights to get back, and the bright clouds at the top of the picture are only just within range and don’t have much detail. There’s no need to adjust the DxO Smart Lighting slider because the image is bright enough already.

03 Highlight recovery with DxO Optics Pro 9

DxO Optics Pro 9 highlight recovery

In DxO Optics Pro 9, there’s a big difference. I can reduce the exposure around a stop further before I’ve fully recovered the right hand end of the histogram and all the available highlight details. It looks like this version can recover a lot more detail than the previous one, and the clouds now look a lot more detailed – though the rest of the picture is now quite dark.

04 Smart Lighting in DxO Optics Pro 9

DxO Optics Pro 9 highlight recovery

My immediate response is to try to increase the Smart Lighting value to brighten up the rest of the picture, but this no longer seems as effective as it did in previous versions. Even if I push it right up to maximum, there’s little effect. I’ve always found DxO’s Smart Lighting tools quite hard to second-guess, and this doesn’t help!