DxO Optics Pro made its name with its automatic lens correction profiles, but it has evolved into a powerful and effective RAW conversion tool too. And part of its success lies in the DxO Smart Lighting’ technology, which recovers blocked-in shadow detail to reveal a full range of tones in your pictures.

But it’s not always been easy to get to grips with, so it was a relief when DxO introduced new algorithms and simplified controls in DxO Optics Pro 8. But even in version 9, the latest, DxO still offers the choice of reverting to the ‘old’ and more complicated version 7 Smart Lighting controls.

Now I must admit I’ve found the ‘new’ DxO Smart Lighting slightly disappointing in ways I can’t quite put my finger on… until now.

I decided to run some simple tests on one of my RAW files to see what the differences actually were, whether version 7 Smart Lighting still has something to offer and why it’s still there.

01 Slight adjustment

The issue with my picture is that the front of the cottage is in quite deep darkness, but I also want to preserve the rich, indigo sky. It’s a prime candidate for DxO Smart Lighting.

DxO Smart Lighting v9 vs v7

I’ll start with a Slight adjustment with version 9 Smart Lighting. In DxO Optics Pro 9, the controls are much simpler. A single ‘Intensity’ slider controls the strength of the effect and choosing Slight from the pop-up menu places the Intensity value at 50. It’s lifted the tones in the front of the cottage a little, but it’s not enough.

DxO Smart Lighting v9 vs v7

In version 7 Smart Lighting, the choices are more complex. When you choose ‘Slight’ from the Correction menu, the software (as far as I can tell) uses its least aggressive correction algorithm, and the Intensity slider directly below is specifically for this algorithm. In any event, the default Slight setting sets the Intensity to 70 and provides a stronger correction than the version 9 tool. However, you can see from the sky tones and the histogram that it’s ‘stealing’ some of the sky tones too. It’s not just applying a shadow adjustment – it’s introducing an overall brightness adjustment too.

02 Medium adjustment

DxO Smart Lighting v9 vs v7

Version 9 Smart Lighting sets the Intensity value to 100 for its Medium adjustment, and this is looking much more effective. The picture is still quite dark, but that’s in keeping with the subject. The front of the cottage is now more clearly defined, but the sky hasn’t lost its richness. There is a hint of ‘flatness’ about this rendition, though.

DxO Smart Lighting v9 vs v7

Version 7 Smart Lighting produces a very different result. Here, when I change the Correction setting to Medium, it looks like it swaps to a different algorithm. The default Intensity value is still 70, but the correction method is stronger. This picture is punchy and little more natural looking, but while the software has boosted the darker tones very well, it’s applied an overall brightening effect that’s taken some of the colour out of the sky.