Unfortunately, these days I don’t take quite as many photos as I used to because I’m spending a lot more of my time writing. However, in my previous incarnation as a professional photographer, I mostly used a software package by Apple called Aperture. Apple’s pro photography software was a great way of organizing my photos and tweaking images, so they were sparkling and ready for a client. Aperture was also a great way of applying edits and renaming bulk selections of image files. If you’ve ever photographed a wedding and come back with a thousand images, then you’ll know how great cataloging and image-editing software is as important a tool as having a great camera.

When Apple withdrew support for Aperture, I was disappointed. I tried using Adobe Lightroom for a while, but I couldn’t get on with it in the same way that I did with Aperture. Eventually, I turned to DxO’s Photolab, and suddenly it was as if I were back using Aperture again. I finally felt at home with the software I was using to manage my images and editing workflow.

Photolab 4 is now the latest version is even better than Aperture, and it contains some amazing algorithms based on artificial intelligence that can even inject new life into old RAW images stored on my hard drive. With Photolab 4, you can go back to your old photos and redevelop them using the latest AI technology to bring out fine detail in RAW image files that previous software packages couldn’t tease out. The new software is also great at taming the digital noise in old photos and making them look as if they were shot with a more modern camera that can handle higher ISO settings without excessive noise.

DxO is a French developer that’s been producing high-end imaging-editing software for photographers and camera manufacturers. DxO also produces the excellent Nik Collection suite of Photoshop plugins that I’ve previously reviewed here. DxO’s software is a standard in the digital camera industry for measuring the resolving power of lenses and camera sensors. Over the past 16 years, the company has tested every combination of camera and lens to create a database that now contains image data for more than 60,000 combinations of different cameras and lenses. 

DxO has taken its imaging editing software to the next level with the launch of DxO Photolab 4. The software has a brand new AI technology called DeepPRIME. It uses deep-learning Artificial Intelligence that’s been built on DxO’s database of cameras and lenses. DeepPRIME was programmed by using several billion image samples from the DxO database to measuring distortion, vignetting, chromatic aberration, loss of sharpness, and digital noise generated by each combination of camera and lens. DeepPRIME can develop RAW images from almost any camera with an extraordinary level of precision.

By analyzing all the data contained in a digital image, especially photos taken in low light levels, DeepPRIME can render the images so that color details are better preserved, and transitions between light and dark appear more natural and gradual. Compared with DxO’s previous denoising algorithm, the new DeepPRIME can deliver a gain of around two full ISO stops at a comparable level of quality. The upshot is to make photos taken at extremely high ISO settings completely usable and even beautiful.

Removing noise of a shot featuring a surfer
DeepPRIME rendering can remove noise but without losing detail as can be seen in this surfing shot. … [+] DXO

There are many other significant improvements in this latest version of Photolab 4 that make this release probably the premier image-editing and cataloging package on the market at the moment. For starters, there’s a new dynamic Smart Workspace that changes its appearance based on a system of filters and control that can be accessed directly from the toolbar. The Smart Workspace groups tool palettes by the type of correction you might want to carry out. Smart Workspace can also be set up to display a selection of a user’s favorite tools, or it can just display just the palettes that have been used to make corrections. Additionally, DxO Smart Workspace can instantly find and open a specific tool palette simply by searching for it in the dedicated search field.

By filtering out unwanted or unused tool palettes, DxO Photolab 4 can significantly increase productivity with a customized workflow that adapts to the user’s individual needs. The Smart Workspace also makes transitioning from other image-editing and cataloging packages much easier by helping users to get their bearings more quickly.

PhotoLab 4 also enables users to edit the names of multiple files in one step. From the Photo Library view, or directly from the Photo Browser, users can select any number of files and then use a dedicated dialog box to rename them by adding text before or after the existing file names, as well as numbering them or completely renaming them. It’s possible to check how the renaming will look as the changes are reflected in a live view before you need to commit to renaming.

A nighttime shot showing the Milky Way and noise reduction.
Astrophotos can be the hardest to remove noise but look at what DxO’s Photolab 4 manages to do here. … [+] DXO

Also new to Photolab 4 is the History palette which chronologically lists all the corrections that have already been applied to an image. Every edit that’s already been made to a photo is listed in the palette. The list also shows the editing values that were used as well as the difference compared to its previous values. This feature enables users to navigate their way through the different stages of the editing process without losing sight of all the changes and edits that have already been made. 

For complex image edits, such as presets or where a tool has been used several times, PhotoLab 4 places the adjustments in a group and each adjustment can be hidden as needed. All edits can also be copied and pasted, enabling users to synchronize the settings of several similar images by applying a specific selection of individual edits from one photo to another. From the Photo Browser screen, users can also select the specific edits they want to apply to one or several images by tool type, such as lighting, color, detail, local edits, geometry adjustments, or watermarking. It’s even possible to leave out image-specific adjustments such as cropping which will often be specific to each image.

Most cataloging and image-editing packages enable users to add watermarks to a photo as a way of protecting a copyrighted image from unauthorized use. Watermarks can also be used as a marketing tool for branding your images. However, the difference with Photolab 4’s watermarking is that the user can live edit the watermark using a range of blending modes before applying it to an image and exporting previews for a client. Photolab 4’s Instant Watermarking tool can embed both text and an image on one or a selection of photos while instantly showing a preview of the finished result. Instant Watermarks can be positioned, orientated and scaled anywhere in an image. The margins and opacity of the watermark can also be adjusted. 

Screenshot of DxO Photolab 4
The new Smart Workspace makes editing images much easier as you only get to see the tool palettes … [+] MARK SPARROW

Photolab 4 is a great tool for developing and cataloging digital images, especially for those of us with an archive of older RAW image files that could benefit from being redeveloped using the latest algorithms that can dramatically reduce noise and render color more faithfully. Photolab 4 also supports RAW file formats from the very latest digital camera models and includes support for Canon EOS R5, EOS R6, and EOS 850D, Nikon D6 and Z5, Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV; and Panasonic Lumix S5. With these new models now added to the software, Photolab 4 can access DxO’s image calibration database of more than 60,000 camera and lens combinations.

Verdict: I’ve had a week or two to try out the final beta version of DxO’s Photolab 4. It’s an awesome piece of software that has been made even more usable thanks to the brilliant new Smart Workspace feature. Smart Workspace is great for reducing clutter and enabling the user to concentrate on the job in hand without the clutter of too many tools and palettes. 

Being able to drill down to specific tool palettes with a single click on the Filter icon or by searching for a keyword, is so convenient and speeds up the workflow massively. The introduction of DeepPRIME AI technology for reducing digital noise and improving the rendering of the color in an image is nothing short of astonishing. I don’t use that word lightly but DeepPRIME can resurrect details in old images, especially ones taken with older cameras that may have performed poorly at higher ISO settings. The software would be worth upgrading to for DeepPRIME alone. 

The introduction of the new Bulk Renaming tool and the Instant Watermarking features makes Photolab 4 an invaluable tool for busy professional photographers or anyone with a large archive of images who wants to brand or protect their photos with customized watermarks. If you’re already a user of Photolab 3 then you should definitely upgrade because the introductory upgrade price represents excellent value for money. If you’ve previously used Apple’s ApertureACDSee PhotoStudio or Adobe Lightroom, then give DxO Photolab 4 a try using the free 30-day demo. Redevelop some of your older RAW image files and see what a difference DeepPRIME can make. 

For me, the question is settled… DxO’s Photolab 4 is the best image workflow software on the market right now for digital photographers. Highly recommended.

Pricing: DxO Photolab 4 is available as ESSENTIAL and ELITE versions. My advice is to go for the ELITE version as that has all the features including DeepPRIME plus it allows activation on up to three computers. There are special introductory prices for the software until November 19th. Existing users of DxO Photolab 3can upgrade at special rates.

Pricing table
Pricing info MARK SPARROW

System requirements: 

Microsoft Windows

  • Intel Core 2 or AMD Athlon 64 X2 or higher (Intel Core i7 4th generation or better, or AMD Ryzen recommended)
  • 8 GB of RAM (16 GB or more recommended)
  • 4 GB or more of available hard-disk space
  • Microsoft Windows 8.1 (64-bit), or Microsoft Windows 10 version 1809 or higher (64-bit, and still supported by Microsoft), Windows 10 version 2004 or later recommended
  • DirectX 10-capable system
  • OpenCL 1.2-capable graphic card with 1GB of video memory to handle OpenCL acceleration
  • NVIDIA GTX 1060, AMD Radeon RX 580 or better recommended for DeepPRIME

 Apple macOS

  • Intel Core i7 4th generation or better recommended
  • 8 GB of RAM (16 GB or more recommended)
  • 4 GB or more of available hard-disk space
  • macOS 10.14 (Mojave), 10.15 (Catalina) or 11.0 (Big Sur)
  • Graphics card with 512 MB of video memory
  • AMD Radeon R9 M290X or better recommended for DeepPRIME

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