This is a full review about the all new DXO PhotoLab 7. I’ll look at the functionality and tell you about my experience with this new software. I’ll try to see if this can be the Lightroom alternative you’ve all been waiting for.
Last year I reviewed PhotoLab 6, and I really liked it. In that review I also talked about the difference between Adobe Lightroom and PhotoLab. I will do the same in a little less detail for Photolab 7, so if you need to know more check out my previous review as well since Photolab 6 and 7 do work alike.
For this review I’ve used PhotoLab 7 Elite and FilmPack 7 on my iMac 24 inch with 16 GB of RAM. I’m running MacOS Sonoma with the most recent updates installed.
Let’s talk about one of the biggest advantages of PhotoLab 7 vs. Lightroom: You don’t need a subscription to use the software. DXO PhotoLab 7 is available to buy, you pay once and can use it as long as you want. There are two versions available, Essential or Elite. Essential is available for 139 euro and the Elite version will set you back 229 euro. For comparison Lightroom will cost you 12 euro per month, that adds up to 144 euro per year. So one year of Lightroom is more expensive than a lifetime of PhotoLab 7 Essential.
In my opinion that is a big advantage for PhotoLab 7. If you use your photo editing software professionaly on a daily base a subscription or 12 euro per month is probably not going to be a dealbreaker. But if you aren’t a professional but just an amateur that wants to edit vacation photos. Or even when you are a photo enthousiast but don’t go out every week to take pictures 12 euro per month is a lot of money. That is where PhotoLab 7 will be great for you.
PhotoLab 7 Elite vs Essential
- 3 versus 2 activations
- PRIME denoising for faster processing
- Color calibration tool
- Channel Mixer for black-and-white editing
- HSL ColorWheel in local adjustments
- Soft Proofing mode
- Support for Fujifilm X-Trans RAW files
- Adjust perspective distortion with dedicated tools
- Edit the shape of the ReTouch area using a brush and eraser
- Rotate, scale, and mirror your ReTouch source area
- DxO Clearview Plus to reduce haze and enhance contrast
- Moiré tool to remove artifacts caused by high-frequency textures
- Edit existing presets and create partial presets
- Create multiple parallel exports
- Create, edit, and manage your own watermarks
- Edit Exif and IPTC data
- Import and apply DCP and ICC profiles
- Selectively copy and paste metadata from an image to others
- Search field to quickly find the tools you’re looking for
- Create custom palettes
- Display only the tools that are actively making changes to an image
If you are a professional user this list will probably tell you all you need to know to choose between the versions. But if you are a newcomer this list might be a little overwhelming. So I’ve marked a few options in ‘bold’ that I think might be important for you to consider. Lets dive in to them a little deeper to help you make the right choice:
3 versus 2 activations
f you use more than 2 pc’s or laptops for you editing you need the Elite version since that will give you 3 activations. If you only have 2 systems the Essential version will be enough for you.
Support for Fujifilm X-Trans RAW files
This is important if you use a FujiFilm camera with X-trans sensor like the FujiFilm X-T5. The files these cameras output in RAW mode can’t be read by all RAW converters if they don’t have X-Trans compatibility. If you have a FujiFilm camera you can use the Essential version of PhotoLab but you will have to convert the RAW files in other software before you can edit them in PhotoLab. In Elite you can skip this step and import the files directly. So this will save you quite some time.
Adjust perspective distortion with dedicated tools
This might be useful if you do a lot of architecture photography or something else where you want to correct the perspective. Having this option makes it possible to correct distortion when you use wide angle lenses for instance. If you don’t take a lot of photo’s of buildings this will probably not be needed for you.
Moiré tool to remove artifacts caused by high-frequency textures
This module can be helpful if you have a high resolution camera without an AA filter. Many new camera models don’t have this anymore and it makes it possible to capture even sharper images. But in some cases not having an AA filter can cause strange effects on clothing, fences or other repetitive textures.
Using Photolab 7
Looking at the interface of PhotoLab 7 there are a lot of parallels with PhotoLab 6 I’ve used before. And that is a good thing. The interface is very clear and easy to use. The most used functions are readily available and filters and options can be found easily. It also looks like Lightroom in some ways, so if you switch you will be able to find your way around Photolab. This makes a transition a lot easier.
One thing I’ve noticed is that DXO PhotoLab 7 is faster than PhotoLab 6 was. For me Lightroom was the gold standard when it comes to the speed of processing adjustments. It just seems to be instant in almost any situation, even when using modest hardware. With PhotoLab 6 I noticed it was a tad slower than Lightroom, especially when applying adjustments to larger images. I’m happy to report that PhotoLab 7 is quite a lot faster, and there is almost no difference between PhotoLab 7 and Lightroom anymore in that regard. A big plus for people editing a lot of images at once.
For Apple users running PhotoLab on a modern Mac with Apple M-chip it is good to know PhotoLab 7 supports Apple M1/2 chips natively. It even uses the Apple Neural Engine to process images.
Editing with Photolab 7
Using Photolab 7 out of the box will give you completely different results compared to Lightroom. That is because in the out of the box setting Photolab will apply a lot of DXO modules like DXO Smart Lighting, Clear View Plus and DXO specific color profiles. This is great if you want a no hassle upgrade for your images. But I like to have a little more control over the end result and find the auto settings a little heavy handed. The good thing is that you can set your own preferred import profiles in the settings. That way you can choose if you all of the automatic optimisations, some of them or non at all. I chose to use some like Smart Lighting and keep the cameras color profile, but not automatically apply Clear View Plus.
Editing is mostly a smooth operation. The different editing options are grouped together in submenus for light, color and effects. And if you can’t find an option you can use the search box at the top of the editing screen. And if that isn’t enough you can easily select your favourite editing tools by clicking the star symbol and using the favourites menu. Just like you find in the Nik tools collection.
Masking and AI
There are way too many functions in Photolab 7 to cover them all in this review. But I do want to say there isn’t a lot you’re going to miss coming from Lightroom. One thing Adobe, and Lightroom specifically, does better is automatic masking. In Lightroom selecting the subject, background or sky of your image to edit is a one click affair. And that works very well.
Photolab 7 asks for some manual labour to select the right part of the images for you. It does help with the very useful Control Point functionality. That works by clicking the desired place on the image (like a face) and the control point will select a gradually fading filter around the control point. This makes for a more natural look when editing selected parts of the image without harsh borders.
Photolab 7 offers integrations with many other editors. Of course you can easily export your images for editing in an other DXO software like the Nik Collection. But you can also upload to Lightroom or any other desired software.
One of the good things about DXO’s software are the many profiles and looks you can apply to your images. DXO offers you some of the best looking profiles to edit the look of your image in one click. You can keep the camera specific profile for a more natural look. But you can also choose one of the DXO profiles like DXO natural, vivid, vibrant or the portrait profiles. I really like the DXO neutral and DXO portrait 2 as a starting point for my editing.
One of the more ‘fun’ options is to use the DXO filmpack Time Machine. This will give you several looks from eras gone by from the 1800’s to the 60’s sepia tones, the 80’s washed colours or even the 2010’s Lomography. I really like the 80’s look. I also like the 60’s look, but I’m not a fan of the fake ‘defects’ and worn-sides that it comes with.
Exporting images is the same as in Lightroom. You can set your own desired export format and export the images how you like. There are several presets for exporting, but you can easily add your own. For instance I have three presets I use most of the time. One is a full, 100% quality JPEG for keeping edited images. The other two are a smaller resolution, lower quality JPEG I use for posting on my website or sharing on social media or via Whatsapp or iMessage. Setting those up is a breeze.
I did miss the option to edit the file name by adding the make and model of the camera and lens I’ve used for the photo. But that is probably only relevant for people that are reviewing gear.
I was really happy with Photolab 6 when I reviewed that last year. And the only reason I still also have Lightroom is because I need it for some work related modules we use at the company where I work. But for my personal editing I’ve switched over to Photolab completely. And I’m happy to report Photolab 7 is a worthwhile successor in the Photolab lineup.
It offers smaller and bigger updates to Photolab 6, the biggest are the improved speed and small tweaks to the interface. If you are using Lightroom and want to get out of paying 12 euro’s a month to edit your images I think this is the software to get. Also you do have to consider if you can live without Adobe’s fantastic AI driven automatic masking function, as that isn’t included in Photolab just yet. If you already own Photolab 6 I don’t think an upgrade is necessary but if you do a lot of editing you will like the improvements (and DXO offers a lower price upgrade for existing customers).
So is it the Lightroom alternative you were waiting for? I think it just might be for most people!
Not sure yet? Give it a try for free: