DxO PhotoLab vs. Adobe Lightroom vs. Adobe Photoshop
DxO vs Adobe Repair and Clone Tools compared in Photolab, Lightroom and Photoshop. This was easy last year, basically we were comparing like with like. PhotoLab came last and Photoshop won hands down.
In 2024, I’m finding everyone has raised their game considerably. PhotoLab from Poor to Great, Lightroom from Fair to Good, Photoshop from Excellent to Superb!
Table of Contents
The comparison is skewed by the introduction of artificial intelligence and once again, Photoshop comes out well ahead. PhotoLab moves just ahead of Lightroom due to the immense flexibility of the tool.
I have chosen a difficult use case. All tools can remove birds from a blue sky. If they can’t, they should be avoided! This case involves removing telegraph wires that cross a varied background including hedges, trees and grass. A lot of different colours, shapes and textures. Only hair is more difficult!
Note that PhotoLab and Lightroom are not Graphics platforms, so although Photoshop represents the state of the art and is used by many photographers, the comparison is hardly like for like. Photoshop is included because it gives an idea of where this may be headed in the future.
DxO PhotoLab – Retouch Tool
Similar to Lightroom, PhotoLab has one tool with multiple modes and functions
The ReTouch tool in DxO PhotoLab 7 is accessed via the toolbar at the top centre or the Detail tab on the right of the image.
In the Settings panel, the options running from left to right are:
Choose Repair mode or Clone Mode from the panel and draw the mask.
Size indicates the size of the brush.
Feather indicates the softness of the brush or the extent to which it blends with the neighbouring pixels.
Opacity indicates the opacity of the stroke. 100% is a solid line.
Extend an existing mask by using Add Stroke.
Erase part of a mask.
Flip Horizontally, Flip Vertically, Transform Reset
You’ll find you can change the scale of the pixels replacing the brush stroke by stretching or reducing the box around the source selection. This would in theory allow me to pull pixels from faraway and replace pixels in the foreground, adjusting for scale.
Repair Mode takes the brightness, contrast and colour of the pixels to be replaced ie. those under the brushstroke into account and produces a seamless blend.
Transfers pixels as is to replace the ones under the brushstroke. This can be used as a clone stamp tool where you select the position you want the clone to appear in and then move the automatically chosen pixels to the object. you want to clone.
Best Practice with the DxO ReTouch Tool
I can only comment from the landscape photography perspective, but bearing in mind that the pixels retrieved from elsewhere in the image to replace the ones under the brush are a mirror image of the brushstroke, this should be done in small incremental strokes if you want a smooth repair.
Once you get used to it, the options are very powerful and if Adobe had been asleep at the wheel, this would be the more powerful tool. The issues with objects at the edge of the image appear to have been resolved, and DxO have produced a very useful and flexible tool.
For example, Birds and Dust spots are simple, but a more complicated use case is if you want to remove a telegraph line (possibly the number one use case for landscape photographers). Don’t try to do this in one stroke! Instead do it section by section so that you have adequate pixels to replace the line with. In this photograph, there are areas of the line where there is grass in the background and areas where there are bushes. The areas with bushes require careful blending and positioning so that there are no jarring mismatches.
Verdict: Massively improved but it is still a manual task.
Content Aware Remove
It’s a difficult use case, but this tool is ineffective in replacing telegraph wire in front of trees.
Almost identical to the Repair function in PhotoLab but lacks the flexibility and customisation of the source pixels.
Identical to the function in PhotoLab.
Best Practice with Adobe Lightroom
Years of experience have taught me that “Edit in..” Photoshop is the best way to get the result you want quickly. The Lightroom tooling is much improved, and where there are no complications such as hair or tree branches, it is probably adequate. But if you have Photoshop, why not use it?
Photoshop boasts a whole range of specialised tools to address repairing and cloning. Additionally it boasts Adobe’s Generative AI tools which represent a giant leap forward for the kind of use cases we’ve looked at here.
Spot Healing Brush
The original and still the best. Excels at difficult cases such as wires in front of trees. This is where I go when all else fails, one small section at a time.
Removes the highlighted area and replaces it seamlessly with its own selection. Very effective indeed with large objects like bushes.
Healing Brush Tool
Choose the source pixels then the part to be healed. This seems to me to be more intuitive than the PhotoLab model but that may be because I learned Photoshop first.
No equivalent in any of the other tools. Excellent for replacing tiles on floors for example.
Content-Aware Move Tool
This tool also adds the flip horizontal and vertical tools that PhotoLab has as standard.
Red Eye Tool
PhotoLab also has a redeye tool. I can’t speak for either as I don’t shoot events which is where you’re most likely to find this problem.
AI Generative Fill
I used Generative fill with a blank prompt to remove phone lines from in front of branches. Very good success rate and by far the best of all the healing tools I’ve used on any platform. This is where the technology is headed without a doubt.
Best Practice with Photoshop
With such a range of tools to choose from it’s difficult to come up with a snappy best practice but with this type of detailed work, on any platform, always go to 100% view and work in small sections, zooming out to make sure the integrity of the blend is good.
DxO vs Adobe Repair and Clone Tools – Verdict
It was a bruising encounter in which PhotoLab comes off as second best owing to Adobe’s AI capability. That is not to say that PhotoLab is not capable, with time and care I think I could probably get pretty close to what Generative Fill achieves in a few seconds.
Note that in these tests, for PhotoLab I used an image pre-processed by DxO PhotoLab using a DxO Style Natural Preset. For Lightroom I pre-processed a stack of three images at different exposures and used the same output in Photoshop.
Interestingly the output from the HDR process in Adobe is not radically different from the single image I processed in PhotoLab, meaning that PhotoLab was able to pull details out of the sky in particular that Adobe needed a second shot at a shorter exposure to manage. I will test this in a more structured way and write up the results in a couple of weeks.
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