DxO PhotoLab 6 and DxO PureRaw 3 are two popular photography software options, especially for noise reduction. DxO is pretty famous for its machine-learning noise reduction algorithms, but I see a lot of confusion over which one of these two you should get – if either. Read on to find out!
Disclaimer: DxO gave me a license so that I could test out their software. I was not compensated otherwise.
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The Quick Answer
Simply put, PhotoLab is DxO’s full post-processing software that allows you to do all kinds of edits to a photo (including noise reduction, of course). Meanwhile, DxO PureRaw has very few options and is almost exclusively a noise-reduction software.
Both PhotoLab and PureRaw use the same noise reduction algorithm, which is called DeepPRIME XD.
I’ll explain more of the pros and cons below, but that’s the basic answer.
What is DeepPRIME XD?
Unlike traditional noise-reduction algorithms, DeepPRIME XD uses a neural net that has been trained on millions of images. It uses this training model to denoise and demosaic at the same time. This method of denoising differs from other denoising methods that merely use the noise pattern of individual photos to remove noise, without taking into account specific patterns in different kinds of images from different cameras.
Putting aside all this technical stuff, does it actually work? One need only read Libor’s test of this algorithm to know that it indeed does. I also have tested it extensively and found that it compares very favorably against typical noise reduction algorithms (like the default options found in Lightroom, Capture One, or Darktable). It also matches or slightly beats other machine-learning algorithms, like Topaz DeNoise, in performance, as I covered in my article on the best noise reduction software today.
Here is a comparison to give you a feel for how it works – the following image was taken at ISO 20,000:
Although DeepPRIME XD is a good algorithm, keep in mind that it only works if your camera is supported in DxO’s database. However, the vast majority of cameras are supported, and furthermore, new camera and lens combinations are being added all the time.
Next, let me dive into PureRaw and PhotoLab in more detail.
What is PureRaw 3?
DxO PureRaw 3 is a $129 standalone program that takes a Raw file and removes the noise from it. It outputs the result in the form of a second DNG Raw file. It can also do some basic lens corrections and modifications if your lens is supported.
However, after you get your DNG Raw file from PureRaw 3, you still need to import it into your Raw developer of choice, such as Lightroom, Capture One Pro, or Darktable.
PureRaw 3 has a very basic interface:
It’s very easy to use. You simply drag and drop Raw files into this window and click Process Now. I typically use the defaults, but you can choose a few settings. In particular, you can turn off lens corrections or choose a TIFF or JPEG file as an output.
The default location for the processed files are in the same directory as the original, which makes it easy to work with them.
What is PhotoLab 6?
DxO PhotoLab 6 is a $219 Raw developer with a full set of post-processing adjustments, similar to Lightroom or Capture One Pro. But unlike Lightroom or Capture One Pro, PhotoLab 6 also has DeepPRIME XD built in. Therefore, in addition to adjusting tone curves, exposure, color, and the many other features you’d expect from a Raw developer, you can also denoise your images very effectively.
Overall, I found PhotoLab 6 a pretty easy-to-use editor. Compared to Adobe Lightroom, it is less bloated, but lacks some features like panoramas, tethering, and geolocation. It reminds me more of Capture One Pro, for better or worse. As a bonus, DxO at least so far has not tried to force monthly subscriptions so it might be a nice alternative if you don’t want to pay Adobe’s monthly subscription fee or if you think Capture One Pro is a bit too expensive.
Since PhotoLab 6 uses the same algorithm as PureRaw 3, you don’t need PureRaw 3 if you have PhotoLab 6.
Which One Should You Get?
Considering the differences I outlined above, you probably already know which one of PureRaw and PhotoLab is right for you. In short, if you’re already using a different Raw editor like Capture One Pro, then you should just use PureRaw 3. The DNGs from PureRaw work well in Capture One, Lightroom, etc., so you’re really just upgrading your noise reduction capabilities without changing much else in your post-processing pipeline.
PureRaw 3 is also cheaper than PhotoLab 6 ($129 vs $219 USD), so it might make a lot of sense just to buy PureRaw 3. I’ve been using PureRaw 3 with the open-source software Darktable, and the two make a powerful combination.
The benefit of PhotoLab 6, of course, is that you don’t need to spend time switching between different software when processing your Raw files. It has enough editing options to simply replace Lightroom, Capture One, etc., for a lot of people.
It really comes down to whether you simply want better noise reduction in your current workflow (go for PureRaw) or you’re in the mood to switch to a new post-processing software altogether (in which case, PhotoLab is the way to go).
Both of them have the same DeepPRIME XD noise reduction algorithm, so it’s not a question of image quality.
Is Either Right for You?
Many people talk about software like PureRaw 3 as if it were magic. In my experience of studying noise reduction and using pretty much everything under the sun, I’d like to say the truth is a bit more nuanced.
There is no doubt that DxO PureRaw 3 does an amazing job. Personally, I’ve noticed that traditional noise reduction algorithms start to fail once I need to use roughly ISO 12,800 and above. DxO Pure Raw 3 can still produce something pretty usable at those ISOs.
On the other hand, even these advanced noise reduction algorithms are no substitute for shooting in better light most ideal conditions. They will not transform ISO 30,000 shots into ISO 100 shots, although they certainly can give you a few stops of improvement.
Plus, it’s not like Adobe and others are sitting still in response to companies like DxO and Topaz. The newest version of Lightroom already has an AI-powered denoise algorithm that (like DxO PureRaw) creates a separate DNG file with the noise greatly reduced. It holds up very well against Topaz and DxO’s best efforts, so maybe you don’t need anything new at all.
Ultimately, none of these software packages work like magic, but they can at least bring an unusable shot into pretty decent shape. But no program can find light that is beautiful and golden and ideal. Only you can do that.
Both DxO PhotoLab 6 and PureRaw 3 contain advanced denoising algorithms that will help you with those ISO 20,000 images taken in near darkness. Since both offer the same image quality, you should pick between them based on their other features. Namely, if you need a full post-processing solution, PhotoLab 6 is the way to go. If you just want the noise reduction capabilities, and you intend to edit the photo elsewhere, get PureRaw 3.
Have you tried these denoising solutions, or something even more radical, like waiting for more light? If so, let me know in the comments!