Today I finally took the time to sit down and round-trip a few Fujifilm raw files through DXO and Lightroom. Fuji stuff is of special interest to me because X-Trans sensors pose some challenges to raw converters, and I’ve long heard CaptureOne and DXO PhotoLab generally handle FujiFilm better than Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).

Pros & Cons

I’ve been trying to get my photography workflow into something that is probably trying to balance too many concerns, but:

  • I like the versatility of Lightroom Classic. It’s able to publish to a bunch of different places and there’s a robust plugin ecosystem. Cons: Slow, wants to think of the world as files on a platter.

  • I like the convenience of Neue Lightroom. It’s nice to be able to do little edits on a tablet and it generally feels more responsive. Cons: Not nearly as versatile as Lightroom Classic.

  • I don’t like how all-in on cloud stuff Neue Lightroom is, meaning it is very disconcerting when I go to export a file and get a message telling me that all it has is a Smart Preview and that the image might possibly be in Lightroom Classic. I don’t understand what went wrong that caused the original DNG or raw file to go missing.

I think some of that last point is probably just the effects of over 20 years of digital images I’ve schlepped between no system at all, multiple generations of Apple software, multiple editions of Lightroom, and some other stuff I’ve forgotten about. It was “sorry, Smart Preview only” messages appearing one too many times that got me to think I’d better go deep and solve this now.

So, I shuffled a few raw files through DXO PhotoLab and then Lightroom and put them up side-by-side.


DXO seems to capture more fine detail, and its three contrast controls (micro-contrast, contrast, fine contrast if you have their FilmPack) provide the ability to bring out even more. In fact, maybe there’s an issue with the ratio of control input to image results: A few times I realized things looked superficially good as I was working with them, but once I walked away, did some other stuff, and came back, the images looked … crispy. Easy enough to dial back, but I think it happened at all because …

Lightroom captures slightly less fine detail, and its three contrast controls (contrast, clarity, texture) are able to bring out more, but they feel a little nerfed. The ratio of control input to image results is less extreme than DXO’s. Over the years I’ve come to be okay with making “quick punch” presets that assume a setting of “20” is a safe bet, with space to go to “40” or so before starting to get that weird Clarity Halo.

DXO’s distortion and perspective controls are better than Lightrooms, and the overall medley of fixing distortion and perspective and the crop smartly adapting to each as you tune them is a nice DXO feature.

I appreciate that Adobe understands all of Fujifilm’s film simulations and makes them available as profiles. DXO does not, as near as I can tell, do that. It understands the profile you took a raw image with, but it doesn’t make all the simulations available on the body avaialable in post. Maybe that’s because …

DXO sells a “FilmPack” product that provides its own take on “Digital Films,” including most of the FujiFilm ones (Astia, Velvia, Acros + filter variants, etc. etc.) It’s an additional cost.

So those are the comparisons.

When it came to actually working with the images side by side it was pretty easy to get the ACR-decoded raw into a place that was, well, fine? Fine for my purposes?

I don’t think color rendering was hugely different between the two. I did think DXO’s version of a few Fujifilm simulations was a little overstated, but that’s because their FilmPack product is more explicitly about recreating a film look vs. FujiFilm, which has always felt a little more dialed into the idea of bringing the color qualities of certain filmstock over while keeping a certain level of digital dynamism in the mix. You can do some stuff with in-camera controls to get things into a more “filmy” state, but it takes work and doesn’t come over in the raws anyhow: Only confident jpeg shooters need apply.

Lately I have been going back through stuff I’ve shot and processed and I’ve felt some of it is overbaked. I’ve experimented with dialing back some stuff to see what I think, and often prefer it when the edits are done with a lighter touch. So, DXO’s “recreate the look of these classic vintage films” isn’t playing great with me right now, especially when it’s a $200 premium on top of the cost of FilmLab: Lightroom just makes them available to me in a way that is more inline with how they work for SooC jpegs with reasonably neutral tone and dynamic range settings.

I guess it’s worth mentioning that where the contrast controls are easy to oversteer in DXO FilmLab, the color controls (saturation and vibrance) are a little more in-line with my Lightroom experience. A little goes a long way with both. I seldom venture north of “10” on saturation or “20” on vibrance.

DXO in particular

DXO works as a standalone app or as a Lightroom Classic plugin. It’s pretty easy to shuffle something out of LRC, into DXO, then back into LRC. You can choose to send over all your edits or just the basic raw processing stuff (perspective, distortion, noise control), though at that point they have a less expensive raw converter option.

There’s a lot to like in DXO FilmLab, but with the amount of sharpening and contrast power, I also felt like I was on the hook for a lot more pixel-peeping and scrutiny before commiting, because sometimes the net result felt crispy and overdone. It was much easier to create a sort of digital harshness that I don’t want to manage or be on the lookout for. And the nice thing about all these non-destructive tools is that if I ever do get to a place where I want DXO levels of control, I can buy it then. For now, I’m at a point on the post-production pendulum where I don’t mind a little more softness, less digital ultra-sharpness, and less of a simulated film look.

So …

Probably good to be setting DXO aside for now. It will keep my workflow simpler, and I can go back to focusing on how to best get all the pieces of my Lightroom workflow on the DAM side working a little more predictably.