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In Lightroom's shadow, Corel and DxO revamp raw-photo editing tools

In effort to take on Adobe, DxO Labs tries working with its competitor while Corel tries a speed boost and new features.

Corel AfterShot Pro 2
Corel AfterShot Pro 2 Corel

DxO Labs and Corel revamped their photo-editing tools Wednesday in an attempt to keep business active in a market dominated by Adobe Systems' Lightroom .

DxO Optics Pro 9.5 embraced the Lightroom reality by adding tight integration with Adobe's software. Photographers can import photos into Lightroom's catalog, send them to Optics Pro for editing, then send them back to Lightroom -- still as raw files that record the original image data captured by the camera.

Corel, meanwhile, moved its AfterShot Pro software ($80 in the US, Canada, and Australia; €70 in Europe; and £58 in the UK) to a 64-bit design with version 2, which gives a 30 percent speed boost and gives the software new memory capacity to handle 250-megapixel images.

Smartphones and tablets have lured many programmers and businesses away from PC software. But image editing remains a lucrative niche in the PC market, especially with digital photography offering an easy path to experimentation, and online sharing offering access to a global community of like-minded people.

Finding room in a market dominated by Adobe can be tough, though. Adobe also pairs Lightroom with Photoshop for a $10-per-month subscription; that Photoshop Photography Program has proved attractive to photography fans, according to a CNET survey.

Competitors for Adobe's raw-photo editing software include Apple Aperture, Phase One Capture One, and ACD Systems' ACDsee.

DxO Optics Pro 9.5
DxO Optics Pro 9.5 DxO Labs

AfterShot Pro costs $80 in the US, Canada, and Australia; €70 in Europe; and £58 in the UK. DxO Optics Pro's standard edition costs $169 in the US, €149 in Europe, and £119 in the UK, though discounts apply through June 15 and the Elite edition that supports pro cameras costs more.

Another change to AfterShot Pro is the addition of Athentech's noise-reduction technology for getting rid of the speckled pixels that mar images taken at high camera ISO sensitivity settings.

Canceling noise without losing detail or introducing smeary colors is a major challenge, especially with cameras pushing to ever-higher ISOs for shooting in dim conditions.

AfterShot Pro gets a new local-contrast option, which can help photographers make their images pop more crisply. It's the idea behind Lightroom's clarity adjustment, too.

And for the Windows version, Corel introduced HDR (high dynamic range) technology that lets photographers merge multiple photos at different exposure levels into a single shot that spans a wider range of bright and dark regions. The HDR feature -- something not present in Lightroom -- will come to the Mac and Linux versions of AfterShot Pro later, Corel said.

DxO's Lightroom integration essentially uses Lightroom as a catalog for organizing photos and handling chores such as adding keywords, exporting to photo-sharing services, or printing e-books.

"This very simple process lets users transfer their RAW images in one click from the Lightroom cataloger to DxO Optics Pro, process them, and then return them to Lightroom in DNG [Adobe's Digital Negative] format, which retains the qualities of a raw file so as to facilitate additional processing," DxO Labs said. "The dual nondestructive flow gives users optimal flexibility right through to the final adjustments to their photos."

However, not all of DxO's editing controls are compatible; for example, Adobe's software won't preserve highlight and shadow exposure changes made with DxO's smart lighting feature to a DNG file. Exporting the file out of a raw state into a more ordinary TIFF file for re-ingestion into Lightroom, though, preserves those changes.

"When you send back a DNG file, all of the geometrical and optical corrections are kept, as well as anything dealing with the denoising," spokesman DeMarcus Wood said. "What's not kept is the lighting and color settings, mainly because Lightroom will see the file as a raw of course and apply its own rendering for color and for lighting. So what you change in Optics Pro won't necessarily be what you see when going back to Lightroom, unless you export in a 16-bit TIFF -- which of course is still leaving a ton of flexibility for the photo in question."

Those who use Lightroom to convert their raw files to DNG on import should be aware of another constraint: DxO Optics Pro can't import DNG files from Lightroom, only the original raw files.

One difficulty of raw-photo editing is that software must be frequently updated to support new cameras' proprietary formats. The new software from DxO Labs and Corel add support for a range of newer models, the companies said.

Updated at 3:25 a.m. PT May 22 with further detail about exporting images from DxO Optics Pro to Lightroom.