This article may contain affiliate links and Square Pixel Photography may earn a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on these links. This comes at no additional cost to you. Read our full disclosure here
DxO PhotoLab 4 is a high quality RAW converter. It combines class-leading noise reduction algorithms and lens corrections with a very high quality deomsaicing engine that produces excellent results.
It does however, lack the robust cataloging system that is present in Adobe Lightroom.
Luckily for us, the two applications can easily be used together for the best of both worlds. You can use Lightroom’s catalogue to organise your photo library, but send the files across to PhotoLab 4 to convert them from RAW into TIFF, JPEG or DNG files.
Why Use PhotoLab and Not Lightroom as a RAW Converter?
One of the main reasons to use PhotoLab 4 to convert RAW files is due to the superior noise reduction and optical corrections available in PhotoLab. Some people will send only their high ISO files to PhotoLab, apply the noise reduction and finish the processing in Lightroom.
The other reason to use PhotoLab as a RAW converter is that you prefer how the PhotoLab 4 demosaicing algorithms make your files look.
Sending a photo from Lightroom Classic to PhotoLab 4
If you have Lightroom on your system when you install PhotoLab, a plugin will be added to Lightroom that will make sending RAW files between the two easy. If you installed Lightroom after PhotoLab then simply try and send a file from PhotoLab to Lightroom (see below) and it will install automatically.
Simply select the file (or files) that you want to edit in Lightroom then choose file->Plug-in Extras->Transfer to DxO PhotoLab 4.
The file will then open in PhotoLab ready for you to edit it
Note: Don’t use the right-click menu to ‘open-with’ photoLab. This will send a tiff file to PhotoLab and you won’t be able to use the RAW conversion features.
Sending a photo from PhotoLab 4 to Lightroom Classic
When you are done in PhotoLab you can send the file back to Lightroom so that it appears in the catalog alongside your original RAW file.
To do so, you simply choose ‘Export to Lightroom’ when you are ready. If you’re working with multiple files, just make sure they are all selected in the filmstrip before you hit the button.
When you export a file to Lightroom you have several options as to the type of file you send. These are discussed in the next section.
Once you hit the ‘Export’ button, PhotoLab will render the files and they will automatically be imported into Lightroom when they are finished. This can take a bit of time depending on how fast your computer is and how many files you’re exporting.
The file will automatically be added to a new collection named according to the date and time the export occurred. You can delete the collections once you’re done with them, it won’t affect the actual files.
As mentioned above, there are several different file types that you can send from PhotoLab to Lightroom:
Export as JPEG or TIFF
These two options are pretty self-explanatory. PhotoLab will apply all of the settings you have applied and send a fully formed JPEG or TIFF file across to Lightroom. The output file will be rendered exactly as you see it in PhotoLab.
Use this option if you want your output file to be fully rendered by PhotoLab and want the output file to exactly match what you see in the PhotoLab interface.
Remember that JPEG files are 8-bit files that are compressed in a lossy way. If you plan to apply further colour edits to the file in Lightroom, Photoshop, etc then you should probably choose the TIFF option which is losslesly compressed and can be saved as a 16-bit file.
Export as DNG (All Corrections Applied)
This will export a Linear DNG file to Lightroom that has all of the settings you’ve set in PhotoLab applied.
Due to the way linear dng files work, some of the settings, such as colour rendering, are not ‘baked-in’ to the file and may be interpreted by Lightroom differently than they were in PhotoLab.
Use this option if you want to take advantage of most of PhotoLab’s tools, but prefer the way that Lightroom renders colours and tones.
Export as DNG (DeNoise & Optical Corrections Only)
This will export a raw dng file to Lightroom as well, but only the DeNoise and optical corrections will be ‘baked in’ to the file. White balance, exposure and other tone and colour settings will be rendered by Lightroom.
If you adjust any of the tone or colour controls in PhotoLab, they won’t be reflected in the file that is sent to Lightroom.
This is the option to choose if you like the way Lightroom renders your files, but want to take advantage of the superior noise reduction and optical correction in PhotoLab 4.
Export Without Processing
Choosing this option imports the original file into Lightroom. It doesn’t change the file type or apply any processing.
You would choose this file type if the file you are looking at in PhotoLab hasn’t yet been imported into Lightroom and you don’t want PhotoLab to apply any changes to the file.
A Typical Lightroom + PhotoLab Workflow
So, how does all of this translate into a workflow with Lightroom and PhotoLab?
Below are the steps I would typically take when using Lightroom as a catalogue manager and PhotoLab as my RAW converter:
- Import your camera’s raw files into Lightroom as you normally do
- Add keywords, tags, colours, etc as you normally would (optional)
- Send the RAW photo (or multiple photos) to PhotoLab 4 as discussed in this article
- Make your adjustments in PhotoLab as required
- Export the photo(s) back into Lightroom as a JPEG, TIFF or DNG file as discussed above
- Continue to work on the file in Lightroom as you would normally (adjust, publish, export, etc).