Removing Haze from an Image: DxO OpticsPro with ClearView vs. Aperture, Capture One and Lightroom
The standout feature of the recent release of DxO OpticsPro 10 is its new DxO ClearView tool for removing haze in images. The description from DxO Labs regarding this new tool is as follows:
The new exclusive DxO ClearView feature automatically eliminates the heat haze visible in landscape photos, as well as smog in urban photos. No more need to manually apply a mask to your image or to manipulate multiple sliders: DxO ClearView closely analyzes the color components of the image and focuses on a local black. In just one click, the contrast is visibly improved.
Looking at the example before and after images on the DxO OpticsPro website suggests the tool can provide some impressive results.
In January this year I was on the North Atlantic coast of France at La Baule, a seaside resort. I was there for a conference and as usual I took some photos, this time with a fairly old walkabout lens, a first-generation Nikon 18-200 VR. It was early morning and there was a lot of haze following below-zero temperatures overnight. The images I took needed some corrective work and I immediately thought this would be a good opportunity to test DxO ClearView.
Thus I ran one of my hazy images through DxO OpticsPro 10 and its new DxO ClearView tool to see what result I would get. Following that I did a comparison by trying to achieve the best anti-haze results I could with each of each of Aperture v3.6, Lightroom v5.7 and Capture One Pro v8.2. These are my results.
The starting point
To show the starting point, below is the image directly after import in Aperture, as this does the least automatic correction of the applications. It's pretty hazy, and includes one big sensor or water spot that I remove in some of the subsequent images. I used a 150mm focal length as I couldn’t risk getting too near the gulls, f/13 for good depth of field and ISO 800 to push the shutter speed to 1/1250 to freeze any flying birds.
DxO OpticsPro 10 with DxO ClearView
For my test I initially took the default settings of the application, which doesn't automatically apply DxO ClearView. Upon enabling it though, there was a marked (though not total) reduction in the haze. I tried pushing the intensity slider in DxO ClearView towards its maximum but although this reduced the haze even more, it also made the foreground a lot darker and the sky a lot grittier, so what you see below is the default DxO ClearView intensity setting at 50 (default position), together with me manually increasing the DxO Smart Lighting feature from “slight” to “medium”. Anything beyond that seemed to be too much processing. Below is the fully adjusted DxO result:
As an aside, DxO ClearView increased the contrast in the sky so much that I had to repair quite a few more sensor spots that were not noticeable in the other programs. Time to clean my sensor methinks!
I tried tweaking further the tools but didn’t achieve anything better and really felt the need for local adjustments, which DxO OpticsPro does not support. Despite owning the program for several years and upgrading regularly, I’m not really an expert in it as I do simple things with it, mostly lens correction and occasionally noise reduction, so perhaps a more regular user could find some additional improvements. On the other hand, simplicity is the DxO philosophy: it does the work automatically and aims to provide great raw conversion and impressive results from import.
Back then to Aperture, where I tried manipulating the image manually with various contrast, definition, black point, exposure and other sliders. Frankly, I couldn’t find a working combination so in the end decided to click the Auto Enhance button, which moved more sliders than I had ever seen it do before. These included changes to all the Enhance sliders (Contrast, Definition, Saturation, Vibrancy), an RGB Curves adjustment, plus shadows (+29) and Mid-Contrast to 36. That combined with more contrast adjustment for a touch more de-hazing, a fairly hefty amount of additional shadow recovery (100), as the foreground had become decidedly inky. As a final adjustment I dodged the beach and sea with a Quick Brush (Softness 50, Strength 0.39) to lighten them up and add some presence to the foreground. Below is the result.
Adding lots of contrast in both Aperture and DxO Pro made the image foreground much darker. To my eyes, the image foreground in Aperture has a touch more detail and the sky is a little less murky but the haze in the background is still very much there. In sum, DxO OpticsPro 10 with DxO ClearView is a clear winner between the two programs for haze reduction but at the expense of a gritty sky and murkier beach. It also took multiple adjustments and quite a lot of experimentation to get Aperture to deliver the best result I was able to achieve.
Capture One Pro 8.2
Since the demise of Aperture last year, Capture One Pro has been my raw convertor and DAM of choice. It took a few minutes of experimentation but eventually I decided on the following strategy: add some sharpening to make the gulls stand out; on a separate layer, brush in a mask for the buildings and sky and push the clarity and structure sliders for the adjustment layer to their maximum; and add 0.24 addition of exposure compensation to the foreground compensate for the slightly dark foreground after import. My two final touches were to pull in the black point by 5 in the levels tool to tweak the beach colour and to dial back the saturation slider a bit. Below is the fully adjusted Capture One image:
Overall, I’m quite pleased with the result and there is much less haze. Although DxO Pro did a better job in reducing the haze, both the beach and the sky are more pleasing to my eyes in the Capture One image though the sky is not as good as in the much less pushed Aperture. Once again, I had to work a lot harder to get my result in Capture One.
And so finally to Lightroom. This is the program I am least familiar with but I was hoping I could nevertheless do a reasonable job based on my knowledge of the other programs and what had worked and not worked in them for this particular image. Below is the direct import of the image with standard Lightroom adjustments:
My first port of call was the clarity slider. This reduced the haze in the background a reasonable amount but here I ran into some trouble: the image became very de-saturated as a consequence. Same thing with the contrast slider, which as in the other programs also caused the beach to go inky. After a bit of Googling I found an article that suggested I use the vibrance slider to selectively add saturation back into the image, which got me back some of the blue in the sea and sky.
As with Aperture and Capture One I had to lift the shadows in the Tone Curve tool (+72) to adjust for a darkened beach and I also added a bit of sharpening. To complete the lightening of the foreground I brushed in some additional exposure correction with the Adjustment Brush. Take a look at my result below:
Reducing haze principally involves increasing contrast. In all my tests using the contrast slider alone was too brutal on the image so I resorted to the respective clarity sliders or definition slider in Aperture. DxO ClearView does this for you automatically and claims to perform some special magic by analyzing colour components and a local black.
Yet reducing haze via the contrast and/or clarity tools, automated or otherwise, comes at a cost and introduces unpleasant artifacts into the image, particularly in the darker or shadow areas (and in the sky in the case of DxO ClearView). To a greater or lesser extent, and depending on your knowledge of the program you use, you can mostly compensate for these artifacts.
Certainly DxO ClearView did the best job of reducing haze and did so automatically. What it did less well was compensate for the artifacts that result from aggressive contrast adjustments. In the other programs, I mostly managed to compensate for these though DxO Pro was hindered by the absence of local adjustments with a brush tool. [Editor's note: There actually is a “Dust” correction tool in DxO OpticsPro that is brushed in, however performance and results appear to be better in Lightroom, Aperture or Photoshop.]
Listing the programs by their anti-haze capabilities gives the following ranking: (1) DxO OpticsPro; (2) Capture One; (3) Lightroom; and (4) Aperture. Details were best in Capture One and DxO Pro, which confirms several other comparative tests I have done. The foreground beach came out best in my view in Aperture and Capture One; between the two it’s probably a matter of taste and how far you want to take the adjustments to get the results you prefer.
In many ways, despite the haze, I like the look of the Aperture image best as the sky and beach are the most natural. Capture One Pro in my view did the best job of combining haze reduction and leaving a relatively natural image though the sky suffered, and when I pushed Aperture I got horrible results. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t get any of the programs to deliver compelling haze reduction and leave a very pleasing image. On reflection rather than maximizing haze reduction I would have been better served by just going for the best look regardless of haze.
Want to try on the same image?
The author of this post has allowed us to post the original RAW file for you to download if you want to play with the same image. Get 'er here!
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