I think this question is worth talking about because DxO's photo editing apps by default scatter tools all over the place and getting a handle on these tools can be very confusing. I've been using DxO's editors for a long time, but I remember still how confusing the tools were to me when I first got started. I think the best way to understand the user interface in these apps — I am referring to the older Optics Pro and the newer PhotoLab, which has a nearly identical user interface — is simply to accept that you need to tinker with the palettes and the panels until you have the tools you want, placed where you want them.
The panels on the left are ones I don’t use much, with exception of Vignetting. I put that in the ‘Frame’ panel that I created, where I also put horizon and crop. I generally use horizon and crop from the toolbar, and so I would like not to have those tools confusing me over on the right; and vignetting seems to belong with them as much as anything else so that’s where I put it.
Note that I’m talking here just about ‘Customize’ mode. You can’t edit things much in ‘Organize’ mode. You can’t even really organize in Organize mode. PhotoLab isn’t an asset management app.
I want to emphasize that there’s no right way to do this. Whatever works for you is what you should do. One of the advantages of my approach is that it is pretty similar to the arrangement of the tools in Lightroom CC. Now I find the tools in Lightroom to be very logically and sensibly arranged, so I think my preferred arrangement of tools in PhotoLab is logical and sensible, as well. But even Lightroom's user interface were not as logically or sensibly arranged as it is, there would be some value (for me) in having tools in Lightroom CC and PhotoLab setup more or less the same way, in order to tax my brain as little as possible.
One last point: PhotoLab supports “Workspaces”. Might be a good idea for some users. I’ve never made use of them. Instead of creating my own personal workspace, I just edit the DxO default.
With those prelims out of the way, here is how I have PhotoLab configured.
On the right side of the screen
On the right side of the screen I have these palettes with these panels in this order:
- Histogram (which I generally do NOT leave visible)
- Exposure Compensation
- Smart Lighting
- Selective Tone
- Tone Curve
- White Balance
- Color Accentuation
- Hue / Saturation / Lightness
- Color Rendering
- Style & Toning
- Noise Reduction
- Unsharp Mask
- Red Eye
- Focal Length
- Focusing Distance
- Chromatic Aberration
- Lens Sharpness
- Volume Deformation
- Miniature Effect
- Here are placed all the Film Pack modules. There are quite a few of them and I do use them sometimes but I have never quite sorted them out. Truth is, if I'm going to touch these modules, I actually prefer to do it in the Film Pack app itself, which has a much more attractive user interface.
Left side of the screen
On the left side I have
- the Move/Zoom tool (which stays visible all the time)
- the EXIF editor (also visible all the time)
- the Presets tool
And that's all I have to say about that!
I must admit that, since I started using Lightroom CC, I'm using PhotoLab somewhat less than I used to. This is partly because Lightroom CC doesn't play well with other apps, and I hope that changes very soon. But it's also partly because Lightroom CC includes lens corrections for most of the lenses I use and because I find its editing tools about as effective as those in PhotoLab or Optics Pro. I wish that Lightroom CC had a microcontrast slider, but to be honest, when I work in DxO PhotoLab now, I miss more things from Lightroom CC than I miss from PhotoLab when I work in Lightroom CC. I could be very happy doing all my editing in PhotoLab, which has a brilliant editor, especially now that we have local adjustment tools (available only from the toolbar). But as I said above, PhotoLab makes no effort to be an asset management tool at all, and I need that almost more than I need an editor.