Sunday, 14 August 2011

Initial reviews of HDR software

I've been looking at upgrading my HDR software...

My current HDR software

I currently use Mediachance's Dynamic Photo HDR and it has worked really well as part of my black and white workflow, when I felt it would help with developing my artistic intent for the image. Dynamic Photo HDR is available as a free trial, which doesn't expire -- but it does watermark images.

As a reference for testing the other HDR software, I took a colour image that I'd already processed with Dynamic Photo HDR (and with further treatment in Photoshop). It's the one from my last post here.

The reviews - initial reactions

I checked out:
  • Nik Software's HDR Efex Pro - 15 day free trial
  • HDR Soft's Photomatix (version 4.1.1) - Free trial doesn't expire, it watermarks some of the images it produces though
I used a few different RAW images that I already had taken, from which I produced the different exposures for the software to work on.

The photos weren't taken with HDR in mind, so I was initially seeing how it could be used to produce realistic-looking images -- we've all seen the super-real HDR treatments of cityscapes at night but I'm not initially checking it out for those sorts of image.

HDR Efex

Good points:
  • Many presets to apply, giving you a starting point from which you can endlessly tweak
  • Can add individual control points which apply all the global controls locally, while confining them to a soft-edged radius of influence
  • Integrates well with Photoshop
  • Cityscapes, as per their video demo, seem ideal for it

Bad points:
  • Skies can be very noisy
  • On my system everything slows down horribly
    (dual core, Windows XP, 2GB Ram, loadsa free, defragged hard disk space)
Conclusion: watch this one, once it matures some more, it stands a great chance of setting new standards by which HDR software will be judged.


Good points:
  • Industry leader
  • A good handful of presets to apply, giving you a starting point -- keep tweaking to get closer and closer to the results you're after
  • Noise reduction option for underexposed images can really help noisy skies
Bad points:
  • Can produce that instantly recognisable "Photomatix" look, if not used with care
  • Suffering from complacency due to being market leader - user interface is more clutzy than it needs to be
  • Can be a bit of a struggle to get used to, hindered by the user interface
Conclusion: If you need to get to HDR right away, Photomatix comes out on top when compared to HDR Efex. But if you're reading this a few months after I post it, do check where HDR Efex has got to...

Overall conclusions for initial reactions

I was able to use both HDR applications to get close to the reference image. Although I said that Photomatix came out on top when compared to HDR Efex Pro, when compared to Dynamic Photo HDR, I'm not so sure.

So what will I do? I've uninstalled HDR Efex Pro, I'm keeping Photomatix and will keep comparing Photomatix with my current "champion", Dynamic Photo HDR.

I'll take a few shots with HDR in mind and see where it takes me.

Post by: +Mark Highton Ridley
comments / critique / feedback / tweets / buzzes always welcome :)
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