HDR Software Review Update And Recommendations

It's been more than a few weeks since my last post on my HDR software review and I apologize for the delay.  But, as sometimes happens, life got in the way and I was caught up in a lot of other activities (some fun, some not so fun). Things seem to have calmed down  bit and I hope they will remain that way. Even with the extra demands on my time I have managed to continue my evaluation of the HDR software, particularly Oleano, Photomatix and SNS-HDR. I have run my test images through these three applications and compared the same factors that I did in my Enfuse Lightroom Plugin review as well as my HDR Efex Pro review. I wanted to give you a summary of my findings as well as let you know what I've decided to use for my HDR processing moving forward.

Not One But Many

As I sit here today, my feeling is that I will probably end up using 2 to 3 tools to process my HDR images based on the situation. In my research on HDR imaging and processing it appears that there is no one perfect solution, but rather a combination of tools to address different situations. Here's my summary of the various applications:

HDR Specific Software:

  1. Enfuse Lightroom Plugin (Will Use): This is such an easy to use plugin, at such a low cost, that everyone should have this at their disposal. It won't give you the wild/edge-of-the-envelope HDR output but it does a great job of blending multiple images to give a realistic final product. If all you want is to do some simple bracketed shots and combine them to get some additional detail, this is something that you MUST have!
  2. HDR Efex Pro(Will Use): Nik Software has done a great job with this HDR software. It is easy to use and the output can cover a wide range of styles. The "control point" feature is really neat (and useful) and probably will eliminate the need(in many cases) for any additional processing in something like Photoshop.
  3. Photomatix(Will Use): This is the "800 pound Gorilla" of the HDR world, and for good reason. Photomatix offers a lot of options, is fast enough and arguably does the best job of removing "ghosts" from the image through the availability of a manual override.
  4. Oloneo: I enjoyed using this software but the version that includes the Lightroom plugin is $150 (on sale at $119 until July 15, 2012). It is fairly quick and offers a lot of options but in the end I personally didn't find anything so compelling that I just had to buy it. If you are looking for a HDR app and don't need/want the Lightroom functionality, their HDR Engine might be worthwhile and it's only $59!
  5. SNS-HDR: I was impressed with this application but I found it fairly slow in the processing of the images. Maybe it was just my computer because others have said that it was fast enough. The price is right, at around $49 for the Home version. I have put this on my "to be revisited" list and will try it again in about 6 months.

Image Enhancement Software:

Once the HDR Image is created there is sometimes additional processing required. For that I plan on using a few different tools. I went ahead and took advantage of Nik Software's July 4th sale and picked up their "Compete Collection" which includes HDR Efex Pro plus 5 other tools. The price was discounted $75 to $224 for the Lightroom compatible setup. Nik has received a lot of positive reviews and I have several friends who are big proponents of their tools. Here's what I see myself using at this point:

  1. Color Efex Pro: Quite a few photographer friends have raved about this piece of software from Nik Software. It is similar to Topaz Adjust in that it offers a set of filters that can be applied to images.
  2. Viveza: This is another Nik Software product that offers selective photo adjustment. Like Color Efex, it has received very good reviews from a number of photographers.
  3. Dfine: This is Nik's noise removal software and I plan on using it on many images.
  4. Sharpener Pro: This is Nik's sharpening software. Lightroom does a pretty good job but this might be a nice tool to have.
  5. Topaz Adjust: I have had this since last Fall and really enjoy the various adjustments/filters that can be applied to images.
  6. Paintshop Pro: I purchased this back in the Fall and have used it a fair amount. My thinking is that in the future, it might not get used as much, especially since I picked up Nik's suite of tools.

My Plans From This Point Forward

Now that I have the Nik Software set I will probably focus on them for the next month or so. I have quite a few images from our trip last Fall to Death Valley and Zion that I want to revisit and see how I can improve them. I also have a number of images from this year that I definitely need to spend some time on. Nik has a lot of resources for learning how to use their various tools.

After I have spent some time with the Nik products I plan on purchasing Photomatix as an alternative HDR option. I think it will offer some different functionality, especially if I run across "ghosting" in the images. I am really enjoying shooting HDR images and I think it is a valid technique when used properly.

I'm hoping to get a review of some of the Nik plugins posted in the next couple of months so stay tuned for that.

Help Your Fellow Photographers

If any of you have been using any of the Nik Software products and have some favorite settings, please share them with the rest of us. You can leave your tips/ suggestions in the Comments for this post.

Thanks, and Happy Shooting!