View Full Version : HDR Software : A comparison

21-02-2011, 12:17pm
HDR Software - A Comparison

This is not really a review. I am not going to say X software is better than Y software, rather I am going to present a set of photos that will be converted to HDR using the 'standard' settings for each program, and then letting you comment about the outcome.

The photos will be the same set for each software, and steps taken will be detailed. The photos are Nikon NEF raw files from a Nikon D3, taken in manual mode, manual focusing, with a Lee Big Stopper ND10 filter attached to the camera.

The software:
Photoshop CS5
Nik Software HDR Efex Pro

The photos used to generate the HDR

Note: The purple patch on the right is the result of light leak around the Lee Big Stopper during exposure. I had not placed the filter in the holder correctly, which I fixed once I reviewed these on the LCD. I have left dust bunnies etc. in place (rather than edit them out) as I wanted to show the results without extra editing.




What I did.

In each program, I got to the 'start' point, I opened the program, selected my three photos and timed the process from when I hit OK to start generating the HDR.

Photoshop CS5

I used the HDR menu (under File : Automate) to generate the HDR using Photoshop cs5 (64 bit version). This took three attempts, at the first two attempts Photoshop told me I needed to use photos of the same pixel dimension (which I was), on the third attempt, it decided I was too, and proceeded to generate the HDR, which took 95 seconds


Nik Software HDR Efex Pro

This is a Photoshop plug-in so is used inside photoshop (or Lightroom). HDR Efex Pro 64 bit generated it's HDR very slowly, taking 187 seconds, and then opening it inside the plugin allowing me to easily select from a visual list, a heap of alternative views. Some of the alternative views were much more visually appealing than the default, but that is not the point of this review.



Photomatix is a stand-alone program. It does not need photoshop to run. I used Photomatix 3.2 Pro (64 bit). Photomatix generated its HDR in 100 seconds. Photomatix stops part way through the process to allow user adjustments before 'tone-mapping'. I just clicked OK and did not make any user adjustments to the file.


So there you have it. Three RAW files converted to HDR in three separate software packages, using the default settings for each. Obviously making user adjustments during the process could lead to better or worse results within each software. It is up to you to make what you will of the results of creating the above 3 HDR versions, using the default settings for each package.

Ian Brewster
21-02-2011, 1:57pm
Nik Software wins it for me. Photomatix seems to have cut down the overall sharpnes and contrast. CS5 seems to be a last resort; I have tried CS4 HDR merge a couple ot times, but was unsure if the unsatisfying results were from my lack of knowledge - perhaps it is just the software after all?

Many thanks for this very useful thread.

21-02-2011, 3:27pm
Rick - An absolutely excellent HDR explanation and demonstration of methods/modes, indeed!

However, as when baking a cake - one has to be able to first afford the ingredients, then be sure it will bake in your oven...

Photoshop CS5 is the graphics app of the moment, of course - and assumed or advised to be in use by most Camera Forums' advanced members - as of course is the very good Photomatix for HDR.

However, around $1,000.00+ for Photoshop CS5, and adding Photomatix, can be a little beyond some family - or singles - budgets.

And not everyone uses Windows or Mac - there are now about 186,000 Linux users in Australia - and worldwide, over 600-million Linux home users. Rather more Linux than Mac users - and just passing the halfway-point of the 1.2-billion Windows-some-version, home users.

There's a very good Linux HDR application called Qtpfsgui - which has a now very workable Windows port named Luminance. Friends here are using it in Win XP, after seeing it in Linux at my place, and seem to like it a lot.

While most will use a 3-image AEB set for their HDR, you don't need a DSLR for 5 or 7 image sets to get a wider dynamic range. Most good bridge-zooms will set up on a firm tripod to do that quite accurately. Then Qtp/Luminance has a good auto-align function in the task-setup to make sure of that.

The program comes with Manual and Guide (with graphical work-through tutorial) once opened, under - Help > Documentation - and there are online Tutorials under both Luminance and Qtpfsgui.

(I'm starting to wonder why Camera Makers won't put Linux Software on their product CDs - they traditionally have for Windows and Mac, and nowadays Linux use rather outnumbers Mac - but that's very much another topic. Linux users do buy cameras... )


21-02-2011, 3:41pm
Umnm. you do NOT need photoshop to use photomatix. As stated in my post above, photomatix is a stand-alone program

21-02-2011, 3:43pm
Mongo would have expected a dedicated software product like Photomatix to have come out best but in Mongo's view, it is the most disappointing. Nik seems to have come off best followed by CS5 but really a blend between these two would probably yield an even better final product.

Great exercise to have posted - thanks Rick

21-02-2011, 4:42pm
Rick - An absolutely excellent HDR explanation and demonstration of methods/modes, indeed!

However, as when ... There's a very good Linux HDR application called Qtpfsgui -...... )


Thanks ricktas for that comparison and Dave for the additional comments on a Linux application.
And Dave, may I humbly suggest for you or your friend or other AP user who uses the HDR for Linux program to download the above 3 workfiles (with Rick's permission), process the files and post the result back here for comparison.

21-02-2011, 5:17pm
Actually, you can run the Lightroom version of Nik HDR Efex Pro as a stand-alone program, it works fine. I have tried it and intend buying it (and I don't have Lightroom).

You just need to convert your files to TIFF (I use Capture NX2), then run HDR Efex and poit it to the files.

21-02-2011, 8:25pm
If other members want to try this using other HDR software so they can post the results here, I am happy to provide large JPG copies of the original 3 files

23-02-2011, 9:54am
Falke - It'd probably be more helpful if Windows folk using the Luminance for Windows version, posted some samples and explained how they did them.

From what I've seen, there are menu, dialog, and other differences between the Linux version and the Windows one.

In Australia, Windows-all has about 96% home use share, Mac around 2.5%, and Linux a bit over 1%.

When I was last a Windows tech (which I was for 11 years) - the Microsoft reps calling at the dealership were admitting that over half the MS software in use here was pirated. As one of the techs doing repairs and reinstalls on home-user PCs, then - we could have assured MS, from what we were seeing, that 50% wouldn't quite cover it.... Which might help to explain why Windows holds 96%... So if some folk unfortunately think their Windows is "no-cost" - why would they switch from an O/S they know - to one that actually is, "no-cost".


23-02-2011, 10:12am
I have cs4 have a copy of nik Hdr pretty happy with it.