In the world of HDR, the processing toolset used makes a huge difference in the creative possibilities of the composite HDR image. Here is a fun quote to put it into perspective “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail” ~Abraham Maslow. In other words, trying out new HDR processing tools often leads to new results previously never thought possible. The recent HDR Video is a great example of how the world of HDR continues to explode as a result of new innovative processing capabilities.
To my great excitement, there have been significant improvements to my favorite HDR image processing toolsets over the past few months. I’ve been evaluating 3 of the top HDR processing tools – Photomatix Pro 4 Beta, Adobe Photoshop CS5 HDR Pro and Nik Software HDR Efex Pro Beta. In my humble opinion, it doesn’t matter which toolset you use rather only the final result matters. That said, it’s good to know what the strengths are from each toolset so you can select the best tool for the job to obtain the desired result. I often process the same set of bracketed images with at least two different HDR programs and open the HDR composites up as layers within CS5 to blend and merge the best details from each into one final HDR image.
At this point, there is no ‘all in wonder’ HDR toolset. Nik Software HDR Efex Pro comes real close but I still find myself blending and merging layers within CS5 to achieve my desired result. I don’t expect this to change after Photomatix Pro 4 and Nik HDR Efex Pro are finally released in the coming months. On flip side, I have started to draw some patterns of when and where I prefer to use each HDR toolset:
- Anytime there is any significant movement in a bracketed series such as trees in the wind or shooting hand held HDRs, I almost always prefer to process with CS5 HDR Pro due to the unparalleled alignment capabilities. The ability to select one image as the source image for the HDR alignment makes all the difference in the world.
- For landscapes captures when using a tripod, I’m really starting to prefer the results from Nik HDR Efex Pro. Some of my most recent landscape images have turned out beyond my expectations without having to spend tons of time merging and blending layers in CS5.
- Photomatix Pro 4 continues to be the king of grunge and architecture HDRs. When I want to unleash the creative not so realistic possibilities of a HDR image, I’ll almost always go to Photomatix Pro which is hands down the fastest HDR processing tool.
Below are some recent images to help compare real results between Photomatix Pro 4, CS5 HDR Pro and Nik HDR Efex Pro. It’s real hard to do a true ‘apples to apples’ comparison because the sliders and options vary greatly between toolsets. What I’ve done is use my ‘go-to’ presets for each toolset that I use 90% of the time when processing my HDR images which provides a pretty good indication how each HDR toolset results in slightly different characteristics in the final HDR image. Example 1 is a 7 image HDR shot with a Canon 5D Mark II on a tripod and using Promote Control to auto bracket. Example 2 is a 3 image hand held HDR shot with a Canon 7D. Example 3 is a 7 image hand held HDR shot with a Canon 7D on a tripod and using Promote Control to auto bracket. Example 4 is a 9 image HDR shot with Canon 5D Mark II on a tripod using Promote Control to auto bracket.
Photo 184 of 365 photo project.
Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 24-105mm @97mm
ISO 100, f/10
9 Image HDR
The above ‘Final HDR Image’ was created by merging and blending the 3 HDR images together in Photoshop CS5. I also used one of the original exposures to merge and blend in the geese into the final image as they were lost during the HDR processing.
Final verdict… I’ll let you be the judge `,-)