Comparing Photomatix Pro 4 Beta vs CS5 HDR Pro vs Nik HDR Efex Pro Beta

kennethsnyder Blog, Popular, Reviews 11 Comments

Mackinac Sunset Lake Michigan HDR

Mackinac Sunset

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.

Photomatix Pro 4 Beta Example 1

CS5 HDR Pro Example 1

Nik HDR Efex Pro Beta Example 1

Photomatix Pro 4 Beta Example 2

CS5 HDR Pro Example 2

Nik HDR Efex Pro Beta Example 2

Photomatix 4 Beta Example 3

Photomatix 4 Beta Example 3

Nik HDR Efex Pro Beta Example 3

Nik HDR Efex Pro Beta Example 3

CS5 HDR Pro Example 3

CS5 HDR Pro Example 3

Photomatix Pro 4 Beta Example 4

Photomatix Pro 4 Beta Example 4

CS5 HDR Pro Example 4

CS5 HDR Pro Example 4

Nik HDR Efex Pro Beta Example 4

Nik HDR Efex Pro Beta Example 4

Final HDR Image - Mackinac Sunset

Final HDR Image - Mackinac Sunset

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 `,-)

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Comments 11

  1. Hamish Niven

    Every example above shows that Nik HDR is the best, CS5 is very natural looking, but a little drab, However, you have been unfair with your edits of the photomatix images unless it really makes such awful halos etc as the example 1 & 2 & 3.
    The biggest issue I have with HDR is that people dont make the images contrasty enough, there are NO shadows and no blacks / near blacks in final results is 95% HDR images, all taken by me, yet in my opinion and those of the client (who paid me over $2,500 for the shoot and images), the resultant images look pretty much exactly what ones eyes see with non of the overblown shadows that photomatix 4 Beta does and so does Nik to a lesser effect.
    That is my opinion and I use HDR commercially for 90 % of my shoots

  2. Leslie Nicole

    Thanks for the comparison. Given that all I want is the best range of light and tones without going surreal, I'm going to check out the Nik HDR. (hey one blogger tip to another – you should have affiliate links)

  3. Bkane

    Nice article but it needs photo analysis. If you could give your opinion of each photo displayed, I'm sure it will enhance the comparison.

  4. Jim

    In your rush to review these apps i think you have missed one of the best HDR apps on the market. Although i do use both Photoshop and Photomatix, my favorite HDR app is still Artizen HDR and in many ways it blow both of them out of the water. That being said i sometimes like the Photomatix result or Photoshop result of others. HDR is to complete with to many different types of photos that only one app can handle. Lastly i also think you favor Nik a bit to much cause both Photoshop and Photomatix can produce very natural results.

    1. unifiedphoto

      Hi Jim,

      Thanks for taking the time to share your feedback! I actually never heard of Artizen. Sounds like you really like it! I'll have to give it a shot :) At the time I wrote this blog post, I was definitely leaning more and more towards Nik for my all around favorite HDR app. I agree PS and Photomatix can produce some natural results but for me I just seem to prefer Nik for that type of look based on my testing. I realize others could come away with totally different results and thats part of the fun of HDR! :) My biggest complaint with Nik right now is its poor results with image alignment compared to Photomatix and PS which, for me, do a much better job aligning images and reducing ghosting. If you have some links to your images with Artizen, please send them along, I'd love to see how its working for you!


  5. Pingback: Nik HDR Efex Pro Tutorial – Moonscape Example » Unified Photography

  6. Syphon72

    Last night i compared Photomatix Pro and HDR Efex Pro. Based on my experience, HDR Efex Pro is really poor in terms of reducing ghosting. In terms of enhancement, it looks the same, but HDR Efex Pro has an advantage in terms of darkening color in one spot,one of the feature that i like best.

  7. Irfan Hussain

    Thanks for taking time to show the comparison. It’s evident from above samples that Nik HDR efex produces HDR images with the least bit of noise, preserving the realism of the image and still keeping it surreal. I use HDR efex for most of my processing now. May be 1 out of 10 photos, I’ll process using photomatix.

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