September 2014 Review – This is a review of the top 20 best HDR software used for creating high dynamic range (HDR) photographs. I’ve been meaning to update this software list for a while. I would have gotten the HDR software list done sooner but it just kept on growing! But eventually I got around to just sitting down and doing it before a new HDR program pops out of no where.
First off I want to say that this is not an in-depth review. There is 20 HDR Software that I found and wanted to share on this page. I don’t have time to go through all of them and do a complete review of each one. The goal with this post is the show you all the HDR Software that’s available for you. I highly recommend that you download the one you think might work for you and try it yourself. All the HDR software listed below have some sort of trial offer. When it comes to HDR I have a specific workflow and look. But that doesn’t mean my workflow or my HDR image results will work for you. So please try them out for yourself. Hopefully this HDR review will give you a good place to start when getting into the world of HDR photography. A beginner HDR photographer can easily get lost with all the software available.
Listed below for review, in alphabetical order, are the top 20bestHDR software for 2014. I downloaded and installed each HDR program to find out which software is the best.
- Canon Digital Photo Professional (2 Stars)
- Dynamic-Photo HDR 5 (3 Stars)
- EasyHDR (4 Stars)
- Essential HDR (2 Stars)
- Full Dynamic Range Tool (2 Stars)
- Fusion (2 Stars)
- HDR Darkroom 3 Pro (4 Stars)
- HDR Efex Pro (3 Stars)
- HDR Expose 3 (3 Stars)
- HDR Projects 2 (3 Stars)
- LR Enfuse for Lightroom (1 Star)
- Luminance HDR (3 Stars)
- Machinery HDR (3 Stars)
- Oloneo HDR (4 Stars)
- Photomatix Pro (5 Stars)
- PaintShop Pro X6 Ultimate (3 Stars)
- Photoshop CC – Merge to HDR Pro (1 Star)
- PhotoStudio (1 Star)
- Picturenaut (3 Stars)
- SNS-HDR (5 Stars)
Below is the 5 main exposures I used to create the HDR images for this review. I also use different sets of exposures for each program so I could get a better feel for each HDR Software.
Note each HDR program has different settings so there is no way to replicate the same results for each image. So instead of trying to get the HDR image to look similar I took the liberty of processing each HDR image to what I felt represents the image best.
Please use the link below to download all 5 RAW exposures for you to use as test example if you don’t have your own bracketed photos.
Click here to download all 5 RAW exposures for this HDR software review.
1. Canon Digital Photo Professional
OS: Windows & Mac Price: Free for Canon Camera Owners
This photo editing software comes bundled with most Canon Digital Cameras. It has an HDR feature built in but you will need the latest version. This program is very limited for HDR but it gets the job done. It’s great for a beginners who owns a Canon Digital Camera looking to produce HDR images right away. Note you will only be able to load 3 exposures with this program for creating HDR images.
Canon Digital Photo Professional (Final Thoughts) – Program is very basic not too many options for fine tuning HDR photos. If you are really into natural HDR images this one would be a great place to start off. Especially if you don’t want to pay extra for more software. However I highly recommend getting a software with more features if you become more serious about HDR photography.
2. Dynamic-Photo HDR 5
OS: Windows & MAC Price: $59.00 US
Installation went smooth, interface is clean and polished. Preview window is a little small. Alignment feature is a bit tricky to understand but the option is there for fine tuning. Process with first batch of example image came out very horrid. I am thinking it does not like the RAW files I am using. Also first example exposure has a total of 5 images. I loaded only three instead 0ev,-2ev and +2ev which seems to work better. There is a problem in the shadows where there is a lot of grain instead of fill color. So to try and resolve this issue I converted the 3 RAW files into a JPG file and reprocessed the image. Converting the file to JPG really helped out a lot! The second example image seems to work fine with alignment. However being that it’s a RAW file I was getting a lot of noise in the shadow areas. Again I converted the RAW into a JPG and image came out fine.
Final Thoughts – Dynamic-Photo HDR is easy to install. Getting started is pretty simple. Alignment however might be where the problem comes in. In some photos the align is off even though the example image was shot using a tripod. Other HDR program align the image just fine. But note that Dynamic-Photo can align the image for you which is what I had to do to merge the photo correctly. I did not see an option to handle ghosting so that might become a problem if you have any moving subjects. Tone mapping setting appears to be very easy to use and looks like there is a lot of options to choose from. Saving the file was simple enough. Good program overall for creating HDR images. Not so good if you like using RAW files.
OS: Windows & Mac Price: $39.00-$55.00
Quick and easy install. Getting start was very easy like the name implies. Options for alignment and ghosting is available. A little slow with merging exposures but I can understand that with 5 exposures using the first example files. I like the user interface very clean professional and modern. A good list of presets to choose from. I like the tone mapping settings just the right mix of controls for shadows and highlights. Image saved without any problems. There is an option to save as a 16bit tiff file but you will have to use the external editor save setting to do that, not a big deal. The only problem I see is getting creative with the HDR image. I personally don’t like the results when I start to overprocess the image. EasyHDR tends to keep the image more natural which is actually a good thing for those of you who prefer a more natural look.
Final Thoughts – I like the final output, looks very good and it handles a 5 exposure RAW file like a champ. Very easy to install with lots of options for alignment, ghosting and tone mapping. Highly recommend it, but keep in mind, if you want extreme HDR this might not give you the results you are looking for. Try it and find out!
4. Essential HDR
OS: Windows Only Price: NA
Note as of 02/06/2014 the website seems to be taken off-line and not sure they will be coming back but I will leave this review here in case it does. At the time of this review the program was getting ready for an upgrade so be sure to check out the website for the latest version and price. No problems with installation of software so far the simplest of HDR programs tested. Drag and drop files into the workspace window. Program can not process RAW files, or at least I was unable to do so. No option for alignment or ghosting, none that I can see. The tone mapping process is very simple… a little too simple. I am able to merge and produce HDR images using a JPG file however there is little control over the final output. Software is more for producing realistic HDR images.
Final Thoughts – Very simple HDR program best for people who don’t like bells and whistle and just want something to merge exposures together and output a HDR image.
5. Full Dynamic Range Tool
OS: Windows & MAC Price: NA
This program has greatly improved since the last time I played around with it. Still it’s a little awkward to use compared to the other HDR programs but it creates very nice looking HDR images. I had doubt at first that it would open my first batch of 5 RAW files but it didn’t have a problem. I didn’t see and alignment tool or ghosting but I ran through this program really fast.
Final Thoughts – Not a bad program.It might take some time to learn the settings to produce some high impact HDR images but I think it’s worth downloading and giving it a try.
6. Fusion HDR Software
OS: Windows Price: $25.00
One of the first free HDR programs that I thought was pretty cool. There is now a small price for the program but I think it’s worth it. The program can handle RAW exposures pretty well. There two tone mapping options available, both seem to produce very good results. This HDR program is somewhat limited but has enough to produce some decent HDR photos.
Final Thoughts – This is another basic HDR program worth checking out. It might take some time for most people especially HDR beginners but I think it is worth downloading.
7. HDR Darkroom 3
OS: Windows & MAC Price: $89.00
Another easy program to install and use. Loading the exposures require you having to browse for the image so there is no drag and drop feature like most of the other HDR programs. I loaded the initial 5 exposures which went well. there is an option to align and deghost the image so that’s always a plus. There are three options for tone mapping which is a good variety. I notice something unusual in the highlights which appears to be a magenta cast. This could be due to the RAW files being used so I processed the image again using JPG and the magenta cast seem to have gone away. It definitely handles JPG better than RAW.
HDR Darkroom (Final Thoughts) – Nice program I like the result of the final image I did using the initial exposure, in JPG mode of course. This HDR software has all the bells and whistles and then some. The only thing I don’t like, and this is due to my workflow, is that it doesn’t have a drag and drop feature. It also looks like it doesn’t handle RAW files too well. Otherwise this is a great program with many features. The tone mapping options and menus are very easy to use.
8. HDR Efex Pro
OS: Windows & MAC Price: $149.00
This is the one program I was looking forward to checking out. I remember using this program when it first came out. I never liked it because of how slow it was. It appears that problem has been solved now.
Nik HDR Efex Pro (Final Thoughts) – Nice program I like the result of the final image I did using the initial exposure, in JPG mode of course. This HDR software has all the bells and whistles and then some. The only thing I don’t like, and this is due to my workflow, is that it doesn’t have a drag and drop feature. It also looks like it doesn’t handle RAW files too well. Otherwise this is a great program with many features. The tone mapping options and menus are very easy to use.
9. HDR Expose 3
OS: Windows & MAC Price: $119.00
So far this one took the longest to install, which means it’s going to be jam pack full of features! After installing the program I find out that it doesn’t have a drag and drop feature like HDR Darkroom… bummer. After some fiddling around I created my first HDR image and somehow manage to crash the program. Second try was a success and I manage to get to the tone mapping window. My first thoughts after scrolling through the list of presets is that this program was designed for natural looking HDR. Any attempt to overcook resulted in a realistic overcooked image. HDR Expose does have an option to align and remove ghosting which is good. It seems to handle RAW files very well. I played around with JPG instead of RAW to see if there was any difference and the results were pretty much the same.
HDR Expose (Final Thoughts) – Good program everything works. The final result of the HDR image is not really my cup of tea but definitely worth a shot for those who want to produce more realistic HDR image. The one thing that would keep me away is workflow. I am a drag and drop guy so if a HDR program doesn’t have drag and drop, you won’t see me using it.
10. HDR Projects 2
OS: Windows & MAC Price: $149.00 Euro
This is a pretty new HDR program that I was recently informed about. Sometimes I get a little sceptical when a new software comes my way. But after quickly looking into to the developer and company it looked pretty legit. So I downloaded the program and installed it and everything went smooth minus the German language. After install and trying to understand how to use the program, which was a tad bit different than the others I was able to get my initial set of images processed. This particular software can be a bit trick to understand it has some good options and results can be very natural with the more extreme look, looking very ruff.
Final Thoughts – Decent program user interface might be a little trick to understand. I like the results from a natural look. Boost color and detail seems to get a little crunchy looking. This one is worth trying but I’m not really liking the interface. Also there is an extra step here that I feel is unnecessary, where you adjust your individual exposures before processing the HDR image.
11. LR Enfuse for Lightroom
OS: Windows & MAC – Adobe Lightroom Required Price: NA
This HDR software is a plugin for Adobe Lightroom so you will need to have Lightroom in order to use this application. Installation was simple but not for those who are computer illiterate. This is a very limited HDR program with no preview window so you will have to guess what the final results will be then process the image. After playing around with the settings I find that the software produce very little Dynamic Range.
Final Thoughts – I didn’t spend too much time on this program because it was just so limiting. However if your workflow is only using Lightroom this might be something you can use. But to be honest you are probably better off using Lightroom’s Develop Module to process fro Dynamic Range from a single RAW file. On a side note the developer of this plugin produces some excellent plugins for Lightroom so I didn’t want to make them seem bad. it’s just that their HDR plugin doesn’t really have much to offer.
12. Luminance HDR
OS: Windows & MAC Price: NA
For a free program it was very easy to install. After installing I load the 5 exposure RAW file from the first example. It took some time to process which is understandable. It was able to handle RAW files better than some of the other paid for programs. I also like the results from the image as well. The initial controls are a little awkward but should be easy enough after some getting use to.
Luminance HDR Software (Final Thoughts) – For some one looking for something free to play around with this program produces some nice looking natural HDR images. It is a little slow but the results are worth it for the price. Also if you use the auto align feature it’s going to make it even slower. My favorite part about this program is that there is a drag and drop feature. Give this program a try it can’t hurt it’s free! Of course donate if you end up using it in your HDR workflow.
13. Machinery HDR
OS: Windows Price: $39.00
The installation of this HDR program went nice and smooth. Upon launching the application I was fascinated with the interface. I threw my initial 5 exposure RAW files at it and it handle it nicely. I had to sit there for a few seconds to figure out how to use it but I realized it was easier than it looks. I am very impressed with this program it has a lot of potential. It produces very nice looking HDR images. After playing around with it some I don’t see any preset thumbnails like some of the other HDR programs (Update apparently this has presets but I don’t have time to look into it so check it out and see for yourself). I like using presets that have preview of the thumbnail makes it easier to find the starting point. I am very surprised that this program does have that option. Looks like this program is more for realistic HDR images. Boosting the settings for a more surreal look only can be very interesting but it doesn’t have the punch that I’m use to. But that’s just my flavor.
Final Thoughts – Great program with lots of potential. Definitely for those who want natural looking HDR images.
14. Oloneo HDR
OS: Windows Price: $59.00-$149.00
Another easy to install HDR program with plenty of features and settings. I loaded my first set of 5 exposures from and it handle it and produced a very clean image. At first I thought there was no drag and drop feature but after playing around I manage to drag and drop my exposure into the small menu on the top right side. So I’m happy about that. This HDR software is packed full of feature, I not even gonna attempt to list them all. This is one program I highly recommend doing a demo download.
Oloneo HDR Software (Final Thoughts) – This is a professional program for producing HDR photos. It has a lot of options but at the same time it is very easy to use. Producing creative and artist photos might be a little difficult but for a realistic look this program is perfect.
15. Photomatix Pro
OS: Windows & MAC Price: $99.00
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This is the HDR software that I have used since the beginning of my career. When I started it was at version 3 and now it is version 5 beta which is the current version I am using for this review (Note by the time I published this review version 5.0.1 had already been released). After install the beta version of Photomatix 5 I ran my first batch of 5 exposures at the program with ease. I given multiple tone mapping methods for creating my HDR image. Of course my favorite has always been Detail Enhancer. The newest tone mapping method called Contrast Optimizer is slowly moving up on my tone mapping list because it produces some nice results but keeps a very natural tone. The thing I like about Photomatix is the ability to produce creative and natural results. It’s now even better with version 5.
Photomatix Pro HDR Software (Final Thoughts) – Great HDR program for all levels of photographers. This program produces a very unique look that no other HDR software is able to mimic. There was a time when Photomatix had difficulties producing more natural results but with the release of version 5 I feel it’s finally turned into a well rounded HDR software.
16. PaintShop Pro X6 Ultimate
OS: Windows Price: $79.00
Corel is a well known software company that has produce great software like VideoStudio, Painter and WordPerfect. I was pretty excited to see what kind of HDR program they were able to incorporate into their photo editing software PaintShop Pro. Yes this is a full photo editing program not just a software for creating HDR images which is actually good and bad at the same time. Installation was a breeze however don’t click too fast on the trial version because it has one of those add browser toolbars that get installed by default. Those are so annoying. After installation I found it a little overwhelming because the software is trying to everything. After a few minutes I was able to get the first 5 exposure merged and I was impressed. The results are very natural and has the ability to produce some nice colors. But that is as far as I can say about the HDR feature. If you go too crazy with the options the results don’t look good.
PaintShop Pro X6 (Final Thoughts) – I didn’t use any of the photo editing features that was available. I’ll leave that for you to play around with. As for the HDR features, I think the results are good and the HDR images are very natural and colorful. It seems to produce some noise with its HDR images but you can probably take that out using the photo editing features.
17. Photoshop CC – Merge to HDR Pro
OS: Windows & MAC Price: Subscription
Adobe is also a very well software company and Photoshop is also a complete photo editing program which includes a option to create an HDR image from multiple exposures. It’s pretty amazing how advance Photoshop is when it comes to photo editing. However I can’t say the same for it’s HDR feature. The HDR option in Photoshop is probably the most basic of all the HDR software. The result from the Photoshop HDR feature are also very flat. Attempts to produce anything worth showing is very difficult. Personally you are better off blending the exposures together using Layers.
Adobe Photoshop CC Merge to HDR (Final Thoughts) – I don’t recommend Photoshop for HDR at all! But if you’re going to use Photoshop as a photo editing program it’s the best out there.
OS: Windows & MAC Price: $79.00
PhotoStudio is another photo editing program with a HDR feature. The software is made by ArcSoft, not as well known as Adobe or Corel but it does produce some pretty useful programs, like Media Converter which is a pretty cool program if you need something to converter media files. But lets get back to their HDR feature in their photo editing software. It’s pretty much useless, it’s just as bad as the one in Photoshop only with even less controls.
PhotoStudio (Final Thoughts) – I would not recommend this for HDR.
OS: Windows & MAC Price: NA
Picturenaut is a free HDR program and it was one of the first HDR software that I use back in 2008. This is a very easy program to use and install. However getting the results you want might be a bit of a challenge for the newbie. While processing my first batch of five RAW exposure it seem to handle it well. But there was a slight color cast to the overall image. I was able to adjust that somewhat using the setting. Picturenaut crashed twice while I was using it but I think it was due to me going too fast for it to handle.
Picturenaut HDR Software (Final Thoughts) – I think this is a great program worth trying out. The HDR software is free so you have nothing to lose but time. If you don’t want to waste time I won’t recommend using it since I personally feel that the dynamic range results achieved is comparable to a single RAW. Of course I could be doing something wrong.
OS: Windows Price: $30-80 Euro
SNS-HDR is the other HDR program that I use. This is the HDR program I use for a more realistic result. This HDR software produces very natural looking HDR images. Also I like it because it produces a very unique look. I can’t really explain it you’ll have to look at the samples or better yet download it and try it yourself. This program is not recommended for extreme HDR look but perfect for subtle results. Installation of this program is pretty straight forward. The program itself is very easy to use. The only problem I have is that it takes a few minutes to get to the tone mapping part especially when processing 5 or more RAW exposures.
SNS-HDR Software (Final Thoughts) – This is the other HDR program I use for more realistic result so I definitely recommend it. But note that if you plan on heavy post processing your HDR images afterwards you might run into some limitations. I think this is the perfect program for people who don’t do much post processing. I say this because most of the images that I run through SNS-HDR, I usually skip Photoshop and go straight into Lightroom.
That’s my two cents, but don’t take my word for it. I highly suggest you download the programs and try them yourself. Each one of these HDR software have trial downloads so download them and play around to find an HDR program that fits your style and workflow.