Top 20 Best HDR Software Review 2015

Top 20 Best HDR Software Review 2014January 2015 – Review of the top 20 best HDR software used for creating high dynamic range (HDR) photographs. I am currently working on a update to this post. If you have any HDR programs to add to this list please let me know. The update will take some time but I will do my best to have it up soon.

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 didn’t have time to go through all of them and do a complete review of each one. The goal with this post is to 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 20 Best HDR Software for 2015. I downloaded and installed each HDR program to find out which software is the best. If you just want to know the HDR software I use for all my HDR images that would be Photomatix and you can learn more about that program by clicking here.

  1. Canon Digital Photo Professional (2 Stars)
  2. Dynamic-Photo HDR 5 (3 Stars)
  3. EasyHDR (4 Stars)
  4. Essential HDR (2 Stars)
  5. Full Dynamic Range Tool (2 Stars)
  6. Fusion (2 Stars)
  7. HDR Darkroom 3 Pro (4 Stars)
  8. HDR Efex Pro (3 Stars)
  9. HDR Expose 3 (3 Stars)
  10. HDR Projects 2 (3 Stars)
  11. LR Enfuse for Lightroom (1 Star)
  12. Luminance HDR (3 Stars)
  13. Machinery HDR (3 Stars)
  14. Oloneo HDR (4 Stars)
  15. Photomatix Pro (5 Stars)
  16. PaintShop Pro X6 Ultimate (3 Stars)
  17. Photoshop CC – Merge to HDR Pro (1 Star)
  18. PhotoStudio (1 Star)
  19. Picturenaut (3 Stars)
  20. 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.

Best HDR Software Review Example Exposures Best HDR Software Review Example Exposures Best HDR Software Review Example Exposures Best HDR Software Review Example Exposures Best HDR Software Review Example Exposures

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

Canon Digital Photo Professional - HDR Software Review

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 Pro HDR Software Example 1

Canon Digital Photo Pro Example 1

Canon Digital Photo Professional HDR Software Example 2

Canon Digital Photo Pro Example 2

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

Dynamic Photo HDR

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.

Dynamic Photo HDR Software Example 1

Dynamic Photo HDR Example 1

Dynamic Photo HDR Software Example 2

Dynamic Photo HDR Example 2

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.

3. EasyHDR

Easy HDR Software

Easy HDR Software

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.

Easy HDR Software Example 1

EasyHDR Example 1
EasyHDR  HDR Software Example 2

EasyHDR Example 2

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

Essential HDR

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.

Essential HDR Software Example 1

Essential HDR Software Example 1

Essential HDR Software Example 1

Essential HDR Software Example 1

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

Full Dynamic Range Tools

Full Dynamic Range Tools

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.

FDR Tools HDR Software Example 1

FDR Tools HDR Software Example 1

FDR Tools HDR Software Example 1

FDR Tools HDR Software Example 1

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

Fusion HDR Software

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.

Fusion HDR Software Example 1

Fusion HDR Software Example 1

Fusion HDR Software Example 1

Fusion HDR Software Example 1

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

HDR Darkroom 3 Pro

HDR Darkroom 3 Pro

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 HDR Software Example 1

HDR Darkroom Example 1

HDR Darkroom HDR Software Example 1

HDR Darkroom Example 2

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

HDR Efex Pro

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 HDR Software Example 1

Nik HDR Efex Pro Example 1

Nik HDR Efex Pro HDR Software Example 1

Nik HDR Efex Pro Example 2

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

HDR Expose

HDR Expose

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 HDR Software Example 1

HDR Expose HDR Software Example 1

HDR Expose HDR Software Example 1

HDR Expose HDR Software Example 2

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

HDR Projects 2

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.

HDR Projects HDR Software Example 1

HDR Projects Example 1

HDR Projects HDR Software Example 1

HDR Projects Example 1

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

LR Enfuse Lightroom

LR Enfuse 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.

LR Enfuse HDR Software Example 1

LR Enfuse – Example 1

LR Enfuse HDR Software Example 1

LR Enfuse – Example 2

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

Luminance HDR

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.

Luminaace HDR Software Example 1

Luminaace – Example 1

Luminaace HDR Software Example 1

Luminaace – Example 2

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

Machinery HDR

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. It has presets. 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.

Machinery HDR Software Example 1

Machinery HDR – Example 1

Machinery HDR Software Example 1

Machinery HDR – Example 2

Final Thoughts – Great program with lots of potential. Definitely for those who want natural looking HDR images.

14. Oloneo HDR

Oloneo HDR

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 Example 1

Oloneo HDR Software – Example 1

Oloneo HDR Software Example 1

Oloneo HDR Software – Example 2

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

Photomatix Pro

Photomatix Pro

OS: Windows & MAC      Price: $99.00
Get 15% Off with Code: CaptainKimo

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 Example 1

Photomatix Pro HDR Software – Example 1

Photomatix Pro HDR Software Example 2

Photomatix Pro HDR Software – Example 2

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

PaintShop Pro 6

PaintShop Pro 6

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 HDR Software Example 1

Paintshop Pro X6 – Example 1

Paintshop Pro HDR Software Example 1

Paintshop Pro X6 – Example 2

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

Photoshop CC Merge to HDR

Photoshop CC Merge to HDR

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.

Photoshop CC HDR Software Example 1

Adobe Photoshop CC – Example 1

Photoshop CC HDR Software Example 1

Adobe Photoshop CC – Example 2

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.

18. PhotoStudio



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 HDR Software Example 1

PhotoStudio – Example 1

PhotoStudio HDR Software Example 1

PhotoStudio – Example 2

PhotoStudio (Final Thoughts) – I would not recommend this for HDR.

19. Picturenaut



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 Example 1

Picturenaut HDR Software – Example 1

Picturenaut HDR Software Example 1

Picturenaut HDR Software – Example 2

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 HDR Software Example 1

SNS-HDR – Example 1

SNS-HDR HDR Software Example 2

SNS-HDR – Example 2

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.

For those interested in seeing the old HDR Software Review post click here.

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139 thoughts on “Top 20 Best HDR Software Review 2015

  1. bartek okonek

    Nice to see the updated and expanded review. It’s now really a complete resource for those who want to do first steps in the exciting HDR photography world.

  2. bartek okonek

    EasyHDR is for both – Mac and Windows. It allows preset management and has a number of presets already built-in. The presets are displayed as thumbnails. Price is EUR 29.00.

  3. fernando

    Hi Capt Kimo…

    so many thanks for your website. (great sharing and knowledge)

    I already sent you private email and message on FB.

    thanks a million for your time.


  4. Captain Kimo Post author

    I find alignment in Photomatix to be good. Download the trial and see if it works for you.

  5. Jack Simpson

    Sorry, I forgot to mention that I normally cannot use a tripod. Sometimes can steady against a post.

  6. Jack Simpson

    Hi, I want to use Photomatix on a Mac but see on the web that most agree it’s alignment does not work well. Everyone appears to say to use Photoshop (not Elements, which I have) for alignment. Does this mean I must spend an additional $700 to do a good job with Photomatix Pro?

    Please email response if possible (althoughI have no problem with you posting it). I may not be able to catch your blog in theright place for the answer.

  7. Captain Kimo Post author

    Photomatix will let you process a single file. I won’t say that you get an amazing result from it only because it’s a single exposure but you’ll be surprised every now and then what a single exposure can offer.

  8. sam perez

    I really like HDR I was wondering if there is a program that I you can use with older photos(dont have brackets for those photos), or are all HDR programs set for the 3 to 5 brackets only?
    Thank you for your help

  9. Allan

    CK –

    Great review and thanks! I noticed a new update and PRO version of Hydra, but you left that out of your review. Is this just kids stuff, or have even tried it?

  10. Captain Kimo Post author

    There’s a few things you can do. Make sure you add some micro-smoothing to your tone mapping. Use more exposures with your HDR. Use Denoise before you do anything else. Bring one of the original exposures to blend in.

  11. kavadarci

    Hey Captain, I’ve been using the photomatix pro / trial version but i get a lot of noise on the final product. I’ve used topaz to denies it but it only blurs it cause it doesn’t have detailed control . can you help hot to get the noise out or get a better final HDR picture . thanks

  12. Captain Kimo Post author

    I always recommend the stand alone, simply because if Aperture gets a update there is a chance it will stop working with the plugin. You don’t have to worry about that with a stand alone software.

  13. Tracey

    I’m reposting Jim Heim’s post because my question is the same. The only difference is I am using a Mac lap top. If you answered this, I must have missed it?

    I’m running Apeture3 on a 3 year old Mac Mini and it runs a bit slow. I’m intend to purchase Photomatix but not sure whether the plug-in or full stand-alone version is best. I’d like to use the plug-in version but I’m concerned that it will slow Apeture3 down even more as part of the program. Your recommendation?

  14. Jon Doh

    Am using Photomatrix Essentials and it does everything I need. For only 40 bucks it is a real bargain. They don’t give you as many presets as the Pro version, but you have all the controls that are important from Pro. I test drove both versions and decided Essentials worked great for my needs.

    I tone map the pics, then save them in tiff format and then reload into Essentials to make adjustments under one of the other sections. When I’m finished I save the final product and then open it in Photoshop Elements and make any final adjustments there.

  15. Captain Kimo Post author

    Personally I think anyone who wants to do realistic HDR should spend time learning how to use ND filters, mix that up with a little Photoshop shadow and highlights, which is also available in Photoshop Elements, can produce some amazing results.

  16. Ken

    I had asked in an earlier post what is a good HDR program. I have now tried a few, and the the one I have found to be the best, at least at natural looking results, and for a beginner, is Oloneo PhotoEngine. It also has very advanced features that a pro will like. You can download a free trial that only lasts 30 days, but that was enough to convince me that it is the one I will buy when I save up enough.

    If you want to download any trial programs that have an expiration feature after so many days, I would suggest reading up on HDR, taking a bunch of photos, and then downloading when you are ready to go. That way you won’t waste any days of your trial waiting for good photo opportunities to come along.

  17. Rachael

    Up until today I have stuck with Photomatix exclusively. I’ve tried a few other versions of HDR software, but none have seemed to be as good as Photomatix. Today I downloaded HDR Photo Pro and I have to say that I much prefer it for creating realistic HDR images. Photomatix is still my favorite for creating a more surreal effect however.

  18. Bob the Photographer of Palm Beach

    Thanks David and Capt Kimo.
    When I said I do wedding photography I should have mentioned that I do not use photoshop. I am currently using Picasa as this does everything that I need. Most of todays brides are low end and getting married on the beach. The job market is horrible, competing against Chinese slave labor at the point of a gun, is difficult. Oloneo looks to be high end. Thanks for the remarks…

    Capt I am local and live in Palm Beach County. I see from your Coral Cove pix you get around locally.

    Do you offer hard copy books?

  19. Captain Kimo Post author

    David – fusion is a good HDR program for free. Good for starters.

  20. David Dollevoet

    I use freeware Fusion HDR, It is quite effective in fusing multiple exposures of a high contrast scene. For single exposure images of a high contrast scene, I have gotten satisfying results from the tonemapping function of Fusion HDR.

  21. Robert Walker

    I have been doing wedding photography for years. I really love landscapes and natural lighting. I am getting into real estate interiors and feel HDR is the future. I prefer the ones that look more natural. overly photoshopped pictures look nice but not normal and way too fake. I appreciate the comparisons and hope the software is not too difficult too learn. Which ones are the easiest to manipulate?

  22. Captain Kimo Post author

    Ken… I haven’t sat down to test the release version of Oloneo yet, when I do I’ll give you my thoughts. But for now my 2 cents, Oloneo is better at realistic HDR, where Photomatix is better suited for more creative processing. It’s up to you want you’re going to end up doing more of. Honestly if you want realistic I would stick with the old fashion grad filters. An alternative route also, would simply be to blend multiple exposures together in Photoshop. When it comes to digital there is always plenty of ways to skin a cat ;-)

  23. Ken

    I have just recently discovered HDR photography, although I have been involved in photography for many years and digital for about 15, I tend to learn just enough for my needs. I am hooked!!! After doing some research and looking at many different programs, I have narrowed my options down to either Photomatix or Oloneo PhotoEngine. What are your (or anyone’s) thoughts comparing the two? I guess I would lean towards more natural looking photos, if that helps. Second question – Photoengine has a ReLight feature which automatically senses all light sources and lets you adjust each one separately! Is there an easy way to do that with Photomatix, without using PhotoShop, which is out of my price range? Being an existing light devotee, it seems like a feature I would get a lot out of. Taking all the features and end results into consideration, would it be worth the extra $50 for the ReLight feature in Photoengine, and do the other Photoengine features measure up to Photomatix? I don’t want to buy a program for one option, and find out the rest of the features and the end results were not worth it! I hope all you experts who have been having fun with HDR for years will have some advice for a total newbie! Thanks!

  24. Mike Phillips

    I was looking for an artical like this, thanks.
    I noticed you did not mention anything about raw format.
    I used the efex trial to test it. It will link up with Lightroom 2 through 3.4 which is what I was looking for. The CON was that it only did a stylized photo and a bad one at that. I am still looking for an alignment feature, ( it is the week end or I would call them,do that monday). The images I used and the other images both had a bad color cast on the edges of different things in the picture created. I did use cs5 with one of the pictures and it turned out great with very good detail zoomed in past 100%. At this posting I have not had a chance to go to my friends house to use his Cs5 yet to check the other or new images. So far the ( HDR efex)Does not work for me, If I already had a good murged picture the HDR Efex software program would be very usefull to have for Stylized, it has several presets and lets you create your own to save. So for now I think that the free ones will work for me, I just need to murge pictures to make the HDR and I can use Lightroom to change them if I need that.
    Thanks again: Mike P.

  25. Lenny7

    OlOneo will easily make the Top 10 in 2011, but as someone noted above, no Mac version yet. My biggest problem us the price. I feel it’s not close enough to Photomatix to pull experienced users towards it. Photomatix is all but useless to me: no ‘backing up’ if you want another edit; painfully difficult interface; renders are nowhere near the image pre-render; if you’re not a PhotoShop wizz, you are in for layering that doesn’t produce what pros get from it.

    Anybody with a non-PS editor that will still get Photomatix tamed? If not, there a big dam in my workflow.

  26. Sara

    Thanks so much for any advice. I’m looking to produce the most realistic to the eye images for interior designers, architects, and realtors. I believe HDR is what I want, but they all seem so ‘photoshopped’ in their final apperance more of a rendering than a photo – not what my clients would want to portray their work. I’ve only tried Photomatix trial. I feel manual lining up might be needed? but am mainly interested in how to fix the ‘fake’ look. Have you used Topaz for more post HDR editing? I use Lightroom and would like a compatible HDR software. Again, thank you so much for any input you can share.

  27. Julio

    I have been using PS4 as my photo editor and I use it to process my HDR pics. I want to know what are the advantages of using any of these softwares over the CS4.

  28. Lenny7

    I hope you get into OLO neo’s PhotoEngine for a quick better review. So far it has been LIGHTYEARS beyond PhotoMatix in ease of control and presets you can fully control. Results are. slightly noisy unless you’re carefully or want stunning but unrealistic images. Free beta testing gets you a 25% discount on first release. I’m spoiled on PE so a free program has a steep mountain to climb. PhotoMatix is right up there but slipped to my #2 spot under OlO nerdlwxx. x. x. xxbo

  29. Captain Kimo Post author

    This is the 2010 list I have the 2011 list coming out which has HDR Efex listed. There seems to be a new version out now so it might have addressed issues that frustrated me so I will redo the review when I have some time.

  30. B-House

    Ever try HDR Efex Pro? Wondering if you didn’t or it didn’t make your list. I’ve ben debating between that and Photomatrix Pro but am leaning toward the first. Thanks!

  31. Jim Heim

    I’m running Apeture3 on a 3 year old Mac Mini and it runs a bit slow. I’m intend to purchase Photomatix but not sure whether the plug-in or full stand-alone version is best. I’d like to use the plug-in version but I’m concerned that it will slow Apeture3 down even more as part of the program. Your recommendation?

  32. Gord

    Thank you!Sir….tried the copy link and it worked. Windows 7 along with the new Firefox has changed a few things when it comes to viewing pictures on the internet and the way they are displayed. Tried them out on a fully Licensed copy of HDR-SNS Pro. Was really pleased with the results I got back. A lot more realistic then most HDR Programs out there. Looking forward to your review on this peace of software. Thanks again for your help :)

  33. Captain Kimo Post author

    Gord, the image is not protected, you can right click on the image and save image as or copy each link and paste it into the url browser bar.

  34. Gord

    Captain Kimo, I can click on the thumb nail and they open up to a slide show. They are protected and unless I use a capture program you can not download them. Am I missing a different link on your page to them?

    Thanks Gord

  35. Captain Kimo Post author

    Gord – the exposure I used are the 3 that can be downloaded at the top of this page… these are the actually exposures that I used.

    Jewell – I don’t own a MAC so my opinion on HDR software for MAC is limited.

    Samer – you can only save a HDR file as a 32bit file!

  36. samer

    hi i i have a problem that i know how to do a hdr image on photoshop but i do not know how to save it as a hdr file
    thank you for helping

  37. Jewell BunchIII

    Hello My name is Jewell Bunch III i am a photographer working on a macbookpro laptop and using Adoble Ligh Room 2 and loving HDR features in light room i was wondering in your opinion on a mac platform what is the best if you ready want the best results

  38. Gord

    Captain Kimo, got a challenge for you! Those 3 exposers that you used to test each of the HDR programs, can you put them in a zip file and allow the public to use them. I believe you are missing at the very least one that as far as I’m concerned beats all of these hands down

  39. annie

    If you try Photomatrix, it is a stand alone program and you can try a free trial with them. It is an easy program to use and produces some great results.

    Here is a link, you just need to choose whether it is for a Mac or a PC:

    Hope this helps.


  40. Surriya


    First of all your reivews are very helpful. I am starting with HDR images, never done it before and looking of something for bignners. I saw your recommendations for bignners, however I heard about some free software of Photomatrix… do you how can I get that.. I definitly want to try something for free before I buy anything and with trial versions my experience is not good. I have photoshop element 7, is there a way to create HDR in PSE 7, don’t want to buy CS4.. does other softwares like photomatrix talk with PSE ?

    I will appreciate your help

  41. jlgomezlinares

    I use a lot of the EasyHDR Pro and I’m happy with it, for some photos that I like but also use Photomatic that, at the next review will not stop making a Pro version of EasyHDR, now in the V.2.02.02. Is also very well that ends PhotoPro HDR out and still lacks some things.

  42. Captain Kimo Post author

    William, downloaded it and will try it out while I’m in Thailand, I should have a brand new HDR software review for 2011 before I get back.

  43. William Collins

    Thanks for the info…now I’m on the same page….

    What is your eval of the Unified Color Express HDR app.? and the Expose version?

    Thanks, William

  44. Captain Kimo Post author

    Annie was talking about Topaz Adjust, a detail enhancement program that is used to help boost contrast and detail. LucisArt is a similar program, only I forgot it was a super expensive program.

  45. William Collins

    Are you sure you have the right person…Lucas Arts? I don’t remember any questions that would have that answer.

    I am confused with your answers….

    I am ordering your ebook today……

  46. William Collins

    I got a message from you about my comment….$600…where did you get that Unified Color Express is $99.00, and Expose is $199…Maybe you misread my comment, but $600???

    I am surprised you haven’t looked at the software…I have downloaded the trial version….It is quite good…

    Unified Color’s HDR PhotoStudio is quite old…I don’t ever see it on their website….

    There must be a misunderstanding….UNIFIED is the website…..

  47. annie

    Thanks. I have heard of it but it comes with a $600. price tag and much more than I wanted to spend as I am not a professional photographer. Topaz Adjust was only $50. and as I said, just a fun program.

    Again, thanks for your response.

  48. annie

    I recently acquired a used Mac G5 without the Intel Processor. I used to use a program called Topaz Adjust when I had a PC and it does not operate on the older Macs.

    I was wondering if you knew or could suggest any other HDR programs that does photo enhancements and dramatic effects. I used to use it in conjunction with Photomatrix.

    Thanks for any suggestions.

  49. William Collins

    Thank you very much for these reviews….I too use Photomatix 4. However, I have just run on to an HDR app that looks promising….that being Unified Color Express. Have you had time to evaluate this one? They also have one called Unfied Color Expose. If you do take a look at these I surely would like to hear you comments…..Thanks, William

    Here is the site:

  50. Gordon


    To be honest, there isn’t really one HDR app that fits all situations. I find that Photomatix does a great job on realistic images with some degree of stylized performance. However, Luminance/Qtpfsgui does more specific stylized performance for other requirements that Photomatix can not touch. I am sure the same can be said for HDR Efex. You will need to work with each using the 30 day trial to determine what you want to invest in.

  51. Steve

    I already own Photoshop CS5, so not considering price how would you rate CS5. I have been considering either HDR Efex Pro or Photomatix. Other than ease of use, it appears that the choice might come down to a comparison of the various images you produced and selecting the one that provides the look that appeals to the user.

  52. Hamish Tear

    I am a VR Pano photographer – mostly real estate and commercial real estate. I do not care for ‘effects’ but really want true colors. Photomatix is the way to go.

  53. Gordon

    Great commentary Dave. Yes, I can see how color depth would allow more aggressive stretching of levels… more depth to stretch before it blows out and bleeds. DOS CLP allows for more batch processing flesibility… understood. I got away from that years ago… but if you are a C++ language programmer, you never ever get away from it. If you don’t use it you loose it.

    Sounds like you don’t use the detail factor because your native images already have enough detail.

    Yes, you can get away with 8bit, ‘if’ you don’t need to stretch them too far. If you do, then 16bit native RAW is required, from what I hear you saying. That is very helpful to know.

    Yes, depending upon the original quality, detail levels tend to bring out background noise defects at full resolution. However, that tends to be mostly a hardware sensor/internal processor software/lens issue. That should not be much of an issue with a Canon 5DII. I haven’t checked out the lab reports on the 24-105mm kit lens yet. Most Canon kit lenses are pretty good in order to sell the camera body. However, I was rather surprised at the spread in quality of Canon EOS lenses for cropped frame sensors. One needs to be very careful to use the better quality lenses otherwise native quality for post processing just isn’t there, resulting in a waste of time and effort. However, in the shadows things can tend to get iffy, even with great equipment.

    Regarding RAW files compared to JPEG. RAW files do look smoother from what I have seen where as JPEG’s tend to look sharper for the same resolution and camera settings. I believe this is because the internal camera processor may be programmed to do some preprocessing of JPEG’s, including some color enhancement and sharpening. The whole idea of RAW’s is to give it to you raw without any preprocessing that can create or enhance defects in the preprocess.

    Even running the tonemapper at a 1.2 saturation factor requires additional saturation enhancement.

    Definitely not going to fit in your shirt pocket.

    Native exposure quality is absolutely the issue. First in terms of equipment and the built in options for using that equipment. And secondly the photographic conditions and subject matter being photographed. HDR is all about the depth and the stretch. Without higher dynamic native quality, all you may get is a tear in the digital fabric. Cheap material vs. high quality material to work from.

    I have posed this question on another one of Kim’s message boards. Wouldn’t it be possible to take one neutral exposure of a single frame and then create additional images from that original at various f-stop settings in Photoshop, without taking a bunch of bracketed exposures. Photoshop has a function that is able to change the relative f-stop exposure setting and save it to file as a new image. I believe it will do it for both JPEG as well as RAW. If that is possible, it would save allot of time and effort and eliminate all the issues with ghosting and alignment when creating HDR TIFF’s. Just a thought.

  54. dave

    Great points, Gordon.

    OSs: Purely a matter of choice. Choose an OS based on how easy it does what you expect and how much support for the unusual you require.

    I use Hugin for their sourceforge presence, but that’s a self-imposed limitation. The best tools are those that one chooses to understand, so I have no doubt that others are doing admirable things with tools that I have not used. I’m a tech-geek, and I tend to prefer a technician’s interface (I prefer 3DSMAX over Maya, for instance) over a sometimes more sensible artistic UI. I’m not in the least afraid of software that utilises a command line interface. Less than half of my processing requires graphical feedback, and a CLI gets me through the rote processing via a line of text with minimal fuss.

    Detail factor: I just don’t use it and keep it at minimum.

    8bit vs 16bit: There are two things stacked against you with 8bit originals: color depth and compression. It’s not at all a trashbasket case tho. I’ve stacked JPGs in astrophotography into 16b/c composites and it’s useful. If it’s what you have, make use of it. 16bit originals allow aggressive stretching of levels; far more than you can get away with when using 8bit images. It’s preferable to have 16bit originals, but not a requirement. As for compression, that speaks directly to detail levels. You really don’t want to have JPG artifacts interfering with sharpening/unsharp masking. Again, though, it’s a preference and not a requirement. I suppose the big difference is that it really affects the need to reduce rez, RAW files are noticeably superior if you look closely and far more tolerant to manipulation… I can tear into a 16bit in ways that destroy 8 bit images. 8 bit doesn’t care much about noise, but posterizes easily. 16 stays smooth while you stretch up the low end of the histogram but shows that noise (and hot pixels).

    Color levels in qtpf…/Luminance: I run the tonemapper normally at 1.2 saturation for exactly that reason.

    General thoughts on 16 vs 8: You need a LOT of 8 bit subs (not really practical) to equal the range of sensitivity you get with 16, which makes it much easier to shoot below the right of the histogram so things don’t saturate and still recover contrast in the shadows, even with a bright background. It’s useful, and worth it in my opinion if you’re gonna geek with photography (no complaints here), but it’s not gonna fit in your shirt pocket.

    If you’re going to feed any of the above HDR programs, you’ll get better results with better feeds… so getting the best exposures you can (whether 8 or 16 bit) is the most important step.

  55. Gordon

    Thanks for all the details Dave. What you shared about the advantages of working with RAW at 16bit to start, in order to help delay and avoid the posterizing effects of over processing, is very interesting and I can understand that. Kim indcated that it was more of a preference, but it goes deeper than than the more you are looking for a very designer specific effect.

    Frankly, I don’t care for using the unsharp tool for the same reasons you gave. If the image is good enough quality, I find that I can use about a 50% sharpening to get what I am looking for without getting any thermal noise. There may be reasons why you use unsharp instead of sharp, in spite of the limitations.

    Regarding the use of operating systems on very large images. In your opinion, does Linux handle memory mapping issues better than Windows? In other words, does Linux still use the same basic method of memory page mapping as Windows, or is it handled differently? Also, is processing time reduced with Linux over Windows for such graphics handling? I am under the impression that Linux does not have the same operating system overhead as Windows.

    Regarding stitchers, in your opinion is the Hugin Stitcher the best for these size images? Or is it just part of your preference for working with open source tools?

    Regarding my settings. It wasn’t the contrast factor slider that I used as much as the detail factor slider. Adding some contrast factor in the initial tone mapping stage allows faster (and more) contrast without pushing the Adjust Levels on the post adjust histogram stage. As soon as you push the histogram contrast by pulling the right slider in to the left, the whole color map gets saturated. That gives contrast but not the kind you want for realism. To avoid stretching the color contrast, just use more contrast factor in the tone mapping stage. This also helps minimize the potential posterization effects, which you require.

    In order to get closer to the high detail you have in your 16bit RAW images, I have to use a detail factor of about 10 when tone mapping my original 8bit Jpeg to 16bit TIFF HDR images. The problem with adding detail factor is that it details any slight ghosting, making the image in those areas appear fuzzy. However, the areas that are static look really good.

    You may not need to do this in your images because they were 16bit RAW to begin with. It is hard to know since we aren’t dealing with apples and apples here… I am working with native 8bit Jpegs and you are working with native 16bit RAW.

    Another thing about Luminance/Qtpfsgui. The resulting 16bit HDR TIFF to LDR Jpegs, always look bleached out of color and required some color enhancement in either GIMP, Paintshop, or Photoshop in order to come alive. That is not so much the case with Photomatix.

  56. dave

    I took the shots with print in mind, and was aiming for a 4′ image at 300dpi. I got close, and it did print up very nicely at 36″. My wife had me frame it, and I wound up making prints for friends and cow-orkers. I was a bit surprised at all the attention the image drew in, to be honest. I’m more of a technician and less of an artist, so I really don’t feel that I have much of an eye for composition. I was happy with the results on this one, though.

    As far as shooting/processing goes, my subs were shot at 24mm @f22 so I could keep the foreground in focus and I shot with a pretty substantial overlap between frames. 24mm is the low end of the 24-105mm kit lens on the 5DII, so the individual subs are fairly wide angle. Someday I need to go out and shoot a test series just to find a good compromise between DOF and detail (diffraction at f22 hurts a bit). Anyways, I lost some detail to high f-ratio so the final went through a slight unsharp mask (note to self: always apply unsharp in 16bit/channel depth), then I cloned out the tiny bits of yuckus that I missed cleaning off the glass. The final image is 1:1 with the camera’s native rez. Unsharp plays hell with thermal noise in the clouds, so you can’t be heavy with it.

    My basic processing flow (for anyone interested):

    Batch convert RAW to 16bit/channel TIFF.
    Make major corrections to levels/curves. Final corrections
    come later, and I use the same settings for each image if
    it’s part of a pano. This really should be done in 16
    bit/channel depth if at all possible, as well as the
    next step.
    Pass TIFFs to software for HDR compositing.
    Tonemap. Output to LDR.
    Clone out dust, etc (cleanup for final)
    Small levels, curves adjustments.

    Do anything that moves pixel values around in 16 bits per channel. This includes levels, curves and white balance in addition to tonemapping. If you’re using any of the above-reviewed software with 8bit images, you’re limiting yourself. Obviously, if you’re using a camera that outputs only to 8bit (ie most point/shoot cameras) you don’t have any choice, and you’re still able to do some pretty amazing HDR with 8bits/channel, but the added color depth of RAW files helps delay the onset of that surrealistic look that so many HDR packages can generate and allows you to be more aggressive with the tools without fear of posterizing the image.

    Transformations (ie changing pixels’ locations or distorting for stitching) can be done after converting to standard 8-bit images. Keep in mind that some stitchers can also adjust exposure to make subframes match in contrast/brightness. This is an issue if your camera doesn’t have manual shooting options (shooting all your subs manually negates this issue, and it’s only relevant to panoramas). The basic rule of thumb is to delay conversion to LDR for as long as possible.

    The final worked out to about 75mp. I’d love to do a much larger image, and I’ll try to as soon as I find a worthy scene I guess. It’s going to have to be static conditions (like a cityscape or rocky desert on a clear day); since if I shoot for a 6X4 grid it’ll take some time to kick off 72 exposures. Yikes. That’s 8.6G of image data to combine…

    Gordon, in answer to your questions, etc (I know, this is turning into a tl;dr lol):

    Auto bracketing is definitely a must. Although I can easily do it manually (I really like Canon’s UI and context-aware control wheels), auto is soooo much faster. It’s a bit of a shame that it’s limited to +/-2.

    Thank you for the compliment regarding details, detail is practically a fetish for me lol… as soon as I finish getting all my tools rebuilt (running linux, and I’m barely at “Tinkerer” status yet) I’m going to play with some options on the RAW development side of things to try to squeeze some more out. I may play around some today and see if what I’m wondering about has any advantages.

    I have not managed to try your settings yet, due both to trying to get my system finalized and my work schedule. What you said about contrast makes sense; turning it down tends to mute the tonemapping somewhat and it’s always a trade-off between detail and surrealism.

    Going the open source route can sometimes be a craps shoot, but being free (and free of the badware that ships with so many of the free, pre-packaged windows apps) makes it worth checking out. Keep in mind that one of my goals is to do all my processing with no-cost software, so I can only show examples without making a direct comparison between the free and commercial packages and that in many cases the tools I use can be less than intuitive. If you have a budget to blow, you can trade expertise for convenience with a commercial package.

  57. Gordon

    Ok, I downloaded qtpfsgui Ver. 1.9.3 in order to try out Dave’s (your) settings compared to my own. I found that the relative detail was about equal to my own settings. However, I like the contrast turned up a bit more since that tends to enhance details, similar to what sharpening does. I don’t know if that would really improve your canyon image because it is so open, with no overhead shadows to work with.

    One thing I noted is that the very fine detail in your image comes from using some zoom with a low telephoto lens, rather than a wideangle lens. Nevertheless, you substitute more panorama frames to get back the wideangle loss, with a corresponding huge increase in image size and detail definition. Size is resolved simply by sizing down the image after processing. However, the fine detail, captured by your zoom lens doesn’t disappear, it just gets smaller. What an excellent technique Dave.

    How did my settings work out for you? I think you should be able to come very close to duplicating your results simply by turning down my contrast setting. However, in the latest version of Luminance, turning down the contrast seems to also turn down (remove) definition more than what I believe it should. You may need more contrast in order to get closer to your intended result. This may be why the sweet spot has alluded you in the latest version. Let me (us) know.

    Also, the Windows Qtpfsgui 1.9.3 doesn’t crash like the Windows Luminance 2.0.1 does. Processing time seems about the same to me.

  58. Gordon

    Apparently, the developers over at SourceForge integrated or rewrote the algorithms in a more efficient way, in order to speed them up. In doing so they may have adversely altered the programs ability to provide the sweet spot, as you say. Unless the programmers were even aware of that sweet spot, they would not have known of the need to preserve that aspect.

    You might want to contact them and show them your results and indicate that the changes in Luminance no longer give the same favored results. This way, they might included the older version in later releases of Luminance. Or they might have another solution.

    Ok, I now understand the 8 angels… four above and four below, each with three exposures. Wouldn’t it have been easier to just use a wider angle lens? Or were you able to get better detail definition by using a telephoto setup with a greater panoramic array and then reduce the size of the image after processing? I perceive that you are using a whole lot of technique to get your affect. Very interesting.

    Yes, unless the air is absolutely still and there is no movement whatsoever in your composition, you must use the auto bracketing function in order to execute the shots quickly enough between exposures. Otherwise, if conditions are still enough, you could get away with all manual settings with unlimited exposure range and just shoot each exposure off one at a time. Pretty iffy at best but still possible. Your tripod will need to be on a hard surface.


  59. dave

    Luminance is actually faster, as it’s a true multi-core app. I’m not sure what they’ve done that makes the results so wonky, though.

    My RAWs for the image were 8 bracketed shots, so 8 shots each at -2,0 and +2 stops. Four across the top and four across the bottom of the panorama. +/-2 is the max for auto-bracketing on the 5DII (I sure wish I could double that) and with the clouds and the breeze I really didn’t think I could bracket manually without getting a lot of drift in the clouds and shadows so I had to settle for 9 stops… which in the end seems to have been enough although I still have some saturation in the clouds nearer the sun on the left.

    Oh, the image covers about 220 degrees horizontally… I wanted to get both sides of the ledge I was set up on.


  60. Gordon

    Thanks Dave… That was an awesome rendition of procedures. Very interesting and fascinating. I will have to get a download version of Qtpfsgui and try out your settings. I sense that your comments may be saying that the sweet spot may not exist in the current version of Luminance. I wasn’t able to find it either.

    The current version of Luminance has an almost useless anti-ghosting function. Whereas, Photomatix’s automatic anti-ghosting eliminates virtually all the ghosting throughout the entire image. That alone is worth its price. It is not possible to get the quality of your image detail if there is too much ghosting going on. Fortunately, your vegetation was mostly low lying desert weeds that are not easily disturbed by a slight breeze.

    Regarding your image. Am I to understand that your composite was 8 bracketed images at three panoramic angles for a total of 24 images? If so, why did you choose eight exposures per angle instead of seven? When looking at a standard -2/+2 exposure spread on a Canon camera, there is a total of 13 manual exposure positions, 1/3rd stop apart. Starting at one end of the spread, there are seven positions available, each 2/3 of a stop apart. Eight just doesn’t work out evenly. Or did you use a different manual method for setting your exposures?

    Also, since your image wasn’t a night time lapse, why use so many gradient exposures? I would have thought five would have been enough. Is there really that much of a difference in the end result? If so, this may also have something to do with the detail quality you achieved.

    I will be interested to see the results of your image using a rendition of the settings I referenced for Luminance. I bet Luminance takes an age and a half to process your image at 5k x 15k!:)


  61. dave

    Sorry for the delay, I got to live for the weekend without ‘net access (it’s ok, I survived…).

    Gordon is mostly right, I usually start with the Mantiuk algorithm and drift to others if needed. I have also noticed that there is a big difference between Qtpfsgui and Luminance with regards settings and the final image. In Qtpfsgui, I use Mantiuk with contrast factor at minimum (.001), saturation generally between 1.1 and 1.2, and detail at 1.0. I have yet to find the “sweet spot” for Luminance (and the review is spot-on about Luminance not being particularly user-friendly… it is not at all intuitive) so I keep them both installed, as luminance can output to exr while qtpfsgui crashes. I’ll try the settings Gordon suggested and see how it goes, though.

    As far as the image goes, I chased the rain to the canyon so the cloud formations you see are the results of a receding thunderstorm. The ground is still wet, and if you look closely you can see water standing in the cups left by the blooms on the cactus on the left. There was some breeze, and there are a few duplicate branches floating about in various places. Reducing the image size did make them less apparent, and the image I linked to is about 15% of original size. The image is a composite of 8 bracketed shots, for 24 total exposures. Final dimension was about 15k x 5k pixels. I used a rather stout Bogen tripod set low to the ground for stability and a remote shutter release on a Canon 5D MKII with a 24-105mm L-series lens and stitched the images after a pass through qtpfsgui in Hugin’s Panorama Tools.

    At the time I was limited to a 32 bit OS (and hence just over 3G ram) and the 16bit tiffs were huge (120meg each), so it simply crushed my system and I had to combine and tonemap into LDR before stitching. This image is the reason I’m now running a 64bit OS with 16G or ram.


  62. Gordon


    I did some experimenting with Luminance and found that the following settings appear to come the closest to what your example shows.

    Profile: 1
    Operator: Mantiuk ’06
    Contrast Factor: 0.371
    Saturation Factor: 1.760
    Detail Factor: 25.6
    Adjust Levels: (as required)

    Also, I suspect that you reduced your native image size by around 50%-60%. Since I could not get the exact same results I must assume that you are using a high end DSLR with a great lens, a weighted tripod, and a remote shutter release.

    One thing that did puzzle me was the sky. It seems somewhat evident from the cloud formation that a bit of a front coming in over the landscape. This would have indicated some kind of a breeze. However, your vegetation is crystal clear indicating that there was no wind movement between exposures.

    Perhaps you could comment. Thanks.


  63. Gordon

    Hey Dave,

    I checked out your example photo and that was a really a good application of Luminance. Very nice HDR panorama photo. You seem to have captured the very essence of what Luminance can do.

    You are so right about not overusing its controls. What makes Luminace great is that it can create that slightly grainy defining detail without causing noise in the rest of the image. Would you be so kind as to share the settings you used in Luminance as this would help stear potential users in a good direction toward its better application. Thanks.


  64. Gordon

    Hi Kim,

    I used to live in Sarasota myself. Now I am in Texas. I mentioned winter because it is very monotone and either very clean (fresh snow)or very dirty (dirty old snow) compared to other times of the year. That kind of environment seems to do much better either in black and white, IR (like you said), or using more dynamic treatment. That seems to be a job for Luminance… my reason for commenting.

  65. Captain Kimo Post author

    @Praveen – I do agree that Nik does seem to produce a synthetic look… but I guess it’s all depends on how you use it. I like dynamic images also, but after producing so many dynamic photos, I’m beginning to like the less dynamic images more.

  66. Captain Kimo Post author

    @Gordon – I don’t think I get many purists visiting my website… lol. Unfortunately I live in South Florida so winter scenes aren’t as exciting as up north. I feel that winter scenes are best when removing warm colors. That’s why so many black and white and IR winter scenes look good. But until I get a big opportunity to shoot and process more winter photos, I won’t be able to completely figure out what will look good.

  67. Praveen Money

    There are new hdr softs released. Nik HDR efex pro and HDR photo pro. I tested hdr photo pro, there is no treatment for chromatic abbretion in it. All most all hdr’s have the same problem. in your test, i really like the dynamic hdr’s. I don’t like un-natural image efex.

  68. Gordon


    With winter now here, it might be a good idea to do some focusing on Luminance. Luminance seems to be the only HDR offering (free) that can be configured to manipulate both light and color (in stylized ways) to an otherwise dreary subject or scene. With Luminance, I can take an exposure that is almost nothing and make something out of it, in terms of a stylized rendering.

    Pureists that don’t like anything but realistic photography will need to spend their dollars on travel for the perfect subject and scene. For the rest of us, we will need to find ways of exploring what is available in order to develop our skills and keep our interest.

    I noticed that you had to go to a more stylized approach with your winter scene and mangrove scene examples in you HDR Book.


  69. Gordon

    Hey Dave,

    There are no issues with the Linux version of Luminance. It is only the Windows version. The Linux version gets all the attention because the developers are Linux freaks.

    Luminance tonemapping does a better job of spreading light around than any of the other HDR programs IMO. For that reason it achieves light distribution even on non-bracketed exposures. I like its stylized capabilities the most.

    For the Windows version, the work around is to merge the braketed exposures into your HDR image and then save it. Close Luminance then restart it and load in the saved HDR image. It will not crash as often when doing that.

  70. Captain Kimo Post author

    All this rave about Luminance lately has got me excited. Maybe they changed something around since I did this review. I didn’t recall it being so amazing. Can’t wait to start working on the new review again. Especially now with all the new programs available.

  71. dave

    I’ve been using Luminance now for quite a while. Well, actually I started with Qtpfsgui (which is now Luminance). It has become one of my most-used processing tools. I even run single tiffs through it for some light tonemapping to bring out a little detail on the low end of the histogram. Used gently, it’s very good about “spreading the light around” without giving images a surreal look. My sole gripe with it is that it can be troublesome with bracketed shots if there are saturated areas in the images (it tends to invert colors in the saturated areas).

    With regard to large images, I’ve not had major issues there. I’ve fed it images as large as 75 megapixels, and aside from results looking a bit different at varying resolutions it has happily crunched away reliably. I suspect there may be various issues depending on the port one is using (I’m running Linux; Ubuntu 10.10×64 with 16G RAM). Put Luminance together with Hugin’s panorama tools and you have the makings of some schtuff.

  72. Captain Kimo Post author

    I always recommend Photomatix, since I use it exclusively for my work. But I still suggest you download a trial version of each software and play around with them all. Every HDR software is different, controls, functions, results are all different. The only way to really know whether the program works for your husband is to try it. Cheers, -Kimo

  73. Toni

    Hi Captain: I would like to purchase a HDR program for my husband who likes to photograph landscapes, realistic not
    stylized. What do you recommend? He has used some free downloads on the web to try this technique several times and he plans to incorporate more HDR in the future. He uses Lightroom usually to view his shots. Thank you.
    Happy Holidays.

  74. Gordon

    I joined the Flickr users group for Luminance HDR and left my question over there for a response. I will let you know what they say.

    Needless to say, the program is very developmental and every build iterration can have stability and bug issues. This is what happens with freeware. There is no money to pay for exhaustive testing… it is all user tested over time. Still, it has some great tone mapping filters and worth keeping around. Gordon

  75. Captain Kimo Post author

    I do recall having the a very slow lag on larger files. I’ll let you all know what I come up with when I redo the review. Currently I am working on 2 tutorials which are freebies. But once I get those done I think the free HDR software review is next.

  76. Gordon

    Hey Glenn,

    I agree with you that this seems to be an issue with the Windows version. I still haven’t received confirmation from Kim as to whether he has run into this on his system. He may not have time right now to look at it. I need to go over to Luminance home page and let them know my issues. Thanks for your comments.

  77. Glenn McCreery

    I too have been learning to use the Luminance HDR software for it’s tone-mapping capability. I have had no troubles like Gordon has processing larger files (so far up to 12.7 MB, 2912 X 4368 pixels) using the Fattal algorithm or the others. I am using a Mac Pro running OS 12.6 I am using the 32 bit Intel processor version. Perhaps the Windows version is the problem? Also, there is a note on the Luminance home page stating that there has been difficulty getting a 64bit Mac version running.

  78. Gordon

    Thanks Kim. Obviously you have a system similar to my own. The assumption is, if I am having an issue, it should also happening to you under the same circumstances. The largest file I could get to work was a 2048 x 1536. From a post processing point of view, is a 2048 x 1536 resolution image really something worth working on or not? In other words, would you spend time working on that size or do you limit yourself to a minimum size greater than that? Or have you even given that any real consideration?

    Some of this is subjective in terms of intended usage (Web app etc.) However, my personal feeling is that a native resolution of around 3,000 x 2,000, or say 10.3 mp, is what is now standard in terms of the DSLR equipment range.


  79. Gordon

    Kim, I Forgot to mention. In Luminance, try using the Fattal ‘Gradient Domain High Dynamic Range Compression’ option with the Alpha slider pegged all the way over at 2 and the Color Saturation slider pegged all the way at 1 for Tone Mapping. With these two settings pegged all the way to the right, try varying the Beta slider a little bit either way from the default setting.

    After applying the tone mapping, use the Adjust Levels option to pull out the light from the darkness. The results are very surreal. What I like is the fact that the Fattal tone mapping algorithm takes chromatic aberration and makes it the main beacon of radient light. However, for this to work well you need for something dark overhead that looms. In some of my experiments I used a train tressel as my overhead. Gordon

  80. Gordon

    Thanks Kim. Here is what I have found. If I have a 40 megabite ‘.EXR’ type HDR file loaded into Luminance and try to tone map the image at anything more than 2048 x 1536 (third from the top), Luminance fails. Since I have a 64 bit operating system running a Quadcore AMD with 7GB of memory, this should not be happening. Some of the C++ runtime libraries, such as the Qt toolkit used to compile the Luminance program, may not be functioning properly with huge graphics files on a 64 bit operating system.

    My question is, what kind of system are you running Luminance on and what size HDR files have you been working with and at what resolution? From a post processing point of view, is a 2048 x 1536 resolution image really something worth working on or not? Gordon

  81. Captain Kimo Post author

    You are right Gordon Luminance does produce some great results. Now that you mention it, I do recall the slow processing of larger image files. On my next review I’ll have to note that for each program.

  82. Gordon

    Hi Kim,

    I have done my own evaluation of Luminance HDR. The processing of full size images is rather slow compared with Photomatix Pro. However, more disturbing is the stack overflow condition when tone mapping very large images. To tone map a 12.1 (3000 x 4000) image, some tone mapping options can’t handle it and the program bombs and terminates. For some tone mapping options you can’t have any other images loaded in at the same time.

    Simply loading in your basic exposures can be limited to only three 3000 x 4000 images rather than four or five. Again, an internal stack overflow issue.

    The big pro for this HDR offering, besides the fact that it is free, is the Fattal tone mapping option. For highly stylized HDR images, this tone mapping algorithm is more dynamic than anything I could get out of Photomatix Pro.

  83. Bill

    Great reviews of so many products.
    Would like to have seen the original images at the same size as the finished HDR images.

  84. Gordon


    Great review. I downloaded both Luminance HDR and Picturenaut. Really, they are the only two platforms one might need. In fact, Luminance HDR can also do the realistic as well as the stylized images but is better equipped at stylized manipulation.

    Luminance HDR works just as well on one baseline image as it does on multiple baseline images. The only reason for using multiple images in HDR processing is that it predictably puts light into lower exposure areas and takes light out of higher over exposure areas.

    However, Luminance HDR was designed not only to do tradition HDR processing but its many filters, mapping algorithms, tone mapping algorithms, and pre and post histogram slider adjustments give the user complete control over the luminance of the image.

    The various options for luminance control over color images is great for adjusting not only how the color is displayed but the way in which color luminance is composed in the makeup of the image. However, the use of luminance color control is limited when compared to liminance in black and white images.

    If you have a normally exposed color image composed of good graphic composition and convert it to a grey scale before loading it into Luminance HDR, you don’t need any other cross merge images. You can work with just that image and create areas of light or darkness in Luminance HDR where there either is too much light or there doesn’t appear to be any light.

    Every digital image is composed of millions of different tonal values according to what the light sensor in the imaging equipment (camera) records. When using a CCD (charge-coupled device), rather than a backlit CMOS, the amount of chromatic luminance in high contrast areas of an image are recorded as a bonus. Most of this luminance is not even seen until you enlarge the image to full resolution. Even then there are unseen luminance tones that are recorded along high contrast edges as result of the way a ccd works.

    In most photographic images we do not want this added luminance recorded. But in the case of working with it, the information needs to be there to begin with.

    I found that when working with a gray scale images in Luminance HDR, you can take this luminance information and magnify and even reverse its presence from light to dark in order to create light or darkness in the image where there was no apparent light or darkness. The results are absolutely fantastic.

    Just like merging multiple images in HDR processing to provide exposure, or tone down exposure, Luminance HDR can take the hidden chromatic luminance, buried within a high resultion image, and manipulate that information in totally unexpected ways.

    Chromatic luminance that was once your enemy is now your long lost friend. The CCD is now more useful where as the backlit CMOS will tend to deprive us of hidden luminance. If you plan on using Luminance to manipulate your images, hold on to your DSLR and higher end CCD based cameras. They may yet remain the best tools for this kind of work.

    In order for this to work, you need software like Luminance HDR that provides all the necessary algorithm mapping options for ferreting out and manipulating the available luminance in ways that are most useful, unusual, and amazing.

    I would like to send you a brief sample of my start up image, conversion image, and final manipulated images developed from this software as an example fo what is possible. My initial image is a color photo of an abandoned and slightly overgrown train tressel on a grey and mostly overcast day. The next image is a grey scale copy. The final two images are variations of Luminance HDR mapping filters manipulated to create what looks like the headlight of a train coming down the abandoned tracks in the middle of the night. It is hard to believe that you could get this kind of result from just one image.

    Kind regards,

  85. David

    I was really excited about HDR Efex Pro because I love the Nik plugins, but after using it for a few days, it seems annoyingly sluggish. Plus a lot of the presets produce ugly results, in my opinion. I do like the control points however.

    I think I’ll give the program another week to see if I can get better results than I do with Photomatix, which is my go to HDR program.

    For the guy with the halo problems, use Photomatix. If you slide the luminosity all the way to the right, this can help reduce them. Also, you’ll want to keep the smoothing away from the left. You also have the option of masking in from the original photo. And, if you can, shoot at dawn or dusk because the varied colors help to hide the halo.

  86. Captain Kimo Post author

    Nik was kind enough to supply me with a review copy. Their HDR software is great, I really love the way they integrated the control point system. I find it a little slow though, and I’ve gotten the same feedback from others as well. That was also the same problem with HDR Expose and that’s why I haven’t used either of the 2 recently. But I plan on doing a new HDR software review in the future, something a little more in-depth.

  87. Captain Kimo Post author

    CS5 is much better than CS4 by a long shot! I’ve used NIK’s HDR program a couple of times and I think its pretty good. It is a little slow for my attention span. I do however like that they incorporated the control point feature into the tone mapping, very nice. I still like using Photomatix more. The new 4.0 release is pretty amazing.

  88. Kay

    Have you seen NIK’s HDR?? They have a free 15day trial. I like their Silver Efex Pro. I couldn’t get the trial to work– but that was my laptops problem. I heard Photoshop CS5 has a good HDR. I have CS4 and that one isn’t very good. Curious on your opinion on the NIK’s version.

  89. Mark

    I downloaded Luminance HDR and was able to get an image on the screen, but unable to print. Also, which was most critical, it came with much spyware. Had to be removed with my anti-virus software.

  90. Zefei Xuan

    I recommend for realistic HDR. It is an online app for HDR from single raw photos; it’s hence limited in dynamic range, but producing very realistic results and is very easy to use.

  91. Captain Kimo Post author

    For realistic HDR photos it’s the best. IMO the software itself almost goes out of it’s way to maintain realism. However I’ve only used it a few times but I was certainly impressed the few times that I used it.

  92. steve

    Corel Paintshop Pro X3 costs about $50 on Amazon and performs much the same as Photoshop, just cheaper with much better help functionality. There isn’t anything I ever use on Photoshop that I haven’t been able to easily find and use on Paintshop. Layers, plug-ins, masking all seem to work the same for less money. I never got in to the artsy stuff, so I can’t speak to that, but after a few years, I’ve pretty much gone exclusively to Paintshop (I’m a professional and take about 100,000 photos per year)

    Thanks again!

  93. Captain Kimo Post author

    Actually I wasn’t even aware that Paint Shop had an HDR feature. I’ll have to take a look at it when I have some time. Thanks for letting me know.

  94. steve

    Many thanks for the valuable information!!!

    Do you have any experience with the built-in HDR features in some of the photo editing packages. For instance, Paint Shop Photo Pro X3 has a built in HDR function. It is limited in flexibility, but I was wondering how it compared to some of the above packages that also have some limitations.

  95. Captain Kimo Post author

    I plan on looking at it when I get back home form my trip. I believe one of the representatives from that company was suppose to give me an overview of the software.

  96. Alsi Xiu

    Nice review. Can any of these apps get rid of halos? And can you tell me which of these products has batch processing? Thanks so much. Also which one of these is optimized for 64 bit or even 32?

  97. Captain Kimo Post author

    No problem… I’m looking forward to writing a review on each and working more with each HDR program.

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