Essential HDR Software Review

Feb 27, 2011 | articles

Posted February 28, 2011 –  Essential HDR is the fourth HDR software to be reviewed by Captain Kimo. Out of the four this has the least amount of tone mapping options. I only downloaded the community version for testing so maybe there are some limitations to this particular version.

Operating System – Windows Only
Price – 69.99
Standalone/Plugin/Both – Standalone
Processing RAW files – Yes
HDR from Single RAW – Yes
Overall Speed – Average to Fast
Visit Official Website
Go to Essential HDR Download Page

Essential HDR is a very limited high dynamic range application, unlike the other three programs that were tested. I’ll give it props for keeping it simple. I like simple… simple means I can create my HDR photos quicker. Unfortunately Essential HDR is too simple. I feel that the same results can be achieved by using Photoshop’s Camera RAW software from a single RAW file.

Upon launch Essential HDR has one histogram window and four top menus. All the options under these menus could have basically be put into one toolbar, which I would have preferred since I really dislike drop down menus.

To create a HDR image all you need to do is go to the File menu and select either Align and Merge Multiple Photos or Merge Multiple Photos w/o Alignment. The Align option works very well as you can see in the photo of the underground garage which was a handheld shot.

Tone mapping options are broken down into two methods, Fast Tone Balancer and Detail Releaver. I found it hard to tell the difference between the two. Also the Fill Light adjustment control doesn’t seem to be working… could be because I’m running on Windows 7, would appreciate it if someone could verify this on a non Windows 7 machine.

There are also 2 other control tabs under the tone mapping window available for adjusting the histogram and color temperature. Again, I feel these tabs are unnecessary and just adds to more clicking. All of these controls could have been placed under one tone mapping menu.

Once tone mapping is complete I click the OK button to render my HDR image. I can then save my file… very simple and straight to the point, I like it. Would be even better if I clicked the OK button and Essential HDR allowed me to save my file automatically from there, thus saving me an extra click.

Essential HDR was able to process two sets f exposures without a problem, the underground garage and the Bangkok image. However I had a problem with the nighttime moon shot at the beach and the RAW files of the pier at sunrise.

For the nighttime moon exposure Essential HDR wasn’t able to properly merge the file. I’m not sure why. I played around with various settings to try and resolve the issue but wasn’t able to fix the problem. The image kept getting merged into a very pixelated image. I was able to work around the problem by merging the file in Photoshop first to create a (.hdr) file. I was then able to open it in Essential HDR to tone map and create an HDR image.

As for the pier sunrise exposure, Essential HDR wasn’t able to merge the three large RAW files. I tried 3x to merge the files and kept crashing. I resolved this issue by creating jpg files of each RAW exposure. Then using the jpg exposures for creating the high dynamic range image in Essential HDR.

Essential HDR has a lot of potential. I really like the simplicity of the program. However I feel that Essential HDR is lacking in function. This could have a lot to do with the OS that I’m using so I won’t judge it too harshly. The best thing I can say about this HDR software is that it’s fast. It’s faster than the other three that I’ve tested while merging, previewing and rendering the final HDR image.