HDR Software- the panoramic overview, v.1.1

Version 1.1 (25.01.2014)

Hello,
I intend to write several reviews of HDR software products- this is the first one. It’s been a long time since I have this on my mind, so here we go! Grab a cup of coffee or a beer and I hope you enjoy this read.
WARNING! Heavy graphics! Please allow some time for the page to load!

IMPORTANT! This review is NOT about the scientific data done in debugging mode, it does not explore ALL modes in each software, which are numerous in every single one. The results from the programs will vary A LOT, depending on my experience with them, which for this review in not crucial. This review is NOT about image quality and which software produces greatest results- everything can be adjusted further and more precisely!

This review is all about user experience, how easy it is to make a relatively natural looking tonemapped/fused panorama from several stitched panoramas with different exposures, exploring panoramic options where present, finding out what’s new, see how well HDR products cope with BIG equirectangular images, how fast they are, do they have a problem with zenith, etc. The tonemapped/fused panoramas in the examples bellow come straight from the HDR software products and have NO further editing, from which ALL can benefit. Once again this review is not about the best result that one can get out of the product. The purpose is to show what comes out without “too much” fiddling. Also I have to say that if you go crazy with sliders I am sure the results will be different (zenith problems and probably meeting ends mismatch). Nonetheless if your style is harsher or you want to convey a specific mood, you can always tonemap individual images and then stitch the panorama without “problems”.

So this is what everybody hates to see while editing panoramas:

yak



List of HDR software products in the review in no particular order:
Picturenaut, Sns-HDR Pro, Oloneo PhotoEngine, Machinery HDR Effects, Luminance HDR (Qtpfsgui), HDR Projects Professional, FDR Tools Advanced, HDR Expose, Enfuse, easyHDR, Dynamic Photo HDR, HDR Darkroom 3 (25.01.2014), Photomatix

Why you don’t see some other HDR products? Because either the trial/demo didn’t allow to save in full resolution, or they couldn’t handle that big files at all! These include Fhotoroom HDR, HDR Darkroom 2 Pro, Essential HDR, HDRShop. If I somehow manage to make my tests, I will add the results later.
(25.01.2014) HDR Darkroom 3 already in the review

If you don’t want to go through all the photos and see directly the results, click HERE

Technical info:
Processor: i7 3630QM@3,2Ghz | RAM: 24Gb, 1600 Mhz | SSD | Geforce GTX 660M 2Gb GDDR5 | Windows 7 x64
Nikon D7000 + Samyang 8mm, 14bit RAW files, 5 photos with 5 EV brackets each -4/-2/0/+2/+4 EV, then generated 16 bit tif files, 5 Panoramas stitched for each exposure, 8000×4000 px, tifs each 183 Mb size.
So each software was fed with almost 1 Gb of files to chew. NO deghosting was used on the images, this will be a separate review!

I couldn’t easily capture this (and most of the panoramas on my site) without my trusty
Promote Control. I highly recommend this tool, but if you are serious about HDR photography you already know this!




brackets

Software products are listed in no particular order! Also I am not affiliated with any of the software developers.

Picturenaut
Website: http://www.hdrlabs.com/picturenaut/
Version: 3.2
Price: free
Platform: PC | Mac support halfway done

Picturenaut is a free but vary straightforward and fast. It has several tonemapping algorithms and if you choose a global one you will not have problems with your panoramas. There is no dedicated panoramic option. You could make one with global and one with local compressors and use Blochi’s double dipping technique described in HDR Handbook 2.
Picturenaut has live tonemapping.

What I like:
– fast;
– free;
– plugin support;
– live tonemapping;
– 32 bit input/output.
What bothers me:
– lacks batch mode via GUI;
– no panoramic option.



Zenith patch
picturenaut_zaenith


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Sns-HDR Pro
Website: http://sns-hdr.com/
Version: 1.4.22
Price: Lite-free | Home- 30€ | Pro- 80€
Platform: PC

Sns-HDR is one of the first HDR products I started using. Many people like it for the natural results it gives, the easy but powerful interface. It also has masking layers which can be adjusted with different settings. In the tested version, though there is a panoramic mode, it is not meant for spherical panoramas. The one in the upcoming version 2 will have such a 360/180 option. We will see in the near future and hopefully update the review. Now it has a slight problem in the zenith. Sns-HDR does take some time to show the photos, but from that time it is realtime and works on the full resolution. This software is extremely good with highlight preservation, which can be a very tedious task.
Sns-HDR also has a command line Lite version, but it has a GUI, which you can use to process your photos. Lite version has 8 presets and can be a great starting point for natural results, also completely free!

What I like:
– natural output;
– great control over exposure and color;
– layers;
– awesome highlight protection;
– 32 bit input;
– history;
– interactive and real time preview of presets on mouse over;
– batch mode.
What bothers me:
– lacks 32bit output;
– panoramic option could be better.
– slow;
– site only in Polish, have to use google translator.



Zenith patch
sns_zenithsnshdrsns2



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Oloneo PhotoEngine
Website: http://www.oloneo.com/
Version: 1.1.400.356
Price: 125€ | 149$
Platform: PC

Well, what can I say? The fastest software on my PC. The developers have put a lot of effort in optimizing every bit of the software and they did well. It has a panoramic option and a “natural” mode which keeps saturation down. Oloneo also features live preview on a full scale image. This is what people from Oloneo say:
“We have spent a lot of time optimizing our product because I believe that speed in the most important feature. Professional photographers and advanced amateurs have to process many photos and cannot wait. In addition to that, real time edition allows to explore many different settings and help creativity. ”

What I like:
– fast;
– live tonemapping;
– batch mode;
– 32 bit input/output;
– special features (relight, denoise);
– many panels include a Video Tutorial build-in;
– interactive and real time preview of presets on mouse over;
– history;
– panoramic option.
What bothers me:
– sometimes gives hard(dark) edges on dark subjects over bright background (example- treeline on sky background);
– highlight protection could be improved.



Zenith patch
oloneo_zenitholoneo




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Machinery HDR Effects
Website: http://www.machineryhdr.com/
Version: 2.81
Price: 29€
Platform: PC

Machinery HDR Effects is one of my favorite. Why- because you can easily produce realistic results, but if you want you can go crazy. It features great interface + panoramic mode and does well with zenith. Also, you get a LOT for that price. Highlight preservation also works well.
It features GPU acceleration which you have to enable in the settings- it does a quick test and tells you how much you benefit from this. The author is updating the software often and adding new features and improvements.

What I like:
– fast;
– live tonemapping;
– batch mode;
– great interface and preset manager;
– frequently updated;
– works for both natural and crazy tonemapped images;
– great highlight protection;
– panoramic option;
– great value for money.
What bothers me:
– no 32 bit input/output.



Zenith patch
machineryhdr_zenithmachineryhdreffects



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Luminance HDR (Qtpfsgui)
Website: http://qtpfsgui.sourceforge.net/
Version: 2.3.1
Price: free
Platform: PC | Mac

This software features 9 hdr algorithms and has live preview on thumbnails. Doesn’t have any special filters and adjustments, pretty straightforward.

What I like:
– free;
– 32 bit input/output.
– fast.
What bothers me:
– interface could be better;
– live preview only on very small thumbnails.



Zenith patch
luminance_reinhard_zenith



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HDR Projects Professional
Website: http://www.franzis.de/
Version: 1.24.01985
Price: 289€
Platform: PC | Mac

HDR Projects Pro is a relatively new software and for sure a big surprise. It has some unique features alongside numerous HDR algorithms and filters- it features a built-in viewer for 360° panoramas! HDR Projects Pro can literally “play” the filters and settings so you can see the changes it makes from min to max values.
HDR Projects Pro is optimized for OpenCL, which itself performs better on ATI cards. The reason for this is the internal architecture of ATI cards, which use smaller compute units, but a lot more of them. For example my card has 2 compute units while ATI7950 has 28 compute units. My card computes full resolution for 9 seconds, and that ATI card does this for 0,4 seconds!!! And that’s impressive.
Because it has many filters, on a right click you can choose which ones to display, if not all. Also you can choose to show panorama effects only. The software has a 126 pages user manual, which I recommend you to read before starting to use it.

What I like:
– fast;
– live tonemapping;
– batch mode;
– 32 bit input/output;
– special features (panorama viewer, numerous filters, luminance viewer for HDR evaluation, filter/effects masking, veiling glare)
– panoramic option;
– great preset manager+ manual HDR weighting;
– can mix two presets!
– onscreen help on each function;
– automatic sorting of bracketed photos;
– Lightroom and Photoshop plugins.
– great control over all aspects of the image.
What bothers me:
– interface takes some time to get used to (RTFM helps a LOT);
– great features come at a high price. (There are different versions of this software, which come at a lower price. Feature matrix can be viewed HERE)
– site only in German and have to use google translator



Zenith patch
hdrprojectspro2_zenithHDR projects professional1
HDR projects professional2
HDR projects professional3

ft



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FDR Tools Advanced
Website: http://www.fdrtools.com/
Version: 2.6.1
Price: 39€
Platform: PC | Mac

FDR Tools Advanced was one of the surprises- it features panoramic/nadir/zenith modes and can produce very clear and natural results, though you have to get used to the interface, which can be too “geeky” for most people. Lines in the panorama are from the trial version, not a bug!

What I like:
– great control- histogram weighting/ separation blending;
– live tonemapping;
– 32 bit input/output;
– panoramic option- control over zenith and nadir!
What bothers me:
– interface could be better- not very intuitive.



Zenith patch
fdr_zenithfdr



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HDR Expose
Website: http://www.unifiedcolor.com/
Version: 3.0.0.10627
Price: 119$
Platform: PC | Mac

Though HDR Expose doesn’t have a dedicated panoramic option, it does extremely well with meeting ends and zenith. It also works with full image size and has a very clean and easy to use but powerful interface. Some of its advantage is the input/output of 32 bit file formats and Beyond RGB technology . All the functions work in 32bit mode and this is useful for white balance and noise reduction/sharpening correction of “.hdr” files.

What I like:
– very natural color rendition due to special technology;
– live tonemapping;
– awesome highlight protection;
– 32 bit input/output;
– automatic sorting of bracketed photos;
– Lightroom and Photoshop plugins.
What bothers me:
– speed has a lot to be desired.



Zenith patch
expose_zaenith




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Enfuse via EnfuseGUI
Website: http://software.bergmark.com/enfusegui/Main.html
http://enblend.sourceforge.net/
Version: 2.1
Price: free
Platform: PC | Mac

Command line utility with GUI used by many people for the natural results it gives. “Blend around the -180/+180 boundary. Useful for full-360 panoramas. Enfuse currently does not blend the zenith or the nadir, so you may still see some seams in these areas.”

What I like:
– produces natural images;
– free;
– fast.
What bothers me:
– no live preview;
– no 32 bit input/output;
– panoramic option could be improved.



Zenith patch
enfuse_zenithEnfuseGUI



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easyHDR
Website: http://www.easyhdr.com/
Version: 3.1
Price: Home- 29€ | Commercial- 40€
Platform: PC | Mac

EasyHDR is also fast and capable of producing natural results software, which I like a lot alongside with its nice and modern interface. It has realtime preview in the size of the photo window. Here is how the live preview option works:
“1) After HDR is generated, the tone mapping pre-calculation is done for the entire photo. Those full sized buffers are stored in memory.
2) For the current viewport (zoom/position) the buffers are resampled with anti-aliasing.
3) The tone mapping is done using those resampled buffers, instead of doing resampling and anti-aliasing of the full resolution buffers on the fly.
Each tone mapping settings change requires just re-tonemapping of the viewport generated resampled buffers. When user shifts the photo or changes the zoom, new set of buffers needs to be prepared before they can be used for tone mapping.” (from the author)

What I like:
– can produce natural and “crazy” images;
– great value for price;
– fast;
– history;
– modern interface;
– live tonemapping;
– 32 bit input/output;
– panoramic option;
– Lightroom plugin;
– automatic sorting of bracketed photos;
– great control over color and highlights.
What bothers me:
– no GPU support



Zenith patch
easyHDR_zenitheasyHDR



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Dynamic Photo HDR- Fusion
Website: http://www.mediachance.com/hdri/
Version: 5.3.0
Price: 59$
Platform: PC | Virtualized MAC version

One of the oldest HDR programs. Has many features, modes and filters. Features live preview on a small screen, has panoramic option. Can easily go from natural to crazy look.

What I like:
– can produce natural and “crazy” images;
– great value for price;
– fast on exposure fusion;
– live tonemapping;
– 32 bit input/output;
– panoramic option;
– color matching. light tuner and painter, exposure weighting.
What bothers me:
– very slow tonemapping;
– live preview window very small;
– halo control could be better;
– no panoramic option on exposure fusion.



Zenith patch
dphdr_fusion_zenith

Dynamic Photo HDR- Tonemapping
Website: http://www.mediachance.com/hdri/
Version: 5.3.0
Price: 59$
Platform: PC | Virtualized MAC version



Zenith patch
dphdr_zenithDPHDR



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HDR Darkroom 3 (25.01.2014)
Website: http://www.everimaging.com/
Version: 3
Price: 67.15€ | 89$
Platform: PC | MAC

This is the first revision of the review- from Everimaging released a new version of their HDR software which could handle my test files. There is no panoramic option in the software, which leaves uneven edges and a hard line in the tonemapped panorama. The developers promised to consider such an option in the future versions.

What I like:
– fast;
– realtime preview of changes;
– one could have natural and surreal photos;
– batch editing;
– 32 bit input/output;
– many presets with manual setting at the backend;
What bothers me:
– no panoramic option/correction;
– highlight preservation could be better.



Zenith patch
hdrdarkroom3_zenith


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Photomatix 5 beta4- Tone compessor
Website: http://www.hdrsoft.com/
Version: 5.0 beta4
Price: Essentials- US$39 | Photomatix Pro- US$99
Platform: PC | Mac

Photomatix is probably the software, which is associated with the term HDR or “HDR look” , though it is much more than the colorful photos it can produce. It features 360 panoramic mode, but here is what people from HDRSoft say:
“In the current version of Photomatix Pro, the zenith is ‘managed’ when Tone Mapping with ‘Details Enhancer’ which is by far the most popular method of processing. It looks like you are using a different method of processing in your screenshot, this type of artifact happens with Fusion/Natural for instance.

It is in our plans to add full support for 360×180 degree images, but this isn’t a high priority at the moment since we get so few requests for nadir support (or non Details Enhancer).

Regarding GPU acceleration, this is not something used in Photomatix Pro at this time. The bottleneck for most of our algorithms is memory speed, not GPU speed, so we’re not sure that GPU acceleration could give any noticeable performance improvements.”

What I like:
– can produce from natural to “crazy” images;
– live tonemapping on preview;
– 32 bit input/output;
– panoramic option;
– clean interface and preset manager;
– onscreen help on each function.
What bothers me:
– no GPU support;
– loupe preview quality could be improved;
– 360 panoramic option doesn’t work well on exposure fusion;
– highlight protection only in “fusion/real estate” mode.



Zenith patch
5_tone_compressor_zenith


Photomatix 5 beta4- Detail Enhancer
Website: http://www.hdrsoft.com/
Version: 5.0 beta4
Price: Essentials- US$39 | Photomatix Pro- US$99
Platform: PC | Mac



5_detail_enhancer_zenith


Photomatix 5 beta4- Contrast optimizer
Website: http://www.hdrsoft.com/
Version: 5.0 beta4
Price: Essentials- US$39 | Photomatix Pro- US$99
Platform: PC | Mac



Zenith patch
5_contrast_optimizer_zenith


Photomatix 5 beta4- Exposure fusion
Website: http://www.hdrsoft.com/
Version: 5.0 beta4
Price: Essentials- US$39 | Photomatix Pro- US$99
Platform: PC | Mac



Zenith patch
5_fused_zenithphotomatix



SoftwareLoad timesWorks at 100%GPU accelerationTime for tonemaping full resolutionDedicated pano optionReal time tonemapping
Sns-HDR Pro02:40yesno-yesyes
Oloneo Photo engine00:07yesyes-yesyes
Easy HDR00:45no(*)no00:03yesyes
Machinery HDR Effects00:20yes(**)yes00:05yesyes on preview
HDR Projects Pro00:05yes(**)yes00:09yes(***)yes on preview
DPHDR fusion00:10nono info00:15noyes on preview
DPHDR tonemapping00:55nono info02:00yesyes on preview
Photomatix Pro00:12nono00:30yesyes on preview
HDR Expose 301:55yesyes-noyes
Luminance HDR00:15nono info00:05noyes on preview
EnfuseGUI00:01nono00:30yesno
Picturenaut00:15yesno info-noyes
HDR Darkroom 300:15nono info00:05noyes
FDR Tools Advanced00:20nono info00:25yesyes
(*) optional dynamic realtime zoom
(**) preview by default, optional 100%
(***) it has Panorama viewer inbuilt

Load time is the time between start of photo loading and beginning of user work with tone mapping settings. Full resolution tone mapping is actually the time of
result saving – which in case of photos that do not allow work at 100% resolution mean the actual tone mapping work. Total time is the sum of loading time and time for tonemapping full resolution.

results

Speed tolerance is within 1 second.

As you can see, we have software from 0$ to several hundreds $, we have fast programs and we have not so fast ones and the difference goes up to 25 times. Also, we have applications with many functions and advanced filters and we have simple straightforward ones, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Which one is for you? You decide!

If you found these comparison tests useful you are welcome to like our Facebook page and get notified on new reviews.

At last but not least, I want to THANK all the developers who took time to answer my questions!

10 comments on “HDR Software- the panoramic overview, v.1.1

    • Thank you Mike! Photomatix has some great options indeed! Haven’t tested Google HDR Efex, as this review was for HDR dedicated standalone applications. If it has a standalone version I will check and add it, if not, just for reference.

  • Thank you for taking the time to put all of this together. In the past I had tried several of these tools in an effort to see which one was best for me but I did not have a resource like this to help and missed some of the tools you listed. This has been very helpful.

    If you find the time I would like to see a comparison of the alignment ability for these HDR tools when used in their regular HDR mode. Since I take my multiple exposure sequences hand-held the ability of the tool to align the images is one of my primary concerns and determined which tool I bought when I was doing my initial screening. Since that time I am sure many of these tools have improved their alignment ability and it would help me to see if I needed to upgrade to a new tool.

    Thanks again.

  • Привет колега!
    Искам да те попитам за отварянето на hdr-a в 32 бита. Изгледах разни клипчета в нета, експериментирах у нас. Отворих 5 файла във Фотошопа и ги сглобих на 32 бита. После този 32 битовия файл го отворих в камера роу и си поиграх малко. Отново го върнах в фотошопа и реших да го направя на 16 бита. Разликата беше огромна. 16 битовия файл имаше много повече цвят отколкото 32 битовия. Та синтезирано, каква логика се гони с 32 битовото отвяряне. Благодаря и поздрави!

    • Здравей Митко!
      Много добър въпрос си задал. HDR 32 битов файл е като raw файл- има нужда от обработка, за да го видиш и извадиш максимума. Той е извън обикновените скали за нормални снимки и все още няма или са много скъпи мониторите, които могат да покажат такъв файл. 32 бита се ползват главно в 3D програмите за правене на картинки и анимации, за реалистично осветление от самата сцена. Чисто фотографски 32 бита също имат много приложения- това е файлов формат, който съхранява в себе си всичката необходима информация/светлина и ги съхранява добре. Тестовите файлове- 16 битови тифове са 915 Мб, а един 32 bit HDR файл, събран от тях, е само 73 Мб. Да държиш тифове ако правиш няколко панорами/снимки е ок, но когато са стотици, един файл 32 бита би спестил МНОГО място. Затова съм го отбелязал като важна опция в програмите, поддръжка на отваряне и запазване на файлове в 32 бита формат. Също така при обработка имаш много по-голяма свобода в camera raw, да разкриваш сенки и да пазиш светли места, отколкото ако отвориш един обикновен raw файл.
      Поздрави!

  • Благодаря за отговора!
    Поздравявам Ви за сайта и съдържанието му.
    Още една питанка в насока 32 бит. Правилно ли е да сглобя хайловете в 32 бит, да пообработя този файл в Камера роу и след това да го отворя във Фотошопа и да му задам 16бит, респективно и така да го запазя?
    Благодаря и поздрави!

  • hi,

    that is of great help indeed. Can you please a separate comparison for direct Enfuse/HDR from stitching software. Ptgui, Hugin, autopano all have builtin tools for HDR creation.

  • A very useful review of the HDR field with regard to 360 panos. Have there been any updates or a separate review on deghosting as was suggested at the beginning of the article?

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