Comparison of dynamic range effects of three HDR software

1. Introduction to common software Two software and PS

HDR, that is, high dynamic range images, HDR image processing, is an indispensable and indispensable method in the later stage of photography. Nowadays, with the advancement of photography concepts, everyone has a deeper and deeper understanding of digital HDR. The era of using HDR to produce exaggerated special effects has gradually gone. Today we will take a look at the HDR software commonly used in actual post-processing, and what are the characteristics of these softwares.

The software introduced here includes the HDR function of Camera Raw, Photomatix Pro and NIK HDR Efex Pro software. The two common software versions of Artizen HDR and Dynamic-Photo HDR are relatively old and difficult to get started, so the three softwares selected here are the more common HDR software now, and NIK HDR Efex Pro is also integrated in the PS , The practicality is quite high.

Adobe Camera Raw has HDR function after 9.0. It can synthesize HDR images from multiple RAW files. It is one of the few software that can perform low-level processing based on RAW files. Naturally, Adobe Camera Raw needless to say, users who use PS to process pictures are very familiar with this software. The built-in HDR function is basically based on ACR. In fact, PS originally comes with an HDR synthesis function, but the performance of this function is not strong enough. Although there are many built-in special effects to choose from, they are basically unavailable, so they are not discussed.

For Photomatix Pro, it is a software that specializes in HDR. Although there are many software that specialize in HDR, Photomatix Pro has powerful functions and outstanding effects, and its built-in effects are in line with the aesthetic style of HDR in modern photography, so it is very popular in landscape photography. Teacher loves. However, this one does not have image processing functions, it is purely HDR software, and cannot be built into the PS as a plug-in, so the post-grading needs to be done with the PS.

NIK is a well-known plug-in company, now acquired by Google, can be downloaded for free and has a Chinese version. This software has two characteristics, one is easy to use, the operation method is close to PS, and it provides a rich selection of HDR effects.

On the other hand, this software is a plug-in embedded in the PS (also can be used separately), so there is no need to start the software when using it, and it can also perform HDR special effect synthesis for a single picture, which is very popular.

The HDR we are talking about today is not the HDR effects that look very distorted, nor the HDR effects on mobile phones. But HDR does play a very important role in post-processing, and sometimes appropriate HDR effects are also an important means of photo adjustment.

For the convenience of writing, if you need abbreviations, this article abbreviates the software as follows. Adobe Camera Raw is abbreviated as ACR, and its HDR function is abbreviated as ACR HDR; Photomatix Pro is abbreviated as Photomatic, and NIK HDR Efex Pro is abbreviated as NIK HDR.

2. Operation and performance based on RAW files

Let’s take a look at the operation and use of the three software. Among the three software, only Photomatix Pro is an independent software, and the other two are inherited from PS. Among them, the presentation form of NIK’s HDR Efex Pro in PS is a filter, but it also has the function of independently synthesizing HDR.

On the operating interface, these three software interfaces are very simple and easy to understand. In actual operation, no additional settings are required when using RW files, and when using a single RAW file to export to JPG composition, both Photomatix and NIK HDR need to manually set the exposure difference. However, it should be noted that ACR HDR cannot perform HDR synthesis on JPG files, and is only valid for multiple RAW files. From this perspective, the meaning of ACR HDR is only dynamic range synthesis, so there is no “HDR special effect.”

In terms of performance, both Photomatic Pro and NIK HDR Efex Pro have options for layering and reducing noise, while ACR also has options. But these two software have more HDR special effects, which Photoshop does not have. In terms of special effects control, NIK HDR provides more control options, and Photomatic also has many adjustments, but mainly for images, the adjustments for HDR are slightly less than for NIK HDR. However, in terms of actual effects, Photomatic Pro is even better.

In terms of composition selection, the three software can align the layers and choose to reduce ghosting and chromatic aberration. Photomatix and NIK Pro also have the option of reducing noise. ACR itself is based on RAW, so no additional noise reduction is required. Therefore, in the synthesis of RAW files, the synthesis function of the three is the same, only the difference in performance.

In terms of color correction, ACR is undoubtedly the most powerful, because this is the core RAW file adjustment option for PS. The other two softwares do not have layer adjustment capabilities, but NIK HDR can fine-tune the screen locally, which is equivalent to a weakened version of the local adjustment brush.

Finally, in terms of photo output, the ACR HDR file is output as a RAW file in DNG format, which is undoubtedly the most powerful, but both ACR HDR and NIK HDR can be opened directly after use, and Photomatix needs to be transferred to JPG or TIF format.

In general, the HDR synthesis functions of the three software are very powerful. Compared with the ACR HDR that comes with the PS, both Photomatix and NIK HDR have adjustments to tone balance, which makes the overall look more comfortable and can be operated. The HDR function of autonomous control is stronger, which is not available in ACR HDR.

3. Straight-out effect NIK HDR pays more attention to special effects

Next, let’s compare the straight-out effects of the three softwares directly processing HDR. I believe that since everyone chooses to use software for HDR, it is definitely not for the weird HDR special effects, but to better balance the highlights and shadows. First, let’s take a look at the straight-out effects of the three software when operating with RAW files.

Looking at the RAW files of the three software directly, the difference is actually not that big, but if you look carefully, the highlights and shadows of ACR are the best preserved, and basically all the details that can be used on the original image are used, and The effect is also close to reality. The effects of the other two softwares have some special effects.

If you don’t look at the details and only look at the effects, the effects of Photomatix Pro and NIK HDR Efex Pro in several software are basically the same. However, a large part of the special effects in Photomatix are black and white filters, so in terms of overall color effects, NIK HDR is more. However, NIK’s special effects have a characteristic, that is, most of the effects of special effects are too “heavy taste”, it seems that HDR has a heavy taste, and NIK has not contributed much.

Looking at the RAW file of a single photo straight out, the ACR HDR function here can’t help much. It is also possible to directly adjust a single photo with Camera Raw. Use the partial brushes and gradient filters in ACR to overlay multiple times. It is not a problem to straighten the photo. There is only one problem called “time”, and simple means “lazy”. And sometimes HDR software still has some specific tones and styles, and sometimes this style is not bad. Note: When using single-frame RAW composition, both softwares need to manually set the exposure interval.

It can also be found from actual use that the effect of NIK HDR Efex Pro for single Raw file synthesis JPG is much worse than that of Photomatix. This is why many landscape photographers prefer to use Photomatix.

4Noise and distortion, it is difficult to have both effect and purity

Let’s take a look at two very serious problems in HDR software, noise and distortion. First look at the noise first. Normally, as long as HDR, a certain amount of noise will be generated, whether it is a RAW file or a JPG. If we use special effects, especially to enhance details and textures, it will bring a huge increase in noise.

In daily use, I think the noise control of Photomatix is ​​better than NIK HDR, but not absolutely. NIK has a special “European and American surreal style”, and many special effects focus on strong details and strong textures. When NIK performs HDR on multiple JPGs adjusted by a single RAW file, the effect has always been relatively ordinary.

However, NIK HDR also has a feature, that is, it can be used as a direct HDR plug-in, which is to directly call NIK HDR in the PS for operation. Under certain conditions, good results can be obtained, but more often, the loss caused by distortion is greater than the gain brought by HDR. So the biggest advantage of using NIK is its convenience. It can be called directly in PS, but how to use it requires a very good control of the scale.

Photomatix is ​​a relatively clean software, which is more suitable for HDR operation of a single RAW file, which is why so many landscape photographers like to use this software.

For the three softwares here, the common edge highlights in HDR usually appear very rarely, as long as they are generally used normally, this point will not be stated too much.

5. HDR actual combat discussion, single sheet synthesis is more common

From the above comparison, it can be seen that ACR HDR is undoubtedly the most delicious list, whether it is effect performance or noise control is the least. This is mainly because the HDR function in ACR is deeply based on RAW files, so the synthesized photos are not Without HDR effects, it is the most recommended software for fine post-production.

The other two software, NIK HDR Efex Pro can be said to be a double-edged sword, this software is the simplest to operate, provides the most special effects, and can be embedded in the PS as a filter. However, the synthesis effect of NIK HDR is relatively exaggerated, although sometimes the effect is good, but it is easy to make the picture look “dirty”, and it needs to be used with caution. But for HDR, the rich special effect filters are of great help in RAW file synthesis. Therefore, when using multiple RAW files to synthesize HDR, the HDR function of ACR is generally not used, but NIK HDR is used instead. Zhang RAW uses Photomatix. So the three software can be roughly summarized as:

ACR can only use multiple RAW to synthesize HDR, the effect is the most refined;
Photomatix Pro synthesis effect is better, especially single RAW synthesis HDR;
NIK HDR supports RAW file synthesis much better than single RAW JPG synthesis.

For the use of HDR, there is actually a relatively clear process. For multiple RAW files, it is natural to directly use the software to directly synthesize HDR photos.

Using Photomatix, its own special effects and colors are more suitable for scenery photos, and the balance of details and noise is much better than NIK HDR, but NIK HDR is better than Photomatix in processing bright scenes, that is, NIK HDR has brighter colors, so Not for nothing.

However, from another level, HDR software has been used less and less now. For example, the author uses D800. In fact, in most scenarios, the body latitude is enough to allow photos to be adjusted in a single RAW file. , There is no need for HDR processing. In addition, sometimes photos really don’t need to ensure that every detail does not overflow. Appropriate over-exposure or under-exposure will sometimes not affect the photo, and the bright place must be bright, so that the photo will look more transparent.

In general, these three HDR software are the most common at present, and each has its own advantages in performance. How to use it depends on the photographer’s shooting environment or use environment.

About Yalong

I like to write articles about digital products and digital life, and believe that it is these products that ultimately change people's lifestyles.

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