HDR Tools Comparison

[Update 1/15/12: Added tests for Unified Color’s HDR Expose 2]

This is the fourth in a series of articles abut passing images between Lightroom, Photoshop and various plugins. The other posts include:

For this installment I ran a very simple test of five different tools for merging bracketed images. I started with a single RAW image — see the previous article — then created three 16-bit ProPhoto RGB TIFF files (0EV, -2EV, 2EV). I fed these TIFFs into the applications then generated the JPEGs below using the apps’ default settings.

   

   

 

It’s important to remember that this test was performed with just one class of image. As you use images with different parameters (or take advantage of the various adjustments available within each app) your mileage may vary greatly. For example, LR/Enfuse offers relatively few parametric options and it’s not an interactive program, whereas the other three are WYSIWYG apps.

However there are a few observations that I see consistently. First, Nik’s HDR Efex Pro and Adobe Photoshop’s HDR Pro are generally inferior to the other two applications. Second, LR/Enfuse and Photomatix Pro are remarkably similar other than the latter’s obvious color shift, which is easily correctible. HDR Expose looks equally as good although the default settings appear to over-saturate some portions of the image. Because it’s quite fast and simple, I find I use LR/Enfuse more and more, particularly when my goal is to create a realistic (rather than stylized, grungy, etc.) final image. LR/Enfuse is inexpensive donationware based on the open-source Enfuse application. [I learned about HDR Expose after this article was originally posted. I have not evaluated it other than to perform these tests, but my initial impression is that it’s quite good at least as for as these tests are concerned.]

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