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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gadget Bag: HDR Software

When used in moderation, HDR software helps you maximize the dynamic range in your photos. Here’s a look at the tools that are available for doing it.

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This Article Features Photo Zoom
Photomatix from HDRsoft has been a go-to software choice for HDR enthusiasts for some time. Available as standalone software or as a plug-in for Lightroom or Aperture, Photomatix Pro 4 software merges multiple images with the ability to batch process. Auto alignment and selective ghosting make merging of handheld brackets quick and easy. Photomatix also features noise reduction and chromatic aberration reduction, as well as final adjustments of sharpening and contrast. List Price: $99. www.hdrsoft.com

Another software package that has gained a following among HDR enthusiasts is Topaz Adjust. This software makes HDR adjustments to one image instead of merging multiples. Using Intelligent Detail Enhancement, it enhances textures and details without boosting noise. Adaptive Exposure adds contrast to different areas of the image depending on the area's tonality. Adaptive Color mode analyzes the entire image to determine color saturation. You have control over colors, curves, details, noise reduction and exposure, as well as local adjustments for dodging and burning. List Price: $49. www.topazlabs.com/adjust

HDR Efex Pro from the Nik Collection

HDR Efex Pro from the Nik Collection of plug-ins easily integrates with Adobe and other Nik software to merge multiple images or make adjustments to a single image. Ranging from natural to artistic one-click presets, you can explore a diverse set of HDR looks, or customize tones and details for your preferences. A before-and-after button lets you take a quick look at the adjustments you've made. List Price: $149 (full Nik Collection). www.google.com/nikcollection

For fans of open-source community-based software, Luminance HDR is a free (donation-based) software for Linux, Windows and iOS machines. The creators take improvement suggestions from the community, and the community also shares updates (for instance, HDR presets). While sticking mostly to the basics, Luminance HDR merges RAW files, allows tone mapping, rotating, sizing and cropping. It can copy EXIF data between images and has an antighosting mask. And a unique feature for Luminance is the Portable Mode (for Windows)—the ability to load and use the software on a USB drive. qtpfsgui.sourceforge.net/

In-Camera HDR
From the advanced DSLRs to the iPhone, companies are adding auto-HDR features to their cameras at an increasing rate. Depending on your situation, you may decide to take advantage of this feature or save your HDR for full software postprocessing.

The Pros
1. Each camera manufacturer is intimately familiar with the sensor they use in their cameras, knowing both the best selling points, as well as what areas may need improvement. Because of this, any in-camera HDR feature developed by the company should take these sensor factors into consideration and compensate for any contrast bias their sensor may have.
2. The auto HDR feature is also a huge convenience, saving you quite a bit of screen time by allowing you to experiment with the technology, with quick processing time instead of hours in front of your computer.
3. HDR may become a more utilitarian need, leading HDR for a high-contrast shot to be quickly shuffled in while shooting other wildlife or journalism shots, making the HDR button as necessary as an autofocus button.

The Cons
1. The ease of in-camera HDR processing is attractive, but there are some drawbacks. While this is a feature in flux, many in-camera HDR functions are only available with JPEG files, which may be a workflow hiccup for RAW shooters.
2. Depending on the camera, the feature uses only 2 to 3 images, while full postprocessing can entail 5, 7, 9 or more images, which brings up the issue of full customization.
3. If you want to work with and personalize your image to your eye's vision to your full satisfaction (and on a screen larger than your camera's LCD), then full postprocessing is your best bet.


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