De-Ghosting Photomatix, HDR Efex Pro and HDR Expose
Unified Color - HDR Expose

So here we go.  More and more companies are coming out with HDR software.  It goes to show you how popular HDR is becoming.  In this post I am going to show you the same set of brackets tone-mapped in Photomatix, HDR Efex Pro and HDR Expose.

I did not want to make it easy for the applications so I chose a set of three brackets.  I was handholding the camera when I took the photos.  To top it off, there were moving people and vehicles in the scene.  Ideally you want to photograph HDR brackets on a tripod.  Having movement in the scene typically means letting the ghosting remain in the final product or spend a good amount of time in Photoshop by masking the ghosts out.

The processing you will see in each of these photos is as clean as I could get the insanely difficult brackets to tone-map.  No white balance, noise reduction or lens correction was used.

Unified Color - HDR Expose
Unified Color - HDR Expose (Version 1.1.0 build 6703)
HDR Expose - Ghosting
HDR Expose - Ghosting

In the tone-mapped photo from HDR Expose you can see that it reduced the ghosting of the people on the left a lot.  Considering that there is no real manual control over ghosting aside from automated de-ghosting, I am quite impressed.  The dynamic range of the scene is really coming out.  There is detail everywhere and although it seems a little “flat”, some further processing could really turn this into a great HDR.

note: 100% crop of people walking has been enhanced with brightness only which makes it easier to see the ghosting

HDR Soft - Photomatix
HDR Soft - Photomatix (Version 4.0)
Photomatix - Ghosting
Photomatix - Ghosting

Similar to HDR Expose, the Photomatix version also is a bit “flat” but I was able to get the histogram to work for me considering that the brackets were so sloppy.  The Photomatix version does have a bit more color in the tone-mapped photo.  That can work to my advantage for the final processing of the image.  What stands out to me is the extra contrast and the perfect de-ghosting of the people walking on the left.  The new de-ghosting tool inside of Photomatix 4.0 is amazing.

note: 100% crop of people walking has been enhanced with brightness only which makes it easier to see the ghosting

Nik Software - HDR Efex Pro
Nik Software - HDR Efex Pro (Version 1.0)
HDR Efex Pro - Ghosting
HDR Efex Pro - Ghosting

Last but not least, HDR Efex Pro.  As you can see in the tone-mapped photo there is a lot of texture,detail, color and contrast that the application brought out.  The problem I was having was that HDR Efex Pro has very sensitive sliders.  I could not get the processing just right so I decided to get it as close to how I wanted it as possible.  You might look at this and say it looks great, but to me it does not.  Looking at the people walking on the left, HDR Efex Pro did a horrible job at de-ghosting.  It almost appears it didn’t even try.  Like HDR Expose, HDR Efex Pro has limited control over the de-ghosting in a scene.

note: 100% crop of people walking has been enhanced with brightness only which makes it easier to see the ghosting

The Final Product
The Final Product

So now is the time for me to share my final product.  Can you guess which of the tone-mapped photos I went with?  I can give you a hint.  Look at the people walking on the left.  They are perfect.    After creating the base HDR, I brought the photo into Photoshop where I used Nik’s Silver Efex Pro and OnOne’s Photo Tools for further processing.  I then brought the image back into Lightroom for last touch-ups including lens correction and noise reduction.

There you have it.  Simple tone-mapping from three of the most popular HDR software’s on the market.  Which is the best?  It’s a matter of taste.  They all offer trials so make sure you try it before you buy it.  Below are some discount codes to help save you money on the final purchase.  For more discounts visit my dedicated discounts page.

Thanks for reading and happy shooting,

Scott

Save 15% off Photomatix by using the discount code “ScottWyden15

Save 20% off HDR Expose and 10% off 32 Float by using the discount code “scottwyden

Save 15% off Nik Software products using the discount code “scottwyden

Save 10% off OnOne Software products using the discount code “WYDEN

Why didn’t I use Photoshop CS5’s HDR Pro in this comparison? It is just crummy so it was not worth the time. That is my opinion on that.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. I haven't used HDR Efex Pro yet but keep in mind it's new and on V1. Photomatix is at version 4 right now and ahead of the game (rightfully so). I have had great success with Photomatix and de-ghosting thus far – it's not always perfect; however, it does a great job where minimal photoshop masking takes place later.

    I think it could have been very interesting to share with people how the image could have looked without any de-ghosting done. Essentially you get a taste of the issue in the final example (using HDR Efex Pro).

    It is exciting with all the new software being released for HDR processing – I believe with it set into the iPhone 4 now, HDR is going to gain even more interest. Pretty interesting times!

    1. Yes, it is the first version but Nik did state that HDR Efex Pro was 2 years in the making. In an upcoming post, the original brackets will be available to download. That way everyone can try it out for themselves. Tom Baker did a very similar test.

  2. Hey Scott, interesting to see the same results more or less. I still think purely for ghosting and alignment HDR Pro has a place…but that’s a big extra step that we shouldn’t need to take for this. I find Photomatix Pro 4 the best for this because it’s the only one to allow semi-manual control. I’m actually surprised Expose did that good. It’s the scratch off lottery ticket of deghosting. Sometimes you win but most of the time it’s an empty promise.

    Nice write up!

    1. HDR Pro is very good at de-ghosting but for the rest of processing it fails for me. I agree that Photomatix is the best for de-ghosting due to its manual control. HDR Expose does really well for natural tone-mapping but I tend to lean more towards Photomatix still. Thanks for checking it out Tom!

  3. I see at your sample from NIK HDR Effex Pro that there is heavy noise in the picture. I have detected this problem in my tests too. Any tipps to reduce or elimenate the noise in HDR Effex Pro?

    1. I have seen a lot of online chatter about that. Because of that I’m sure that Nik is aware. For now you can use noise reduction software.

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