HDRSoft Photomatic Pro 3.0

HDRSoft Photomatic Pro 3.0

HDR and tone mapping bring out all the detail in this shot of Venice’s Grand Canal.

 

High dynamic range (HDR) photography is a technique designed to capture much more detail in color and contrast than traditional photography can. When taking a photograph, a camera can only capture a single exposure. A shaded subject with a bright sky behind it presents a classic conundrum. Capturing the details of the shaded subject requires an exposure that will wash out the sky. Yet an exposure optimized for the sky will underexpose the shaded area, swamping its details in inky darkness. HDR photography captures all those details by snapping three or more images at differing exposures and blending them together.

 

Photomatix Pro is software that blends the exposures for you. The application works by combining multiple source images into an HDR image, then bringing out the details through a process called tone mapping. The Workflow Shortcuts palette, new to version 3, simplifies the process. Simply click Generate HDR Image and select the source photos. The program supports JPEG, TIFF, and RAW files from most major camera manufacturers, and a smattering of less-common formats. We had no problem using RAW files from our Canon Digital Rebel XT. While we appreciate the simplicity of creating HDR files, the omission of a Save step is suspicious. To create multiple tone maps from one HDR photo, you must remember to save the HDR photo immediately after it’s created. Forget to save before tone mapping, and you’ll have to load your source images over again if you want to get back to the unprocessed HDR.

 

Tone mapping is where the drama emerges. Photomatix offers two methods to really make an HDR image bloom. The default method, called Details Enhancer, offers a wide array of options for varying contrast, light smoothing, saturation, white and black points, and so on. But this creative freedom is a mixed blessing—we regularly found it difficult to keep our picture looking very realistic using the Details Enhancer. Tone Compressor mode streamlines things by taking away some of the Details Enhancer’s tools. While its options are greatly reduced, the images we created with the Tone Compressor were dramatic without straining credibility.

 

Photomatix has a few other riffs on the HDR theme. The Exposure Blending tool creates an HDR-like image, although it doesn’t offer tone mapping. Batch Processing in Photomatix is appropriately robust and refreshingly simple. Building an intuitive user interface for batch processing is challenging, and we found HDRSoft’s approach to be a very good compromise of usability and features.

 

The bottom line. Photomatix Pro 3.0 is an excellent tool for creating high dynamic range photographs. It’s a shame the $100 tag prices out dabblers, but professionals and enthusiasts will find it a good value. A Tone Mapping Plug-In ($69) is also available for Photoshop CS2 or CS3. For a detailed walk-through of Photomatix Pro, see p85.

 

COMPANY: HDRSoft

CONTACT: www.hdrsoft.com

PRICE: $99

REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.3.9 or later

Easy to create striking HDR images. Well-executed batch processing. Universal binary.

Unprocessed HDR photos aren’t automatically saved.

 

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Is it Photomatic Pro (like the title) or Photomatix Pro?

I have been using Photomatix Pro for about a week and it has given some excellent results. Any time that it has done otherwise has been due to the quality of the images I've put into it.

I also find it easier to give the final image a touch up in iPhoto or GIMP (I don't have Photoshop).

I haven't had a chance to print any of the pictures out, but it is easy to use and the pictures look great on my screen (20" alum. iMac).

Also, love the shot of Venice.

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