HDR Comparison, Photo Editing App Shootout
This post discusses High Dynamic Range capabilities (HDR) of our outgoing photo editing software, Photoshop and Aperture, compared to darktable and ON1 Photo 10.
For those interested in what HDR is and when to use it, please review our previous posts, and take a look at these other articles:
http://lifehacker.com/5991508/what-is-hdr-and-when-should-i-use-it-in-my-photos (Fairly basic information oriented toward cell phone and point-and-shoot camera users)
http://digital-photography-school.com/5-tips-successful-hdr-photos/ (An Australian site with excellent information on all things photography, for all levels of experience)
http://thehdrimage.com/talk-hdr/ (“The HDR Image” has some very good information on HDR photography. The stand-alone HDR image merge software products they promote cost from $39 to $99. They have great examples of what HDR results can produce.)
Photoshop is the standard against which we compare. However, when I created my HDR images, Photoshop di d not provide the best results with default settings.
Following the steps in the linked tutorial, I created the merged HDR image. With no modifications, the resulting photo is noticeably lacking in shadow detail and thin in dynamic range.
Photoshop has thirteen different presets, tone and detail sliders, color sliders and curve adjustments. The settings are discussed in the tutorial. If Photoshop weren’t subscription based I might not be looking for an alternative, as discussed in our introductory post, but continue on for a less expensive alternative.
Photoshop CS5 does not read the CR2 format, the newer RAW photo files produced by today’s Canon cameras. darktable does. If your camera produces CR2 files, Adobe DNG Converter is available, at no charge, to convert batches of CR2s to DNGs. This link is for the Mac. Click “Windows” for that platform. Reports are that conversion strips out at least the GPS metadata from image files.
darktable has a setting to combine multiple RAW images like Photoshop, but in a very primitive manner. It is explained in their manual section at:
darktable uses native CR2 files, but I would not call this a real HDR capability. As you can see by the merged image created in darktable, there is not a wide dynamic range, and the software does not align the image details. I did not find any adjustments available for HDR creation in the software or mentioned in the manual.
ON1 Photo 10 –
ON1 Photo 10 has no specific capability for merging bracketed images into one combined photograph. Using its Luminosity Masks, layers and fabulous selection of effects, ON1 Photo 10 can import multiple exposures into separate layers. The user can then apply masks of varying opacity to the different layers, allowing the best part of each exposure to show through. However, this is not a one-step process, so I did not provide a comparison image.
For those who would like to learn more about using Luminosity Masks to create HDR images, please visit the following links:
Luminance HDR –
If you visit darktable’s User Manual on the “create HDR” feature, the reader is advised to use a dedicated HDR creation application, “such as Luminance HDR”. My goal has been to find a single use application to process images, like Photoshop. Absent the HDR capability, darktable seems to have most other features thus far.
Luminance has very good HDR merge features. One advantage of Luminance is that it can merge non-RAW files into HDR images.
The default image Luminance HDR gave me had the widest dynamic range of the examples, but was a bit flat. For the final photo, at the top of the page, I was able to clean that up with levels in the software. I then took the merged image into ON1 Photo 10 and applied Luminosity Masks to the light and dark areas separately.
I did find that the dark areas around the engine came out a little muddy. I brought in one of the lightest exposures as a separate layer and masked it to lighten just those details.
The instructions for Luminance HDR are located at: http://www.hieronymus41.de/luminanceHDR.pdf. The manual is basic, and Luminance seems to still be in its early stages. It crashed with five large RAW files, when auto-align the images and remove ghosts were chosen at the same time. However, I was able to manually align and reduce the number of exposures, and it worked fine.
Luminance HDR is open source, and available at no charge, although the author requests a donation.
As a low cost option, Luminance HDR is the best solution I have found, and at a price I can fit into my budget. I plan to evaluate the software and, unless it lets me down, contribute for its long-term use.
Apple Aperture –
Aperture does not come with HDR capability. There are some plug-ins that will allow merged file creation, however, since this software is no longer being supported, I see no value in learning how this feature works just for comparison purposes. If one of our readers has experience with it and would like to comment, we would love to hear from you.