Aurora HDR Pro 2017 Performance Review

Macphun Software last week released the newest version of Aurora – Aurora HDR Pro 2017 a MUCH improved version of their Mac Only HDR Software

Now you may have noticed something, I never did a review of the Original Aurora HDR Pro, which may seem odd for a site dedicated to HDR. The reason was, it simply was not up to my standards and not ready for prime time. This really is not that unusual for 1st releases. The same was true when Nik Software released HDR Efex Pro. It just wasn’t good but when they ramped up to do release  2 and they consulted with the HDR crowd including me, they released a great, for the time, HDR software. So the fact that a first version wasn’t that good is pretty normal. Aurora certainly had the feature set right, but for me the only thing I am interested in is performance and it was there that it lacked.

All that has changed with the release of Aurora HDR Pro 2017.

How I test

How the HDR Image operates: In order to bring you free content I am an affilate marketer for all the brands you see on the side bar. I only represent companies I like, believe in and use personally. But there in also brings about a conflict of interest. I could just write all great reviews and you’ll buy everything and I’ll be rich…except I can’t do that. It’s great for me but it doesn’t give you, the reader, the truth and the information you need to make an informed decision. You see it all the time, reviews that proclaim “Awesome” and “Amazing”…well not this kid. But I also don’t believe in bashing companies online. So if a product doesn’t meet my standards, I simply don’t review it. It’s kinda a death knell in some ways…even telling you how it works. But it’s what I do

 

As I stated before, I’m not one that really cares much about features. If you want to see that list you can go to the Mfg’s website and see them all better shown than what I will do. I care only about performance. How well does the software; Align, De-ghost, Correct CA, Highlight and Shadow Recovery, Blend and Mask the exposures and finally…and this is the big one, Preview the image. I’ll talkj more about this in a bit. If software doesn’t pass the super stringent and proprietary tests I’ve come up with, I really don’t care if it has Grad Filters or  Luminocity Masks because they won’t fix problem images.

I’ve devised some testing methods that are pretty much a Torture Test for HDR programs and don’t really test the  software’s ability to make a Pretty Picture since that can vary so much between different brands of software and the person moving the sliders,  it’s really hard to do a comparison just by looking at that. My test are more for Core Functions and for the most part, as much as possible, eliminate the variables of the Tone-Mapping or Editing capabilities. In general when core functions work well, you can pretty much make the image you want in post

So lets take a look at Aurora HDR Pro 2017 performance and compare the improvements over Release 1

Alignment and De-ghosting

It doesn’t appear that there were any changes made to the Alignment and De-ghosting in AHP 2017. Using the same test images I used in my test of ver. 1. The results were exactly the same. Alignment in general works just fine, however in my “Torture Test” which is far above what will be experienced in real life. The alignment did ghost edges in the test, turning on De-Ghosting in  the Alignment test image did eliminate that edge ghosting, however, De-Ghosting is something you ONLY want to use if you have Ghosts and shouldn’t be used to supplement alignment unless you really have to. De-Ghosting an image you don’t need to will add noise to the image if it chooses the wrong image to de-ghost to and needs to raise the level of that exposure.

Here are the two images, Remember this test is NOT typical. Although it did not perform the best of all software, in practical use it performed just fine

Aurora HDR Pro 2017 Test

2017 Alignment Test

Aurora HDR Pro 2017 Test

Original Alignment test

For the De-ghosting Test, the test was me walking across the field in 7 exposures. Again, in this test the results were the same whether AHP 2017 or the original version, the software just chose a different frame to de-ghost to

Aurora HDR Pro 2017 Test

Original De-ghosting

Aurora HDR Pro 2017 Test

2017 De-ghosting

De-ghosting in Aurora HDR Pro 2017 works VERY well

Highlight and Shadow Recovery

Again this is a very tough test and one that the original version failed, in fact it’s the reason I could not give it a passing grade. I’m happy to announce that it’s been completely fixed

The test images appear to the eye as just a RGB255 White image and a RGB000 Black Image. However hidden in them is a RGB250 and RGB005 letters spelling “HDR”. A Good test result would be one where the Letters show up as gray and the background remains close to pure white and pure black. To make the test even harder the test image was printed and shot in camera

Here’s the Highlight Recovery test

You can see ADP 2017 did a good job of the this, brought out the letters and the background is pretty white

Aurora HDR Pro 2017 Test

Aurora 2017 Highlight Test

You can see something has gone horribly wrong in the Version 1 test. It brought out the gray letters fine but there is a more than  distinct pink cast to the image. I actually will fault this to Aurora’s RAW converter which in this case was Apple RAW. I confirmed this by passing a Lightroom export via the Tiff export option in Aurora’s Lightroom Plug-in. That example had no pink cast. Now I’m not sure if Macphun changed RAW converters or if Apple just improved theirs as I know Apple did an update recently to it. I asked a representative at Macphun about this and did not receive an answer. Never the less, problem solved

Aurora HDR Pro 2017 Test

Aurora Release 1 Highlight Test

For the Shadow Recovery test again the software was much improved. Both versions held the black quite well but the older version definitely muddied up the grays

Aurora HDR Pro 2017 Test

Aurora 2017 Shadow Test

The muddied original version

Aurora HDR Pro 2017 Test

Aurora Release 1 Shadow test

There’s no doubt there have been massive improvements in this area

Real World Blending of the Exposures

This test uses real world image samples to see how well the software Blends the exposures and masks luminocity values correctly. The images consist of 7 Images shot 1EV apart on a scene with over 300,000:1 contrast which is far above the 4,000:1 sample image supplied by manufacturers. Those images are softballs and really you could Tone-map a single image on a good camera and get the same result. To eliminate differences in Tone-mapping and Exposure blending algorithms in addition to Image previews that vary from every Software company and sometime even within companies, I try to eliminate as much of that as I can and try to extract a 32 or 16 Bit  image outside of the tone-mapping if that is possible and then use Lightroom as the Previewing and Mapping source to keep tests between brands as fair as possible. Aurora HDR Pro 2017, since it operates as a Standalone, is capable of producing a 32 bit HDR files (SEE NOTE)  outside of Tone-mapping. But I also brought the images into the program with everything as neutral as possible. The results of all where quite surprising.

(Aurora can output a 32bit Tiff, Open EXR or Radiance *NOTE, while Aurora is capable of producing a 32 bit floating point Tiff, It’s Color space {XYZ} is not recognizable by Lightroom and won’t import. So instead I needed to either open the 32 Tiff in Photoshop and convert the color space to ProPhoto RGB, or use the Radiance file and save as a Floating TIff)

This is the merged image inside of Aurora HDR Pro 2017. The program correctly blends and masks the highlight and shadow luminocity for maximum detail at both ends

Aurora HDR Pro 2017 Test

Aurora HDR Pro 2017 Program File

This is the Merged file from Aurora HDR Pro 1st Release – While it does a pretty good in the shadows, it’s horrible in highlights and just could not recover them. This is flat in  the program but even using the controls could not bring it back and all it did was gray the whites. This is really where you can see the improvement in 2017

Aurora HDR Pro 2017 Test

Aurora Original Version Program

This is the 32bit Floating Bit Tiff Processed in Lightroom to recover maximum detail  (-100 highlight, +100 shadow,  exposure and saturation equalized to the other images) I’m not really sure why but the 32 bit had a red cast, which could easily be fixed

Aurora HDR Pro 2017 Test

Aurora 2017 32 Bit Tiff

About “Previews”

One of the real interesting thing about the above test is that actually even in the original version of Aurora, the 32 Bit Floating bit Tiff was able to retain and recover all the detail in the image. It was only in the program that everything fell apart. That tells me that the original Preview was off. In case you don’t know, all editing programs create a “Preview” of the image. This preview take into account; the Monitor profile, gamma and color space along with the editing programs working space and cretes a preview based on that information. All programs do it differently, in fact, Lightroom’s Preview is far different tnan even Photoshop and you may see differences in images opened in both programs. Knowing this, I think this may have been the big fault of the Original Aurora along with a bit of the HDR algorytm that was present in the program even when neutral-ed. It’s quite obvious they made great changes to the preview and the algorithm.

Please note that none of these images have been processed, tone-mapped or edited to their true potential since I wasn’t trying for a Best Pretty Picture but just testing performance. THAT may be carried out by you, the user for your tastes

Here are the 100% crops of the above image to really show you the differences in detail in the highlights and shadows

Aurora 2017 Highlights

Aurora 2017 Highlights

Aurora Original release Highlight

Aurora Original release Highlight

Aurora 2017 32 Bit Highlights

Aurora 2017 32 Bit Highlights

Aurora 2017 Shadows

Aurora 2017 Shadows

Aurora Original Release Shadows

Aurora Original Release Shadows

Aurora 2017 32 Bitt Tiff Shadows

Aurora 2017 32 Bitt Tiff Shadows

In conclusion, Aurora HDR Pro 2017 is a much improved program, so much so I would put it in the top 3 of HDR Programs and the preference order of those would be up to your taste. It’s nice to see the good folks at Macphun took this from a zero to a HERO

Updated Controls

I said I wasn’t going to talk about new features but there ae a few things I should mention

The control panel is much better now. They’ve streamlined the controls and eliminated some that really weren’t that effective and replaced those with some that were lacking in the original. The most important was the addition of an “Exposure” control. Which I talked to the Macphun  Team about  being missing in release 1. Glad they listened

The rest of the upgrades are better explained at the Aurora 2017 Website but there are about 10 big changes

 

Take it for a spin

Now that you have seen  the performance updates to Aurora HDR Pro 2017 the best thing for you to do (If you are on a Mac) is to take it for a Spin

Aurora HDR Pro 2017 is available as a 30 Day Trial, you really won’t know anything till you run it through YOUR normal Paces  with YOUR images/exposures

To TRY simply click this banner

If you decide that Aurora HDR Pro 2017 is everything I said it was how about this… 10% off your Purchase Price! Just use coupon code THEHDRIMAGE at check out to get your discount. This is the best pricing available

 

Cheers,

PT

 

6 Comments

  1. Fred October 10, 2016 at 5:37 am #

    Photomatix is still better at De-ghosting and CA corrections IMO. I have many bracketed images with CA’s and Photomatix just does a better job at removing them.

    • Peter October 10, 2016 at 11:05 am #

      Thanks Fred,
      Yes, Photomatix does have very good De-Ghosting tools especially the manual removal tool!

      Cheers,
      Peter

  2. Rick Huffman October 10, 2016 at 10:05 am #

    Peter, thanks for the very informative review of Aurora 2017. It has definitely improved over the older version and I am enjoying getting accustomed to it. However I still find that I can produce a sharper, cleaner, more realistic HDR image with EASYHDR3. Just curious if you have used EasyHDR3 and your opinion of it vs Aurora 2017. Maybe I just need more practice with Aurora but I like a sharp image.

    Thanks in advance for your time,
    Rick

    • Peter October 10, 2016 at 11:04 am #

      Hi Rick,
      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, always appreciated.
      First off this wasn’t a comparison or “shoot-out” against all others, It was just a performance review of Aurora 2017, and also comparing it against itself (2016) so to speak.

      BUT, I have done the complete test on a lot of software out there and maybe that’s the next article ;).

      Anyway, I will say that EASYHDR3 does a great job of producing a natural HDR quickly and easily. However in the Highlight Recovery test (Real World) while it performed well was not top of the class. But it has a great overall look to the image.
      But thank you. it was worth mentioning

      Cheers,
      Peter

  3. Adam November 17, 2016 at 6:39 pm #

    Was wondering how you feel about the speed compared to Photomatix, and how worthwhile is it to stay in RAW vs. importing Jpegs to the HDR program to run the software faster.
    thx for the great info
    adam

    • Peter November 17, 2016 at 7:27 pm #

      Hi Adam,
      Great questions
      These are the results I got comparing 3 of the most used HDR software. The times represent the speed in a i7 iMac with 16GB of Ram so your results may vary. This test was also with the original version of Aurora Pro and I think Aurora Pro 2017 may run a bit quicker
      Here’s the results:
      Speed
      This test was how quickly (or not) a program merged the images (no de-ghosting or CA) and allowed you to begin working. I used a 7 exposure merge for the test.

      Aurora Pro: 1:05 ; with CA and de-ghost 2:23
      HDR Efex Pro 2: 0:49 ; with CA and de-ghost 1:05
      Photomatix:0:52;with CA and de-ghost 1:15

      In the real world there isn’t remarkable difference in speed but there is some

      As far as the question of Jpeg Vs raw for “Speed” If you are really having a problem processing the image and speed is an issue, then Processing Jpegs may help a bit. Personally I am a Purest and since I’m going through the Process to get the best quality image I can I woudl prefer using RAW or at the very least 16 Bit Tiff. Problem with Jpegs are, at 8 bit, they limit the dynamic range that the camera can theoretically capture. Sure we may be talking 3 to 7 images so it’s not as critical. But especially with 3 Exposures. I want each of those exposure to EACH contain as much dynamic range as possible, with the best chance for highlight recovery and also to keep noise down in the shadows. So I would “Prefer” To have the best files possible to merge to my 32 Bit working file. Again. If speed is a problem, you may need to do what you need to do. But RAW would be my choice.

      Thanks for the great questions, Hope my answers helped

      Cheers,
      Peter

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