Photomatix 5 review
I’m a little overdue with this review but it’s given me a little more time to play.
In November, HDRsoft released Photomatix Pro 5, which contains one of the most important upgrades since changes to it’s De-Ghosting way back when.
It’s no secret that since the release of Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro 2, I’ve used that for the majority of my HDR Image Processing. I found it was able to accomplish a more natural look easily and of course that’s the look I prefer. However Nik had some serious side effects, the worst of which, its alignment and Chromatic Aberration control. And while it’s de-ghosting was very good; it just didn’t have the power or the versatility of Photomatix Pro.
I would, on some difficult images, use the superior alignment capabilities of Photomatix to create a 32Bit Radiance file and then open that in HDR Efex Pro 2 to do my tone mapping. But with Nik acquisition by Google, I truly doubt that there will be any further releases or significant Updates to HDR Efex Pro 2 or any of Nik’s other software. Which IS very good but without support, I don’t see much future.
So I was glad when HDRsoft released version 5 for Photomatix Pro because maybe, just maybe I could return to what I started with so many years ago.
The New changes include:
- New interface with a kinda iPhone white/light gray look. It also lets you choose a Unified or Floating window, never really liked the floating window but TEHO
- New De-ghosting Interfaces and capabilities which now open in a new window and allow you to choose both the reference image and also strength. The selective de-ghosting still remains another option
- The Ability to use the “Fusion” method on a single image
- A new Fusion Method which is called Real Estate to work with images shot with interiors and windows open to outdoor light to better blend those two scenes
- Some changes to the batching process so that you can now add presets at this stage
- The option to return to the Processing window if you wish to reprocess the image with different settings and not have to go through the merge routine again (except with Lightroom workflow)
- Improvements and a slight change to the Alignment options, one for Tripod, one for Hand Held, which is nice to see as sometimes with a tripod used the alignment tries too hard and overdoes it, and with handheld, some don’t do enough
- Then there are some Bug fixes and some changes to control names which is a welcome change since they now describe much better their function
But the last and biggest improvement (IMO) is the addition of a new Tone-Mapping Method called “Contrast Optimizer” which is said to offer a more natural look to your HDR images. So let’s test that part out and see
Giving it a Go
So I went through and found a difficult image. This desert Image was shot just as the sun set but the mountain was high enough to still be illuminated by the sun and also the moon was just rising at this point. The moon is always a tough target for HDR since it is a moving object, especially if some of your exposures are long. So this is a test of the new tone mapping plus a good chance to see if the De-Ghosting is as good as ever and hopefully even better.
The image was shot on a tripod and consisted of 6 exposures shot with 1EV spacing. 24mm Wide Angles lens, f/16 and exposures ranged from 1/2 second to 15 seconds. I shot at a tight aperture not so much for DOF, because I had no close subjects, but instead to try and get some star effects on the moon. With the 24mm I wouldn’t get much detail in the moon but also because I was shooting towards a mountain, the moon was fairly high and bright in the sky already and not at optimum Moon conditions (just above the horizon).
I started in Lightroom and just set and synced the White balance for all 6 exposures. Then it was off to “Export to Photomatix Pro”
The missing dialog box
One thing curiously … or maybe not so curiously missing in PMP 5; in the merge dialog box when coming out of Lightroom, there is no box to check for ‘Show 32Bit intermediate image” like there was in PMP 4. I say not too curiously because HDRsoft now has a “Merge to 32 Bit” Plug-in for Lightroom. This is for those of you that want to use the power of Photomatix Pro’s Merge function but want to instead do all your tone-mapping inside of Lightroom since, as of Lightroom 4.1 and later, it now has the ability to work on 32 bit Floating Bit Tiff Images ( no support for Radiance or OpenEXR)
Let me just take a second to clear up a myth about 32Bit Files and Lightroom. Somehow people have got it into their head that the only program that does 32 Bit HDR processing is Lightroom/ACR. No. All Programs: Photomatix Pro, HDR Efex Pro 2, Oloneo all work with a merged 32 Bit file. The only thing new is that Lightroom can now open a 32 Bit Tiff file…sorry, that’s it. Nothing else to see here, move along.
OK back to what I was saying about the loss of the ability to stop and save a 32 Bit File in PMP 5. Of course it is because they want to sell the Lightroom Plug-In. But it’s not missing altogether. If you use Photomatix Pro as a standalone, in the “Load Bracketed Images” stage there is a check box to stop at the 32 bit image. The workaround for Lightroom is to output 16 Bit tiffs and then load THOSE into the Standalone, save as a 32 bit Tiff and then Tone map in Lightroom.
Back to business
The Image aligned and de-ghosted perfectly in Photomatix and now it was on to trying the new Contrast Optimizer.
It’s a simple Module with controls for:
- Tone Compression
- Lighting effect
- White Clip
- Black Clip
- Color Saturation
- Color Temperature
The main controls are the first three:
- Strength controls the Micro Contrast so it shows more or less detail
- Tone Compression is the range between Highlight and Shadow and the Output Dynamic Range
- Lighting effect adjust the balance between Highlight and Shadow
The rest are pretty self explanatory. I like that there aren’t a lot of controls so that people looking for a natural look have less chance of getting into trouble. But of course it’s not as powerful as the Detail Enhancer but then again that gets many people into trouble with Halos, Burnt Edges and Noise Nasties.
I REALLY Liked using Contrast Optimizer, It got me the look I like quickly and easily and left me a good image to work with in my post work, which I believe is half the whole look to my image. But I need something solid to work with to start
Here are 5 Images for comparison using different methods and programs. I didn’t try to match the looks of each process but just kinda of went for the closest to a natural look. I didn’t go through hours trying to get the ultimate image out of any but went through to get a great basis for post work.
First off is Photomatix Pro 5 Contrast Optimizer
What I like about this image is just its overall natural look and I love the balance between the foreground which was fairly dim at the time shot and the mountainPeaks. The Sky is VERY naturally colored and super smooth in gradation . I like the Moon but there are a few aberration that can be fixed in post. There is good detail in the mountain without getting scary detail. It’s smooth and natural. For me, this is the best image
Next up is Photomatix Pro 5 with Detail Enhancer
To me this is the reason I jumped ship on Photomatix. I don’t like the “Glowy” look that leads to a lack of detail and then you end up pushing the detail up which messes with the grunge. Also the sky at times gets a weird un-natural too blue to it which I’m not crazy about and many times on a Photomatix image I would replace skies because it bothered me so. Also the image is flat and doesn’t have the Output Dynamic range that I feel is necessary and instead becomes a Low DynamicRange image. It’s not bad, but there is better.
The Third image is done with Photomatix Fusion Natural
This image is the Detail King but maybe too much as it starts to get a bit crispy. The blue sky looks a little bit funky and takes on an greenish tinge but maybe the image is a bit flat in its transition from the mountain to foreground. I do like this image but I can see it being image dependent. But it’s nice to have choices all in one program.
The 4th image was done with Nik by Google HDR Efex Pro 2. The image was also merged in HEP2
While I like the detail in the mountain and its transition to the foreground is good, I really like this part of the image. The thing that kills this image for me is the sky; it’s Blotchy and not well gradated. The Moon has been well de-ghosted. It also the noisiest which has been a bane of HEP2, Luckily Nik makes great noise reduction in Dfine 2. I still like HDR Efex Pro2 but it certainly is not my instant go to any more
And the final 5th image was made by exporting 6 16 Bit tiff images from Lightroom, Merged with the Standalone PMP5 to a 32 Bit file and then re-imported into Lightroom to use it’s develop module. Note I used only the Basic Module in the tone mapping to keep it on par with the other programs which really aren’t designed for Finish processing per say.
This quite honestly is a very good image, I think it ties the Photomatix Contrast Optimizer image in natural and good quality The mountain looks very good, the sky is without noise and well gradated. There is again a bit of some aberration in the moon which, again, can be fixed….So what’s not to like? Here’s my problem,. This is all Lightroom had, this is balls to the walls controls maxed out. If I wanted more I could not get it. I could not get more compression if I tried. So while Lightroom is very powerful with single images, it’s not the most so with HDR. Of course we could go further with the 16 bit afterwards but I just feel it has it’s limits. That not to say that this may not fit you perfectly. It’s just not going to fit everyone perfectly
I didn’t get a chance to try the Fusion/Real Estate settings but my good friend in Florida that shoots a lot of Real Estate gave it thumbs up on how it handled window light
So what’s my final verdict? I think Photomatix has once again put itself on top. Besides it excellent merge function now you have plenty of options on processing and tone-mapping. So much so, that regardless of your taste in HDR, it is now possible with Photomatix Pro 5. With that said: Highly Recommended
This is the finalized fully post processed Photomatix Pro 5 Contrast Optimizer image
If you bought Photomatix Pro 4 you can upgrade to 5 for Free, If you purchased earlier versions and have gotten all the free upgrades through 4, you will have to pay for this upgrade but it’s only $29 and well worth it when I consider all the upgrades I have gotten for free since 2006. If you don’t have Photomatix, the full pro version is $99 and there are other versions available as well as full function trials. They also have the Merge to 32 Bit Lightroom Plug-in available for $29
If you click the link below and enter Promo Code: theHDRimage you will get 15% off the purchase price
Hope that helps,