Why do you have both Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 and Photomatix Pro 4?

Reader Alex asked this question: “I noticed you use both Photomatix in some articles and HDR Efex in others. Do you have an article describing when you will use one over the other?

If you don’t can you let me know why you use both and not just one?” 

Which is a great question and one I’m sure many people have asked…or maybe even asked themselves. 

Well the simple answer is; I’m a tool addict, my garage is filled with tools of all different types and uses and being such I often have many tools that do the same thing but in slightly different ways. I have Sanders, Belt Sanders, Orbital Sanders even Hand Sanding blocks. They all sand but in different ways and may have different tasks to them. 

When it comes to photography, I’m pretty much the same way. I like choices. Now some people could certainly just use Photoshop CS 6, some people only use Lightroom 4. I have both and while I use Photoshop a larger percentage of the time, I still find Lightroom is “just right” for certain tasks. 

OK, so that’s a long way to get to why I use both Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 and Photomatix, aren’t they the same tool? 

Well…kinda…but not. They both take you down similar roads but one is Asphalt and one is Concrete. They will both get you there, but they feel different. 

I’ll be honest, when Nik HDR Efex Pro, the original version came out. As ground breaking as it was with the addition of control points and adjustments galore, it just didn’t look that greatto me except for Architecture, because of the detail it had, it did a great job of that. But my Forte’ is Landscapes and I do them in a very natural or “As the eye sees” look. I didn’t feel version 1 had what it took to make a natural looking landscape, but it could get to the CGI look very quickly. So I used it occasionally but stuck with Photomatix Pro for the most part. 

All that changed with Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, I knew One didn’t have what it took to make a natural looking image and Nik knew it too and they set out with that as a clear priority in redesigning for HEP 2. And they succeeded in BUCKETS. 

In the mean time, Photomatix knew they had a good thing going with the look of their HDR process and pretty much left it alone, instead they concentrated on some other areas. They worked on some of the parts earlier in the process, like their selective deghosting which works absolutely fantastic, they added the ability in Tone Mapping to select areas and go back to a different exposure for that selection, and they worked on the preview accuracy and the resizing of windows that was a problem with earlier version. They added a little known and still kinda hidden 32 bit Histogram. They did a lot of behind the scene work but stuck with the “Look” of their HDRs 

Of course Nik didn’t want to be left behind in those areas and vastly improved the Alignment, Deghosting and Chromatic Aberration module of HEP2. 

So at this point, they’ve evened up on speed and their pre-tone-mapping workflow. Even though they go down different roads, you will end up at the same or similar point. 

“Okay okay, get to the point! Why do you have both?” 

 Quite simply, cuz they just look different, I could work to get them both to look very similar but I don’t want to, they simply look different. 

Architectural shot in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2

If I was doing an Architectural shot, indoors in particular I would probably (But not always) use Nik HDR Efex Pro2, It’s more detailed and sharper in a way that works great for Buildings and interior rooms. If the shot was for say an Interior design magazine I would probably use HEP 2, if it was a fine art piece of an abandoned building, I’d probably go with Photomatix.

Fine Art Interior done in Photomatix Pro

If I was shooting automotive, I would probably use Photomatix Pro. There is just a ‘Look” to it that I find more pleasing, Maybe because cars are so detailed already the tone-mapping in Photomatix Pro just make that “shine” (sorry for the pun) 

If I was doing work where I wanted a Grunge, Painterly or CGI look, I think I would have to do that in Photomatix now. Nik worked to make HEP2 more natural looking and I think their grunge now gets a little too hard edged



But what about what the majority of your work; Landscapes and Seascapes? 

This is where it’s an artistic decision on my part. What is the look I want? Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 is very natural looking and highly detailed (without getting crazy detail if you don’t go crazy with the sliders, see my article on achieving a Natural HDR) which really works, especially with Textural light and also Black & White images.

 Photomatix also has a very natural look but it looks different. It is softer edged and works better with Tonal light (light where there is diverse tonality with less contrast).

Landscape done with Photomatix Pro


Landscape done withn Nik HDR Efex Pro 2

If I had to state the difference in a term photographers may understand, Nik HDR Efex pro 2 is like shooting Digital, Photomatix is like shooting film. NOW, understand this, I shot film for 40 years, and Digital for the past 8, don’t make the assumption that many do, that “Film” is necessarily better. Film and Digital both have a “Look” it doesn’t mean that one is better than the other.



Same thing with Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 and Photomatix Pro 4, they both have a “Look” neither one is better. But when it comes times for me to make an “Artistic Judgment” which one to use, I will. There are some images that you can’t tell the difference what you used, others there is a distinct difference.

How I know that that difference is image dependant, is that I conducted a blind test with my photographer friends to decide once and for all which software was better. So over a few weeks I sent 5 sets of images, a pair of the same image, different software, marked only as Image A, Image B. Each time the verdict was overwhelmingly that one was better than the other. BUT, the software that won was different depending on the image. One week one software would win, the next the other would but always by a large majority.


And then there is a reason I use both that has nothing to do with how either of them performs. By the nature of bringing my readers The HDR Image blog, I have to know how to use both software extensively because even my readers are split on what they use. I can’t answer their question if I don’t know the software, heck I even can tell them about Oloneo HDR Engine if need be.


Bottom line; I like tools, I like choices

Both software have free trial versions, download both and decide what YOU like.

Hope that helps,





  1. Duane October 5, 2012 at 6:24 am #

    Great Article. Really like the analogy of tools. I have lots of different saws for different uses.

    The same is true about our photography and processing tools.

  2. Crunch Hardtack October 8, 2012 at 3:40 am #

    “They both take you down similar roads but one is Asphalt and one is Concrete.” Love your metaphor.

    I too am a software junkie. I use Photomatix, Oloneo’s PhotoEngine and HEP2. Pretty much gave up using Photomatix in favor of PhotoEngine… UNTIL HEP2 came out. Being primarily a landscape photographer with some production shooting also, the feel from HEP2 is what I’ve been striving for since Photomatix 2. Eventually, I will probably drop Photomatix and Oloneo, but that will depend upon what Google decides to do with Nik’s pro series of plugins.

    • Peter October 8, 2012 at 8:29 am #

      Thanks Crunch!

  3. Michel Nadeau November 7, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    I totally agree with you and I also use and like both of them. At the start I wanted to get rid of one fo them but I soon realized that they render images differently and sometimes I will try the same image with both and I usually get the result I want out of one of them. So choice is always better

  4. John Moore November 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    I have both and agree very much with Peter’s view. I’ll add one thing I have noticed: if you must take a multiple exposure handheld for HDR then I found my chances of getting the final aligned (and useful) is better with Nik. I haven’t done any serious test but it seems true for me. However, I strongly recommend a tripod!

  5. William Collins November 16, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    I have both also. Find a use for both platforms…I agree that they just have different looks…

  6. Chris January 4, 2013 at 6:25 am #

    Just bought the Nik software suite, but am preferring Photomatix to HDR Pro. nik is very realistic but I can’t get the look’s I can with Photomatix. It’s much more dreamy. maybe I don’t know Nik enough to get the look. What would be good is being able to import the PM settings into the Nik software!

    • Peter January 4, 2013 at 8:00 am #

      Depending on the image, they definitely have a different look to them so there is no clear winner. It really depends on the look you are going for. Thanks for the comment Chris!

  7. TalkThe Walk February 22, 2013 at 12:46 am #

    I have started to use Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 for processing some of my images on our walking website. It provides some extra punch for our users – whether they view on the website or the walking iPhone App. I need to spend more time learning the ‘tricks of the trade’ but so far I love it!

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