Just playing around with the free 15-days trail version of Nik Software's HDR Efex pro
. I tested V1.000 64 bit for Windows rev 8167.
- After installing it you can simply select photos (single shot or HDR series) and export them to HDR Efex from Lightroom (LR2 or LR3). That makes lightroom generate TIFs and hand them over to HDR Efex which does an alignment, renders them as a HDR, and gives you a ton of options to influence the outcome. Saving generates a TIF or JPG, closes HDR Efex and stacks the new image with the first of the originals. Easy!
- Unfortunately the re-integration of the HDR image into LR does not always work reliably: I had an instance where I had to try several times for it to work. Not doing anything in LR as you manipulate your image in HDR Efex seems to stabilize the situation, but not always.
- You can also load a series of (or a single) image into HDR Efex directly and use it stand-alone. You have to take into account though that HDR Efex reads only JPGs and TIFs. So no direct RAW/NEF/DNG input.
- All the manipulation you do in HDR Efex to reach the final output is not saved with the image. So if you want to recreate your effort or go back and just change one of the parameters your lost. Unless you only use one of the 33 presets (and remember which one you used on that particular photo) or you save your personal recipe as your own preset. Advice: Save the number or name of the preset you used with the generated image.
Now what about the image quality?
HDR: Quite impressive but look out for grossly over-saturated colors and some profiles that compress clouds into a dull grey instead of sparkling white. But all of this can be manipulated with the controls that Nik gives you. So whether you like it overly compressed and saturated or you prefer a more natural approach you can do as you please. Here's
With multi-frame HDR
the software has to solve the additional task of aligning slight (or not so slight) differences between frames and combine the best parts of each frame. Plus the additional challenge to eliminate ghosting of moving subjects (the occurrence of the same figure/subject at different locations in multiple frames). How does HDR Efex pro stack up here?
: Seems to work quite well even with grossly unaligned photos shot several seconds apart with the camera taken from the eye in between. On some occasions I found traces of shift still in the final image
: seems a mixed bag. I had one set of two shots where HDR Efex simply eliminated figures which were only in one frame although the inclusion would have been nice. And I had a three frame combo where the flyby of a single magpie was recorded as three birds in the final image
There were also problems with twigs that swayed in the wind, which were recorded as double twigs in one set and were composed correctly in another set. Tried different settings for the anti-ghosting (global, adaptive; high, medium, low): sometimes it seemed to help but some errors could not be cured.
: Selecting the best parts of each frame and stacking them together in a way that they blend seamlessly into one-another seems another task where HDR Efex needs some polishing. The following image shows, what happened to a handheld 3-frame bracket (0,-1,+1EV):
, on Flickr
Look at the dark "mask" around the drawer where the software obviously took parts of a different frame. Now that is certainly not what you would call seamless blending. An it did not go away neither with one of the presets nor by manipulating any of the available parameters. That ruins the shot for me. I also had very prominent non-blending in a handheld two frame shot of trees against the sky where you could clearly see a darker outline around the trees.
Another type of problem occurred with a 0,-1,+1EV fisheye-shot of an interior with lots of contra-light. I'm just showing the crop of an old chair here which was sitting in the dark part. Look at the ghastly red colors on the wood and the leather:
, on Flickr
The results from a 0,-2,-1,+1,+2EV bracketing were much better, even if I used only the -2,0,+2 frames:
, on Flickr
In both cases the processing presets in HDR Efex were identical. And the astonishing thing was that not even a single frame conversion of one of the three-frame originals brought out these strange reds.
All in all the software looks easy to use and is quite fast, but some snags need to be ironed out before I could recommend it.