Review: HDR PhotoStudio

Last week I downloaded a copy of HDR PhotoStudio from Unified Color. I’ve played around with a couple of different HDR plugins and have to say that this one really delivers.

For those who are still new to the whole concept of HDR, here’s a quick rundown to get you up to speed. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and basically you create an HDR image by combining multiple images together – each at a different exposure – to take advantage of the details in the highlight and shadow areas so the final image can more closely resemble the tonal range seen by the eye at the time of capture. The result is an image with a great deal of tonal depth where, when done correctly, retains a great deal of information in both the brightest areas as well as the darkest without clipping – unless you’re ok with a certain amount of clipping for the effect.

There are schools of HDR photography where the final image is on the more surreal side of things. I’m wuite impressed with it when it’s done right but more often than not, this style of HDR is overdone, in my opinion, and can be more of a distraction and can get in the way of creating a pleasing path for the eyes through the image.

For me, the real power of HDR comes with the added clarity, sharpness and tonal depth that can come from the merger of multiple exposures. But one of the added benefits of HDR PhotoStudio that really sold me was how you can apply an HDR effect on a single image. Let me offer an example.

Before:

HDR PhotoStudio Before

You may have seen this image posted here before. It’s one of my shots from Kim’s and my trip to Paris last year (taken at Versailles). I processed the shot entirely in Lightroom and was quite pleased with the sharpness and depth that came with the enhanced features of Lightroom 2.

Then, I brought it into HDR PhotoStudio

HDR Photo Studio After

As you can see, the resulting image is much sharper and the statue is all the more separated from the background and shows a lot more of the three-dimensionality of the actual subject.

The Pros:

I really like the simple yet comprehensive interface of HDR PhotoStudio. It is very easy to find your way around and work your processing. Moving right down the list of adjustments from one to the next you can have a pretty good workflow already laid out for you. First you can rotate your image and crop it as necessary before setting your brightness and contrast and your white balance (or “whiteness” as they call it). Then the real fun starts as you move into your local contrast and shadow/highlight adjustments to really get that HDR effect moving. A great feature of this software is the ability to reduce the amount of halo that is generated during these processes. It’s only a checkbox where a slider might be more beneficial in a futre version, but it does a good job overall.

I found myself using the sharpness and saturation adjustments – the next two down in the list – only sparingly. They each do a good job but one of the things that creates sharpness is contrast along edges of objects in the scene and while making your local contrast adjustments a good amount of sharpness is introduced. As I said, I had also worked with this image in Lightroom ahead of time so the color was already where I wanted it to be. That said, like the other tools, the adjustments are smooth and do a good job of helping you dial in just what you want.

The Cons:

There aren’t really a lot of cons here. I’m a big fan of looking back and forth between the before and after versions and there isn’t a method for comparing the two.

The other thing I think could be improved upon would be making the adjustments re-editable. I haven’t seen it in other HDR apps so it may just be the nature of it, but it would be nice if you could go back to the Local Contrast settings, for example, if after closing the dialog box and moving on to Shadow/Highlight you decide you need to change something. You can undo to go back, but the settings in the dialog box are reset once it’s reopened. Like I said, though, it may just be a reality of where HDR technology is right now, but it’s something to keep in mind when working with it.

In the End:

Overall, I really like HDR PhotoStudio. It’s interface is intuitive and clean-looking in its design. Adjustments allow for a good deal of control over your image so you can get just what you’re looking for. The price tag is also set within reach (at $149.99, or $127.99 through this link just for my readers) making it fairly competitive with the Photomatix bundle.

I still want to do some more playing with it, and will, but I can honestly say that it is worth the investment if you’ve been looking to get into HDR photography or find a better way to process your HDR images. Give it a shot.

Comments:
  • Hi Jason, nice review – short and concise.
    Just to mention, “whiteness” isn’t a white balance (WB is a different operation located just above Saturation on the panel of instruments). Whiteness lets you cancel (or introduce, if you prefer) a whitish haze created by light inter-reflecting inside your lens. Basically whenever you have a multiple elements lens (always the case with camera lenses), each time light passes through a glass surface, a small part of it always reflects. Because lens has a number of elements, light can bounce back and forth between each pair, and this creates the above described haze.
    This problem becomes especially evident in case of HDR image, and it is why HDR PhotoStudio added this operation. Typically you use it with “Set black point” pipette choosing a point the image that you need to become black. You will notice that in most cases this make the color to “pop”, i.e. become more vivid. Try it with night shots to produce very deep blacks.

    April 7, 2009 at 4:19 am
  • Good post!
    The Pros and Cons were explained concisely and clearly.

    April 7, 2009 at 7:49 pm
  • Extremely informative article, well researched and clearly presented the pros and cons. Thanks.

    April 8, 2009 at 1:35 am
  • Nice write up.

    Also just downloaded the trial version and agree with you on everything. Great program!

    February 6, 2010 at 6:56 am

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