Ok, I haven’t upgraded Photomatix in a while, clearly. I was running on 3.1.3, and now we’re on 3.2.2…….
Where have I been?
Oh, right, out shooting photos, running the gallery, making prints for customers, having web design meetings with clients……that’s where I’ve been. Still, no excuse for missing out on the latest and greatest from the guys over at HDRSoft!
After installing Snow Leopard on Saturday I decided to head out onto the net and get the latest and greatest version of Photomatix as well. Josh told me the other day the latest version was available and I just hadn’t gotten around to downloading it.
In addition to Photomatix I personally use the Lightroom2 plugin that HDRSoft makes available. I find that it makes the process easier, and when I’ve finished working on an HDR it gets popped right back into Lightroom. Very convenient. Not much changed on the Lightroom plugin beyond one newly labeled button, Fuse Exposures. From what I can gather, this is just the Tone Compressor option from previous versions with a new name.
I hate it when labels I’ve gotten used to in software change. Makes me think there’s something new and exciting, when it’s only the same previous feature with a different name.
In order to really test things out I decided to select an older photo from the Vulture Mine that I’d never played with. Nothing I’m looking to print, but I think everyone knows how much I love ghost towns!
After selecting the 3 exposures in Lightroom and popping over to the export plugin I waited for a few moments while Photomatix popped up and did it’s thing. It was much faster than usual, and I’m going to attribute that to the latest OS from Mac. Who knows though, there might be improvements in Photomatix as well. I couldn’t find anything on their site saying things had gotten quicker, hence I’m attributing that to Snow Leopard.
Once Photomatix got to the tone mapping part of the process I noticed several changes. Some changes to the interface bar where you work on tone mapping, the image generated took the entire screen (so I shrunk it), and there was a great little histogram off to the right.
The interface bar looked a little different right from the start. Smoothing had changed dramatically, and it was slightly relocated. Now, what do I mean by “changed dramatically” you ask?
It was the case in prior versions where smoothing had a few option buttons only. From “Min” to “Max” 5 steps in between. Now the smoothing option has a slider tool, allowing you to fine tune even better beyond the 5 options. If you’re desperate for the old way simply click the little Light Mode toggle below and you’ll have some option buttons instead.
If you take a look at the image of the Photomatix tool set you’ll see it looks pretty familiar. Slight movement of the primary sliders (Luminosity, Microcontrast, and Smoothing). It all still works the same though, so don’t let the slight changes throw you. The big improvement here (for me) is the smoothing changes.
With only a few smoothing options available in the earlier version it was hard to control haloing. If you’ve played with HDR images, you know haloing is the bane of your existence. Well, unless you dig the haloing and want it in your image. I like it for some images, but most times I’m looking to make something a little beyond real, but still real looking. Halos throw reality right out the window. What I’ve found with the new smoothing slider is that I can really control the haloing better than ever before.
Thanks HDRSoft, very key improvement!
One other “labeling” item that I find funny……Miscellaneous Settings. These settings are anything but miscellaneous. These are the settings I most often head toward when I customize an image. Maybe we should call them “HDR Necessary Settings.” 🙂
When you’re trying to get to a “grungier” look, or a look with a lot of intracate detail you play with a few things. Smoothing, Micro-Smoothing, Highlights Smoothness, and Shadows Smoothness. Well, at least I do. So, finding 3 sliders that I use a lot under miscellaneous was funny to me. Just labels, nothing more.
HDRSoft also added another new item in the main bar. Some custom presets straight out of the box. That’s right, they’ve offered users some of their own settings to try out.
Users now have “Natural, Smooth Skies, Painterly, and Grunge” available to them. I tried each preset out, and they’re interesting.
Let me take a moment here for an aside on “Presets.” I’ve been playing with Topaz Adjust and Detail a lot over the past few weeks as I prepare to do an indepth rundown on the Photoshop plugins. Each plugin has a ton of presets as well. Lots of opportunities when working with Topaz.
While Topaz and now Photomatix have presets available, I suggest fine tuning things and creating your own presets. Why? Simple, your image, your creativity. Using a preset out of the box can yield cool results, but are they ever exactly what you were hoping to achieve? Maybe on occasion they are. But for me I’ve found that I need to fine tune things.
So, my suggestion on presets is pretty simple. Give them a whirl. See what sliders get changed, and it gives you a better idea of how the software works. But from there start tuning things to get the desired look you’re really after.
I gave each of the presets in Photomatix a whirl on the photo I was working on and didn’t find anything that worked for me. See, fine tuning Photomatix is necessary if you have a specific look you’re going for. Even my own custom presets didn’t get me to where I wanted to be. So I spent 10 minutes working through the program to get to what I was hoping to see in the image today.
I’m happy to say that the updates to Photomatix are pretty darned good. With each release HDRSoft does a better job. That’s the point of upgrades, right? Well, HDRSoft does a great job with their upgrades.
The finer control that has been added will help me a great deal in my work. I’d really like to achieve images that are more real than real. Sure, I like the surreal here and there, but I’m personally working toward realistic HDRs that give me the broader dynamic range without looking like an HDR. I think I can get closer than ever before with the latest version of Photomatix.
Sorry to say, I’ve got no coupon codes to offer here for Photomatix. Maybe I’ll drop them a line and see about that. Everybody else seems to have coupon codes available…..why not this site too? 🙂
Finally, just a little more fun to add in for the day. After playing around with the Photomatix update I asked myself, “What could Topaz Detail do with this image?” So, I popped back into Lightroom, exported to Photoshop, and ran the 0EV version of the image through Detail. I used the “Blue Sky” preset, toned it down a bit, added some more detail, and also altered the color sliders a bit more taking things away from the hyper blue sky that the preset gets you. After 5 minutes of fine tuning I came up with the following image…….
Alright, there’s the wrap up on today’s post. If you’re a Photomatix user who hasn’t upgraded yet, what are you waiting for? I think you’ll dig the latest version. And if you’re not a Photomatix user, find yourself a coupon code and get Photomatix. By far, I still find it to be the best stand alone HDR software out there!