As promised a full review on Nik’s latest software to hit the market. HDR Efex Pro!
For years now I’ve been using HDRSoft’s Photomatix in order to create the HDRs that you see regularly on this website, in my gallery, and now again in print for a few magazines. And throughout my personal development in HDR photography I’ve found that only Photomatix really has achieved what I wanted in an HDR. No other HDR package has ever really gotten my attention, and even the new Adobe Photoshop CS5’s built in HDR just didn’t do the trick!
Well, Nik has now done what no other software company offering HDR suites could do. They’ve made me think about making a change. HDR Efex Pro is that cool!
What’s good about HDR Efex Pro?
There’s a lot of good with this new package. Starting out, I love the interface! Very straight forward, streamlined, and easy to get up to speed with quickly.
Like so many of the latest plugins and packages out there for photographers, Nik includes a ton of “presets” for the HDR noob. Folks who haven’t done HDR regularly will find this program to be extremely intuitive, and they have a lot of cool presets to play with. But honestly I’m still in the camp, “Use the presets to learn, but then make your own……”
For anyone trying this out for the first time, try the presets. Run through them. And watch the changes in the right hand bar. That’s where you can tweak the image until your heart is content. A great way to learn for sure. Seeing each preset change in the actual “Global Adjustments” section clues you in quickly to how HDR Efex Pro works. In no time you’ll be creating your own, I have no doubt.
So, the left side of the interface has your presets. The right side has your own fine tuning where you can push sliders around until your heart is content. The three sliders that really help you move the jello around the plate are Tone Compression, Structure, and the slider under HDR Method. Oh yeah, and there are multiple types of HDR methods yielding extremely different results. With these 3 sliders you can really affect how sharp and edgy your images are. I’ve played with these for a few hours now, and gotta say I feel like I have more flexibility in the kind of HDR I create with this package. How about a really realistic HDR landscape with a person in and, and the person doesn’t turn into a cartoon?
Yup, I’ve made a few now!
Beyond the ease of getting around the interface and the ability to start making cool HDRs within minutes of getting started, Nik has also included a few more cool features built in.
The Selective Adjustment button has got to be one of the coolest new ideas for HDR software packages. It reminds me of the Masking Bug in OnOne’s Photo Tools. Let’s say the interior of a canyon you HDR’d is still a little too dark…..well, grab the selective adjustment button and pull up the exposure in one area ever so slightly. Very nice touch Nik!
Additionally they’ve added a levels and curves built right in too. Often I’ll create an HDR and do a little more post processing in Photoshop or Lightroom. 9 times out of 10 I’ll play with curves just a little bit. Well, here it’s built right into the HDR software. So I can deal with it while creating the HDR. Very nice.
Nik, like other HDR packages, also gives you a loop viewer and histogram. One additional toy is a Vignette tool built right in too. That’s not a selling point for me, but it is there, so figured I’d mention it.
After all that great stuff now I’m going to say bad things? That’s terrible, why can’t I confine reviews to only good things?
Oh, because I want to tell you everything……
One item jumped out at me quickly as I experimented with HDR Efex Pro. Chromatic aberrations! I hate them. I mean really hate them. They ruin prints in my mind, and unlike Photomatix, Nik’s software doesn’t seem to have a feature to deal with these (yet). Looking on their support page they do recommend reduction prior to merging. Check out their suggestion here: http://www.niksoftware.com/support/usa/entry.php?view=faqs/hdranswers.shtml
So, in the image above do you see the purple line along the edge of the canyon top? Yeah? That’s an aberration. Years ago this was also an issue with Photomatix, but they really stepped up the game and have a feature that reduces aberrations. And it works!
Now, for web viewing and on screen viewing there’s a high probability that you won’t see these suckers. You’ve got to zoom in big time to see them. Or like me, you’ve got to print large format. And when you print big you’ll see these popping out at you immediately!
So, there’s the one thing that goes in the “bad” category. And honestly, 1 bad thing with dozens of good features. Yup, the good far outweighs the bad.
Final thoughts on HDR Efex Pro
I like it!
If I were just starting out with HDR for the first time there’s a strong possibility that I would start with Nik’s new program. Yes, Photomatix is still a strong force as well. But I think overall the interface that Nik has offerred is very easy to use and compelling. And the results are pretty amazing! Plus, what I’ve found in a few days of use is that creating more “realistic” landscape HDRs is easier in Efex Pro then it is in Photomatix. Sure, I’ve worked out realistic HDRs in Photomatix, but for a newcomer to HDR I think Efex Pro would be easier to use to achieve the results you want quickly.
My personal bottom line? I’m thinking about purchasing this software when my trial expires. That’s no slight on Photomatix folks. Still love HDRSoft’s program. But when I find a new piece of software that I really like, I do want to have it in my arsenal!
Finally, below you’ll see 2 HDR’d images of a cool stone face that I really liked from a recent trip. I gave myself 5 minutes on Photomatix and 5 minutes on HDR Efex Pro. In the end, I got a better result that I liked with Efex Pro. Given more time I could have dialed in the same results with Photomatix. What does this prove? Nothing. Just thought I’d share. 🙂