There are lots of software options available for creating the high dynamic range effect. Tim Coleman takes a look at some of the best HDR software available at the moment

HDR Software: Dynamic Photo HDR 4Dynamic Photo HDR 4

Price: $55 (around £36)
Available from: www.mediachance.com

Features:

  • Windows platform
  • Auto alignment
  • Batch processing
  • Raw and JPEG compatible
  • Pseudo-HDR on a single 8-bit source
  • Colour correction using Kelvin parameters
  • Colour match
  • Browser support for raw files

Dynamic Photo HDR 4 is recommended for Windows users only.

Although the interface is easily navigated, I would like to see a zoom function in the image viewer. Upon entering the tone-mapping section, a useful quick guide pop-up explains all the functions.

There are numerous presets for various effects that can be initiated through tick boxes, including high-impact HDR (ultra-contrast) through to more subtle effects (human eye), Kelvin adjustments, and a 3D filter for sky and skin.

The usual sliders are present to manually adjust and fine-tune the end results.

This software will suit those looking for a good choice of HDR effects with minimal knowledge to achieve these results.

HDR Software: Ever Imagaing HDR DarkroomEver Imaging HDR Darkroom

Price: $79 (around £51)
Available from: www.hdrdarkroom.com

Features:

  • Mac and Windows platforms
  • JPEG/BMP/TIFF and Camera Raw compatible
  • ‘Pseudo’ HDR from single 8-bit raw file
  • Auto alignment
  • Batch processing
  • Camera Raw file converter to JPEG

HDR Darkroom is a relative newcomer in this group, being released in November 2009.

This software is very easy to navigate and use, with the emphasis on the two local tone-mapping technologies – Local Tone Balancer and Local Tone Enhancer – to achieve photo-realistic results.

The local engine is fast and processes large files quickly, which is very useful for HDR photography and even more so for batch processing.

There are fewer manual functions in this software than others in the group and no option to use it as a plug-in. Instead, it relies on the sophisticated set parameters to do the work for you, and the results are excellent.

HDR Software: Unified Color HDR Expose

Unified Color HDR Expose

Price: $149.99 (around £98)
Available from: www.unifiedcolor.com

Features:

  • Mac and Windows platforms
  • 32-bit editing
  • Plug-in for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Apple Aperture
  • 32 Float (32-bit) Photoshop plug-in ($79/around £51 until 30 September 2010, then         $99.99/around £65)
  • TIFF, JPEG and raw compatible
  • Auto alignment
  • Resize, rotate, crop
  • HDR brightness histogram
  • In-built tutorials

Unified Color HDR Expose replaces PhotoStudio 2 and this is the most expensive software package in this group.

The majority of the features in Photomatix Pro are present. For the extra cost there is a wide array of viewing, adjustment and manual-control tools in the interface, although many would prefer to use these tools in editing software such as Photoshop Elements. The extra tools also make it a little harder to navigate.

This software should appeal to those without any other editing software.

HDR Software: Photomatix Pro 3Photomatix

Price: Photomatix Pro ($99/around £64), with Photoshop plug-in ($119/around £77), Photomatix Light ($39/around £25)
Available from: www.hdrsoft.com

Pro features:

  • Adobe Lightroom plug-in
  • Option for Photoshop plug-in
  • Batch processing
  • Pseudo-HDR image from single raw file
  • Preview and Loupe to get a crop at 100% resolution
  • Histogram
  • Crop, Resize and Rotate

Light features:

  • Mac and Windows platform
  • Auto alignment
  • JPEG, TIFF, PSD and raw file processing
  • Save as JPEG or 16-bit TIFF
  • In-built tutorial

We gave Photomatix Pro five stars when it was reviewed in February 2009. Photomatix Light was released in December 2009.

Both are easy to use and navigate. There are handy tutorials included, although the Light version is only available with an internet connection.

Exposure Fusion and Details Enhancer Tone Mapping are the two processing methods offering natural or surreal effects.

There are enough extras to justify the expense of the Pro rather than the Light version, with the most noticeable differences in the interface being the viewer with histogram, batch processing, pseudo HDR, and options to reduce noise, chromatic aberration and ghosting artefacts.

Files can be saved as TIFF/JPEG in both versions.

Photomatix Light should be ideal for those desiring easy-to-use HDR software with plenty of auto settings. Pro has a plug-in for Lightroom included in the price, and if purchased at the same time the Photoshop plug-in is $20 extra.

It is easy to see why this is the most popular HDR software on the market.