The easiest HD photo processor available. (January 31st, 2010)
The magic of HDRtist is that does its intended job in two steps. There can’t be any more simple way to create HD photos anywhere and it works well.
Product Manufacturer: Ohanaware
- Quick and easy HDR processing with one or multiple images. Align photos works nicely, but not infallible. Price is unbelievable.
- Can only save result as jpg files. Must crop images in another program. Cannot apply edits to a part of photo.
It isn't often a program comes along that does its intended job in two steps, but that is the magic of HDRtist. This simple program creates an HDR version of most any photograph you feed it with just a drop and slide. HDRtist stepped onto the scene in October 2009, and has received one update. The update to version 1.1 adds an important feature; the ability to take multiple shots that aren’t exactly the same and align the photos to yield one great shot, which I show you below.
High dynamic range or high definition photos have captured the interest of photographers in droves. It is only partially about how you shoot a photo and wholly integrated with how you process your shots. The processing of multiple images lets you bring out shadow and highlight detail to show more in your photo than one camera shot can capture.
Traditionally, to process HD photos, you take 3 or more shots of the same scene at different exposures using a tripod to steady the camera. HDRtist includes an easy to understand crash course in HDR photography in the Help file, which will get you started in how to shoot to process HDR photos. You can approximate the process by developing a RAW photo and save it with three different Exposure Biases, and those instructions are included in the Help file. If you don't have a RAW image, you can also just toss a jpeg at HDRtist and play around for the image you like the best. It seems that an HDR processed single shot is called pseudo HDR in HDRtist and faux HDR by other companies.
I don't have shots of exotic places you only dream of visiting, nor do I have anything I shot with a tripod, so let's see how HDRtist can handle some bracketed shots of the same local scenes with a handheld camera. You simply drop all those exposures into HDRtist and then choose the technique you want to apply and save the processed photo.
The proof of just how HDRtist can help you take a blah photo and make it pop is right there in the Preview area below.
How It WorksWhen you drop your photos onto HDRtist, it processes them immediately into one photo. You choose the strength of the processing with the slider. There are 4 slider stops that create different effects with tone mapping and strength. The photo above has a strength of 3.5, which makes it pop a bit, but doesn’t blow out any of the details. The Help file states, “Each notch on the Strength Bar is a different technique and produces different results. At the far left is least, while on the far right is the most extreme.” If you set the slider between any of the four points, it creates a blend of two methods, but the methods are not explained.
I have no photos with multiple exposures done with a tripod, so I loaded up three hand-held pond shots done at different exposures and clicked Align Photos. When first used, you’re prompted to download and install Align_Image_Stack, so make sure your Internet connection is active. The three shots used show up in the left pane and the initial result in the preview window.
The alignment takes a couple of minutes, but it worked very well in most of the shots I tested.
HDR Processing ComparisonFor comparison's sake, I took my shot of a heron showing off his dinner and created a Pseudo HDR from a single image. Here is the comparison between that photo and one in which I'd applied a FAUX HDR as shown in Russell Brown’s article “Create an Artificial HDR Effect in Photoshop.”
As you can see, the HDRtist Pseudo HDR photo, processed at the strongest strength isn’t quite as detailed as the Photoshop Faux HDR photo. Yet, the HDRtist photo doesn’t look like you ate some drugs either.
Next, I lowered the strength to 3 in HDRtist and clicked the Edit in Funtastic Photos button, which we reviewed on MacNN previously. I sharpened the shot and saturated the color a bit. Now I have a nice photo that isn't so electric as the HDR versions. Funtastic Photos is $34.99 or you can purchase it as part of as part of a software bundle from the site.
One unexpected result is how nicely it processed a RAW photo that was way too dark. Pumping up the strength to full in HDRtist actually yielded a usable shot. You can see how dark is the original in the left pane, but the HD processing lightened it and brought up the detail I saw when I took the shot, albeit in the wrong exposure.
I tested HDRtist with jpeg, gif, TIFF, NEF (Nikon RAW format), PSD, and RW2 files. RW2 are Panasonic RAW files and it couldn't read those. It also cannot read files that have more than one layer. You can only save your shots as jpg files, but I wish you could save them as TIFF files.
The last feature lies in the Community button on the tool bar, which simply includes access to support, update checks, and links to other HDRtist resources.
The most difficult part of the program is the wait when you align photos. In short, the program is amazing. While I wish you could apply some filters to only parts of an image and save the result as TIFF files, you cannot go wrong with this freebie.
ResourcesMacNN Funtastic Photos Review
If you're curious how others use HDRtist, don't miss the photos in their Flickr group.
For more information on HDR, read Wikipedia.