Photomatix Pro from HDRSOFT is one of the most popular aftermarket solutions for HDR photographers because of the consistently outstanding results it produces. Like all HDR-processing applications, Photomatix Pro works its magic by combining data from multiple images. It differs in that it performs either HDR tone mapping or Exposure Fusion (their name for reducing noise while blending differently exposed photographs into one image). For best results, Photomatix recommends using three photos separated by two EVs (i.e., two full stops) or five shots separated by one EV. You can use the bracketing feature on your DSLR to automate the process—but be aggressive when setting the differential increments. For most subjects you’ll need a tripod.
Photomatix Pro is free to download and try. Images processed with the trial version are watermarked, but the software is fully functional and a great way to find out if HDR is right for you. And, yes, you can remove the watermark after you buy a license key. List Price: $99 (single license).
A relative newcomer to the HDR arena, Ever Imaging Ltd. introduced HDR Darkroom in the fall of 2009. Headquartered in Switzerland, their website offers a useful tutorial and thorough explanation of HDR technology. HDR Darkroom allows you to create an HDR image from multiple compressed or RAW files, or one single linear TIFF file in 16-bit-per-channel format. It also functions as a RAW converter. Three separate tone-mapping engines are provided. One is global while the other two are patented local tone-mapping engines: Local Tone Balancer (which balances tones to reveal detail in both shadows and highlights) and Local Tone Enhancer (which extracts hidden details). Local tone-mapping technologies take into account information about neighboring pixels during the mapping process and are said to work more like human vision in that respect. List Price: $99.
HDR Expose from Unified Color Technologies provides genuine 32-bit color-editing tools so you can fully process your HDR files using all of the 32-bit floating point data with the greatest amount of control and detail before having to tone map to 16 or 8 bits. Most of the other HDR applications do the merge in 32 bits and then convert to 16 or 8 for any color processing. HDR Expose also preserves color integrity. When you adjust anything related to brightness (brightness, contrast, shadow/highlight, sharpness), the color tones of your image don’t change. Conversely, when color tones (such as in white balance, saturation, color tuning) are changed, the image brightness and contrast remain unaffected. List Price: $149.
As we go to press, Nik Software has entered the HDR arena with HDR Efex Pro. Already known and respected worldwide for their Viveza, Color Efex Pro, Dfine and Silver Efex Pro products, Nik Software’s HDR solutions use the familiar U Point-powered Control Points to provide photographers with the localized control they need. Designed for pros who insist on the highest quality—and also for committed amateur photographers who have never before tried HDR—this cross-platform, 64-bit HDR software features an innovative, all-in-one workflow with one-click visual presets, intuitive user-interface touches and the ability not only to work with multiple exposures, but also to create the HDR “look” from a single shot. As with other Nik Software products, U Point-powered Control Points are integrated for precise selective fine-tuning of images. At press time, the company had not yet announced pricing, but indicated the software should be available by the time you read this.