Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Canon 5D Mark III HDR is good, but Photomatix Pro 4.2 is still the king of HDR

HDR Faster and Easier with Photomatix Pro 4.2
HDR Faster and Easier with Photomatix Pro 4.2

I’ll admit that I don’t do a ton of HDR work so tonight when I was checking out the Photomatix web site I was surprised to see a new version of Photomatix Pro available. It’s a free upgrade for existing 4.x users and to my surprise it’s a very worthwhile upgrade!

The image above was processed from start to finish in about 10 minutes from three files taken from the in-camera JPEG of a Canon 5D Mark III. I was using its HDR mode but since it was a little windy, the HDR it generated was a total fail:


Canon 5D Mark III In-Camera HDR with Auto Align Enabled and Natural Effect

The shutter speeds for this bracketed shot were 1/8000, 1/2000 and 1/250 so I was thinking I had the shutter speeds needed to get the shot, but I was wrong. For fun I decided to give the new 4.2 update a shot with the following settings:

Photomatix 4.2 Preprocessing Options

Here’s the images that were sent to Photomatix:

37.8 seconds later it had digested the three files totaling 15.9 megabytes into a single file that already looked better than what I got from Canon. Much of time was spent in the Chromatic aberration correction, so had when turned it off it was only 23 seconds.

Photomatix Pro 4.2 Deep Preset
Photomatix Pro 4.2 Deep Preset

When I hit process in just a couple seconds I had the processed file:

Photomatix 4.2 Tone Mapping is Fast
Photomatix 4.2 Tone Mapping is fast!

When the tonemapping is done you now have a finishing touch dialog to do your final adjustments which I found to be less confusing than the old way that Photomatix worked. I was quickly able to make adjustments to suit my tastes for the final product at the top of this article.

Compared to Photoshop CS6

Photoshop CS6 Beta More Saturated Preset
Photoshop CS6 Beta More Saturated Preset

Photoshop CS6 has come a long way, and in skillful hands it might get the job done. However, spending the same 10 minutes I spent in Photoshop and using the More Saturated preset with the ghost checkbox on, the shot above was the best I could do.

Photoshop impressed me by having the tone mapping ready to go in only 8 seconds (plus another 2 for checking the ghosting checkbox), and being ready for editing in Photoshop in only 18.3 seconds. However, it had some nasty banding and required a lot of manual work to get the image to not have the Harry Potter effect. I was much happier with Photomatix for the speed at which I could get my results, and had ghosting not been an issue its processing time would have been 7.3 seconds in Photomatix, so the net result is that Photomatix still is a bit faster – with much better default results.

Photoshop CS6 Compatibility

Here’s the compatibility statement for Photomatix with respect to CS6:

Conclusion

This is by far the fastest and easiest version of Photomatix yet, so I highly recommend the free upgrade for existing users (learn more). For people who haven’t purchased it yet, then I’d certainly advise you to take advantage of the in-camera HDR features of the Canon 5D Mark III with the Auto Align feature ALWAYS enabled (even if you are on a tripod) and enable Save Source Imgs so you have the option of using Photomatix later. Canon’s made great headway in what is offered in camera, and Adobe has their best effort yet with CS6, but for now if you are serious about HDR then Photomatix is still the way to go!

NOTE: For D800 users I experimented with the HDR features and found them to be similar, but less to my taste than what I got from the Canon 5D Mark III. As a result, I think your experience will mimic (at best) the Canon vs Photomatix experience. See my D800 review for more info.

Special Offer Promo Code

HDRSoft, the makers of Photomatix HDR tone mapping software have extended an offer to readers of this blog for a 15% discount when you use the coupon code RonMartBlog when you checkout on their web site (see picture above). Don’t forget to click the recalculate button after you enter the code to get the discount.

Technical Note

HDRSoft has brought a matter to my attention that deserves an apology on my behalf. While I can’t recall the source of what made me think this, apparently somewhere I led some readers to believe that Photomatix converts RAWs to JPEGs for internal processing. That is incorrect. Here’s the facts from their web site:

Photomatix does not convert RAWs files to JPEG for internal processing, and never did it. It would not make sense to do this anyway, given that converting to JPEG would result in quality loss and moreover would add processing time.

When you load RAW files in Photomatix, the files are converted in linear space into an uncompressed image with 16 bits per color channel, i.e. 48 bits per pixel.

The only moment Photomatix converts to JPEG is when you want to save the image created by Photomatix and choose to save it as JPEG. This applies to a tonemapped or fused image created by Photomatix, and not to the original image you loaded.

My apologies for the confusion. Others have made the same mistake as me, so I encourage you to consult HDRSoft when in doubt.

I should also note that I was not asked or forced to make this statement. I voluntarily did it upon being presented with the facts. I’m human and while I do my best to share accurate information with you, sometimes I get information from others that is correct (as was the case here) which I pass on to you.

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