Use coupon code RonMartBlog to save 15% off Photomatix products. See more offer details at the bottom of this article.
Test System Information
All of my plugins run on a standalone SSD drive and my caches are on dedicated SSD drives. My slowest drive is my primary hard disk which is a 7200 RPM SSD and Mechanical Hybrid SATA drive.
Visit my HDR Efex Pro 2 review and see the Original Images section to see which images were used for this test. They were three CR2 RAW files taken with a Canon 5D Mark III at -3, 0, and +3 exposure values (EV). The total size of these three exposures was 83.9 megabytes.
Canon 5D Mark III In-Camera HDR Processing
In my May 16, 2012 article I declared that Canon 5D Mark III HDR is good, but Photomatix Pro 4.2 is still the king of HDR. At that point in time the HDR Efex Pro 2 beta was still pretty rough around the edges, so Photomatix really was still the king.
Speedwise, the Canon 5D Mark III wins because only takes a few seconds for it to create an in-camera JPEG of your bracketed shots. For the HDR Mode feature of this camera, I use the following settings:
- Adjust dyn range: +/- 3 EV
- Effect: Natural (I’d rather do my post processing on the computer)
- Continuous HDR: Every shot
- Auto Image Align: Enable (never, ever disable this – even with at tripod)
- Save source imgs: All Images
The final JPEG is impacted by the cameras picture style (I use standard) as well as other settings, but this shot was most hurt by my using the auto white balance (AWB) instead of warmer white balance like cloudy.
I really like the in-camera results and use them often, but the limitation is that it doesn’t to ghosting well (and you can’t control manually) and it tends to crop the image even when it seems that it isn’t necessary (i.e., a tripod was used).
I think the value of tone mapping and tone compression still favors the computer over the in-camera HDR, but it does a damn good job that might be “good enough” for some of your non-business critical work. I should also note that Canon point and shoots do terrible for this unless you are shooting a static subject using a tripod, but the DSLR’s really seem to do HDR very well.
For what it’s worth, I’ve processed the images used in the 5D Mark III HDR article in both Photomatix and HDR Efex Pro 2. Each time I process a photo start to end, I do different things with it, but it’s interesting to see how well both products did here in a head-to-head comparison:
Mouse over for the Photomatix 4.2 version
Mouse out for the HDR Efex Pro 2 version
This section discusses the time it took to render the bracketed raw test images using default processing.
Photomatix Pro 4.2.3 (Review) – 56.8 seconds max
Photomatix 4.2.3 Edited Version (mouse over to see default version)
Image Merge Time (47.9 seconds MAX)
Here is the amount time it took from the moment the OK button was clicked in the Preprocessing Options dialog:
47.9 sec with everything checked like this:
42.9 sec with no noise reduction as follows:
Tone Mapping Processing (5.7 seconds)
After your images are merged, you end up in the tone mapping user-interface where you do the real work. Once you are ready to have an image to edit in Photoshop, you click on the Process button. To get this image ready for editing elsewhere took only 5.7 seconds.
Ready in Photoshop CS6 (3.2 seconds)
Since the merge processing has to occur in the stand alone app, a true fair comparison should include the time it takes to save the intermediate file in Photomatix 4.2.3 and load that file in Photoshop (to have parity with the other tested apps). While Photomatix does offer a tone mapping Photoshop plug-in, the real work is done in the stand-alone app. Fortunately Photomatix makes this process easy using the “Open saved images with” option in its Save As dialog, so this process only took 3.2 seconds.
The maximum total time it took from start to finish in HDRSoft Photomatix 4.2.3 was 56.8 seconds.
HDR Efex Pro 2 (RC1) (Review) – 79 seconds max
DISCLAIMER: I was using pre-released software so final times may be faster
Visit my HDR Efex Pro 2 full review for more info about this product, but the bottom line is that the image selection dialog took 24.6 seconds to load the images into the merge dialog. This was really the process of doing a batch processing of the raw files and getting them created as TIFF images that are then used for the merge dialog. RAW files or going straight from Lightroom 4.x speeds this up, but this is definitely one of the bottle necks.
Once you have the merge dialog up you make your adjustments and then hit the create HDR. This is much like the pre-processing options for Photomatix and HDR Efex Pro 1. To do this it took 24.1 seconds after hitting Create HDR button (with all options checked). If I only did ghosting control then it only 16.1 seconds after hitting Create HDR button.
The real pain point is that once you are done you have to send the file to Photoshop for further editing (or back to Lightroom). This is took a staggering 30.3 seconds after hitting OK.
At first this all sounds really slow, but the all important “time before you can start tone mapping” was 48.7 seconds. This puts it on par with Photomatix, but it feels faster because of the interruption of the merge dialog.
You still have to pay the tax at the end, but the good news is that even with that it’s faster than its predecessor.
HDR Efex Pro 1.203 – 96.1 seconds max
The number one thing I hated about this product was its horrible performance, and doing this testing reminded me why. It took 65.8 seconds after hitting Create HDR button (all options checked) (or 9.0 seconds after hitting Create HDR button with just ghosting checked). Of course, the ghosting support in this product was as bad as the in-camera result, so some probably found it better to run it with no options.
Once you are done tone mapping then it took 30.3 seconds after hitting OK before you were ready to work in Photoshop.
This app is just a slow turd that is a headache to use, so I’m glad to bid it farewell in favor of its faster and much better replacement.
Adobe Photoshop CS6 Merge to HDR Pro Feature – 31.3 seconds max
Photoshop CS6 Photorealistic Edited Version (mouse over to see default version)
It took about 19.6 seconds to get from the dialog above to the Merge to HDR Pro tone mapping UI (which has to be the worst ever user-interface in my opinion).
After clicking OK here it took another 11.7 seconds before I could work on the image in Photoshop. This makes Photoshop the fastest thing outside of the camera processor to make an HDR image. Its feature set and usability suck, but if you are tight on cash then it can get the job done in a hurry. Personally I never use it though.
After spending time with all of these products, I still respect what Photomatix brings to the table but I’m happier working in HDR Efex Pro 2. This is a big statement too because I didn’t care for HDR Efex Pro 1 due to its complex UI and sluggish performance. Those issues have been addressed such that it’s now my go to product. Photomatix still does a great job and its ghost selection mode feature shown below is something I really wish Nik would have added to HDR Efex Pro using U-Point controls:
I’m finding myself doing more HDR’s now thanks to the Canon 5D Mark III’s built-in HDR feature which keeps the bracketed exposures (in JPEG + RAW if you want) in addition to the file it creates. The in-camera file gives me an idea of issues I might run into at home using software, so I can identify issues in the field that I’d normally miss (i.e., gross alignment issues like the one below):
In-camera HDR is no gimmick – it can help you spot alignment issues in the field
Photoshop CS6’s speed makes it an option for those who are on a tight budget or who enjoy its nasty sliders, but realistically it’s just not for me. It may be fast, but I just take longer to get the results I want with it which negates its performance benefit and I’m rarely happy with the final result.
Special Offers for Nik Software & Photomatix
The HDR Efex offer has moved here:
Visit my discount coupon code page for the latest code and offer details.
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.
If you make a purchase using links in this blog then you support this blog and I may earn a commission. Thanks for your support!