Trial or Purchase
If you end up purchasing, use “STUCKINCUSTOMS” as the Photomatix Coupon Code code to save some money. You can also get a free trial to play around with…
As many of you know from my HDR Tutorial, I have chosen Photomatix as the main program that I use to create the HDR effect. There are a multitude of products in this HDR software area, and many have promising and cool features. Pound-for-pound, however, Photomatix still has the best results for me.
Whenever I give speeches or demos in real life, I am always using Photomatix to show how to create these sorts of images. People always ask me if the HDR processing inside Photoshop is any good, and my response is usually that it is just not up to snuff. So why not just HDR Photoshop? I prefer using Photomatix because of the final quality of the image. I’ve tried doing it all in Photoshop, and it is generally understood by professionals that Photoshop’s HDR rendering is lacking.
My HDR process is constantly evolving, and I update my tutorial every six months or so. Photomatix has been there since the beginning, and their updates have been keeping up with my techniques. So they still get my recommendation!
Photomatix Pro Review
Below is a video I made where I show how I use it…
Sample Photomatix Photos
Below, I have put a few photos of both the software being used and some of the results.
If you have any trouble using this Photomatix Coupon, please let me know.
Comparing Photomatix Pro and Adobe Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR
Photomatix Pro is the clear winner. Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR is much better than CS4, and it has a few redeeming qualities.
- Faster (MUCH FASTER – see the chart below)
- Upgraded noise-reduction just for HDR
- Better ghosting control
- and more image control for higher quality images
Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR Pro excels in:
- Having one integrated solution right inside Photoshop
- Easier to learn because there are less controls
Photoshop CS5 vs. Photomatix Pro Comparison
|Item||Adobe Photoshop CS5||Photomatix Pro 4.0|
|RAW Photos – Loading 7 Images (before Tonemapping)||1:54 (Test 1)
2:01 (Test 2)
|0:58 (Test 1)
0:56 (Test 2)
|RAW Photos – I make adjustments, then click to process||0:50 (Test 1)
0:52 (Test 2)
|0:08 (Test 1)
0:08 (Test 2)
|RAW Total Processing Time (Average)||2:48||1:05|
|JPG Photos – Loading 7 Images (before Tonemapping)||1:01* (Test 1)
0:57 (Test 2)
|0:41 (Test 1)
0:40 (Test 2)
|JPG Photos – I make adjustments, then click to process||0:27 (Test 1)
0:29 (Test 2)
|0:07 (Test 1)
0:08 (Test 2)
|JPG Total Processing Time (Average)||1:27||0:48|
* Photoshop CS5 Gives you a warning about not using JPG photos to make an HDR. You have to click “OK”, but I did not include that wait time in my timings.
Test Subjects and System:
I chose a 7-exposure session from a lake at sunset near Nikko, Japan. The exposures ranged from -3 to +3.
I have a speedy 17″ MacBook Pro. I bought it about 9 months ago — the specs are to the right.
In the Photoshop CS5 test, the only things running were Photoshop CS5 (in 64-bit mode), Bridge CS5, and Skitch for taking screenshots. In the Photomatix Pro test, I kept those running + Photomatix Pro.
Now, the Photoshop Merge to HDR Pro option does not allow me to turn on and off Auto-Alignment, Cropping, or anything else. Normally, I turn that off in Photomatix because I use a tripod. To keep the tests fair, I turned on the Align Source Images, Cropping, and Reduce Noise in Photomatix Pro. That way, it was doing the same tasks as Photoshop. However, in my normal conditions, I don’t have those turned on, which makes Photomatix even faster.
Also, as you can see I processed with RAW and JPG files. I preach in my HDR Tutorial that using JPGs is just fine. I don’t see any difference in quality. But, I do notice that JPGs are much faster. This is important!
In these tests, Photomatix Pro 4.0 was much much faster. There’s almost no comparison.
Photomatix Pro processed the images in 1:05 — Photoshop CS5 did the same job in 2:48. It was more than twice as fast!
There are two intense “Computer Processing” periods. The first is when you load the images into the program. After this is done, the human takes over and adjusts the sliders. Then there is a second period of processing.
Speed – Loading the Images
Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR was slow. Painfully slow! During the loading of the images, it give a few indications of why it is so slow. After a period of time it says “Aligning”. Then, after another bit, it says. “Transforming”. Then for another longer period, it says “Crop”. I did not touch the computer at all during this time… I kept the timer on my iPhone going to watch.
In these tests, the only thing I had running was Photoshop CS5 and Bridge CS5. This is not typical. Note that I am usually running Google Chrome, Tweetdeck, Mail, and iTunes for music. So all the times you see in the chart are actually much higher, and the delta between CS5 and Photomatix Pro grows even more.
My first broken test:
What I had running in the background for all the tests before the reboot:
- Google Chrome with about 6 tabs (gmail, websites, nothing too taxing)
- iTunes playing music
- Photoshop CS5
- Bridge CS5
- Apple Mail & iCal
The first time I ran it with Merge to HDR Pro, it took 6:05 (six minutes and five seconds) to load. Just amazingly slow! Then, I thought, “Well, I do have it in 32-bit mode,” since I was also running some old plugins. So I tried it again in 64-bit mode. I shut down Photoshop and re-opened. Then I did the Merge to HDR Pro option through Bridge again. The second time it took 13:10. THIRTEEN MINUTES. I was just about to Force Quit the program — I was sure something was wrong! How can this be — in 64-bit mode? Isn’t it supposed to be faster?
So I decided to reboot and try again. I was worried that maybe there had been a memory leak or something had just gummed up the works. Because thirteen minutes just didn’t make sense! Now, I am using big images from a Nikon D3X. And these were RAW files, but that still seems like way too long…
After I rebooted, I loaded NO OTHER PROGRAMS expect for Photoshop CS5, Bridge CS5, and Skitch. I did not like doing this for the test, because this is not a “normal” environment for me. I usually have several things running. This time, it was much faster and clocked in at 1:54. So, after this, I decided to restart the whole test and have nothing else running to keep the results as clean as possible.
Speed – Processing the Images
After you make your slider changes, you can process them. There is a period of waiting whilst the image processes. Again, Photomatix Pro was not just a little faster, but way faster.
For the RAW files, Photomatix took an average of 8 seconds and Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR Pro took a whopping 51 seconds (two tests at :50 and :52).
And remember… I wasn’t doing anything else on the computer… I wasn’t checking the mail or tweeting or anything… just watching the water boil…
Photo Quality and Control
I’ve been using previous versions of Photomatix for years, so I am familiar with the sliders. Because I am a private tester, Photomatix would not allow me to post screenshots of the new GUI. However, it is very similar to previous versions.
The new Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR Pro dialogs are very similar to that of Photomatix Pro. However, they do not have nearly as fine control. There are about 1/3 as many sliders, which is good and bad. It’s good in terms of simplicity, but it is bad it terms of flexibility.
I find that there are so many different sorts of HDR shooting conditions. The more sliders you have to adjust one part of a photo for one condition and another for a different condition — the better. I’ve processed a bunch of images with both now, and I prefer Photomatix Pro. I get much more fine-grained control.
More importantly, I feel like I get more “pop” with the Photomatix Pro controls. It’s tough to explain… what do you think? What’s your experience with these tools so far?
The two above images are from Photomatix Pro 4.0 (left) and Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR (right). Although it is probably hard to tell at this resolution, I believe the Photomatix Pro one has finer control. Both tools allow you to move the sliders around until you are happy with the image… so there is not really a one-to-one comparison possible here… Also, I did not show the new GUI for Photomatix Pro 4.0 at the request of the developer.
Better Ghosting Control
I remember when CS5 Merge to HDR Pro was announced that it had this cool feature for repairing ghosts. Ghosts are those nasty bits where part of an image is moving around in the various frames. A dog running across the bottom of the frame would be a good example.
Well, Photomatix Pro 1-ups CS5! It allows you to control various ghosts around the frame at the same time! Basically, there is an intermediate step where you can drag the mouse around one area and select a new single “source” image for that area, and then do it again for another section. For example, you may want to pick the dog from one exposure and the blowing tree from another. It’s great flexibility and very smart.
HDR Toning – Are you kidding me?
I was also intrigued by another little feature in CS5 that all the videos were raving about. It is called “HDR Toning…” and it allows you to take your image inside Photoshop and give it an “HDR Look”. Cool, I thought! Well, I got in there to try it, and it told me that I had to Flatten the entire image first! That means, basically, that you have to take all of your layers and make them one. This is a deal-killer for me, since I like to have several layers open while I am working on an image.
Worse, it makes no sense! Most of the other Photoshop filters and controls work on a single layer without requiring the entire thing to be flattened. What’s up Adobe? You gotta fix that up… it’s sloppy.
What are Your Results So Far?
The Final Photo – The Lake at Nikko
This place was Cold with a capital C, as you can plainly see.
And worse, I had forgotten my special little gloves with the flip-up fingertips. So I was goin’ finger-commando while trying to line up this shot. The wind was pretty stiff in my face. The wind always seems to be against you, eh? I think I just never notice it when it comes from any other angle.
By the way, there is only one place that is convenient to quickly warm up your fingers.
There is an older, historic part of Nikko that is about a 30 minute drive away. The drive is practically straight up a mountain, through a series of switchbacks. During the entire time up the mountain, I was surrounded by clouds. I thought it would be quite miserable at the top. But once I poked out, everything was free and clear. I was between cloud layers, exactly where this chilly lake sat at sunset.
Sample Photomatix Images
Thanks again – and I hope you enjoyed the Photomatix Review!
Any questions about the nature of these reviews? Visit my Ethics Statement. It’s all quite simple!