Photomatix vs. Nik HDR Efex Pro

Posted: May 15, 2011 in Blog
Tags: , , , , , ,

And finally it is here. The battle not just me have been waiting for. I gonna compare two of the best and maybe most used software for HDR processing. I’ll keep my eye on speed, noise, allignment, ghosting and of course overall result and user interface. So let’s start.

The first thing I was really interested in was noise reduction and how both pieces of software handle noise while processing. For this purposes I took three shots with my Canon XSi and 70-200. I found a contrasty scene in my kitchen. ISO sensitivity was set on 100, the lowest possible. Here are the two files, one processed with Photomatix and one with HDR Efex Pro.

Because both programs have different user interface getting the same result was a bit difficult, but I think it isn’t so bad after all. So here is the image. To see 100% view just click the image.

ISO test

On the left side is Photomatix 4.0 and on the right side is HDR Efex Pro 1.2. Pretty dramatic difference in noise reduction. I have a DiG!C III CMOS sensor and noise for me is a huge problem. I can’t shoot higher than ISO 400 for prints and ISO 1600 is almost unuseable 😦 So better noise reduction, better mark. On non of the three source files have been applied noise reduction in Lightroom.

Another aspect was speed. How long did it take since pressing the button export to HDR Efex Pro/Photomatix and clicking OK for both ways to have a picture I can start working with. Only software launched during this test was Lightroom. Photomatix did it in 01:17.34 which isn’t really bad. A lot faster than Photoshop CS5, but Nik did it in 01:16.02! Photomatix vs Nik 0:2!

Less noise and higher speed are good but they aren’t the most important things that matter. It is the final result. Today I took an HDR shoot of Venceslav’s Square in Prague and processed it both with Nik and Photomatix. This time I wasn’t going for the same look but for look I liked. Because that is the point. I know in my mind how I could process shot when I take it. First, let’s have a look on Photomatix. I’ve been using it for some time now and I know some stuff. But the result?

Photomatix Processing

The result isn’t so bad but it could be a lot better! Actually I was so excited and processed it with Nik first so I know 😀 But anyway, what thing scared away a lot of people from HDR? Results. You have to process again the image using Lightroom, Camera Raw, Photoshop or anything. It is a must to get great final shot. This wasn’t any excepcion. And still the greend stuff in foreground and middleground looks oversaturated, I just can’t help it. Even with Lightroom. To get it better there was only one chance, jump into Photoshop and fix it there. I didn’t follow the last step. And for comparison the image processed with Nik HDR Efex Pro.

Nik HDR Efex Pro Process

I don’t know how about you, but the winner for me is clear! Photomatix vs. Nik HDR Efex Pro 0:3! And the battle is over 😀 This program is designed differently. Yes, it has the same features as Photomatix, but you can do the whole image here without post processing with Lightroom or anything! You have your exposure setting, blacks, whites, warmth, structure (clarity), curves (!!!), vignetting and that is basically all what you need. In Lightroom I just applied tone curve because I didn’t want it baked into the file and have ability to change it anyway I like afterwards.

My opinion? It is just a tool to get the job done. But I like Nik’s sofware better. You have many “HDR methods” how they call it but they are basically different looks. Something that is missing for me in Photomatix. Yes, you can create your own, but it will take a lot more time. Also the fact I don’t have to bother with it after I hit the OK button is great. Why should I change exposure setting in HDR Efex instead of LR? In LR i can modify it and nothing is baked in. That is true, but sometimes you now you’ll brighten it up. You just know it. Is there any difference if I make it in LR or in HDR Efex and have the same result? No.

It seems I’ll stick with HDR Efex Pro after all 🙂

  1. Parvez says:

    Thanks. I have been thinking about getting one of them. Tried both. But I guess you have just solved my dilemma to a large extent! Thanks again.

    • Garfield says:

      You’re welcome, glad I could help. I made the review on Photomatix 3.0, but now with 4.0 out I stick with Photomatix instead of HDR Efex Pro. Have both, but I like results from Photomatix more. Also it’s faster for my PC and I don’t have to run it in safe mode like HDR Efex Pro. HDR isn’t just about the software you’ll use but also a lot about post-processing. In some cases you just tweak sliders in Lightroom, but a lot of times I have to jump into Photoshop, load all exposures as layers and finish blending on my own.

      I also like to use Color Efex from Nik, with is a awesome piece of equipment. Basically the only plug-in I have installed on my PC.

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