HDR Efex Pro 2
HDR Efex Pro 2 manages to make HDR relatively easy. It still wraps it up in a bit too much jargon (some of it specific to this particular software), but it does at least produce a good variety of ready-made HDR presets so that you don’t have to get caught up in the manual adjustments if you don’t want to.
There are two ways to create an HDR image with HDR Efex Pro 2 – you can load a single image (ideally a RAW file) and use the software’s tone-mapping and HDR tools to pull out the shadows and pull back the highlights, or you can follow the more technically correct route and merge a series of different exposures. This is the route you’ll need to follow if the brightness range in the scene is too great for a single exposure, even with the extra dynamic range headroom of a RAW file.
HDR Efex Pro 2 does a good job of merging different exposures, removing chromatic aberration and controlling ghosting artefacts pretty well.
Once your exposures are merged or your file opened, you’re presented with a full image preview in the centre of the screen, an array of preset effects arranged in categories in a vertical panel on the left, and manual HDR tools stacked in a panel on the right.
There are 28 presets in all, and they offer a good range of effects and ‘looks’. They use the open image to display ‘live’ previews, so it won’t take you look to find a look that’s close to the one you want.
This is where you switch to the manual tools on the right for any fine-tuning, and these are organised into collapsible Tone Compression, Tonality, Colour, Selective Adjustments and Finishing panels.
The sliders in the Tonality and Colour panels are pretty obvious, but the Tone Compression sliders less so. Tone Compression presumable controls the extent to which highlights and shadows are equalised, with the Method Strength slider controls the combined effect of the HDR Method options below.
These consist of Depth Detail and Drama settings. These aren’t sliders as such because they have click-stopped positions corresponding to specific ‘methods’ which vary by type rather than by degree. For example, the Drama control offers Flat, Natural, Deep, Dingy, Sharp and Grainy settings which sound descriptive enough but give you no clue as to their purpose or technical basis.
So you end up rolling the dice with three HDR Method controls whose functions aren’t clear and whose interactions and permutations are almost endless.
It’s not hard to find an HDR ‘look’ you like with HDR Efex Pro 2, and it deserves proper credit for that given that many HDR tools are just too complex and difficult (and often ineffective). But the lack of explanation or method behind its HDR tools does leave you feeling you’re relying too heavily on luck or guesswork.