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Software Review: HDR Efex Pro from Nik Software

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HDR Efex Pro is a brand new product from Nik Software. It is a High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging tool that gives you the full gamut of photographic possibilities, from artistic to realistic HDR images. The goal of HDR Efex Pro is to give you everything you need to create high quality high dynamic range images.

HDR photography is a process in which multiple exposures of the same scene are captured using various levels of exposure and then they are aligned and merged to generate a single image that enables a much wider range of colors and tonality. HDR techniques are typically used to enhance landscape, architectural, nighttime, and artistic photography.

HDR Efex Pro also provides precise selective photo editing through the use of U Point technology. By placing a control point on your image and adjusting the size of the coverage area, you can change the brightness, contrast, or color within your photo giving you much more control. You can check out the system requirements to find out what you need to run HDR Efex Pro

 HDR Efex Pro

So what is do you get with HDR Efex Pro?

• Multiple Algorithms give you the ability to go from realistic to artistic and every style in between. HDR Efex Pro uses four different tone mapping algorithms to support just about any kind of look that you want for a particular image. This gives you the ability to create every kind of image from subtle to totally wild.

 HDR Efex Pro

• Single image HDR techniques are great to use when you want to fix an image that just doesn’t have the tonality to make it appealing. It is also useful for that perfect HDR style image, but it was taken 2 years ago while you were on vacation, or that image that you couldn’t take using a tripod and multiple exposures.

• U Point Technology is a patented innovation in photo image processing and editing. It uses control points to isolate an entire image or an image area for enhancement very quickly. Instead of having to make a selection, mask it off, and then apply filters, levels, curve adjustments, or use color balance tools, you just drop a control point and it considers the relationship between color and light and makes the appropriate adjustments.

• Intuitive interface makes working with HDR Efex Pro both easy to learn and easy to use. It has a zoom navigator that makes it simple to view the details of your work and unlike many HDR products, the previews use the same rendering algorithms that are used for final rendering and so you know that the final output will look like what you previewed.

• Visual Presets give everyone from those who are just starting out with HDR to the seasoned pro the ability get close to a look with just a single click. They come in several categories including artistic, landscape, and architectural. Once selected, you can stop there if you like or you can tweak it to your heart’s content.

• Ghost Reduction helps you remove items that move when shoot multiple bracketed images. Perhaps it is a wire, or perhaps the branch of a tree. HDR Efex Pro has two main methods for correcting this; adaptive which fixes subtle movements, and global that fixes larger movement like a person walking through the scene.

 HDR Efex Pro

• All-in-one workflow gives you the ability to create and fine tune your images without ever leaving the application. Through the use of extensive controls such as exposure, contrast, saturation, levels, curves, channel adjustments, and the U Point technology, you have everything you need in one place.

• Advanced Education is provided through Nik Education. Through the use of both written and video based learning tools including live weekly training, HDR Efex Pro has a support built into their products.

• Smart Object Compatible means that you can preserve an image’s original source content that enables you to perform non-destructive editing to an image layer. HDR Efex Pro is the only HDR software that works with the powerful Smart Objects feature in Adobe Photoshop, so you can go back and make any adjustment you like, even after applying them.

• 32-bit Color Workflow is designed to use a full 32-bit processing chain for every image enhancement. This ensures that all previews, adjustments, and advanced tools such as U Point powered Control Points, vignettes, and curves are able to access every tone and color found in an image. By combining several exposures into one 32-bit per channel image, your image then has a very large range of colors and details. Even though the screen resolution of modern LCDs and monitors can commonly only display a 16-bit image, all 32-bits per channel are being used by HDR Efex Pro when you are editing which in turn provides a much higher quality finished product.
 HDR Efex Pro
• Multi-Theaded, 64-bit uses an advanced multi-threaded processing approach to provide the best user experience while working with resource-intensive HDR tone mapping operations. This offers the best solution for modern computer systems that have a threaded architecture.

HDR Efex Pro is very easy to use and provides really remarkable results. The interface is very logically laid out with the presets and previews on the left and the controls on the right. For those who are just getting started, choosing a preset is probably the best way and then from there experimenting with the controls to see how each one affects an image. If you like a look, you can save it as a custom preset for future use.

The ability to work with curves from within HDR Efex Pro is also a big plus. This gives you the ability to handle your curves and levels first and then add a control point to adjust certain portions of the image that were adversely affected by the curves.

I also like the ability to work with a single image. I have a lot of images that I have shot in the past that I may want to play with down the line for some special effects or even like the image below that was shot at night of a moving object and therefore no way to get multiple exposures. One thing to keep in mind, for single images, they must be converted into 32-bit images first for HDR Efex Pro to work with them.

If you want a fast easy way to create HDR images without having to learn a lot of manual techniques, but yet still have full control over the images that are created, then HDR Efex Pro is the product for you. HDR Efex Pro is priced at $159.95. If you want you can try out a 15-day demo as well. If you work with HDR or are wanting to get started in this process, then HDR Efex Pro is very highly recommended.

 HDR Efex Pro

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.
  • Donny Biageo

    You forget to mention that this program will not work except in 64-bit. Twice you mention 32-bit effects, but that infers it will work in 32-bit. Also, it is a plug-in, not a stand-alone program. I don’t want to use it through CS5; I would prefer an installation that would allow other work to be done in CS5. Also, it is much harder to use than Photomatix. For that I have to shell out $159? Please advise your readers that if they try to load it on a 32-bit system their computer will lock up. Why is this not reported?

  • Tim Keith

    I’ve installed it on a 32 bit system running Vista. At first i thought “this is going to be great” soon after using it one time did i realize that it was a bust. i can open the plugin using CS4 or Lightroom but that’s about it. Once the file has opened the preview screen goes blank and all i’m left to go on is my hopes and dreams of an HDR photograph. So much for hoping. If you have a 32 bit system, look for another product for right now. I’ve read that Nik is working on some updates for the first of the year that will somewhat help this issue, however.

  • Zebra

    HDR Efex Pro does indeed work in 32-bit, but it depends on the amount of ram memory available. I have successfully merged 3 images in 32-bit but however, and a big however, all of my images are raw files which are very large in size. I had to convert to a compressed jpeg file to make it work. But that is totally unacceptable to me, because there is considerable loss of image quality in addition to time wasted on more processing steps. But my hardware was 4gb of ram with 2 1gb video cards in crossfire, which means i am only left with 2gbs of 32bit memory, minus the memory needed for system resources. 64bit does NOT have the memory limitations. I use lightroom and cs5 shoot only raw on fullframe dslr. 32bit is just a joke for high resolution photediting, period.