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Software Review: PhotoEngine And HDREngine From Oloneo

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PhotoEngine and HDREngine are two separate, yet similar products from Oloneo that give you the ability to quickly and easily create High Dynamic Range (HDR) images from your photos using single shots or using the traditional multi-exposure shots. They both function as stand-alone products or PhotoEngine comes as a plug-in for Adobe Lightroom and can do a direct export into Adobe Photoshop or other applications.

HDREngine is a smaller, more accessible HDR application that is easier to learn and master. It comes with factory presets that give you the ability to be productive quickly and has automated tools that simplify the HDR process. PhotoEngine is the professional version that provides more detailed and powerful tools giving you more capability in controlling the exposure and lighting in your images and giving you much more creative control in your digital photography.

PhotoEngine and HDREngine

Currently PhotoEngine and HDREngine do not run on the native Mac operating system, but will run on a dual-core Mac with Parallels Desktop 5. For full system requirements check out the requirements page on the Oloneo website. You can also compare the feature details between the two products on their comparison page.

What is HDREngine?

The HDREngine provides a simplified process for creating and editing high-quality HDR images. It provides an easy-to-use workflow and a full range of tone mapping tools to generate professional looking results. You can use multiple bracketed exposures or a single image. It will even allow you to recover lost details in both over exposed or under exposed images.

HDREngine is geared toward the beginner and those who want the look and feel of HDR imaging without all of the technical aspects that it can bring. It comes with many automated tools that provide a much quicker workflow but still shares the powerful image editing technologies that were developed for the more powerful Oloneo PhotoEngine.

To work with HDREngine, from the main screen, you can either browse for the files that you want to use or drag-and-drop them into the workspace. From there you add them to your project. Then it is as easy as creating an HDR ToneMap project. You need to have several shots with different exposure values – generally these are a 0 or correctly focused shot, a +1 or +2 over exposure, and a -1 or -2 under exposure although you can combine more than that together.

PhotoEngine and HDREngine

Once your project is created and the image is generated, you then have the ability to make adjustments to the image. What is different about this program over many of the others is that, HDREngine displays in real-time all of your changes including Tone Mapping. The interface includes the image in the main viewport, the info panel that displays the histogram, the toolbar, the timeline and the image setting panels.

In the image setting panels you have a section called High Dynamic Tone Mapping. Here using a set of sliders you can adjust the tone mapping strength, detail strength, exposure, and contrast. You also have the ability to turn tone mapping off or set it auto, local (default), and global. Each gives a different set of sliders to control your image.

Next you have a panel that controls the Low Dynamic Tone. This section gives you control over exposure, brightness, contrast, and saturation. There is also a color wheel that allows you to fine tune the color temperature and tint of your image through the use of sliders and adjustments to the color wheel. In all of the slider adjustments, through the use of the control key, you can make very fine adjustments.

There are two other panels on the left side of your edit window. The first is the timeline where everything that you do is recorded. You can click on at timeline level and see the image a previous point as well as setting a point to become a new version. There is an interactive preview checkbox that lets you see automatically the version as you hover over it. You also have the ability to add a version number to a point in time as well as playing an animation of the timeline.

The last panel is a set of presets that allow you to apply over 40 factory based presets. You can use this preset library to modify all of the settings on an image and apply special effects. This provides a good way to learn how to use the HDREngine and examine the settings.

HDREngine for a lower priced product is very powerful and very fast. It provides a lot of control when you want to create an HDR image. It also is able to create very realistic – ones that are not oversaturated, and actually bring out things from the shadows and over exposed areas and make them look as if they were shot that way.

It also gives you the power when you do want to get creative and create a much more saturated look. HDREngine doesn’t give some of the more advanced controls as well as the ability to save presets – for that you will need to look at PhotoEngine, but HDREngine is great at giving you quick ability to create HDR and makes a perfect entry point if you are just getting started.

PhotoEngine and HDREngine

What is PhotoEngine?

The PhotoEngine is the HDREngine’s big brother. It has all of the capabilities and works the same way as described above, but with a lot more features and tools including Radiance and OpenEXR import and export.

The first major area of control comes from the HDR Tone Map Advanced. This has all of the basic tone mapping abilities as shown above, but now has additional panels that will give you even more control over your HDR work.

The first panel is for Photographic Print Toning. Photographic Print Toning simulates a real world chemical process that replaces the silver contained in the photo emulsion by a toner or another metal. This process adds two tones to black and white prints – one for deep shadows and one for highlights. Differing from the real-world process, this one can work with color images. You have two color wheels that you can use to set the saturation and hue – one for shadows and one for highlights.

Next you have two curves panels that you can use to fine tune your images. The first one is for brightness and you can use it to adjust the shadow, mid, and highlight tones. You can click anywhere on the line to set a point and then move it up or down to make an adjustment. You can then manipulate a tangent point to further refine your adjustments.

The second curve panel is for saturation adjustments. It works just like the brightness one, but this one controls the saturation domain. The horizontal axis is the input or original saturation of the image and the vertical axis is the output or edited saturation. The curve is how the input is mapped to the output.

PhotoEngine and HDREngine

The final set of adjustments is the three color equalizers. They are Hue/Saturation, Hue/Luminance, and Hue/Hue. These work like an audio equalizer, but instead of modifying bass or treble, they act on the various hues of the edited photo. The Hue/Saturation is used to increase the saturation of pixels with a given hue and likewise with the other two controls.

Another addition for the PhotoEngine is the ability to create and save your own presets. As with the HDREngine, you get the 40 factory presets, but now you can save, edit and delete your presets.

Also included with the PhotoEngine are two other processing capabilities. The first is called HDR ReLight. It requires from two to six photos that all share the same exposure values and white balance. Here each of the photos should show the same scene under different illumination.

PhotoEngine and HDREngine

What this allows you to do is to adjust the lighting from each image and map it back to a single image as a whole. This would be especially of benefit to those who work with indoor architectural illustration because they can take one set of images and make it look like any time of the day or completely different looks. There are a lot of different features such as changing the temperature and tint of different light sources. You can also change the light source to a normalized illuminant as well.

The second processing ability is called HDR DeNoise. HDR DeNoise analyzes and merges photos of a scene to reduce the noise level while keeping the details, including details in deep shadows. HDR DeNoise is used for low light and still life photos under natural light. Two or more photos are needed and they must share the same exposure values as well as the same white balance and the same scene.

As with the other panels, you have the options to manipulate your results to get just the right look. The goal here is that a noisy area in one image may not be noisy in a second or third and therefore the system can merge the images together and eliminating noise areas and fix the problem.

PhotoEngine and HDREngine

PhotoEngine is the big dog for working with HDR and advance lighting techniques in general. It brings as much control as I have seen for in an HDR image processing program and comes with the additional tools of HDR ReLight and HDR DeNoise.

I really like the advanced controls that PhotoEngine has in that they really provide intricate finesse when dealing with color and light in your image. I really like the interface layout as a whole and the workflow in general.

I thought that HDR ReLight is a real bonus and will be looking at new ways to play with this one. I love the fact that you can control areas of lighting in a single set of images and for those who do indoor architectural and design work, I would have to think that this would be a much needed program. The HDR DeNoise works well at getting rid of noise, but not that sure how it would factor in to my workflow.

Overall, both PhotoEngine and HDREngine are quality products and appear to have a good foundation from which to build upon in the future. PhotoEngine is priced at $149.00 and HDREngine is set at an introductory price of $59.00. They can be found at the Oloneo Store. They both standout in that they have features that are not found in other products and so appear to be new, high quality competition to the HDR market. I highly recommend both of these products.

About T. Michael Testi

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

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