Aurora HDR 2018 – the honest review

Hallstatt in the morning

Hallstatt in Austria. Edited in Aurora HDR 2018. 0% Photoshop used and 1% Lightroom used.

Initially, when Aurora HDR came out two years ago, I was very intrigued with the software. No doubt the makers of Aurora MacPhun, have put themselves in a good position, by allying themselves with one of the HDR giants, Trey Ratcliff. But, after the first initial rush of interest, I was deeply disappointed.

I did go into the software with a very open mind. I am a software addict and I love to use new software, however, I instantly ran into trouble. It was Mac only, I had Windows. I did have a 4-year-old MacBook Air. The biggest 2011 model, 4 Gb ram and i7 CPU. Powerful enough to run Photoshop, Photomatix, and Lightroom. Not the fastest car on the highway, but certainly working.

But, starting the first version of Aurora HDR with a 36-megapixel image was impossible. I downscaled the images to about 12 megapixels and I was able to start the application, but I ended up waiting until I got a MacBook Pro.

But even on my fully loaded, top of the line, all on max MacBook Pro, Aurora HDR was slow. Whenever I did anything it took seconds and some operations up to a minute. I timed it.

I did make a couple of OK-ish images and I did a review while still biased by the hype. But as soon as the smoke did clear, I was not overly happy to work with the tool, because it was so slow.

Aurora 2017 arrived

What? I have to buy a new version, not just an update? All of my other tools for Photoshop come with free updates. That didn’t feel right. Particularly, because the first version was more of a Beta than an actual working tool. And looking at all of the praise on the internet and feeling the hype, I thought “This is the Emperors New Clothes”. They were selling a turd as if it was the greatest pumpkin pie ever made.

Anyway, I bought 2017 reluctantly. The speed issues were mostly gone, which was good. A new luminosity feature had arrived, not very fast though, but most things were snappy enough.

I now tried out the quality of the tool, but I was deeply disappointed by the tool itself. It generated halos no matter what I did, and I could not really get rid of them. The brush left strong edges between the layers, making it even harder to work with.

Once in a while, I have tried to process a photo, but I never liked what came out of it and I simply stopped using it.

The hype was still going on and to me, Aurora HDR 2017 true was just as much The Emporers New Clothes as the first version had been.

Aurora 2018 – I have to pay – again?

I almost didn’t buy it.

Come on, make a subscription out of it! It is ridiculous to buy a new version every year.

Being so disappointed with the two initial versions, I had almost given up on it. But being the software addict, that I am, I bought it and in short, I was deeply impressed.

Let’s begin with a screenshot:

This is 5 exposure bracketed images and I have just merged the 5 images and nothing else. I have touched no sliders. This is the clean HDR merge that Aurora HDR does. Notice the very strong dark halos on the left, which is the 2017 version. That type of halos is present in Aurora 2017, almost no matter what you do. You have to make counteractions to get rid of them or try to hide them as well as you can, but it shouldn’t be that way. Almost all tools can generate halos if you go over the top, but not out of the box. This is what Aurora HDR is put in the world to do. Merge exposure bracketed photos to something decent.

Almost all tools can generate halos if you go over the top, but not out of the box. This is what Aurora HDR is put in the world to do. Merge exposure bracketed photos to something decent.

On the right there is you can see the new Aurora HDR 2018 merge and not only, does it not have halos, it also does a very clean and nice merge. That has changed my mind entirely on Aurora HDR. At least the software now does, what it is supposed to do.

A few other very nice new details that I like:

  • The speed has improved even more. I would go so far, as to call it very snappy and responsive in most respects, even on my 42-megapixel images. They have certainly worked on optimizing the speed. It will get slower, as you add more layers, just as well as Photoshop does. But suddenly you trigger something, that requires heavy calculating. But, mostly snappy.
  • There are the necessary tools to finalize a photo in Aurora HDR 2018. You have:
    • Transform features to correct perspectives. However, this feature is only available at certain times, which makes it very confusing to figure out. A good beginning, but room for improvement.
    • Crop tool.
    • The Heal tool is an external tool that requires an additional license, but it is accessible from Aurora. You can also just remove the spots in Lightroom.

Other improvements that I like

  • The brush is soft enough to make nice blends between layers. In 2017 clear edges appeared around the brush, which was another reason not to use Aurora 2017.
  • Original images are not apart of the new file format, which I guess is fine if you don’t need them. You can load them if you need them.

What I don’t like

  • The merge is very clean, but it does tend to make the photos a bit flat. That is normal behavior for HDR software, and you will have to process the image more, to add depth back into the image.
  • Minor things that I find annoying, like:
    • There is no “Save as…” feature – but why not?
    • Some features are located strangely, like the Transform.
    • No preview from Finder or Bridge. A small thing, but it just does make it easier to handle Aurora HDR files in a workflow.
  • Call it software subscription, instead of a new paid version every year. I don’t mind paying for a subscription, at least I know it’s a subscription.

Who is Aurora HDR 2018 the right tool for?

When you begin to use a tool, that does a lot automatically, like Aurora HDR 2018 does, you also have to accept that it has a distinct and recognizable style. Aurora HDR has a distinct style and you have to do some work, to get rid of it, just like you would with any other tool. That doesn’t make it a bad tool if you like what you get out of it.

Aurora HDR is capable of producing high-quality HDR photos, without the nasty halos the first two versions created. It is packed with a lot various effect tools, like Radiance, Glow, HSL panel, Split toning panel, various HDR structure sliders, vignette tool as well as old plain contrast, highlights shadows and white and black sliders. You also have the Luminosity masks available. In short, it is a pretty full package.

So, who is this tool for? Anyone how likes to shoot HDR photos and who might feel that dancing with Photoshop is too difficult, but Lightroom is not enough.

Aurora HDR 2018 is finally ready for real use and it is a full package, that can produce final images, maybe with the exception of removing dust spots.

Will this be my tool of choice? For some things, absolutely, but not solely. Why? Because I love to work in Photoshop and some of the highly advanced things I like to do in Photoshop, are not available in Aurora HDR. I love to post-process the images. I don’t necessarily want the fastest route through the forest. But that is just how I am. You may feel different.

–Jacob

 

 

 

Voigtlander 15mm FE in action in Barcelona

The Cathedral by the Sea

Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona. A vertical panorama of two stiched photos.

I am a total wide angle lens addict and I have much more than I actually need, but they serve different purposes and have different strengths and weaknesses.

The Voigtländer SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm III is one of my favorites, even if it has some limits. The most obvious advantage is the size of this lens. It is super small and it is a perfect match for a Sony alpha FE camera, like Sony A7R or Sony A7RII.

The build quality is solid, but due to the small size, the weight doesn’t run off, even if it is all metal and glass. That makes it great for traveling light.

What I also like about it, is that being a prime, it is super easy to focus. I just crank it all the way to one side and it is focused at infinity, which often is good enough. With a little practice I have even found the amount I have to twist contra to get to the hyperfocal point.

I work a lot in the dark and focusing can sometimes be a hassle, because the lenses hunt. But the Voigtländer is super easy. Of course, it does not offer autofocus, but for my line of photography, this is no problem, as long as infinity focus is easy.

It does come with soft corners at f/4.5, but even at f/5.6 this improves and at f/8 it is reasonably sharp across all of the frame. It is not as sharp as my Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8, which is insanely sharp, but plenty sharp to be working seriously with. The Zeiss is just in a league of its own, and it is twice the price.

The most obvious drawback is that it is a slow lens. It is only f/4.5. But, when I attach it to my Sony A7RII, which has image stabilization in the house, I can handheld 1/8 of a second, if I concentrate. This makes it possible to shoot HDR photos indoor, in fairly low light conditions.

A Lady in the Boys Choir

Hand held at ISO 1600 and f/4.5 using image stabilization. Slowest exposure is 1/8 of a second.

This photo from the Cathedral of Barcelona, I have handheld three shots at 1/125, 1/30 and 1/8 of a second, at f/4.5 and ISO 1600 on Sony A7RII. Here is a 100% crop of the 1/8:

This is the unedited RAW, without sharpness and noise reduction applied. This is highly usable, even the noise levels are well under control, thanks to the amazing Sony A7RII.

I also find it very resistant to flares, compared to some of my other wide angle lenses. Flares are a part of a life with wide angle lenses, but I rarely get frustrated when I use the Voigtländer 15mm.

The lens allows screw on filters, but you can’t remove the lens hood and attach a filter system. As I started out with, the various wide angle lenses have their strengths and weaknesses. For that reason, I also have the Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8, which allows 77mm filters to be attached, and I can use my Lee filters on that.

I always carry my 15mm Voightländer with my Sony cameras, because it is so small and easy to bring along.

–Jacob

 

Fujifilm X100F is a great camera but…

Morning View of Åre Skisport Resort

Åre early in the morning seen from my hotel room.

It was a Fuji X100 that in 2012 was one-half of the cause to start my photo disease. That is the sickness in which one is driven to take the next bold photo.

A lot has happened since 2017. I have moved to first DSLRs and later I included mirrorless cameras. But even the mirrorless cameras are not pocketable, the X100 was.  , but I was very pleased when there was finally a

The X100 had two major limitations, which meant that I didn’t use it terribly much. First of all, the sensor was 12 megapixels, which was only just enough. And not enough for cropping. Second, it only did -1, 0 and +1 in bracketing, which is rarely enough to shoot the HDR scenes that I shoot.

But when the X100F got out, I was happy. Finally – 24 megapixel and -2, 0 and +2 autoexposure bracketing, and still the amazing image quality. I bought it instantly and I love it very much. The smallest camera I have, fast and amazing image quality. I have used that diligently since then.

I shot the image on top, with my X100F from my hotel room in Åre, Sweden. It is a panoramic picture consisting of 3 pictures. I actually had much bigger ambitions with this image than I managed. I would have made a ‘compressed time’ picture, in which I merged pictures together, to show time from when it was completely dark until it was bright.

But, the fantastic little X100F came in short. Funny, because it can easily take time lapse pictures for hours. Even bracketed. The camera also has Manual focus, which works great by the way. First I tried using autofocus, but fair enough, it was nearly pitch dark. The camera could not focus. Instead, I switched to manual focus. But it made a funny mechanical sound after each photo. After having lied in my bed, I eventually got up and checked. All of the images where slightly out of focus.

Then I looked out of the window and thought ‘this is pretty damn nice – I will just shoot a panorama’ – and the result is at the top.

Time compressed photo

A night I picked up my Nikon D800 and put that up for time lapse photography. The good old real DSLR does not play any of the funky electronic games. This image below is 5 hours compressed into one image.

A Mountain Sunset in Sweden

Åre in Sweden in a time compressed photo.

–Jacob

Review of Voigtländer SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm III for Sony FE mount

Sunset at Tadre Mill

Sunset at Tadre Mill in Denmark. One of the very first images I shot using my brand new Voigtländer SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm III for Sony FE mount.

I have been waiting for this lens for what seems like AGES. Since I got my Sony A7R two years ago I have been looking for a good wide angle lens solution. I bought the Sony 10-18mm, and though some say you can use it for full frame, I do not agree. It is by far too soft in the corners, and the distortion is a mustache like distortion. And then I can use my Nikon lenses on my Sony cameras, using my Metabones adapter. But neither solution has been satisfactory.

The Metabones adapter has no electronic connection to the Sony camera, and does not transfer the EXIF information, and it does not trigger the focus peaking. Smaller things, and yet still annoying things. The reviews of the first automatic adaptor for Nikon to Sony FE mount, haven’t impressed me.

So Voigtländer SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm III for Sony FE mount is the lens I have been waiting for, along with a native f/2.8 16-35mm.

At the time of writing, the lens is in pre-order most places. But if you like the review, and consider buying the lens, you can support me by using this link and buying it at BHphoto.

Overall remarks

The Voigtländer SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm III for Sony FE mount is a prime full frame format lens. It also fits on APS-C cameras, like Sony A6000 and A6300, only it will be like a 22.5mm lens. Being prime means that it only has one focal length, in this case 15mm.

Continue reading “Review of Voigtländer SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm III for Sony FE mount”

The weekend post – AuroraHDR is very fast to work with

The old Maritime building

Karlskrona in Sweden processed using AuroraHDR.

A few weeks ago I posted my test drive of AuroraHDR. In the meantime, I have got my new MacBook Pro and have been using AuroraHDR a lot more.

One of the risks of taking a new tool into use is that you change your style because you adapt your style to that of the tool.

The photo above is an old one from Sweden and it has been one of my ‘test-cases’. I already had processed it using Photomatix and my standard processing flow. I had got a different, yet similar result. I did not try to get a 1:1 version.What I particularly like to have in this image, is a strong texture on the building and the reflection in the water, so this was what I chased in AuroraHDR.

What I particularly like to have in this image, is a strong texture on the building and the reflection in the water, so this was what I chased in AuroraHDR.

What I have done, is to research what is possible to get out of AuroraHDR, and when I have found something that I like, I have created a preset. I have been trying to create presets that support my style, rather than adapt AuroraHDR presets into my style. You might feel different about that, which is perfectly ok, I just like to be myself with my own style.

Continue reading “The weekend post – AuroraHDR is very fast to work with”

5 good reasons to buy the Sony A7R and 5 good reasons not to

On a warm summerday, I went to see Thingbaek Chalk Mines in Denmark. When I arrived, the mine was closed due to a wedding. Instead of just abanding the plan, I killed some time at the nearby Rebild National Park. A famous Danish American National Park. When I got back to the mine, my waiting was rewarded. Because of the wedding they had lit candles all over the mines. It was very beautiful. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

 

On a warm summer day, I went to see Thingbaek Chalk Mines in Denmark. When I arrived, the mine was closed due to a wedding. Instead of just abanding the plan, I killed some time at the nearby Rebild National Park. A famous Danish American National Park. When I got back to the mine, my waiting was rewarded. Because of the wedding they had lit candles all over the mines. It was very beautiful.

I have made an article or review, call it what you like, on my take on the Sony A7R. The camera is in many ways awesome, but it will not completely replace my Nikon D800 or D600 for that matter.

Please read about my 5 reasons to buy the Sony A7R (A7) and 5 reasons not to buy it here.

What is the Dynamic Range of Sony A7R?

Liberty House is a beautiful shopping mall in London. An old one selling a lot of different things, but famous for luxury goods. You can almost see it on the building. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

What is the hype about the Sony A7R? For the last few months I have seriously been considering buying the Sony A7R camera. Why? Because I love the size of the camera. I find the D800 rather bulky, and sometimes I bring my Finepix X100 instead. The Finepix X100 is a great camera, but it is terrible slow, not wide enough and it is not great for HDR photography.

But having read many many reviews of the camera, to be sure it really is the right choice. To my amusement, I have come across many Canon users doing flip flops over the Dynamic Range of the camera.

Having had owned both Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800, I have learned that there are major differences in the two brands, and in particular when it comes to the Dynamic Range. The Nikons are so much better at Dynamic Range, than the Canons cameras. Apparently this is something that many Canon photographers is not really aware of. Canon 5D Mark III (according to www.dxomark.com) has a dynamic range of 11.7 EVS, while the Nikon D800 has got 14.4 EVS. That is 23% more dynamic range coverage. That is a lot! I

have covered this in detail in my comparison review of Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D600 and Nikon D800.

The switch from Canon to Nikon really is tough. Not only because it is really expensive to switch, because you have bought a lot of lenses. But Canon and Nikon also are rivals and it’s a religious thing, to be either a Canon or a Nikon guy. You do not go to the enemy!

But Sony has hit a sweet spot. They have crammed a similar sensor to that of the Nikon D800E into a very small body, and the camera delivers the quality. And attaching an adapter to the camera, you can use both Nikon and Canon lenses. Nikon only manual focus though.

Of course both Canon and Nikon photographers loves this little camera. But, the Canon photographers really goes “Wooohooohaahaaaay!” and gets a good surprise, when they realize what 14.4 EVS in Dynamic range truly means. The Nikon guys, they are used to this.

Dynamic range explained

What is the Dynamic Range? Well, it is how much light the sensor inside the camera can capture. What is too bright to capture for the sensor, will just be white. And what is too dark will just be black.

The better a sensor is, the more light it can capture. You measure the dynamic range in “exposure value steps”. One step is equivalent of doubling the shutter speed or cutting it in half.

Which is best? Canon vs Nikon? Or Sony?

On a winters eve I took out both my Nikon and my Canon cameras and took a lot of pictures with both cameras. Both I got fantastic photos from, but they were still quite different. Basically because the cameras chose different white ballances. The Canon tend to be more warm and purple-ish in this particular scenery. It was the last real photo shoot I did with both cameras and on basis of that, I started out on a camera camparison review you can read here: http://goo.gl/eEJt0N. Photo by Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.comNikon D800, Nikkor 14-24mm, HDR of 5 shots.

Updated 2015-07-13: Since I initially wrote this post, I have bought the Sony A7R and later I have bought the Sony A6000 as well. I have adjusted text slightly.

Which brand to choose? It’s one of the difficult questions. Is Canon better than Nikon? And how about Sony? How good are they? Before I got into photography for real, my impression was, that Canon and Nikon were about the same. Sony was somewhat behind and the rest of the brands even further away from the market leaders.

But having owned all three brands Canon, Nikon and latest Sony, I must admit that there are some quite big differences, both in performance and usage. I have written a very well-received review, based on my long time using both Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800 and D600 all together intensively. Having owned both brands for a longer period, does give you a different platform, to write a review from, than if you borrowed a camera for a few days.

You can read the entire review here.

How about Sony? The Sony A7R has got the same sensor as the Nikon D800 and they perform almost equally as well.

After a long time considering it, I first bought the Sony A7R and more recently I also bought the Sony A6000. But, did I do the right thing? I still have my Nikon cameras and I still use them – a lot! The huge advantage is that despite the smaller size the Sony A7R delivers the same image quality as the Nikon D800. I can carry a standard 28-70 lens as well as a 10-18mm lens, and it weighs the same as the body of the D800.

The huge disadvantage of the Sony is, a rather small lens lineup for the Sony, but it is improving. New lenses are coming in a slow but steady stream, and some are good, and some are very good. However, it is not too much of a problem, with the weak lens lineup, because Sony has done a clever job with the Sony E-mount/FE-mount. You can buy adapters to virtually any camera brand. In other words, I can use my Nikon lenses on the Sony A7R. I lose my auto-focus and EXIF information, it’s annoying but not a big problem. The manual focus, using focus peaking, on the Sony A7R works extremely well. I have bought the Metabones adapter. There are cheaper options and one more expensive Novoflex.

In my opinion, Sony is in the lead when it comes to innovative, high-end cameras. The Nikon D800/D810 and Sony A7r sensors are the most awesome sensors made so far, for landscape photography. The Dynamic range is still unrivaled, and the amount of mega pixels is incredible. But Sony has managed to pack it into a very small body, without comprising quality. Nikon and Canon could learn a lot from this. If they don’t pull themselves together in this area, they will lose big time to Sony in the long run.

A lot of other cameras like the Fujifilm X100 or X100s are incredible too, but 12 or 16 megapixels, just doesn’t cut it for me. I would like to have the higher megapixels, to have the option to print really really big or to crop a photo.

My observations on the three brands are:

Nikon

  • Highest Dynamic Range available currently. Even entry level cameras have higher Dynamic Range than Canon 5D Mark III.
  • In entry level cameras, the low light performance is decent.
  • Very engineer like. It’s difficult to find your way in the menus.
  • The 3×00 series does not have Auto Exposure Bracketing (making it more difficult to make HDR’s)
  • Good lenses
  • Has got the best wide angle zoom lens available across all brands, the Nikon 14-24mm.

Canon

  • Has got the worst dynamic range through out the entire range of cameras.
  • Has got the worst low light performance, on entry level, but high end is up to speed.
  • More user friendly than Nikon.
  • Auto Exposure Bracketing is available on all models I have heard of.
  • Good lenses

Sony E-mount cameras

  • Mirror less and much smaller and lighter classic DSLRs
  • Exists from entry level to semi-pro
  • Entry level cameras have got the best low light performance
  • Using an adapter, virtually any lens can be used on the E-mount.
  • Has got similar performance in the Dynamic Range as the Nikons
  • Lacks the option to have Auto Exposure Bracketing on timer. It may seem like a small thing, but if you shoot HDR photos, it is pretty annoying.
  • The lens line up is not very impressive. Especially if you are looking into the full frame lenses, but this is compensated by the ability to use adapters for other brands. I use my Nikon lenses on the Sony Alpha 7R.

What is the real difference between high-end cameras, mid-range and low-end DSLR cameras?

What you pay the big bucks for is low light performance, low-end cameras simply have got worse low light performance. I have had entry level DSLRs, experience with mid-range DLSR cameras and owned several high-end DSLR cameras. They all take great photos if used right. Even the cheapest entry-level DSLR with a decent lens, can do awesome photos. This is a shot with my old Canon 400D using the kit lens:

The Beauty of Noravank

The ability to take (hand held) shot’s indoor in poor lighting conditions, that is what you pay for, when you buy a more expensive camera. Then you also pay for a number of features, which are nice to have, but not strictly necessary for everybody.

This photo is shot at ISO 12800 using the Nikon D800:

High Iso image

My old Canon 400D could go to ISO 1600, and the quality was much too poor to use for anything. I could never have taken the shot above, using that camera. And the same goes for any entry-level or mid-range DSLR or mirror less camera. This IS what you pay for, when you buy the high-end professional or semi professional cameras.

The technology is working for us and the sensors are getting better and better at low light photography. But in a situation like this, I couldn’t have gone higher than ISO 12800 to get this image. I used the Nikon 24-70 at f/2.8 (as open/fast as it goes) at 1/100 sec shutter speed.

A faster lens, of course could have helped a bit. But the essence is, that you pay to get a camera that can do this. The really expensive pro cameras like the Nikon D3s, or the Nikon DF and probably also the new D4s are extreme in this discipline. That’s because the sports and press photographers, they need to be able to take a photo in any condition.

As you climb the ladder and buy more expensive cameras, you get more features. Auto Exposure bracketing is not available on the Nikon D3x00 series, but available in the Nikon D5x00 series. Canon 7D offers an 8 shots pr second.

Features also gets easier access; instead of rumbling around in menus you get buttons. You also get faster cameras (more shots pr second). And in some cases more megapixels. Some are better at videos than others and some better at low light photography than others.

The real jump comes, when you move from cropped sensors to full frame sensors (I have an article on full frame and cropped sensors here, if you don’t know what the difference is).

A larger sensor is much better at capturing light. It is quite obvious that the larger each little sensor cell is, the better it is. And a larger sensor (given same pixel count), obvious has larger cells to capture the light.

So unless you jump to the full frame cameras, my opinion is, that you don’t get a low light camera, not yet at least. A lot of research happens in this area, and the technology is improving, with each generation of the cameras.

The D800 is just … JUST good enough. The 5D Mark III is better and apparently the new Nikon DF is even better again. But they are all within the same ballpark. And the cropped sensors are playing in a different ballpark.

So if your budget isn’t cut for a full frame camera, get a cropped sensor DSLR and invest what you can in a decent lens. The lens is more important.

 

This is 12mm on Full Frame – Personal review of Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 EX DG ASP HSM II

Mont Saint Michel in France is an island half a mile of the coast of Normandy. It's an old monastery, which is an architectural master piece, that is surrounded by a small village. The village has got a small chapel as well. And this is the small chapel. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

Nikon D800, Sigma 12-24mm, ISO 400, f/8.0, 0.8 sec (0-exposure)

This photo is from the small church in Mont Saint Michel, France, just outside the huge monastery.

In my review of Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D800 and Nikon D600/D610 (you might want to read it here), I described my considerations on ultra wide angled lenses, and how it eventually made me switch from Canon to Nikon. A switch that first was more or less cost free, because I focused on fewer lenses, but as I have bought the lenses again, has become a very expensive switch.

For reasons I can’t explain clearly, I missed the fact, that Sigma does an extremely ultra wide angled 12-24mm zoom lens, for full frame cameras. I think the reason I missed it, might be that both Nikon and Canon does a 12-24mm for cropped sensors, and I just put the Sigma lens in the same basket, and that was a mistake!

Had I noticed this Sigma lens much earlier, I would probably never have changed from Canon to Nikon, because it is the ultra wide angle that I wanted. I do not regret the move from Canon to Nikon today, after having come to know and love the Nikons.

Why is it that you want to have an extremely wide angled lens? For me, it is to be able to include everything in a tight spot, like this very small church on Mont Saint Michel in France.

This is shot at 12mm on a Full frame camera. Even at 14mm I wouldn’t have been able to capture both arches, and include the alter in the near one, at the same time. I would have had to make a compromise on the composition and lose something.

Continue reading “This is 12mm on Full Frame – Personal review of Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 EX DG ASP HSM II”

First impressions – Review of Photomatix Pro 5 beta 4

The London Tower Bridge is one of the worlds most well known landmarks. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com
London Tower Bridge – a 5 shot HDR photo processed with Photomatix Pro 5 beta 4 and then mixed with a long exposure image for the fountain and the clouds. The Long exposure I made using my 10 stop ND filter from B+W. I did use a final filter High Key from Topaz Adjust to get the more pseuchedelic look.

Some of you might have noticed that a new version of Photomatix Pro 5 is on its way. The official beta 4 is now available and I have had a quick glance at it. After having played around with for a awhile I am a bit disappointed, but there are a few goodies too.

The wording – that is the usability – has changed in general to the better. By using the right words you can do a lot for the ease of use of a software program. For instance instead of calling a feature ‘Align source image – by correcting vertical and horizontal shifts’ it gets a lot easier to understand from the new wording: ‘Align source images – Taken on tripod’. I’m a great fan of usability and this is great usability in it’s essence. Straight talk for normal human beings to understand, not engineer talk that only a small group of people can understand.

There are a couple of others of these wordings that has changed for the better. The Button “Process” has been changed to “Apply and Finish”.

The algorithm for aligning images should be improved, but that is fairly hard to test. I have never really had any problem with the one from Photomatix 4 – but improvements of course is good.

The deghosting as been changed too and is better. However I never use the deghosting tool. I might give it a try or two, but basically I think you get a better result using by blending one of the source image in using layered masks in Photoshop or GIMP.

A couple of new processing methods has been added. Tone mapping has got a ‘Contrast optimizer’ method in addition to the Details Enhancer and the Tone Compressor:

Step 04 - Tone mapping methods

The ‘Contrast Optimizer’ is great for natural looking images, but is not worth much for more creative processing. I will probably not use it for much. The fusion also got an ‘Fusion/Real estate’ optimized for images to show both interior and the outside for real estate photographers. That’s not really me either. So I’m stuck with the Fusion/Natural and Tone Mapping/Details Enhancer.

The details enhancer has got a single change. Luminosity has changed to Tone Compression, but it does exactly the same. In fact the Details enhancer does exactly the same as before. I had hoped for more fun and creative options, but got disappointed on that. I have tried to process images with both Photomatix Pro 4 and Photomatix Pro 5 beta 4, with the exact same settings and the images are identical. That really disappointed me. The noise levels are the same. One of the weaker points in Photomatix Pro is the noise it produces. Of course there are other ways of handling the noise, would just have been nice if the algorithm had been better at handling noise.

I had also hoped for the loop feature to do a perfect processing, so that you would see the real deal, but that is still very poor.

First impressions - Loop still poor

Conclusion of a preliminary review of Photomatix Pro 5 beta 4

There are number of usability improvements in the software, which really makes it easier to use, and some improvements in some of the more automatic parts of the software, like deghosting and auto aligning.

There are also a couple of new processing algorithms, but they are targeted to a different group than the more creative HDR photographers.

But for the more creative side this version is a more or less 1:1 with the old Photomatix 4.

Good thing that if you bought Photomatix 4.2 or later, you get the Photomatix pro 5 for free.

So I’m a bit disappointed.

Try out the beta of Photomatix Pro 5 here – it will still water mark the images if you haven’t purchased it.

Remember that I have a detailed Free HDR photo tutorial and by by using the coupon code “caughtinpixels” you can get 15% off when you buy Photomatix Pro.