Review – HDR Darkroom Pro Beta


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Ever Imaging have released HDR Darkroom Pro Windows Beta Version 1.0.0. The download size is 4.55Mb. The interface is reasonably well laid out with the tone-mapping tools down the right hand side and buttons for file operations along the top.

The File Operations Menu Bar, shown below, has buttons for;

  • Open Folder
  • Open File
  • Refresh
  • Rotate (Clockwise)
  • Rotate (Counter Clockwise)
  • Switch (Between Original and Processed)
  • Save
  • Save As
  • Previous Image
  • Next Image
  • Batch Operations

At the extreme right hand side of the Menu Bar is a button marked with a Question Mark  (?). This gives access to the JPEG Save settings

The (?) Button also serves as a link to Online Help.

 The Online Help function consists of access to a forum which when looked at today (26 Oct 2010) had very little entries. I was quite disappointed that there was no proper manual available but saying that the interface for HDR Darkroom Pro is pretty intuitive and it didn’t take me that long to work it out.

Batch Operations seem pretty simple. You specify the input and output folders, the processing mode, the type of tone-mapping, any post processing in HDR Darkroom Pro and finally the file format in which to save the output.

There are two ways to get files ready for tone-mapping. You can Open a File. If this option is chosen then you will be given the option to browse to a file folder and select the file(s) you want. You can process a single RAW or a series of bracketed files. Once you have chosen the files you want, thumbnails will appear down the left hand side of the program window.

I still haven’t worked out the significance of the green flag because at one point it was red. I’m assuming it’s got something to do with file processing. This is where a manual would have come in really handy.

The second method is to Open a Folder. When you choose this option the files in the folder will be displayed down the left hand side in the exact same way as the Open File option.

For this review I downloaded the 3 bracketed RAW’s that Ever Imaging make available on their website and used them for each type of processing I tried. Once the files are loaded into HDR Darkroom Pro you are given the opportunity to adjust the LDR images for Strength, Brightness, Contrast, Tone, Colour, Detail, Vignette and Noise Reduction. In many ways it reminds me of the Adobe Lightroom workflow for processing RAW images

 

Once you are happy with the LDR images it’s now time to start processing your bracketed image (s) as an HDR file. At first I couldn’t work out how you accessed the HDR workflow, especially as it’s grayed out at first. The secret is to select more than one image on the left hand side of the program interface and you will then be able to start processing the HDR file. Initially the Tone Mapping Engine will be set to NONE. You must select one of the tone mapping styles for the alignment options to be presented.

I allowed HDR Darkroom Pro to do the alignment and it seemed to do a pretty decent job. Once the alignment is finished HDR Darkroom Pro moves on to creating an HDR file which we can then tone map. There are 3 tone mapping engines in HDR Darkroom Pro, these are, Local Tone Balancer, Local Tone Enhancer and Fast Tone Compressor.  generally I found the tone mapping engines gave good natural HDR images with their default settings. I could probably have used them just as they were straight from the tone-mapping process but HDR Darkroom Pro does allow you to adjust all of the settings I mentioned in the LDR workflow.

So what’s the basic HDR tone mapping output like. Here’s the Local Tone Balancer image. The default settings gave a very good natural looking image.

Let’s look at the output from the Local Tone Enhancer. Once again I found the default settings kept the image looking natural.

Ever Imaging state on their website 

We firmly believe that the aim of HDR photography should be providing the most realistic photos to the users, and show the sceneries in the photos again 

Even when I pushed the sliders to the max in the Local Tone Balancer I still had a very natural looking image and looking at the image in full zoom I couldn’t see any evidence of noise.

With the Tone Mapping Engine set to Local Tone Enhancer I had to push the strength slider almost up to 100 before experiencing serious degradation of the natural looking image

As I mentioned earlier, once you have tone mapped your image using one of the two patented Local Tone Mapping Engines you then have the opportunity to make further adjustments using a series of tools which are available in both LDR and HDR mode.

The first tool is called Basic Adjustment and covers Brightness, Contrast and Saturation.

Next we have the Tone Adjustment Tool. This allows you to make adjustments to Exposure, Highlights/Shadows, White/Black Point and the Tone Curve

After Tone adjustment we have the Color Tool. This allows you to make adjustments to the Temperature, Tint and Red/Green/Blue Channels. There is an Auto Setting which adjusts the other sliders to compensate for any adjustments you make to an individual slider. As well as this there is a Colour Picker Tool. I couldn’t quite work out what exactly this was doing but it seems to tint the image according to the colour on the image I select. Once again the manual would have been ideal here.

The Detail Tool allows you to adjust the Smoothness and Sharpening. You can also compensate for Chromatic Aberration.

Vignettes allows you to control the amount and midpoint of any vignetting you may wish to use. You can either go for a dark vignette or a light one which will fade the edges to white.

Finally, we have Noise Reduction where you basically adjust the strength of the NR employed.

Once you have finished the adjustments you want to make you can press Save and the finished file will be saved as a JPEG with the settings you defined using the ? Button. HDR Darkroom Pro will then Render the image and save it. Alternatively you can elect to press the Save As button. This will give you the option to save in more file formats (JPG, BMP, PNG, TIF, HDR and EXR)

Whilst i was using HDR Darkroom Pro I did experience one problem whilst trying to save as HDR. I got the usual Windows 7 warning that HDR Darkroom Pro had experienced a problem and was unable to continue….

To be honest it only happened the once and I was later able to save quite happily in both HDR and EXR format so I can’t really explain what happened.

Ever Imaging claim on their website that both engines will make you easily achieve photo-realistic HDR photography. All in all I found HDR Darkroom Pro extremely easy to use. The interface is intuitive and as a Lightroom user I found the various sliders in the tools easy enough to understand and use. Just on the default settings, with no adjustment from me, I was easily able to achieve a  natural looking image. The additional tools allow you to refine the output from the tone mapping with additional control over exposure, tone, colour and detail.

As far as I am aware Ever Imaging have not  announced their pricing policy yet. But in what has become an increasingly competitive market for our hard-earned cash there has been a host of new or updated HDR programs released in recent months. So Ever Imaging are going to have to be very competitive to compete against the more established software packages available.

Footnote: After trialling HDR Darkroom Pro with their images I have had time to use some of my own.

First up is a Single RAW file taken with a Fuji S9600 camera

Single RAW 

Next 5 RAW taken with a Samsung GX10 and supported on a tripod

 5 RAW Tripod

And finally, 5 RAW taken with a Samsung GX10, Handheld

5 RAW Handheld 

Generally, pretty good results. I must say though that the hand held bracket set took a lot longer to align but still within acceptable limits (my opinion).

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