Unified Color HDR Express – First Impressions


 

Unified Color have announced the launch of their new HDR Software, HDR Express. Based on Unified Color’s patented 32 bit color space, HDR Express is designed to make processing HDR images as easy as possible , using a simple set of interactive tools and presets.

To see if it really was as easy as Unified Color say I downloaded the 30 day trial version. The download was fast, as was installation, including the Lightroom plugin. Once installed I set HDR Express running as a standalone program and used the create/merge option to add my bracket of RAW files

HDR Express presents you with the option to align the source images and choose a method of reducing ghosting artifacts.

After the merge process has finished HDR Express gives you the option of choosing one of five tone mapping options. 

 

The type of tone mapping you choose will enable HDR Express to set exposure and highlight/shadow values for the image. Once you have chosen the tone mapping the next step is to select the look of your HDR image by selecting one of the pre-defined styles.  Alternatively you can create your own style and save it for future use. I very quickly found a favourite in the Vivid Style setting which gave me a natural looking image with some very rich colours, but not over-saturated.

The presets are a good starting point but you can also fine tune your settings by adjusting the sliders on the right hand side.

One of the things I really liked about HDR Express was the minimal amount of sliders to use. In all there are only seven and they are used as follows;

  • Brightness – Sets the Exposure
  • Highlights – Recovers Highlight Detail
  • Shadows – Recovers Shadow Detail

These first three sliders control the tone mapping options. The next 4 are for fine-tuning the tone mapped image

  • Black Point – Establishes the Black Point
  • Contrast – Sets Local Contrast Strength
  • Saturation – Sets the Saturation Amount
  • White Balance – Allows you to control the Warmth and Tint

I found that if I used these controls in conjunction with the Histogram and the Highlight & Shadow warnings I could really eliminate many of the overblown highlights and too dark shadow areas.

Pressing the H and S buttons on the histogram will emphasise any highlights or shadows which are out of range.

HDR Preview gradually shows all the detail from the Shadows through to the Highlights when a new HDR image is opened. The first time I saw the HDR Preview I thought something had gone wrong. The image in the main screen of HDR Express starts dark and gradually gets lighter and lighter until you see an almost white preview. Fortunately you can turn this feature off.

HDR Express allows you to set your preferences for file saving which HDR Express calls Export for some reason. You can save your image as an 8 bit JPEG, 8/16 bit TIFF or as a 32 bit BEF file. These settings will automatically be applied when you save a file.

I was really impressed with the way HDR Express simplifies the tone mapping process and yet it gave me excellent results in all of the test images I used, two of which you can see below.

If it were not for the fact that I already use HDR Expose from Unified Color I would readily switch to HDR Express as my HDR tool of choice.

Please note: I am not in any way affiliated to Unified Color although I do use HDR Expose for tone mapping my HDR images. My views on HDR Express are exactly that, my own personal view.

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