Nik Software has recently announced HDR Efex Pro, a new application for creating high dynamic range images. The new software functions either as a stand-alone application or as a Photoshop/Lightroom/Aperture plug-in. I’ve had a chance to demo the release (1.0) version of this software; this is my initial report.
Nik HDR Efex Pro is a native 64-bit application. It is not guaranteed to work under 32-bit operating systems, so be sure to download the demo before purchasing.
The HDR Efex Pro interface will be very familiar to users of other Nik plug-ins. The left-hand side of the window contains a listing of starting point presets (with thumbnails), while editing controls are on the right. There is a zoom (loupe) window in the lower right-hand corner that allows you to see your image at 100% as you move the cursor over the image.
In addition to the standard “Tone Compression” Slider, HDR Efex offers a lot of controls over your image, including Global and Local Adjustments. Unlike other HDR programs, the controls in HDR Efex Pro are logically named and laid out. You can modify exposure, contrast, saturation, structure, blacks, whites and warmth globally. Moreover, you can choose from 20 different HDR compression techniques “HDR Methods” to fine-tune the look you want. This will enable photographers to get anything from a subtle (natural) look to the high-contrast “grunge” effect.
Local Adjustments with Control Points
Unique to HDR Efex Pro is Nik Software’s proprietary U Point technology in the form of Control Points. While most HDR applications only allow global adjustments, HDR Efex Pro allows the photographer to make localized adjustments directly on the HDR image. This is an incredibly powerful tool, because you can modify exposure, contrast, saturation, structure, blacks, whites, warmth and HDR Method Strength on a smart selection using a Control Point. This feature, coupled with the powerful global adjustments is sure to be a major time-saver for working with HDR images, because it minimizes the need for further post-processing in other applications. For many of us, the only thing left after HDR Efex Pro will be sharpening.
HDR Efex Pro also includes a section called “Finishing Adjustments” that offers vignette effects and a levels/curves tool. I probably would have put the levels/curves tool into the Global Adjustments section, but it is a worthy addition to the application either way.
Compared to other HDR applications, HDR Efex Pro is a worthy addition to my software toolbox. I’m still spending time dialing in settings that work best for my landscape images, so I expect my results with HDR Efex Pro to continually improve. I have run into some situations were the HDR blending mode left some ghosting artifacts and there was a hint of noise (grain) in smooth skies. While this is pretty normal for all HDR programs, I’d like to see a Noise Reduction option offered in future updates to the software. Until then, you’ll want to use your NR tools in your editing software after running HDR Efex Pro if your images get too much grain for your liking. For producing natural-looking HDR images, there are situations where the “Exposure Fusion” option in Photomatix Pro 4.0 provides a slightly cleaner result. Again, I’m still working out the optimal settings for the software, so I expect to get better results as I learn it more. My suggestion would be for you to download the free trial version of HDR Efex Pro and see if you like it before you buy.
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