I recently downloaded a trial version of Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro. I’d been semi-disappointed in many HDRs I’d created in Photomatix and had heard many people say they’d made the switch to Nik. If you’re hoping for a complete review of Nik HDR Efex Pro I apologize in advance — I’m only going to give some impressions here.
First, a bit on Photomatix. It’s great software in many ways and I’ve used it to make many cool (IMO) images. However, in many of my HDRs of late I’ve ended up doing so much masking in Photoshop after tone mapping in Photomatix that I’m practically producing a composite of the original exposures. Photomatix often doesn’t handle motion to my liking — leaving way too much work to do afterwards. I’ll readily admit that it could be the user — I’m no wizard with Photomatix. It could also be that I’m getting pickier as time goes on. On the plus side, I find Photomatix to be much faster than Nik but I don’t process all that many HDRs so that’s not a huge factor.
I used Nik HDR Efex Pro to process all but one of the images in this post. For my own comparison purposes I processed another Hawaii coast photo — similar to the one at the top of this post — with Photomatix. It’s not completely apples-to-apples since I didn’t process the *same* photo but I ended up having to spend a ton of time in Photoshop fixing up the Photomatix image (basically ending up with a composite as I mentioned above).
As for the mechanics of using Nik HDR Efex Pro, it’s quite simple. In each of the images (5-ish?) that I’ve processed with it I’ve started out with a preset and tweaked from there. Of course I’m still learning all the sliders, etc. but I’m happy with it so far. I find the “control point” concept useful (it defines circles in which you can separately tweak portions of the image) but I would prefer that it worked more like the adjustment brush in Lightroom where you can choose exactly where the effects are applied. The final images here aren’t completely to my liking (some spots would get fixed if I were to spend more time on the images) but are illustrative enough for this post.
Some time ago I took the plunge and purchased OnOne’s Perfect Photo Suite 6. I finally got time to try it out so I grabbed the image (original below) of some cows in pasture to try it out OnOne’s tools. It was a very small jpg (only 344k) but it was conveniently sitting around on my desktop. [Regarding the shot itself: I was traveling in east Texas recently and while heading out to work early one morning saw these cows and took the shot. I liked the peaceful, foggy scene.].
I opened up this image in Perfect Photo Suite 6 in the software’s standalone mode (previous versions required opening from Photoshop I believe). I first used the Effects panel and the Textures sub-panel to add several texture layers (there are layer and masking capabilities similar to Photoshop) , adjusting “strength”, masking out a few spots, and changing blending modes. There are additional settings as well. For instance, you can select “normal”, “subtle”, “lighter”, and “darker” options in a “Mode” drop down which change the initial effect.
I then went into the Frames panel and added the film border which included the decay effect along the edges. There are roughly 1500 individual frames to choose from and a myriad of options which can be tweaked for each. Of course you can combine effects as well…ENDLESS options.
My impression based on this 15-minute experimental session? Good stuff. There are some things which will take getting used to regarding the particulars of using the masks and such. I’m not implying anything negative though — I’m just used to Photoshop and it will take a little practice to become proficient in the subtleties of OnOne’s tools. There is clearly a lot of potential and I will definitely be digging into Perfect Photo Suite 6 more deeply.