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Photography Corner Review - HDR Projects 4 by Franzis
HDR Projects 4 is the fourth edition of a German-made software that renders HDR images from single images or a bracketed series of images. Though you can work with JPEGS, the company recommends using RAW files for single images and series, alike. The RAW files have more light information after all, and you're more likely to get the best results if you have more information.
If you choose to use a bracketed series of images, you can use from two up to 32 images in a series. It is recommended that you use at least 3 images bracketed at -2, 0, and 2. According to my contact at the company, you don't need to use a tripod, though it will make your life easier, because the software has a de-ghosting feature that removes blurry or unsharp areas.
The software gives you full editing control over the light values, color spaces, and color temperature in your images through presets, filters and other fancy-schmancy dials. It also has plug-ins or add-ons for most mainstream imaging software, so you can use it in conjunction with programs that you are already familiar with.
My Review Experience
The results that are shown in the companies brochures and websites are astounding, and I was eager to try it out for myself. I needed no convincing to break out my camera (an Olympus E-620. I know I know, it's a little outdated, but it works!) and take photos of my children. I took photographs in different lighting situations, some over exposed, others underexposed. I tried to take bracketed images of my kids, but everyone knows that kids don't sit still enough to take a series of photographs, so I took some bracketed images of landscapes and still-life's instead. Basically, I got to play! Then it was time to take my photos into the computer for post processing.
The 5 Step Process
In the user manual, the company claims that you can have beautifully rendered images in a little as five clicks:
1. Load Images
2. HDR Preparation
3. Post-Processing Preset Selection
4. Optimization Assistant
5. Select Image Detail and Save
Five steps is more like it, and each step contains the possibility for numerous “clicks” and adjustments. It is however true that it's five clicks if you leave everything set to default and just click through!
Single, JPG Image
First I loaded a photo of my daughter with some extreme light differences. At first I just stuck with the default clicks, but I noticed I had a lot of noise in the shadows. I decided to try to play around with some of the “post-processing” effects to see if I could bring back some of the original softness. The thing I found most difficult about this process was that it was different from Photoshop. It's not a major hang up by any means, just a bit of a learning curve to get past. Here are all three images side by side.
Single RAW Image
I definitely liked the results a lot better when using RAW files. Here's a comparison for you! I just used the default settings here, the result is pretty impressive.
Bracketed Series with 7 Images and with 3 Images
Next up was a bracketed series of images. After fighting through the blackberries to shoot my first daffodils of the season, I realized that my focus was off, and I didn't want to fight the black berries again! Please pardon my lack of focused flowers, but HEY! Look at how great these images are!
After I used all seven images in my series I wanted to see what the difference would be if I used just three of the images from my series. I used just the images that were bracketed at -2, 0, +2. There is definitely more depth in the finished product when you use more images.
Overall, I was very pleased with the results. The default settings are great, and I'm sure with time and a little practice, the rest of the adjustment tools can be learned. It is very technical, but it's not hard to figure out. In one of the brochures I was sent, the company said they take pride in “producing educational materials for the self-taught, technically-minded individual.” That is very clear with this product. The manual, however, is very comprehensive, and I got great looking images with very little effort. To the folks at HDR Projects 4, I say good work! To the photographers out there, I say give it a try. You may never be able to process images without HDR 4 Projects again.
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