Feeling disappointed but wondering if I'm just not using it right

I shoot my beach calligraphy into the sun a lot. In fact the sun is hard to avoid when you’re using a Nikkor 14-24mm lens, so when I saw HDR Effex come on sale I got my hopes up but I have to say, after trying it for a few days, I’m disappointed. I’m going to give my reasons and hopefully someone can explain to me how I’m just not using it right because I really do need a decent HDR solution and I’m not willing to commit to Adobe’s monthly USD with my pathetic ZARs.
My immediate impression was bad because all the preset modes are way too garish for my taste. I couldn’t help wondering if it shouldn’t it be called HDR Effex Extreme? Nonetheless, I figured I could try using them as starting points and just tone them down. It was hard work and the results … frankly, I’m not a professional photographer, but I fount the results unacceptable.

The first image was the best I could do on this two-exposure image using the Effex Pro default as a starting point. I had to fiddle endlessly to get it to this.

The second image shows the lower exposure of the two and the third image is the result I got my old way of working directly with it in Photolab. There’s a lot of tweaking involved but the result is way better.

The app’s controls were frustrating in places:
• The fringing is awful on hand-held shot. It looks like a failure to align the shots (see my last image) and there is no way to tweak the alignment manually.

• It is impossible to tell ordinarily where the upper and lower blend is happening. My solution is to whack the lower tonality down 3 stops so you can see where it is, position it and then continue with trying to get a natural-looking image.
•It is impossible to delete a node you’ve added to the levels and curves (this can happen by accident if you miss-click one). You have to reverse out with Ctrl-Z or revert to scratch by switching between presets and then back to neutral.
• Zooming in and out is frustrating because HDR Effex talks a different language to PhotoLab. I keep trying to zoom using my mouse wheel (a feature I love in PhotoLab) and then have to revert to the crude zoom thing top right.
• The selection control points are simple circular, gradated masks, nothing like the nice, colour and brightness -selective ones I had in Capture NX2. With NX2, if you placed a control point on a highlight, it would give you selective control over the highlights in that region. This just bluntly affects the whole region. However, you can counter that by placing a neutral control point on a nearby shadow if the opportunity arises.

I’ve had the same concerns about fringing/ghosting and about all of the presets looking too garish. In the latter case, I found that getting the result I wanted was possible but took a tremendous amount of work. As for the color fringing: other HDR tools I tried generated similar aberrations with the same images, so it wasn’t particular to HDR Efex Pro in my experience. A combination of global and local adjustments can mitigate it. (It’s either ghosting from small differences in multiple images being stacked together or chromatic aberrations in the lens - or a combination of the two.)

I’ve tried several HDR programs, including Aurora 2018 (way, way too garish!), Affinity (not as bad, but no DxO lens corrections) and HDR Effex. I think they all could be better. And it would be nice if DxO either directly incorporated Nik tools into PhotoLab or at least made the UI consistent across the suite and with PhotoLab.

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My approach is to first process the component images in PL (applying lens corrections, PRIME NR, Chromatic Aberration correction, etc) - then passing them, as 16bit TIFFs, to Affinity, which does a very good job with them.

John M


I have exactly the same approach.

From DxO for RAW-development and necessary lens/light/… corrections to Affinity Photo for further post-processing including layers and masks is also my preferred workflow nowadays! That’s also the reason why I have not made much use of PL’s local adjustments.

Perhaps I misunderstood John-M statement or I’not precise enough.
I was writing here only about HDR, and also mainly focus stacking.
But for most of my images, I only use Photolab to proceed my Raw and if needed export in jpeg or another format.
Affinity is only for specific situation not managed in DPL, ie many repair/clone operations.

Yes, my response was specifically related to stacking of multiple “component” images (HDR, focus, Panoramas, etc), which Affinity handles very well … otherwise, I use PL for all my photo correction/enhancement needs - along with occasional use of Nik Color Efex Pro for images that warrant some additional care.

John M

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Good John,
so we are totally in synch!

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