HDR – Lightroom, Photoshop CS5 & Photomatix?

Since Photoshop CS5 was announced on Monday, I’ve been getting lots of questions about whether or not I like the HDR features in Photoshop better than Photomatix. Since there’s Lightroom integration built into both of these products and HDR is gaining in popularity I figured I’d take a quick moment to give you some thoughts.

The Lightroom Connection:
Well, they both have hooks into Lightroom. Photoshop’s HDR tools are available under the Photo > Edit In menu. Photomatix is available under the File menu. So we’re on pretty even ground at this point when it comes to Lightroom. They both save right back into the Lightroom catalog so all is good.

Background:
HDR was around in Photoshop since CS2. It just hasn’t been any good. So most photographers that have gravitated toward HDR, chose a program called Photomatix by HDRSoft.com. It was and still is a great program and produces some great results whether you’re going for the natural style or the surreal grungy style of HDR.

Catch up to today: Photoshop CS5 was announced on Monday. One of the big new features in CS5 is the new HDR Pro dialog. Adobe recognized that HDR was growing and they’ve included some far superior technology (compared to what they used to have) in CS5.

My Thoughts: OK truth be told, after my first attempts with CS5’s new HDR Pro feature, I was a little disappointed. Not because I wasn’t getting good results, but more because I was comfortable using Photomatix. HDR Pro in CS5 is different enough that it requires you to learn what new sliders do. You basically can’t transfer your Photomatix knowledge into Photoshop.

But I stuck with it because I had seen some great results from HDR Pro and it had some killer features (like Deghosting and noise-less images) that I wanted to use. After a few more attempts I figured it out. There’s a Detail slider and once you realize that Detail controls all in that dialog and all the other settings rely on that, it clicked.

Who will switch: The way I see it is this. Regardless of what the product is, when you use a product (and you’re happy with it) you become passionate about it. Amazon Kindle users will probably defend their Kindle against other new eBook readers (except the iPad ;) ). Xbox gaming console owners would probably defend their XBox against any newcomers to the market. It’s just human nature. So I fully expect that Photomatix users will defend their use of Photomatix. They’ve invested time and money into it. I wouldn’t blame ‘em one bit. And honestly, I think that HDR Pro wasn’t necessarily created with them in mind. Adobe recognized that HDR is growing in popularity. There’s hundreds of thousands of Photoshop users that haven’t invested (time or money) in Photomatix that may still want to give HDR a try. HDR Pro (I think) is meant more for them.

So which is better?
One of the things I liked about Photomatix is that I can get 90% of the results I’m looking for in Photomatix from two sliders (Smoothing and Strength). In Photoshop CS5 it takes me fiddling with 3-4 sliders to get similar results. But I can indeed get similar results. Where Photoshop wins for me is two things: 1) The Remove Ghosts feature rocks. If things aren’t perfectly still in your series of photos, Photoshop’s Remove Ghosts checkbox is really good at aligning them. 2) The noise-less-ness of the Photoshop image. Wow! I promise you, every time I teach Photomatix to a live audience, the first question everyone asks is “What about all that noise?”. It was something we had to live with and remove later. Photoshop really racks one into the win column there.

In the end, time will tell. I think a large majority of people out there (Photomatix user or not) will end up making the upgrade to CS5. The entire product is just such a compelling upgrade this time around. Newcomers into HDR will definitely start using HDR Pro in CS5. It’s whether or not HDR Pro will convert existing Photomatix users into HDR Pro users that remains to be seen. Personally, I think it’ll be mixed. I think there will be lots of folks that make the move to HDR Pro, and lots that stand by Photomatix, the product that they know (and rightfully so in many ways).

What are your thoughts from what you’ve seen demo’d so far in CS5? Are you a Photomatix user? Will you switch? Are you brand new to HDR and curious to check it out in CS5? Oh yeah, if you hate HDR then just don’t comment ;)

Author: Matt Kloskowski

Matt is the full-time Director of Education for Kelby Media Group and a Tampa-based photographer. He's the Editor-in-Chief of Lightroom Magazine, the lead instructor on the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom LIVE Seminar Tour and author of several best-selling Photoshop books. Matt also hosts the world's top Lightroom blog, LightroomKillerTips.com, where he's built up a massive library of Lightroom videos, presets and tips. In addition to teaching Photoshop, Lightroom and photography seminars around the world, he's an instructor at Photoshop World and one of the full-time staff writers for Photoshop User Magazine.

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48 Comments

  1. I personally struggle with HDR. I don’t know if I’m not taking the right photos, or not using the right camera settings (bracketing, etc.), or just don’t get Photomatix.

    Because I primarily enjoy shooting landscapes, my preference is on a more natural look. No matter what settings I use, I just can’t seem to get something acceptable to me. On a couple occasions, I’ve resorted doing things manually in Photoshop (layering, masking, etc.) to get something real looking.

    I’ll have to reserve judgement on how PS CS5 compares, when I can afford to upgrade (I have to get the whole Design Premium Suite, as I am a graphic/web designer by trade, before I’m a photographer).

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      • I TRIED TO LOOK AT THE LONG STRIP THAT LOOKS LIKE INSTRUCTIONS, BUT I CANT READ IT ITS TO SMALL AND CANT ZOOM IN ON IT.

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    • To get a natural look from Photomatix, I’ve found the secret is to turn Strength right down, sometimes even to zero. With zero strength, you still get tone-mapping (try it and see), but you get a brighter-looking image without that dark unnatural look. These days, I often start with Strength set to zero, and turn it up a bit only if the resulting image is too bright. Increasing strength always seems to make the image darker.

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  2. Thanks a lot for these informations. What I understand is that PS can give at least equal results to what photomatix does so they did a great job.
    You didn’t speak about performance. What about processing times ?

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  3. I currently use Photomatix for my Exposure Fusions.

    I will be upgrading to PS CS5 and using the HDR Pro.
    I like the idea of having one less software to jump into during my work flow. I’ll go from Lightroom to PS and back, Nice!
    Also, with the addition of the new Lens Correction in PS CS5 it’s a “no-brainer” for me.
    Defiantly worth the $199 upgrade.

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  4. I will be upgrading to PS CS5.

    I currently use Photomatix for exposure fusions.

    I like the idea of now having one less piece of software to jump into during my work flow. From Lightroom to PS and back, Nice!
    Also, with the addition of the new Lens Correction in PS CS5, it makes it an easier decision to upgrade.
    Although, some testing will need to done.

    -Mike

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  5. I have been considering purchasing Photomatix but with HDR Pro in CS5 it makes more sense for me to put the cost of Photomatix toward the CS5 upgrade. Plus I won’t have to learn a whole new software, just the nuances of using HDR Pro within Lightroom/Photoshop. I still haven’t mastered Lightroom & Photoshop so not having to learn how to use more software is a big plus for me.

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  6. Personally I use the Enfuse plugin for Lightroom. I find that the Photomatix effect was too strong and way too confusing to try and correct it. From what I have seen of the CS5 HDR it looks awesome! Can’t wait to give it a try.

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  7. Difficult question. Until now, Photomatix never let me down. Yes, there are the problems with ghosting and noice, but some noice reduction in either photoshop or lightroom makes up a lot.

    But problem would be that cs5 is going to cost me more and more money. And I believe that the best photos don’t appear after spending more and more on software. I’ll rather spend it on lenses or gear!!

    So, conclusion: i get the feeling that i just got the thing going and i’m already behind in software. As long as it works, i’ll stay with lightroom & Photomatix!!

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  8. Matt,
    I have Photomatix and was one of the lucky beta testers for Photoshop CS5. When I experimented with the HDR in CS5, I was blown away with the image after I removed the ghosting! The detail was amazing. I wasn’t sure if I did the right procedure or not, so I tried different images to see what would happen. The results were the same. That sealed it for me. Now I’m taking your online course from Kelby training to see what else I may have missed.
    Thanks for bringing up the question I was thinking about too. I know what I saw, but being a beta product at that point, I wasn’t sure what would be in the final version. I’m sure I will be using Photoshop CS5 for my HDR work from now on.
    Larry

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  9. hey matt, have you tried hdrpro for its obvious noise andghost removable features and then when its reimported to lightroom have you sent that as a single image to photomatix for tonemapping again? im wondering if that might be a nice combination of the 2 programs…or maybe photomatix first then single image tone map for removal of noise and ghosting in hdrpro…it concerns me because once u get good at photomatix it seems like so much nice control..thanx

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  10. Hard to make a comparison without being able to try them both – side-by-side! Can someone explain to me why in the world Adobe announced CS5 a month before it is available for sale? I think it would have been more effective to say to all of us” “you can have it immediately”. Maybe Adobe’s real target are Wall Street financial analysts, not customers.

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  11. I prefer Dynamic Photo HDR .. I like its surreal outputs.

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  12. Hey Matt

    Personally I think you hit on the two key deciding features: 1) de-ghosting, and 2) noise. It appears both programs are able to deliver similar results except for these elements. De-ghosting in particular, with the ability to choose your reference folder, is a huge deal given most HDR subjects aren’t static images. It saves the time you would have to otherwise spend layering and masking after the fact. I’m really looking forward to trying this. On the other hand, I haven’t seen anything that suggests a similar function to Photomatix’s Exposure Blending option. Don’t know what other operators are under that pulldown menu in the HDR Pro dialogue.

    Something else you mention is interesting:

    “There?s a Detail slider and once you realize that Detail controls all in that dialog and all the other settings rely on that, it clicked.”

    In my mind Adobe could have improved the workflow in this dialogue. If Detail drives everything else it should be the first slider. Then the Glow controls, then the Tone controls. This is probably why it took you so long to figure out as it does not currently have a top-down orientation.

    With that in mind (and a repeat of a previous request) it would be great to see a tutorial that shoots for a more photorealistic, natural image. All I’ve seen so far gravitate towards the surreal style. This is fine, but there is a need for balance and I’m sure many are interested seeing both sides.

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  13. Matt,

    good info thanks for that. Today I’m using PhotoMatix but will give HDR in CS5 a try for sure when I’ve received the upgrade.

    On the other hand I would love to see HDR implemented in Lightroom itself. Also the lenscorrection feature (if I see what brilliant stuff DXO does to images…). LR 3.x??? please…. :-)

    Remko

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  14. I have been a tester for pr release of CS5 and have been using HDR Pro, and find it to be much better than Photomatix, photoshop has always done a better job of aligning and blending images. HDR PRO is even better , and also does a great job of producing a natural high dynamic range image, and it does it really fast. This is great, no more third party software!

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  15. I’m a Photomatix user. From what I have heard here, I don’t like moving toa new process that is more complicated, but if it offers better results through less noise, then maybe I will switch. There seem to be enough new features to justify the jump to CS5. I am a journalist, so removing things and moving things closer together isn’t really what I want in my reportage. For artistic efforts those featuers will be useful. But even in landscape photography, I will know that killing a tree and replacing it with fake pixels isn’t the way I saw it. Viewers should be able to go to the spot and see what I photographed. So maybe removing features won’t be useful either in my professional reportage or my nature shots. Still, I have always made the upgrade to the next level of Photoshop, for the same reason I never kept the Commodore Computer I once had.

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  16. As a beta tester of CS5 and a long time user of Photomatix, I was simply blown away by the the effectiveness of HDR Pro in CS5 to get de-ghosted HDR images. My HDR shots tend to be spontaneous, hand-held images (some of which take a lot of effort to clean up in Photoshop after tone-mapping with Photomatix). I think your review nailed it, Matt. I’ll likely keep using Photomatix, because I’m used to it. But HDR Pro alone would justify the upgrade to CS5 in my book!

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  17. The big question I have is whether you’ll be able to batch process through PS’s HDR. Anyone know?

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  18. I am a Photomatix user but I am going to spend time to master CS5 because 1) noise and deghosting and 2) one less software product to maintain. Sorry Photomatix, truly.

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  19. So… if the noise reduction in LR and CS5 is so much better (which I think is true, but soley based on seeing LR3)… and the HDR is pretty good… what new generation of external plugins and programs will those other vendors go after next to stay in business ? Any conjecture on features that could be addressed ?

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  20. Hi Matt,

    I don’t produce many HDR-style images, but when I do I tend to use Photomatix’s Exposure Fusion blending because I like a more natural (photographic?) look as the final result. That said, however, based on your comments, CS5 intro videos on NAPP, etc, I’m very much looking forward to giving HDR Pro a try and will probably switch because I’m expecting better overall image quality and I get to stay in PS…yeah!!

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  21. Matt,

    Great article!! I’m a long time user of Photomatix Pro and MK follower, but I don’t go crazy with it. I do use it for some of my images but I generally stick to a more realistic look. I’m looking forward to upgrading to CS5 and will give HDR Pro a try. But, like you, I’ll weigh the pros and cons of both programs. Once again thanks for posting this article.

    Jerry

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  22. I like a lot Photomatix and made a lot of my panorama fine art photos with it. But, I agree with you that it produces a lot of noises and you have to do a lot of post production on the photos afterward.
    I hope that the competition will be good for Photomatix and Photoshop and that HDRSoft will improve its software to match CS5 features. Competition is good for customers.

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  23. I have been using the CS5 beta as part of the NAPP testing program and am blown away by the HDR. I have used Photomatix for the past several years and found that after watching Matt’s video on CS5 it is quicker and easier to pick up and understand. It is way faster and does a better job for me (I mostly do realistic not artistic HDR). One less outside program. Going from Lightroom to Photoshop is all I want to have to do.

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  24. I have used CS4, Photomatix and Artizen HDR and without a question i have had way better results with Artizen than either of them. I do use them all cause some things just workout better in one app over the other. The things i found best in Artizen was that i could manually align images which i couldn’t do in either when all failed in autoalignment, and Artizen’s deghosting was always better than either.

    All that being said i am really looking forward to CS5…. :)

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  25. I am also one of those prerelease testers and I have done several HDR’s using PSCS5 and it took me much longer to create the HDR’s than it took using Photomatix.

    Will I change over, like Matt said the remove ghosting is really nice. I have several years and many, many HDR’s from Photomatix under my belt, will I change over, well maybe. I do plan on spending more time using it to get used to the sliders and then only time will tell.

    Sctt

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  26. I think that CS5 will give all HDR plug-ins a run for their money. Noise reduction plug-ins look to be hard put for customers. A question I have is, will CS5 do what onOne’s Genuine Fractals does? It seems to me from what I have seen that onOne, Topaz and Nik (except for Dfine and Sharpening) are relatively safe with CS5. But look out when CS6 comes around.

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  27. I have been using Photomatix for sometime with Vista Ultimate 64, with some super results and some not so good. There are some things which just don’t work between Photomatix and Lightroom 2 and these differences are inconsistent between Lightroom and Photoshop CS3, (please note that they work perfectly with a Mac). For that reason alone I will be trying CS5 HDR, to prevent me throwing the PC out of the window!!
    Adobe Technical department have confirmed these inconsistencies.

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    • Tim – I have long thought exactly the same. I agrre entirely with all you comments – Andy M

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  28. I’ve been doing surrealistic HDR for a couple of years and I’m definitely a Photomatix fan. I’m actually lucky enough to have my work profiled on their gallery page. However, I will be upgrading to CS5 and look forward to trying PS’ HDR processor. The lack of noise and ghosting is very intriguing to me…stay tuned.

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  29. Hi Matt,

    Thanks for the post.
    Although not a big user of HDR, I do have Photomatix and have used it for some interior shots at hotels, restaurants that I’ve been commissioned to photograph. It’s a great piece of kit but does have it’s irritations. The noise created has always been an annoyance but now seeing that Adobe have addressed this issue in the HDR upgrade I seriously think I’ll be sticking inside photoshop for HDR work from now on.

    It was inevitable that at some point Adobe would ‘pull it out of the bag’ with HDR considering how inadequate Photoshop’s built in HDR has been up until now.

    Sure some regular users of Photomatix will keep loyal but to have such incredible tools available in both Photoshop and PhotoMatix leaves us spoiled for choice.

    Absolutely fantastic upgrade that does nothing but excite me even more about the future and what we’ll have available to us in years to come; my mind boggles just thinking about it.

    All the best to you & yours,
    Glyn

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  30. Using Lightroom 2.6 on a PC, but want to move to a Mac. Does anyone know if all my keywords and metadata I’ve spend hundreds of hours creating will transfer over to Lightroom for a Mac since the data is not part of the EXIF data? Almost all my photos are jpgs.

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  31. For those (above) struggling with the very basics of HDR photography there is a good into talk at http://dslru.com/courses/D1004 It helped me get the gist of how and why it works.

    Cat

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  32. Everyone seems to be forgetting that CS5 is a heck of a lot more expensive than Photomatix. Especially if you are buying the full version and not the upgrade. I know as a non-professional shooter I’ve only purchased a full version of CS4 last summer and that was a big chunk out of my bank account… But I’ve been using Photomatix for about 4 years or more now.

    So, now that I have CS4 and Photomatix, I will probably upgrade to CS5 and give it a chance. But when I talk to others about HDR and give them recommendations, I’ll be recommending Photomatix since, at least personally, I don’t know any casual photographers around me who actually owns a full version of Photoshop. …well… Legally… *ahem*… Of course if this tech goes into Photoshop Elements that’s a whole different story.

    Photomatix will continue to be the go-to program for HDR for the average shooter out there I think.

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  33. I’ve just done a bunch of experimenting with the new CS5 HDR tools. So far I really like the new functionality. It produces really high quality noise free images, although the processing times are incredibly slow!

    I’ve put together my initial thoughts in a rough review on my blog:

    http://mundoview.com/wp/2010/05/07/hdr-in-photoshop-cs5/

    Cheers,

    Simon

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  34. HAve been playing around with HDR Pro since being able to buy CS5 upgrade. Is it as good as Photomatix?
    I have found it much easier to achieve what I want for photorealistic images using HDR Pro, but conversely I prefer the effect I can achieve with Photomatix when going for a more surreal look. So having both is great. However I cannot see the need to buy photomatix if you do not have it already.
    I havent timed it but I would say Photomatix processes images a fair bit faster than HDR Pro.
    I personally dont think HDR Pro de-ghosts that much better than Photomatix, but where it really speeds ahead is in its handling of noise control.
    Noise control is one area where Adobe have really pulled it off, whether in Photoshop CS5, Camera Raw 6 or the Lightroom 3 Beta, If I was Noise Ninja or Noiseware I would be worried. The way in which these upgrades allow you to control noise and still maintain image detail is amazing and make the cost of upgrade worthwhile on their own.

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  35. Hi all,

    I am going to tell you that from my point of view the best workflow is to use both of them, PS and Photomatix.

    I discovered with PS CS4 that is better aligning the bracketed pictures to generate hdr files and to reduce noise too. With CS5, not only the noise reduction is better, the ghosting removal is working very fine. So what is the problem ? The color management. I don’t know id there is a problem because by deafult colorspace for LR is ProPhoto, sRGB for Photomatix and Adobe RGB 1998 for PS. So for example, if you try to export directly from LR to Photomatix or you export to PS to generate HDR file and later open this in PS, not only the noise is different, the color is too.

    So what is finally my workflow:

    1) Catalog my pics at LR and export them to generate an HDR file with PS CS5 HDR Pro tool, selecting 32 bit and checking ghost removal tool. Later, I save the result as .hdr file.

    2) Open the HDR file in Photomatix and I do tonemapping. I save the processed file as TIFF 16 bits file.

    3) I open the TIFF file in PS and adjust the colours with curves, shadows and highlights … I am also using Topaz Adjust and Details plugins. And Noiseware too.

    If you want to see the results of my workflow, you can check my pictures at my Flickr website: http://www.flickr.com/photos/servalpepbase/

    If someone can resolve my problems with the colour cast that produces Photoshop with hdr files, please let me know. For any comment and help about my workflow, please don’t hesitate to contact with me (servalpe@hotmail.com)

    Regards,

    Sergio

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    • Servalpe, I’m having trouble using a similar workflow (almost identical actually).

      All of my pictures coming out of CS5 are “fuzzy” and out of focus. I think the problem is in how I am working with CS5 because they are out of focus when i start to do tone mapping in Photomatrix. I was using CS4 before with the same steps and everything was sharp sharp sharp. What am I doing wrong with CS5?

      JF

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      • Hi,

        Are you using the final version ? I only select 32 bit in HDR Pro and ghost removal tool if it’s necessary. I’m not doing more in this step.

        Regards,

        Sergio

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  36. I have been a long time user of Photomatix Pro for HDR and PS for other post production tasks. I do NOT like the “HDR look”. It mainly shoot landscapes and use HDR for the greatest tonal range and tend towards a more saturated look. I really like the output of Photomatix except the noise and ghosting (as almost everyone else said). However, I have found the effect of the HDR Pro workflow to produce flatter images which I have had a hard time getting to the results of Photomatix, even using the tone curve in HDR Pro (don’t overlook this). However, I use HDR Pro to create the HDR or EXR file and then open this in Photomatix for rendering as a 16-bit file. That gets results more to my liking and yet removes the ghosting and noise. It may be that I haven’t quite got the hang of HDR Pro yet, but at least I reap some of its benefits and still get more of the flavor of the Photomatix images I like. For those who can’t afford CS5 but have CS4, the auto-align feature can help with ghost removal for Photomatix Pro.

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  37. My issues with CS5 HDR Pro is I can’t use it on my Windows 32 bit system. All I get is a black image, I even upgraded my graphics card as I was getting some weird lines and stuff through the images so I couldn’t see what my adjustments were doing. The graphics card eliminated that but now after doing my adjustments all I get is plain black. Drives me nuts. Photomatix is here to stay.

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  38. for what its worth…i have photoshop 5 and photomatix and i find photoshop 5 is still not up to photomatix….still have to work more with it but so far the photoshop results are just not as good.

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  39. I still feel that Photomatix is superior to Photoshop, even CS5. I do admit that image alignment and deghosting might be better in CS5, but Photomatix is still superior in the tone mapping and color department.

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