Lightroom Tips

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.

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 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 😉