Review of Nik HDR Effex Pro and Photomatix 4

HDR Photograph

What are the differences between Nik HDR Effex Pro and Photomatix 4?  Which one is better?  Which one is best?  Read this review and learn…

First of all, the conclusion.  After fairly extensive testing of both Photomatix 4 and HDR Effects Pro, I have come to the conclusion that the best product for serious HDR photographers is Photomatix 4, and the best program for people who are interested in just dabbling in HDR and don’t have a lot of experience with digital image editing in Photoshop will prefer HDR Effex Pro.

Photomatix Pro 4 has superior control over the image

The sky is the limit in Photomatix.  If you are serious about HDR and want to fine-tune every tiny aspect of image quality, then Photomatix is for you.  It has approximately 20 sliders which control every possible quality of the image.  While only 5 or 6 of the sliders are actually necessary in most situations, it is handy to have supreme control when necessary.

Because of the amount of controls available in Photomatix, I am able to bring out amazing amounts of texture in an image.  When using HDR Effex Pro, I was not able to bring out the texture with as much precision.  This is disappointing because texture is is one of my main attractions to shooting HDR photos.

Photomatix has problems, too.  HDR Effex Pro delivers cleaner and less noisy photos than Photomatix in my opinion; however, this may be partly because HDR Effex Pro uses more presets and does not provide the ability to tweak the presets as well.  This reduces the amount of noise caused by user error in tonemapping mistakes.

Photomatix also wins the prize for price.  Photomatix 4 costs $99 for the full stand-alone version, but HDR Effex Pro costs $159.95 for the plugin.  Since HDR Effex Pro is not 1.5 times better than Photomatix, the price tag is unwarranted.

HDR Effex Pro makes it easier to achieve good image quality and interesting effects

HDR Effex Pro is the perfect program for people who like the HDR look but don’t want to spend the time to learn this form of art.  When the plugin is run, it brings up dozens of presets off to the left.  The presets are handy and include many “creative” presets.  This is handy, but it reminds me more of a camera app for a smartphone than a serious post-processing program.  This feeling was reiterated by the lack of sufficient controls to tweak the presets.  Also, it seems that there are more “creative” (aka “weird”) effects than there are useful or professional-quality styles.

HDR Effex Pro includes a neat feature called control points.  They are basically a copy of the control points available in Lightroom, and they work similarly.  When I first heard of this feature in HDR Effex Pro, I had imagined that it would allow the tonemapping settings to be adjusted on a local level.  This would allow me to tonemap the building in one way while tonemapping the sky in a different way.  This feature would save me the trouble of bringing multiple HDR images into Photoshop to mask them together.  Unfortunately, this is not so.  It really only adjusts settings like you’d find in Camera Raw: exposure, vibrance, etc.

Conclusion

I am absolutely thrilled to see competition in the HDR post-processing market, and Nik is a good company to be doing the competing; however, I think for most photographers, I believe the best answer is Photomatix.  From a cost and control standpoint, HDR Effex Pro is the losing program.  I hope that HDR Effex Pro will eventually take the lead when it comes out with version 2.  That will put HDR Soft’s feet to the fire and force them to continue innovating.  For now, though…. Photomatix.

Buy Photomatix 4 on Amazon.com!

Buy Nik HDR Effex Pro on Amazon.com!

Comments from the I.P. Community

  1. says

    Hi Jim,

    (Full disclosure – I’m with Nik Software)

    Thanks for the insightful article! I’m not parachuting in here to debate your conclusion – Photomatix 4 is a very strong program.

    At the same time, I do want to point out that each of our presets are shortcuts for the many enhancement sliders and the multiple tone mapping algorithms found in HDR Efex Pro. Once you click a preset, you should be able to do a tremendous amount of fine-tuning on the image, including as you point out, using the Control Points to selectively edit parts of the image.

    Lastly, one of the primary goals in the way we designed HDR Efex Pro was to give customers an “all-in-one” workflow so that there wasn’t a tremendous amount of Photoshop work to do when you finished. I hope you found that the case.

    Thanks again for the review of the software!

    Best, Kevin (from Nik)

  2. says

    Kevin, thanks for your response. It says a lot about a company that takes photographers opinions seriously and is “plugged in” to the community. You’ve made excellent points.

  3. Tom says

    I am not sure if you have never heard of Artizen hdr, but may I make the suggestion you give it a try. I am one of the engineers there and feel that you may have over looked it. Many of our users are photomatix converters or ppl who are professional photographers who tried more than dozen HDR products only to choose Artizen. I have provided an email if you be interested in getting a full version to try.

  4. says

    Jim and Kevin,

    I recently created several HDR images from a two week road trip around the state of Oregon. I shot mainly two types of subjects, landscape and old abandoned houses. Without going into reasons why at the moment, I ended up using Photomatix for my landscapes and Nik HDR Effex Pro for my buildings. I really like Nik’s HDR program because it’s much nicer user interface. I had several images that needed HDR processing before committing to post production in Lightroom and Photoshop I worked at creating all the HDR’s first. This meant I didn’t do any close inspection until ready for LR and PS. Once I started post phase, I began to notice several images created in Nik’s HDR program, were misaligned. As if I had tripod movement during the making of the multiple exposures, which is unlikely, but possible. I messed around with the “alignment” settings in the Nik HDR program with no success. When processing those exact same files in Photomatix the images where perfectly aligned. I ended up abandoning Nik HDR Effex Pro until I see a new release.

  5. says

    Hello Jim, There is a new program out there that I think is worth a free trial. I am just now purchasing it. Oloneo Photoengine. Does a lot for the money and makes it easy on me. Don’t know how it stacks up to the others but does a great job if realistic HDR is your goal.

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