What is the Best HDR Photography Software?

Until recently if asked the question “What is the best HDR photography software?”, I would have instantly and without hesitation said “Photomatix“.  This answer is still true to a large extent, but Photomatix definitely has a contender now.

Oleono HDREngine is HDR software that I just heard about recently from a member of my Facebook HDR group.  Based on the positive recommendation given, I decided to download the trial version of the software and decide for myself.

When I first wrote this review I had come to the conclusion that Photomatix was best for a surreal result and Oloneo was best for a natural result.  Amazingly, both companies have improved their software and I feel that they are tied in both categories now!  As far as ease of use goes it’s really hard to pick one over the other as well.  They are both really user-friendly and not hard to figure out at all.

In my first review I added in some other brands of HDR software, but now those others aren’t even worth mentioning.  So, I just deleted them from this post.  Now it is completely a contest between Photomatix Pro and Oloneo HDREngine.  My two favs 🙂

Here are the sample bracketed images I used in all of the HDR software, which can be downloaded from, along with a few other sets of bracketed photos. Alternatively, just click on them here and then download the full size:





1.  Photomatix Pro

Photomatix Pro has long been the industry standard for HDR photography.  I do have a lot of experience processing images within Photomatix Pro and would still definitely recommend it.  This is especially true if you desire to create surreal HDR images with a great deal of detail.

First, the tone mapping menu in Photomatix Pro is very clean and easy to use.  You have a few different menus to choose from.  The most commonly used tone mapping menu, Details Enhancer, is shown in the following screen-shot:

photomatix screenshot

Photomatix Pro Screenshot

Since the preset thumbnails have been added, the software has significantly sped up and the additional image controls after pushing the process button have been added, I am officially in love with Photomatix again.

First, here is an example of a realistic result from Photomatix Pro:

Photomatix Natural

Photomatix Natural Result

Here is a very saturated and surreal result from Photomatix:

Photomatix Surreal

Photomatix Surreal Result

I think both are great examples of HDR, although I tend to prefer natural results almost always these days.  The dramatic and richly detailed look certainly has its place.  There will be those that argue against that, but…whatever.

Here are some other results that I like from Photomatix:

Photomatix Pretty

My favorite

Photomatix Black and White

Photomatix Black and White

2.   Oloneo HDREngine

oloneo screenshot

Oloneo HDREngine Screenshot

Oloneo HDREngine is a bit different than Photomatix, and still might be a tad easier when going for a very realistic result. Although not by much.  I really like the very long list of presets as well as the ability to add a variety of toning such as sepia, infrared, cyanotype, split toning and others.  Here is a very natural result produced by the software:

Oloneo Realistic

Here are some fun surreal results from OloneoHDREngine:

Dramatic Sepia

Lighthouse infrared

Oloneo Surreal

In conclusion, you’ll just have to try them yourself and decide.  Luckily they both have free 30 day trial versions.

Oh…if you do decide that you want to purchase a license for Photomatix Pro, or any Photomatix product for that matter, you can enter the coupon code “photoluminary” into the online order form (without the quotes”).  You will  get an instant 15% discount!

9 Responses to What is the Best HDR Photography Software?

  1. Guy Bryan says:

    Hi Rachael,
    I have download as many trials of HDR software as I can to compare. One thing that I find in Photomatix annoying is when you move as slider you see no changes in the picture until you let go at some point to see what happens. In Photoengine all sliders make adjustments in realtime. That helps to make adjustments much quicker. It also helps to make finite adjustments. I took a bracket of shots taken of the Channel Islands from on top of the Santa Monica Mountains. I ran them through both Photomatix and Photoengine and I found that both did well but Photoengine gave the best result of the ocean. So am leaning towards Photoengine at this point.

  2. Hi Guy,

    I agree about the slider issue with Photomatix. I think it makes processing images take much longer than it needs to.

    More and more I am preferring Photoengine as I am starting to get sick of the surreal results produced in Photomatix.

    • Rachel… I know what you mean about getting sick of the surreal stuff. When I first saw this software technique I was fascinated, but unless it’s a highly unusual subject that lends to that, it can get boring really fast. It’s almost best used when it’s so subtle that a viewer thinks it’s natural. Charlie

  3. Lowrie says:

    Are any of the free HDR softwares worthy of using? I’m a complete amateur, just got my first SLR camera a month ago, so I can do bracketed shots; and I wonder if I will do enough with HDR, after I get over the “gee whiz” phase, to justify buying one.

    • Hi Lowrie,

      Since I am definitely now over HDR I’m not sure what to recommend. Prior to buying Photomatix I tried all the free programs and honestly thought they were all rubbish. You could always download the trial version of Photomatix which is fully functional but leaves watermarks on the saved images. If you really like the software you can run the photos back through and remove the watermarks.

  4. Lowrie says:

    That’s valuable. Since I became interested, I’ve read lots of opinion pointing to it being all too easy to go to extremes with HDR, and I’ve resolved to resist the “gee whiz” temptation; but I look back through my photo collection, and see so many where it would have been great to have two shots, to get sky and valley, woods and meadow, properly exposed. I think Photomatix Essentials may be enough for my purposes, especially in light of your disillusion with HDR.

  5. Russ says:

    Hi, Try SNS-HDR for realistic images, I have Oloneo also but cannot make up my mind A or B.
    And NO I don’t have shares in SNS-HDR just think it is better than Photomatix for realistic photographs without a lot of extra work with sliders.

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