Essential HDR 1.0 released

The program formerly known as "Project Wukong" has been released today as Essential HDR.

I've no idea why they would drop a kick-ass code name like Wukong, maybe the guys from Imaging Luminary aren't real Ninjas after all... But they are certainly nice people: You can download the demo version for free (called community version), which is essentially a demo with a bottom frame watermark and 1 megapixel size restriction. Even better, the first 1000 copies are on sale for 30% off ($48.99 instead of $69.99). Usually, it's not my style to hush-hush news out here, but I figured you might want to take advantage of this launch deal...

Quick 5-minute-review

Highslide JS

The side-by-side comparison is a neat way to play with different tonemapping settings.

Essential HDR is an HDR generator and tonemapper. It has a global and a local tonemapping operator. The local TMO (Detail Revealer) is the big selling point. According to the developers it is a new algorithm that produces less artifacts (halos, over-saturation) and runs at a decent speed (multicore support). I can wholeheartedly agree: this is indeed a very powerful tonemapper. Without much fuzz I got a very natural images, the preview is pretty accurate, and it is super-easy to use. For control freaks there might be too few sliders, but I find it very intuitive.
The overall interface is kept simple and it blends right in with other Windows Vista applications. There is no Mac version, but it runs fine on Boot Camp or VMWare Fusion (which is what I made this screenshot on).
One thing that bugs me, is that it cannot save OpenEXR images. You're stuck with Radiance for saving your HDR image, which has less color precision. Not so cool.

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