Photomatix 3.2 and Tonemapping rants

Photomatix keeps the lead as the most popular tonemapper out there. And for a good reason - the folks at HDRSoft constantly listen to the user base, and keep delivering free updates.

What's new in version 3.2?

For a minor version jump from 3.1 to 3.2, there is more than you might expect.

Light Smoothing is now a regular slider, instead only a 5-step setting. That's especially awesome, because it is the most critical setting in the Photomatix - Smoothing is what swings your image between natural and artistic look. And now you're in full control over that. If you felt completely comfortable with only 5 steps, you can revert back to the old style by checking the "Light" box underneath.

Tool tips are now shown at the bottom of the tonemapping panel. They have also been rewritten, and they are actually quite useful. Now Photomatix basically explains itself!

My favorite is the 360° option, that has been repaired to treat the zenith properly. Before, fully spherical panoramas would get an ugly pinching spot at the Zenith. I tried it in 3.2, and I can officially declare Photomatix now pano-safe. But watch out - that option is now tucked away in the Miscellaneous section, so go dig for it.

Other improvements are

  • better multithreading
  • more supported RAW formats
  • floating histogram with RGB channel views
  • batch processing detects bracketing sets by itself
  • built-in tonemapping presets (which turn out to be great starting points)

Kudos to HDRShoft and thanks!
Grab your update here. If you don't own it yet, remember that the HDRI Handbook is your ticket to claim a 30% rebate! (saves you $30, so you basically get your book money back. You could use it buy another book for a friend, hehe)

next topic of the day:

Tonemapping Controversy

Even though I might not follow each photo forum thread on the web, there seem to be heated discussions about natural vs. artistic tonemapping. Purists even go as far as bashing on Photomatix in particular, which is about as ridiculous as blaming a hammer for a crooked nail. People make images, not software, and as an artist I find that making the software responsible for the look of an image is a personal insult. Talk like that degrades me from an artist to a button pusher.

And don't bash on the "HDR Look" either. Please. It only makes you appear narrow-minded and unable to see the big picture of what HDR really stands for. Scott Bourne wrote an excellent column about the issue at hand, and so did Robert Fisher and Darwin Wigget. All great photographers, with an amazing portfolio, that know what they're talking about. My personal perspective is that of an VFX artist, and honestly I find this discussion quite amusing. Want to know what I think?

HDR is growing up.

More specifically, HDR Imaging is graduating from High School to College. It now has to stand up to established photo techniques, and while the "Rebel Appeal" was able to get him chicks in High School, it will now have to show a more serious side. That's where it becomes professional.

Indeed, there are serious advantages in HDR: technical quality of the image data, and how far you can tweak an image before it breaks up in technical terms. That's a fact. DOT Editions for example, is a pro retouch house, is pulling some great stunts with relighting. Also, when people experiment with looks that they couldn't do before, then that's a good thing. It enriches our culture. We're just now figuring out how and why images are breaking up in visual terms. That's new. And I have even seen how going to the extremes, consciously overcooking, can create beautiful pieces or art. Luke Kaven's portraits of Jazz Musicians are my favorite examples.

That's my 2 cents.

PS: Just noticed that I forgot to update the sIBL-of-the-Month page. Literally forgot, threw it in the archive right away. Jeez. Especially when it's such a good one, a real movie location, showing off the new multiple light source feature in Smart IBL. Download here or Panoview here. And here's test render:

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