Review: HDR Expose 2 and 32Float v2

Unified Color has just updated its flagship software HDR Expose, along with the plugin version 32 Float. Big update, lots of ceremony.

Bad news upfront: some of my favorite features are gone. But the good news is: It seems like they are no longer needed, and on the bottom line the program is now much faster, more stable and easier to use. So in the end, it's a good update!

Here is a quick rundown:

Previously, you could stack up any operation in any order. Apparently that got many people confused, so now the order of operation is fixed. Does it take out flexibility? Sure. But it certainly makes the most common workflow fly much faster (i.e. tonemapping). Especially since all operations are preconfigured to deliver a decent natural result by default.

Highslide JS

The new Preset system is kind of cool, because you can save presets that only affect certain parts of the processing flow. Just like in Lightroom. Very cool, very versatile.

Previously, there were 4 settings for halo removal. That's gone, replaced with a fully automatic halo removal. Believe me, nobody was more sceptic about this change than me. But it turns out that the new halo removal does not slow you down a bit (as the old one did), and actually performs flawless so far.

Previously, the program was pretty slow, and got slower the more operators you added. Now that's fixed, obviously. It's really fast now. Maybe calling it realtime goes a bit too far - it's not as realtime as SNS-HDR, PhotoEngine, or Picturenaut (meaning the image does not change while you drag a slider - only after you let go). But it's always responsive and by gut feeling a 1000% speed boost from before.

I do miss the Radius setting for local contrast, no idea where that went. Access to medium-sized detail is a little bit harder now and can only be achieved with a delicate balance between Exposure, Highlights, and Shadows settings. Oh well. In exchange there are new Tone Curves and Dodge/Burn brushes. Both rather simplistic, not really worth any further discussion.

What turned out really good, though, is the Batch Processing. It gives useful feedback about the detection of bracketing sequences, and you can have multiple look presets applied in one go. It's similar to Hydra, but better.

Highslide JS

Fortunately unchanged are the excellent White Balance tool, Color Tuner, Veiling Glare correction, Noise Removal, and Sharpening. All pretty unique features in the context of an end-to-end floating-point pipeline. If tonemapping in HDR Expose doesn't tickle your fancy, doing all these things to polish and cleanup a 32-bit HDR image certainly should. You can still feed that result to an artistic tonemapper of your choice, and get a much better final with less post work to be done. HDR panoramas that are color corrected in HDR Expose even still qualify for CG lighting, because all the uber-white highlight data is not only retained but properly beautified along with all the rest. For that type of workflow, the full 32-bit round trip, I recommend the "Reset" preset as starting point.

So there you go. The important goods are still there, and everything is now faster and friendlier. Head over to Unified Color and see for yourself.
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