New take on showing HDR images on the web

Rafał Mantiuk and Wolfgang Heidrich, two recognized authorities in HDR research, have just released HDR HTML. It's is a web-viewer for HDR images. Not these tonemapped JPEGs you find on Flickr, but real HDRIs with adjustable exposure.

There have been other ways for achieving this before, namely PTViewer (tutorial here), HDView, XDepth and ADR. What they all have in common, is that they require Flash or proprietary ActiveX components to be installed in the user's browser. HDR HTML is the first fully compliant HTML solution, making it super-compatible with web standards.

The generator is even based on page templates, opening up a world of opportunities. You bet that I will use it to put together something cool for this site ;)

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New version of HDRCap: OSX remote utility for Canon

Greg Ward's ingenious HDRCap is back in the house, updated by Denis Fan. Now it works with the latest Canon SDK and OSX.

It's an Mac utility, that will remote-control a tethered Canon camera. Special treat: it automatically generates the HDR image on the fly, and pops it right up in Photosphere. Sure, your MacBook not as lightweight of a remote controller as a Nintendo DS, Bracketmeister, or the latest HDR-Jack. But with HDRCap you're getting instant results without much fuzz, makes perfect sense for a studio setup.

(Tipped by forum member Kirk.)

HDRI method approved for architects

Also, I found another hidden gem on Denis Fan's site. With all the tonemapping hype on Flickr and in photo mags lately, it's easy to forget that HDRI has some dead serious applications.

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Screenshot from the slides, using Photosphere for serious illumination measurements.

An international group of students found out how to use High Dynamic Range Imaging as a Means to Quantify Luminous Flux. In essence, this presentation shows how architects can determine the amount of light that gets through a window, just by taking properly calibrated HDR images. That's not only easier than climbing up to a ceiling light with an illuminance meter, it also results in much more data where you can literally see light falloff and light transport.

Note, that Photosphere is all you need to do this at home. Another group of students has already run Photosphere through a real-world test before. Their conclusion: "Laboratory and field studies have shown that the pixel values in the HDR photographs can correspond to the physical quantity of luminance with reasonable precision and repeatability."

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Ricoh CX1 / FinePix F200EXR: pocketsized HDR cameras?

Both newly released cameras claim to capture a higher dynamic range.
Both are right and wrong at the same time.
Both, however, are a step in the right direction.

First of all, I love the fact that dynamic range is pushed by marketing as competitive advantage. Because it is, and such a valid argument will hopefully spur some more competition among camera makers. Bring on the Dynamic Range Wars, we have enough Megapixels already!

Ricoh CX1

Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR

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Sensor Type:
Max Image Sixe:
9.3 MP (3456 x 2592)
12 MP (4000 x 3000)
6 MP in Wide DR Mode
DR Increase Method:
Shoots a burst of two images. The camera’s firmware takes care of blending both exposures and saves a single JPEG.
One-shot solution: Sensor pixels are reconfigured to have varying sensitivity. Firmware interpolates and saves a JPEG.
Special Extra Features:
Focus Bracketing
120 fps in VGA resolution
Scene DR detection
Film stock simulation
Optical Zoom:
7.1x / equivalent 28-200mm
5x / equivalent 35-140mm
(W x H x D)
101.5 x 58.3 x 27.9 mm
97.7 x 58.9 x 23.4 mm
More Info:
Official Ricoh product page
dpreview interview
Official Fujifilm product page
dpreview sample gallery

I haven't personally held either one of them in my hand. From what I can gather from the trustworthy internet sources, is this little peek under the hood:

Rico CX1

We're looking at an advanced CMOS sensor, that has a "smart layer" of transistors. Supposedly related to what I've described it in Chapter 3.1.4 as "Digital Pixel Sensor". It is capable of shooting at very high speed, enabling extra features like this "Dynamic Range double shot mode", Focus bracketing (which can be used for focus stacking), and 1 second recursive shooting buffer at 30fps.
In "DR double shot" it is claimed to capture 12 EVs of scene DR, which is about equal to what you can recover from a RAW file out of a modern DSLR. Then again, in perspective, for a consumer camera at about 1/5 of the price tag, that's pretty phenomenal.
There is actually a second dynamic range expansion built in, that I haven't mentioned in the table above. It uses the red and blue channel to interpolate clipped areas of the green channel. Sounds like a smart hack and is certainly appreciated, but I wouldn't want to rely on it for my wedding photos...
Bottom line is: The tech advantage is in the sensor speed and all the fun stuff you can do with sequential shooting. It's a great toy for getting into other areas of computational photography, too. If the firmware would just be a little bit less "magical", and would allow shooting simple exposure brackets at high-speed, the Ricoh CX1 could even be taken serious.

Fuji FinePix F200EXR

This camera is all about the new (5th generation?) of the Super CCD sensor. Fuji keeps redesigning it, coupled with an evolution of the readout-process. It's following the "spacially varying exposure" method, as described in Chapter 3.1.5 and 3.1.6. After experimenting with dual sized photosites, they went back to one size for all (but still in a honeycomb pattern instead of a pixel grid). Photosites are still considered to be two groups, but their sensitivity can now be set arbitrarily. A maximum setting of %800 suggests, that the individual images can be +-4 EV apart. If you ever had a chance to look at the different exposures, because the firmware does not hesitate to mush them up and stomps everything into a JPEG...
Basically, what you get here is the tried-and-true technology from Fuji's flagship DSLR FinePix S5Pro. Even one generation further. In fact, it will be interesting to this new sensor in a more professional camera, where we get access to the RAW files.

The Bottom LIne

Do these cameras capture a higher dynamic range?
Yes, compared to other compacts, they sure do.

Do they shoot real HDR images?
No, both save only JPEGs, which are by definition LDR (low dynamic range) images.

The whole point about HDR imaging is, that you get an 32-bit HDR file, where you can tweak your heart out without loosing data. These cameras, however, do all the tonemapping/exposure blending (read: all the fun stuff) in hardware, and only deliver the final result. I guess that's the idea behind a point-and-shoot camera: Take all the high-tech and make it a single button that my mom could push. However, don't fall in for the marketing talk. They're close, but they're not real HDR camera just yet. Specifically, naming the Fuji camera "EXR" couldn't be more misleading. Coincidence? Or is there someone buzz-wording involved?

Unrelated sidenote

Did my monthly update chores. The new sIBL-of-the-month is from Arches National Park, and the Hot-on-Flickr gallery is now looking at the most popular images from March. Who knows maybe we'll see some first CX1 or F200EXR shots float atop this month?

Christian Bloch

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Software updates: Hydra, DPHDR, Photomatix...

New Year's Resolutions never worked out for me. I promised to blog about things as they are happening right away, yet unreported bits of information keep piling up on my desktop. Sorry about this...

So let's wrap some of them up, shall we?

Hydra 2 is out for Mac

The mac-only HDR software, that looks as if it's been made by Apple itself, has been updated to a full new revision. New feature highlights of Hydra 2:

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Hydra 2 adds a 100% Loupe preview and a new Tonemapper.

"Perceptive" Tonemapper.

Has almost no settings, nevertheless delivers very pleasant results. Appears to be a local TMO with fully automatic radius adjustment. A word of warning: it's not panorama-safe (left/right seam gets accentuated).

100% Loupe Preview.

Fancy design and seems to quite accurately resemble the final result.

"Pro" Adjustments.

Sharpness, Saturation, Luminosity, Contrast - all these tweaks are applied as postprocess, but wrapped in the tonemapper interface. Especially useful is the inclusion of Preset swatches for all settings. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure why all these options should be only for pro's...

"Homography" Alignment.

Probably the most unique feature of Hydra, the control-point based warping alignment, has been further improved. Very useful to save tricky hand-held HDR shots.

There have been many more enhancements, most notably better RAW support, reworked Aperture plugin, German localization, better stability and GPU support. A well-rounded update, worth the $19.95 tag for registered users. (Note, that the 30% discount for readers of the HDRI Handbook only applies to new purchases.)

But wait, there's more:

Dynamic Photo HDR 4 rocks on PC

Marketing puts this release in the "faster and more fun" category. Nice tagline. But how does it hold up?

Faster doesn't mean DP HDR 4 would necessarily tonemap faster due to code optimizations. But it certainly feels much more fluent, because all sliders now show live feedback. You've seen a real-time preview like this only in Picturenaut before, and you will agree that it's an incredible workflow boost. Suddenly everything feels right, when you see the image change while dragging a slider. It makes you realize how blind you were before, tip-tapping sliders just to figure out what they do...

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Dynamic Photo HDR 4: Beautiful interface, prime example of the “form follows function” principle.

More fun? Well, there is a plethora of options to mess with you image. Yes, it means it's very easy to slip into the overtweaking and falling in for funky look experiments. The dangerous kind of fun... ;)
As with all powertools, the real mastery comes out when work careful and scale effects down into subtleties. And Match Color, temperature-based Color Correction, and Curves are professional tools, I use them in VFX Compositing all the time. Adding into the mix some special HDR-related tools like the Light Tuner and this great 3D Filter (which keeps the sky from graining up), this toolbox can be taken serious.

Granted, most of these "fun" features are not new. New in version 4 is a post-processing editor, where you can apply a bunch of filters to your tonemapped image. Some of them are very cool, Photoshop plugins are also supported, but I wish they would all just work in full 32 bits. Just like Michael Bay demands things to be awesome, I demand things to just work. Another grain of salt is, that the 360 Pano option doesn't respect zenith and nadir, which makes it useless for fully spherical panoramas. DPHDR also has the annoying tendency to show a difference in the final render to what you'd expect from a preview - a common achilles heel for tonemappers. And I was able to crash it first day. But that doesn't have to mean anything, I literally crash everything I touch 5 times a day, must be my chaotic "Hey - wat that do?" click habits.

Anyway, a great update to a great software. IMHO the new interactivity justifies the $25 update fee. Even for a new user $55 isn't bad, drop this down to $39 (less than a dinner for two in LA), when you have my book.

Photomatix 3.1 with Lightroom Plugin

The most popular HDR software keeps defending it's position with a supercool new Lightroom plugin.

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The quickest way to make HDR images: directly in Lightroom.

Now all settings are kept inside Lightroom's Export dialog itself - you don't even have to wait for Photomatix to start anymore. Huge workflow improvement! It makes me wish Lightroom would be able to show the HDR (or OpenEXR) files generated. Even a rudimentary HDR support like Adobe Bridge has it...
For now, you can tell the Photomatix LR plugin to tonemap right away and import the result back into Lightroom. So, it works much like the Batch Processing mode, but with Lightroom as file chooser. Very clever and streamlined workflow, check out this tutorial.

Oh, and the 3.1 update last October was actually a substantial one as well. Chromatic Aberration and Noise reduction, both serious options for improving the quality of your photos. The Tonemapping interface is redesigned (in a good direction), and I've noticed several little workflow improvements all over the Batch Processing dialog. Which is where I roll most of my HDRs, personally.

Best of all, this update is free. In fact, I've rarely ever seen a paid update for Photomatix - even though they keep maniacally improving the soft with every point update. In this regard, $99 is actually cheaper in the long run (or $69.30 for my readers - again, only valid for a new purchase)

Last but not least...

Picturenaut 2.8 Beta

The wait for Picturenaut 3 is almost over. If you want to get a glimpse of what's in store, download the beta and leave a note in the forum. Nuff said.

Yours, truly
Christian Bloch

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HDR-Jack puts that missing button on your Canon

Canon doesn't want you to shoot bracketed exposures for HDR, unless you buy the flagship model EOS 1D. Thankfully, smart people keep coming up with solutions for the rest of us.

Meet the latest creation of Lukasz Panek:

Yep. It's the minimalist approach. Just a trigger plugged into the remote jack.

So, how does Luk's HDR-Jack compare to other do-it-yourself solutions like Steve's infamous DS-controller or Joergen's Bracketmeister?
  • Smaller (tiny enough to loose it...)
  • Needs no external power source: One battery less to worry about.
  • No setup/boot time required at all.
  • Least configurable.
  • Hardwired to shoot brackets from 1/250 sec to 16 sec in 2 EV intervals.
  • No cable release, you have to touch the camera to start shooting.
Actually, there is more to it, because it has several other useful modes than just HDR brackets.

Head over to Luk's page for a tutorial on how to build your own. Gotta love open source hardware design! If touching a soldiering iron turns you into a safety hazard, you might also consider pestering Luk to send you an handmade HDR-Jack for a fee.

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Site Update: New Flash Panogallery

Recently I realized that I spend more time talking about HDRI, than actually showing anything. How can you believe me I know what I'm talking about?
That's when I decided to build a new portfolio of my panoramic work, built upon the fabulous krpano flash viewer.

Hope this new gallery proves me some street creds in HDR shooting, stitching and tonemapping. Make sure to bring some time, and definitely try the Fullscreen mode. Promise!

Christian Bloch

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