Smart IBL v2.0 is better and bigger than ever!

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[Rollover the image to see raw render output, lit with Smart IBL in Lightwave.]

Whenever this blog is quiet for a month, you can be sure we have something cooking:

Smart IBL 2.0 is the first major revision to our open source HDRI Lighting Kit. We updated the format itself, all scripts and programs, even the documentation. Everybody on the project was working really hard on it, including myself, Kel Solaar, Chris Huf, Christian Bauer, and Volker Heisterberg. And we're really proud of how it turned out.

What's new?

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Smart IBL 2.0 in Lightwave.

  • GPS tags: Choose your lighting set by region!
  • Standalone GUI: Is your 3d app's scripting language limited? Fear not, there is hope. Kel Solaar's amazing sIBL_GUI connects to Maya, XSI, 3ds MAX. Flawlessly.
  • Multiple Lights: Obviously better.
  • Automatic Update: Latest bug fixes and features delivered to your door (LW loader and sIBL_GUI only).
  • More new tags to build stronger and more accurate lighting setups: North direction, shooting height, date and time.

How to update

In Maya and 3dsMAX you have two options: Download the latest Loader Scripts or use the standalone sIBL_GUI.

XSI works only with sIBL_GUI, so get that.

Lightwave is the opposite of XSI, here you need the latest Loader Script.

modo 401 comes with a built-in environment preset system. Gwynne wrote a sIBL to Environment Preset converter just to do that.

The new sIBL-Edit is for everyone.

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sIBL-Edit makes full use of the 2.0 format.

Keep checking back for updates, Chris Huf is still squashing some minor bugs. That's just because he went all out (again) with additional features. For example, you can geotag your personal sIBL-collection by placing markers in Google Earth, export them as KML file, and load it into sIBL-Edit. Or how about printing a contact sheet with thumbs and descriptions of all your sIBL-sets? And not to forget: powerful keyword search-as-you-type. Way to go, Chris!

By the way - Chris is currently available. So, if you're thinking about tightening up your VFX pipeline before the next wave of big features hits, shoot Chris an email.


You also have to update your current sIBL-Collection. Old sets will still work, but you will miss out on the best new features.
Almost every set in the sIBL Archive has been updated. To spare you [and my server] downloading more than 500 MB again, follow these steps closely:
  1. Download the .ibl update package here. These are just the description files, the images haven't changed.
  2. Place each .ibl file in the matching sIBL-set folder. Just overwrite the old ones.
  3. Enjoy.

Dutch Skies 360 Promo

The cherry on top is delivered by Bob Groothuis. He's a master pano photographer from the Netherlands, a true HDR expert with field experience in VFX shoots.

Bob's Dutch Skies 360° collection is officially the first Smart IBL shop on the web. Each set is put together with much care, fully sIBL 2.0 compliant and loaded with bonus material. They're all gorgeous, tested, ready-to-go.

And because Bob is so awesome, he donated these seven sets for our free archive:

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Symposium and Workshop on HDR Imaging at Stanford

Where is HDRI heading?
Why is it so hard to build HDR cameras?
What is Dolby Vision up to, and where is the competition?
How much better will real HDR displays look, and how is this put into numbers?
What's the state-of-the-art in tonemapping, and will we need it in the future?

Leading experts will discuss all these questions at the HDRI Symposium and Workshop.

I hereby declare attendance mandatory for every HDR software maker!
For everyone else, it's still highly recommended. Cancel any plans for September 10-11 and sign up for the HDR Symposium instead. Seriously. All the original founding fathers will be there, plus the makers and shakers of tomorrow.

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HDR PhotoStudio sets a new standard for HDR editing

We've seen a bunch of new HDR programs lately, most of them very similar in the general approach: You merge an HDR, you tonemap, you do your fine adjustments in 8 or 16 bit, and then you save your final image.

Unified Color's HDR PhotoStudio breaks this workflow paradigm, and I love them for that!

So, what does HDR PhotoStudio do differently?

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Slick dark production interface of HDR Photostudio.

Very simple: The image is kept in 32-bit floating point at all times. Instead of one Monster-Tonemapping window, you get a full shelf of tools to tweak an image until your eyes are bleeding. You'd use the Shadow/Highlight tool to recover blown out areas, then use the Local Contrast tool to give it some punch, correct the White Balance, or selectively finetune some colors. One tool after the other. Each time you're working on the full image, you see exactly what you get, and you're still in 32 bit. Tonemapping can be that simple!

Waaaaait a minute ... isn't my monitor just 8 bit? How can this possibly be WYSIWYG when the image is kept in 32 bit?

Exactly. That is the fresh approach of this program! What you see on your 8 bit monitor is what you will get when you save it in an 8-bit format like JPG. There's absolutely no need to break the image down to 8 bit anytime before it's saved. See, your monitor doesn't have 4000 by 3000 pixels either, yet you can still edit your 12 Megapixel image. That's what the Zoom slider is for. The same way you can edit an image with high dynamic range on a low dynamic range device. That's what the Viewing Exposure slider is for (called Display Brightness here). Same thing, really.

In a way, this approach is actually more conservative than revolutionary, it's just as you would expect from a regular image editor. You load your image, you apply your tools, one after another. Until your like it. Back to old school, I'd say!

Tonemapping Quality

Here is a little quality evaluation on the infamous KitchenWindow.exr from my book DVD. If you tried tonemapping this yourself before, you will have noticed that this image has such a high contrast that it quickly turns into halo-hell.

Except for the bad quality of my animated GIF, this clearly confirms that HDR PhotoStudio isn't only very effective in suppressing halos, it's also very good in preserving a natural look.

Serious HDR Editing

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White Balance with a color wheel, wrapped in an intuitive professional interface.

What's really great about this new/old approach, is that you don't have to save in 8-bit. Whatever you did, you can still save your image in 32-bit. That opens a whole new world of usefulness, way beyond tonemapping as we knew it.
If you're preparing HDRIs for 3D lighting, texture, or matte painting, HDR Photostudio is actually outperforming Photoshop CS4 when it comes to White Balance, Color Adjustments and Noise Reduction. Seriously. Because Photoshop can't do any of this in 32-bit mode. Of course, Photoshop Extended still has HDR Layers and Brushes, so you couldn't entirely drop it either...

Now, this is the part where I was about to insert my standard rant about missing EXR support. But, thankfully, the programmer was listening and in the next version (coming soon) you can in fact save OpenEXR images. Currently available options are TIFF32 (wastefully big), and their own proprietary / highly compressed BEF format. The program comes with a BEF plugin for Photoshop, which is a nice touch, but ultimately only a standard format fits in everyone's pipeline.

Bottom line

You've rarely ever seen me wave the fanboy flag like this. But if you're serious about HDR editing, you need HDR PhotoStudio. Period.
Sure, it needs plenty of resources, but that's reasonable for full 32-bit editing. Currently, it doesn't work well with large images (>25 Megapixels), but as soon as I complained about this, head programmer Igor threw together a 64-bit version that solves that issue. So, extra points for listening to the user base.
There's no Mac version (yet), so that's bad. But that's about it.

As you've come to expect, the HDRI Handbook is your VIP ticket for getting a 30% discount. For you, my friend, that's $99.99 instead of $149.99. What a deal!

...and then, there was the

Montly update

The sibl-of-the-month is a scenic dirt road in Monument Valley (panoview here), especially for all you 3D car fans out there. We're currently in the process of updating the Smart IBL project to the next level, so if you're feeling adventurous today join the beta force in the forum. You've been warned!

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New Pentax K-7: The first HDR camera?

The answer to the question is: Yes and No.

Pentax just announced the new K-7, and the feature highlight is in-camera HDR shooting and tonemapping. It's truthful in both, meaning it really does shoot several exposures to cover whopping 17 EVs, and the onboard tonemapping renders very natural images. That is the "Yes" part of the answer.

The pity is, that both features are connected: The real 32-bit HDR image is inaccessible, the tonemapping result is all you get (in JPEG format). Love it or leave it!

Here's why I don't like this:

A) Tonemapping is the fun part in HDR photography. I appreciate in-camera merging of the exposures, but please leave the creative part to me!

B) It renders this mode useless for 32-bit applications of HDR, like 3D-lighting, advanced compositing, lighting analysis.

C) The term HDR is further watered down, reduced to tonemapped JPEGs. This is especially concerning to me, because it works against the overall goal of having a fully HDR-capable imaging pipeline (that ends up on a Dolby-HDR enabled display).

Please, Pentax make this camera a little less smart! Why disable RAW shooting when in HDR mode? No need to make up your own 32-bit file format, just save the merged HDR images as EXR files (before tonemapping)! And in an instant you made this camera 100% more professional.

With this in mind, jump over to Adorama to read fellow HDR buff Jack Howard's hands-on review. Jack seems a bit more ecstatic about the K-7 than me, maybe because he got such excellent results out of it. Looking at his slideshow, there is no doubt that this camera is a giant leap. Just not quite the right direction for me...

Further reference:
12-page Preview on DPReview
Official Pentax K-7 site

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Autopano Pro 2 is out

The long awaited update is out, and it's pretty awesome.

It addresses many of the usability issues that come up in real-world production, and there are several big new features. This update also marks the split into Autopano Pro and Autopano Giga.

Here is a little run-down of the new features:

GPU support

Provided you have a decent graphics card, you can get a pretty substantial speed increase. GPU is used not only for rendering, but also for pano detection and faster realtime feedback.

Improved manual editor

Manually fixing a stitch has always been the achilles heel of Autopano. Not anymore. The editor has been refined and is much more usable. New History, even with Snapshots / fully customizable UI / draggable images.
My favorite new feature is the Local Optimizer: You right-click on an image and let Autopano re-align just that surrounding area, without affecting the rest of the panorama. Very useful, very fast.

Automatic pano robot support

There are several new presets for importing images from a pano robot. The images come in pre-aligned, according to the rows and columns that the robot shoots. This makes detection on Gigapixel images much faster, and for some robots even unnecessary.
Note, that this feature is available in both versions. Only support for the high-end Radeon VR head from Dr.Clauss is limited to Autopano Giga. If you have a homegrown robot, or the low-cost Gigapan, you're fine with the "Pro" version.

Flash website generator

This feature is actually so big, that it became a separate application. Autopano Tour, only available as part of Autopano Giga.

Since Apple left Quicktime VR out to die, Flash has become the dominant way of showcasing panoramas on the web. And with Autopano Tour it's easy to create such a flash presentation. A very pretty interface for drawing hotspots and linking from one pano to the another. The generated website uses krpano as player (which coincidentally is also used on my own flash gallery). Very cool.


RAW import, Linux version, new Preference window that is both easier and more powerful.

Bottom line

I've had some great success with the beta versions, so I can confirm that this is indeed a worthy update. Most great features are identical in both versions, so unless you're after the Flash generator the "Pro" is all you need. Really, the name "Giga" is a bit misleading, because this is more of a "Deluxe" version that adds the cherry on top.

Best way to buy

If you're updating from a previous version, you're best off with the official Update Offer. But if you're planning on a new purchase, remember to unlock the coupon codes on my software list to get a 10% deal on the "Pro", and 15% on the "Giga" version.

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Thanks a Million!

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Website stats as of May 2009, still growing bigger every month.

Wow, I didn't even realize that this site is up for almost two years. One million visitors came. Incredible. Feels like an home party that gets overrun by the general public.

Many of you folks seem to be regulars, and I highly appreciate your loyalty. So, here you go - grab your monthly dose of sIBL. This time I actually tested it, as you can see in the rendering above ;) ... Location is the Etnies Skatepark, one of the biggest skateparks in the US. Got some more panoramas of that spot in the gallery:
Best Trick Contest
Street Course
In the Bowl

Anyway, thanks you for visiting this site.
Keep on coming, and bring your friends!

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