Picturenaut 3.0 released

I'm just reading a book on webdesign, and that told me I should get to the point:

Picturenaut 3 rocks!

Our very own HDR program is up for a major revision:
  • New interface (that I helped design)
  • Local Tonemapper
  • RAW support
  • Plugin-SDK
  • And more
Full feature list and download here.

NOTE: Picturenaut is still donationware.

You decide how much it's worth to you. Marc Mehl, the lone programmer, has put a lot of passion into making Picturenaut so awesome. Please show some balls and buy Marc a beer ($5), a movie ticket ($10) or a dinner ($20). It's easy to be grateful.

Other things worth mentioning

There's a brand new sIBL-of-the-month, just shot it a month ago on my home vacation. I snuck into the ruins of an old factory, a very Piranesi-esque environment of decay and nature reclaiming the place. Check out the High-Res Panoview here.

Also, the battle for front seats in the Hot-on-Flickr gallery is on again. Wonder if we'll see some Picturenaut submissions this month...

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All sorts of things that happened lately

I'm back from vacation, a terrible cold, and working on several other great things (to be announced soon). How much newsworthy stuff can possibly come together in three weeks?
Apparently, a lot!

Spheron strikes back with an HDR Video Camera

Spheron reclaims the pole position in HDR high-tech equipment by premiering a full blown HDR video camera at Siggraph.

Here are the main specs:

- HDR video capture
- 20 f-stops of dynamic range
- full HD resolution 1920 x1080
- 24 and 30 fps, possibly up to 60 fps
- saves to fiber coupled storage server
- records 5 hours of EXR frame sequences

Well, they almost premiered it - read the full story at fxguide! It's still a work-in-progress, according an eyewitness it still has the size and weight of a small refrigerator. Nevertheless a huge leap forward, redirecting the industry into a most appreciated direction.

If my recent post about the Civetta sounded slightly disapproving of Spheron, that was unintentional. After all, that's like comparing BMW and Mercedes... In all fairness, it shouldn't go unmentioned that Spheron has also updated their core product:

The infamous SpheroCam HDR.

Hardware-wise the SpheroCam HDR comes now tethered to a Panasonic Toughbook with touchscreen interface, mounted right on the tripod. But the most R&D went into the software that runs the system: It now comes in an Easy and a Pro variant. Easy is the One-Touch solution for all those police investigators out there, Pro for everyone who know what their doing. And that Pro version really does sound awesome:
  • EXR-capable panorama viewer, hardware accelerated
  • Marker-based set measurements from two EXR panos
  • Export of 3d marker data as locators for AutoDesk Maya
Read all about Spheron's new software here.

Try the 360 Precision Adjuste MKII panorama head for free

360 Precision launched a demo program, that's as unique as ingenious.
You just put your name on a waiting list, and after a while you get their latest top-of-the-line Adjuste MKII panohead in the mail. Keep it for 10 days, shoot panos until your shutter rings, and then you send it off to the next guy on the list. That is, if their Adjuste head is just half as good as all the reviews report (here and here), you will most certainly want to keep it...

If you're ready to get spoiled by a $1000 panorama head, sign up here.

New cameras: Ricoh GR Digital III and Canon PowerShot G11

I find it interesting how Dynamic Range has become an important feature for camera makers, even in the compact class. Dare to say I told you so. They're finally focussing on making snapshots better, not just bigger!

Ricoh keeps throwing in the DR Double Shot mode, first seen in the Ricoh CX1 (blogged about it in March). According to specs it extends the range to 12 EVs, which is what you could previously only expect from a RAW shot on a DSLR. There's a good review of the new Ricoh GR Digital III on the Photography Blog, and some great test shots on dpreview.com. Couldn't find any review mentioning if the DR Double Shot mode is still limited to JPEG output... so they might also do it in RAW by now??

Canon even went a further in their dedication to Dynamic Range. Updating the hugely successful PowerShot G10 to G11, they even sacrificed 4 MP of resolution in favor of a 2 stop DR increase. No reviewer could confirm this yet, for now we only have Canon's announcement talking about putting image quality first. Sure sounds great to me...

New HDR software: HDR Darkroom

We also have a new player entering the game: HDR Darkroom. It claims have a superior tonemapper: faster, better, more user friendly. You know, the usual claims. How much of that is true you can find out yourself. Get the first public Beta version.

Sorry for the long post, thanks to everyone sending me emails or posting hints in the forum. I'll try to react faster next time and chop news up in more bite-sized pieces.

Until then,
Happy Shooting!
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HDR Symposium coming closer

Siggraph is coming up, but I won't go this time. Still, I'll try to catch some news from what appears on the web. If you're going to New Orleans, make sure to get a first glimpse at the Civetta in Hall G, Booth No. 3331!

Instead, me and Kirt Witte got approved to do an "HDRI for Artists" class at Siggraph Asia. Domo arigato, Yokohama, we're coming!

Also, I will definitely be at the HDR Symposium at Stanford next month. And so will fellow HDR photo-blogger Uwe Steinmüller from www.OutbackPhoto.com and numerous decision makers in the emerging HDR industry. The conference program just got published, and it looks incredibly interesting. I really think this will be a historic event! If you haven't signed up yet - you have two weeks left before late fees apply. So hurry up!

... and then there's the

Monthly Site Update

Right on time I prepared a new sIBL-of-the-month for you, and restarted the Hot-on-Flickr gallery.

Happy August,

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Civetta challenges the Spheron Camera

The infamous SpheroCam HDR used to be the ultimate High-End HDR panocam. Not anymore.

Civetta is the name of this new toy by Dr. Marcus Weiss, who coincidentally also was a co-founder of Spheron. Now he's doing his own thing, and his new camera system seems to be a real winner.

What's different?

The SpherCamHDR uses a single-line CDD in a constant revolution, scanning the full environment as it turns. Especially in low-light situations, that can take a long time, and it's even slower when you max out capture resolution (because it has to turn slower).
The Civetta is built on Canon technology, and snaps fullframe pictures with a 15mm fisheye. That makes it more of a traditional panobot, with all the speed and resolution advantages. If you had the patience and real skills in lathing and milling, you could build such a panobot yourself. Except, it wouldn't look as slick, and it wouldn't be as easy to use.


That's where the similarities to the SpheroCamHDR come in. They are both monkey-proof; operation is stripped down to a single push-button. Apparently, that's what it takes to be applicable for crime scene investigation. Police officers don't like to be bothered with settings and stuff. One button, preferably a blinking one.
Both camera systems come with their own software suite that allows measuring distances in the final image, provided you took two HDRI's with a known distance. Although I must admit that the Civetta software suite doesn't look as sophisticated as the Spheron pendant (yet), and the final HDR pano will always be in TIFF32 format (that's 1.2 GB for 14144 x 7072 pixel capture).

Bottom line:

Civetta is faster, cheaper, higher resolution.
Whereas cheaper is relative, it's still 28.600 Euro. But hey - we're talking High-End here...

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

border="0" height="340" width="610" alt="Smart IBL 2.0" style="margin: -20px 0px 0px -15px;">

[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?

Highslide JS

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.

Highslide JS

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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