Aprils Updates: Nik HDR Efex, Oloneo & Gigapan

Another month, another flood of updates in the ever-spinning world of HDR imaging.

Nik HDR Efex Pro 1.2

HDR Efex is finally supposed to be rock stable on 32-bit operating systems. I can neither confirm nor deny, never actually witnessed any crashes, but that's because I'm in the warm embracement of 64-bit WinXP / Mac OS for a while. As a bonus, Nik also threw a new ghostbuster in the mix. Heard nice things about it, but I can hardly see a difference myself.

Here is a little deghosting test with a tough example:

Bottom line: Can't beat Photoshop CS5's Automatic Ghost Removal! But that's no wonder, since Adobe had this feature done by El Maestro Greg Ward himself. HDR Efex seems pretty much on par with Photomatix's automatic mode, but that's actually their lame option. Photomatix's user-guided Selective Deghosting is the good one, it comes in second-best overall. Although in this case it requires a lot of extra work, and still ends up clipping the blacks on the palm leaves. Or the whitecaps on the waves, that's your selective choice, basically.

Oloneo PhotoEngine 1.04

PhotoEngine goes into the next beta round, merrily inviting everybody. This is one of the most raved about new-school tonemappers, providing excellent speed, a fistful of great color tools, and an innovative ReLight mode. The new beta includes:

  • Look Presets, ranging from "Natural Soft" all the way to "I love Halos!"
  • Natural Mode, that doesn't seem to do anything (but sure sounds good)
  • Batch Processing, that allows in-between image reviews (awesome)
  • Panorama-safe mode, which I still have to test. (please please work!)
  • and several bug fixes.
Still, no Mac version in sight, and no word on the final pricing yet. For now, it's free and fully functional until June 1st. Grab it!

Gigapan Firmware Updater:

Our good friend Googlebot has snooped out the secret download page of the new Gigapan EPIC firmware. As mentioned last month, this update adds the highly anticipated HDR bracketing option. For some strange reason it's not linked anywhere on the Gigapan homepage, but when you google for "Gigapan Firmware Upgrade" it will happily take you there.

PS: Atlas, the freeware tone-mapping plugin for After Effects, now works on 64-bit Windows. Hurray for Open Source!

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Lightsmith lets you craft your own studio light

Thomas Mansencal, restless author of sIBL-GUI, has landed another hit with Lightsmith. That's a new class of presets, that will unfold into individual HDR-mapped lights.

Lightsmith is a great companion to the classic, all-encompassing sIBL-environments. It enables you to art direct the lighting, even create a studio lighting from scratch, and still benefit from the richness in color and dynamic range that only HDR images can provide.

Watch this trailer, it's pretty spectacular:

If sIBL-GUI hasn't auto-updated itself already, get the new version here. And you can find the downloads to all the new Lightsmith-sets in the sIBL-Archive. Note, that this is still in the early stages, currently only supported in sIBL-GUI, and only for a limited list of renders:
More setup templates are to come. If you have a clever idea for a setup in one of the unsupported renderers, we would love to hear from you in the forum.

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Special sIBL-set released for Artists Help Japan

Ever since the launch of this site, almost 4 years ago, I'm giving away a new sIBL-set every month. Today, for the first time, it is not free.

For this special edition sIBL I want you to donate to the Artists Help Japan fund. Seriously. Do it now.

See, many of the most popular sIBL-sets in the Archive are from Tokyo, and while shooting these I fell deeply in love with this town. I find it a personal offense from mother nature to mess with the wonderful people there. So I picked out the nicest of the Tokyo panoramas for this special occasion. It will not appear in the sIBL Archive, and it will disappear from the web when the fundraiser is over.

Get the Tokyo Tower Special sIBL here.

By the way, this sIBL-set is not only useful for 3D artists. The fullsize panorama included in the set can also be used in 2D compositing. With After Effects and the awesome Trapcode Horizon plugin you can create virtual camera moves like this one:

Trapcode Horizon Test from Christian Bloch on Vimeo.

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Mike Seymour test drives HDRx on the RED Epic

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image from fxphd.com
We already talked about the HDRx mode of the new RED EPIC camera here and here.

Now fxphd dean Mike Seymour received a pre-release model that most digital filmmakers would kill for, and the first thing he did was to strap that puppy to the hood of a car and race it around town. Famed DV Rebel Stu Maschwitz was also involved, so that might as well be his brilliant idea.

And here's the footage they got out of it: No remote controlled exposure adjustments, no visual effects, just some sensible grading of the HDRx material to show off all the dynamic range captured.

So, how does that work? When put in HDRx mode, the RED camera will capture two exposures for each frame, and lay them down as A Track (hero exposure) and X Track (highlight details). It does that by using a double-readout method. Shortly after the shutter opens, it will read the X track, then wait a bit (without resetting the sensor), and then read the actual hero exposure. Pretty clever.

Read more in the related post on ProLost and on FXguide. Mike and Stu are currently traveling New Zealand, shooting more incredible HDRx footage for the next term's RED training classes on fxphd.com. All their adventures are blogged about here.
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Advanced HDR tech moving forward

Francesco Banterle, known for his excellent Picturenaut/HDRShop plugin collection, has been pretty busy lately. He just released several plugin updates with SSE optimization for better speed. Coming up next is a bunch of native Picturenaut plugins, to take full advantage of multicore processing and realtime UI updates. I'll let you know when it's ready.

He also wrote a book called Advanced HDR Imaging, which is filled with tons of practical code examples, presented in student-friendly MATLAB code. If that's your kind of thing, this book contains everything an aspiring programmer like you needs for making homegrown HDR utilities and tonemappers.

Read more on the book's website or order from Amazon

HDR Video at the University of Warwick

Alan Chalmers, imaging professor and co-author of Francesco's book, has launched a special task force at the university of Warwick. He cabled up Spheron's prototype HDR video camera with a BrightSide HDR monitor. This unique million-dollar combo gives us a glimpse of where image technology is heading, a full uncompromised HDR pipeline. First studies are tapping into medical applications and surveillance, but they' re also looking at the opportunities in VFX and movie-making.

Capturing and displaying 20 f-stops with 30 fps in full 1080 is no easy feast. You're looking at a data stream of 720 MB per second (or 42 GB per minute of footage). Clearly this requires some clever compression technology. That, the media player required, and more related HDR video tech is getting published under the label GoHDR. Currently looking for beta testers.

PS: Monthly Site Update:

Over here in the real world, I just witnessed my coworker (long-time Lightwaver) giggle in joy, as he discovers MAX and Vray. And sIBL-GUI, of course.
Here's a 5-click render from him, testing the new sIBL-of-the-month. Steps were literally:
  1. Create Teapot Primitive
  2. Apply green-ish VRay Glass Material
  3. Lauch sIBL-GUI
  4. Choose the new Chiricahua NarrowPath set
  5. Apply and Render
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Promote Control firmware update

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Arty, the developer of the ingenious Promote device (HDR remote controller), has made another surprise visit in the forum. He brings us firmware 2.11 beta, with cool new features:
  • Long Exposure Noise Reduction compatible
  • Short exposures all the way to 1/8000 (!)
  • Scans camera settings and adapts to them
  • Checks if image was actually taken

Read the announcement and get the firmware beta here.
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