Photomatix 4.2 update

The new Photomatix update has been out for a while, so it's about time to drop a few lines about the new features.

Most obvious is the revised Presets panel, which now has subcategories and more/better standard presets. Then there's a brand-new Finishing Touch panel. It opens right after tonemapping and offers the typical basic mix of contrast, color, and sharpness adjustment.

Well, it all works as expected and this certainly catches up with all the other tonemapping tools. However, I will still post-process all my images in Photoshop, just because that's more intuitive and gives me the flexibility to fix things up with layers and content-aware sorcery. Sometimes, when layers are not needed, I use Lightroom for post-processing. I'm sort of set in my ways there, so the new Finishing Touches may be fine in general but are not for me.

The new feature I find most important is actually hidden in the Preferences.

Previously, the Mac version of Photomatix relied on OSX's built-in OpenEXR support. And that was always buggy. See, OSX tends to clip all the highlights beyond the 1.0 value, and to prevent this Photomatix was aligning the base exposure of every EXR file to the brightest highlight (a method called Normalizing). While that may be fine for normal images (except that they may look unexpectedly dark in Photoshop), it throws a monkey wrench into a panorama stitching workflow. Each panorama sector had different exposure.

Now in Photomatix 4.2 you can simply uncheck the Save EXR files with Mac OS X API option and all EXR files will have consistent exposure. So now they stitch perfectly in PTGui.

Good stuff. Highly recommended update! Grab Photomatix 4.2 here.
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You live to learn

I know there's a gazillion news items to talk about, from Photoshop CS6 over Photomatix 4.2 to when my book is finally going to be done. But more to that later. This one is also urgent news:

My good friend and occasional co-blogger Michael James is holding a live webinar on Tuesday. (Recording: Part 1, Part 2)
As professional real-estate photographer on the sunny coast of Florida he faces worst-case scenarios of indoor/outdoor scenes with massive dynamic range on a daily basis. So he knows a trick or two. Ask him about his technique to correct white balance of conflicting light temperatures…

There's only 1000 seats, 600+ are already gone.


I heard that another 400 people signed up after reading this blog post. Crazy. Now I feel all powerful and stuff… Just in case you missed the show, here is the recording:

On a related note, I will also hold a seminar soon-ish, at the photoact 2012 conference.
Here the seats are more limited; only a few more than 100 tickets are available. There's an impressive line-up of speakers, so it promises to be a very interesting and intimate event. If you want to be part of it, I recommend to sign up before June 1.

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Real HDR support in Lightroom 4.1 RC2

Finally! A footnote on John Nack's blog tipped me off: The next Lightroom update can process real 32-bit TIFF images! Of course I had to put it to the test right away...

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Toning real HDR files in Lightroom needs some extreme slider settings.

This is my regular test image, with a vast dynamic range of more than 18 EVs. The result isn't bad at all, compared with the original and a few other tonemappers on the RealHDR page. I had to drag all the adjustment sliders to the full extreme, which is a sure sign that Lightroom is technically built to handle about as much dynamic range as you can expect in a single RAW file (current record is 14.4 EVs, held by the Nikon D800). Still, I'm pleasantly surprised how natural and free of artifacts the image turned out.

Download Lightroom 4.1RC and see for yourself.

Keep it coming, Adobe!
The next step should certainly be OpenEXR support. Full-on 32-bit TIFFs are annoyingly huge for no good reason. Seriously! For the image above it's 120 MB versus 30 MB in EXR, with absolutely no quality difference.

PS: According to ancient tradition I released a brand new sIBL-of-the-month. This time it's a Renaissance Cemetery, spiced up with an extra dose of cinematic mood.
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The Big 5

Thank you so much for coming here! Love you all. Every one of you 5 million! Wow. That number doesn't even include the community forum, because I have it excluded from visitor tracking for better privacy protection of the members.

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Coincidentally, I'm also delivering chapter 5 to the awesome editorial staff at RockyNook. Major milestone. If you've read the first HDRI-Handbook you will know that I have only 2 more chapters to go: Panostitching and 3D. Huge parts of those are already re-written. And since I'm playing tag race with my bad ass layouter Petra, that means The HDRI Handbook 2.0 is possibly on your shelf in July/August.

In the meantime, I can offer you some eye candy in my new sIBL-of-the-month:

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Ginger HDR for After Effects is out!

John Hable did it! The first fully-fledged tonemapping plugin for After Effects is now available.

Watch this teaser trailer:

Go grab it right now from Intro special until March 31 is $129, then it's $199. The Merger for fusing the frames captured with a Magic Lantern-hacked Canon is free for all.

Frankly, I think GingerHDR is pretty useful for any sort of look development in regular compositing, not just HDR. Just look at this sheer wealth of tone and color adjustments:

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Everything is fully explained a whole series of exceptionally clear tutorial videos. Well done, John, thank you so much! That plug-in certainly sets the bar high, kicking video tonemapping into the mainstream like a ninja!

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Canon 5D Mark III and Dolby's JPEG-HDR

Seems like hell has frozen over! The new Canon 5D Mark III has an HDR mode, and what's even more important: wide bracketing. Chuck Westfall from the Professional Engineering & Solutions Division at Canon USA explains it like this:

The important part is that you can also save the original exposures. Fully automatic "HDR art mode" always looks great on paper, but ultimately it takes out the fun of creating something unique. Michael James has been collecting all the relevant (and sometimes conflicting) info on HDR in the 5D Mark III on No need to repeat it all here.

In the meantime, something of bigger magnitude happened at the Mobile World Congress:

Dolby licenses JPEG-HDR to Qualcomm

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JPEG-HDR shown on an Android tablet with full exposure control.
(image credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

This is the type of HDR mode I have been waiting for. JPEG-HDR is a true HDR format, it preserves all the dynamic range and can be re-exposed and tonemapped any way you like. On top of that, it is disguised as normal JPEG for programs without HDR capabilities. This movie wraps it up quite nicely:

Putting real HDR capabilities into the Qualcomm's next Snapdragon S4 processor is a stroke of genius. Because it will be instantly available to an entire generation of Android devices. Samsung Galaxy, Blackberry, HTC Evo … all together that's 340 devices running on the current generation Snapdragon S3 processors. The S4 is the first snowball that may unleash an avalanche. It also supports the OpenCL standard and has advanced GPU-acceleration for the Unreal and Unity 3D engines, which will make many people in the CG world very happy. The unconfirmed rumor on the streets (PCmag) is that another unannounced chipmaker licensed JPEG-HDR. Canon? Nikon? Sony? Who knows…

Head over to CNET to read the full story, or read Qualcomm's Press Release on Snapdragon S4.
You can also read an introduction to JPEG-HDR in my HDRI-Handbook (p 57-59). It was written 5 years ago, but this is the first time this tech is actually coming out of the closet.

So these are the two major game changers of last week.
I don't want to sound ungrateful, but if everybody could please just stop revolutionizing HDR Imaging for a month or two; some people are trying to write an HDR-book down here.
Thank you very much.

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