Nik Software jumped into the HDR game a bit later than some of the other players, but in my opinion their software was released with a bit more polish and finesse than what I saw with some of the other manufacturers. With their release of HDR Efex Pro 2 they seriously streamlined and improved upon what was already good. If you haven’t used the software yet I highly suggest you head over to the Nik Software website and download their 15 day fully functional demo. If you decide to purchase make sure to use the coupon code “bcox” to take 15% off your purchase price.
Upon launching the software you can immediately tell that the software has had an interface overhaul. It comes up clean, sleek and almost immediately you don’t remember what the old version looked like, you just know this is better. Loading your brackets into HDR Efex Pro 2 also presents you with a new beggining point to start working on your image. The merge dialog assistant allows you to adjust tonality and alignment, perform ghost reduction and minimize chromatic aberrations before the software creates the HDR image.
Previously the alignment and ghost reduction features were accessed from a button on the top of the main window and I often found it hard to see what in fact they use to do. After maing an adjustment to the settings the software would re-render the image without an option of comparing it to what you were looking at previously.
I still haven’t figured out how to get the ghost reduction and alignment tools to provide a live update to what they are doing, but I love the loupe tool that shows up when you are adjusting chromatic aberrations. Like other software, you can place the loupe over the area you are working on and see the adjustments you are making by moving the sliders.
Once your are satisfied with your merge settings and create your HDR image you are then taken to the familiar, but slickly redesigned HDR Efex Pro window. The icon tools have been re-arranged slightly. The preset library is now just below the title bar and the categories have been slim lined and the view options now reside above the image window.
In addition to cleaning up the look of the preset library, new presets have been added. Additionally you can download more presets from Nik Software from their addon page. Below is a screenshot of the preset sinister. Other than the slight glow on the right side of the structure the preset does a fantastic job of giving me a starting point to work from.
The most notable difference you will see with the upgrade to HDR Efex Pro 2 is the redesign of the tone adjustment panels. This section has a much cleaner, simpler look to it. It is well organized and provides a feel much like you get using Apple’s Aperture. The HDR method has been altered to a section of options opposed to the pull down list of options you were given in the previous version. The new depth control provides added depth and realism to your images.
New to HDR Efex Pro 2 is the ability to control white balance. Like the sliders you see in Aperture and Light Room you can now control the Saturation, Temperature and Tint of your image without having to leave HDR Efex Pro 2.
A new history browser has also been added to the list of features making this a worthwhile upgrade. Much like Photoshop you can now click back and see what your image looked like before modifying specific settings.
Also new to HDR Efex Pro 2 is the ability to apply a graduated neutral density filter. This works well on images that have a strong distinct horizon line. I do wish I could see the effect while applying it in a mask mode.
Behind the scenes Nik added full GPU processing and Multi Core Optimization. If you have a graphics card with a lot of VRAM you should see even faster performance than before.
Overall this benefits and improvements made to this program are fantastic. The image below shows the default results of a set of brackets run through HDR Efex Pro 1 and 2. It’s easy to see that HDR Efex Pro 2 does a better job of creating a blended image. The sky is much more natural looking in color, the darks aren’t nearly as flat and the colors have a bit more punch to them. For this particular image I do prefer the way HDR Efex Pro 1 interpreted the grass / weeds, but HDR Efex Pro 2 is more accurate to what the scene really looked like.
Overall the improvements made to this software version more than justify the upgrade. I don’t believe any one HDR program can be used universally for all types of images, but HDR Efex Pro 2 is by far still my favorite and well worth having in your photographic toolbox.