Review by Mark and Leslie Degner
In late 2015 Macphun Software, working with well-known photographer Trey Ratcliff (www.stuckincustoms.com), released their newest application, Aurora HDR (aurorahdr.com). As you can probably tell from its name, Aurora HDR is a software program that allows photographers to produce High Dynamic Range (HDR) images.
Although Macphun software programs, including Aurora HDR, are designed for Mac computers, they’re currently developing a Windows version that should be available later this year. There are two versions, Aurora HDR ($45.99) and Aurora HDR Pro ($137.00). The Pro version has more features, more presets and multiple licenses for use on up to five Macs. Check their website to see a complete list of the differences. We received a pre-release copy of Aurora HDR Pro to review, and of the two it’s the version that we would recommend for photographers.
Aurora HDR Pro has been designed to work as a stand-alone application or as a plug-in with Adobe Photoshop (PS), Adobe Lightroom (LR) and Apple Aperture. We tested the software as a stand-alone program and in PS and LR. With the software you can process either a single image or a multi-photo bracketed set of images into an HDR image; and it supports a variety of file formats, including a number of RAW formats.
There are already a number of very good HDR processing programs available, so what makes Aurora HDR different from the others? To start with, Aurora HDR is unique in that you can create layers within the HDR image. With layers you can apply adjustments specifically to certain areas of the scene by masking those areas on a layer with the use of a brush tool without affecting underlying areas. You can also make opacity adjustments and blend mode changes for each layer. For those who work with Photoshop, you’ll be familiar with the concept of layers and the advantage layers give you in your workflow.
Aurora HDR Pro has more tools than any of the other HDR programs we’ve used, allowing for vast control over your HDR image processing. Some of these features include precise colour controls and colour toning, luminosity masking and an HDR Denoise tool used to reduce the noise and artifacts that the process of merging the images can produce. The ghost reduction feature produced very good results when dealing with moving elements in multiple image sets. Aurora HDR Pro also gives you an array of finishing touches such as adding a vignette.
The interface is set up with the navigation tool bar across the top edge, with the layers and adjustment tools along the right side. Presets can be displayed across the bottom edge for easy access. Aurora HDR Pro comes with a number of presets, some of which are fairly realistic, or you can easily create your own with your favourite settings. The opacity of each preset can even be adjusted, further lowering the intensity of the adjustments made. As we started using the software we found it very helpful to pick the preset that was close to the result that we wanted and then modify the preset’s settings to produce our final HDR image.
One of the cool features we like in Aurora HDR Pro is that once you’ve created your HDR image you can save it as a “Macphun HDR Image” (.mpau). This allows you the ability to revisit that HDR image at a later date and continue to make adjustments in Aurora HDR Pro as all of the settings are saved. Processed images can also be saved as a TIFF, PSD or a variety of other file formats.
Since its introduction in late 2015 until when we wrote this review in late January Macphun had already released two updates to address issues and improve functionality. Listening to their customers, addressing the issues and providing regular updates shows that Macphun is serious about producing the best HDR software possible.
In our opinion, Aurora HDR Pro is the best HDR program that we’ve used to date. Its interface is more intuitive, with better controls than other HDR software, and we were able to produce very realistic HDR images. Aurora has too many good features to mention them all. If you’re looking for one of the best ways to produce realistic HDR images, or if you like things funky, then you should consider trying Aurora HDR (there’s a free trial). We give it two thumbs up – each.