Photography, Reviews

Aurora HDR 2018: stunningly beautiful, realistic renderings of HDR and more control over the end-result

I wasn’t yet tired of working with Macphun’s Aurora HDR 2017 or the company announced its newest version, Aurora HDR 2018. It must be said, the new version looks better than the previous one, but the main reason why you would consider upgrading is that tone mapping has become more realistic, thanks to a new and improved algorithm.

Aurora HDR 2018 has a lot going for it. The interface has received a nice update, the Mac version offers Touch Bar support, there’s a new structure algorithm, speed has been improved and a number of filters and tools have been added. I was most interested in the smarter tone mapping Macphun is so proud of, so I started by loading three images I shot last year with a loan Sony A7R II. Usually, tone mapping results in some degree of unrealistic rendering, making it harder to get the results you want even after toning down the many controls.

Well, with this new version, your HDR image couldn’t look more realistic. It’s as if someone switched a button, turning off the artificial over-saturation and structuring. The result is an image that looks exactly as if it was taken by a camera that has 30 stops of dynamic range. The default rendition of the image was as I remembered the scene from that day: all the dynamics are there and everything looks natural. In this area alone, Aurora HDR 2018 is like brand new.

But there’s more, of course. The new version has a HDR Enhance filter, which boosts details and clarity — again, without necessarily overdoing the structure, contrast and saturation of the image. If you want that artificial (or artsy, depending on your taste) look, you can have it, but you’ll need to tweak the controls you expect to add those effects.

Macphun has also added more functionality in Aurora HDR 2018 that you would expect in a “normal” image editor, such as the lens correction tool, the transform tool, Dodge & Burn, Flip & Rotate. These save you an extra trip to Photoshop or, in my case, Affinity Photo.

The app now has a History panel as well, which you access from a clock icon. Speed has been improved as well. Now, I don’t remember previous versions being slow either, but it’s true that this version is yet a tad faster.

Finally, Aurora HDR 2018 is also available for Windows.

The verdict on this new Aurora HDR version? It’s worth the upgrade price. It’s also worth buying a new licence, but versions 2016 and 2017 were also fine applications and if you’re even a bit interested in HDR photography, you really can’t do without Aurora HDR — it’s the best HDR editor on the market.