Thursday, December 22, 2016

HDR Utilities Compared

Photomatix Pro 5.1 vs Affinity HDR vs PSP X8 HDR

Produced with Photomatix Pro 5.1
This looks very much how I remember the scene.
click on the image to see a larger version
There is an inherent unfairness in these sort of 'shootout' type articles that I don't really know how to overcome completely.  

  • The person doing the comparisons, generally knows one product better than the others, so the final product of the less well known products always suffer.
  • The person doing the comparisons, generally has one of the products successfully incorporated into their post production workflow, and runs the risk of just complaining that the other products aren't the favored products.  I've seen it happen in other reviews, and I really hate that!
  • The person doing the comparisons, generally brings a whole host of other unstated assumptions and prejudices to the table that can complicate and shade his or her evaluation, but that the reader can only guess at.
Be advised that I am aware of these shortcomings in myself and have worked hard to overcome them.  While I can't get rid of them completely, I think I have kept them under some level of control!

My favorite HDR photos are the more subtle more naturalistic photos, and not the 'over the top' tonemapped photos.  Don't get me wrong, I do the other sort too; but I think modern HDR software makes it so easy to get those sort of Dramatic, 'kitschy' photos, that I think a test to produce more natural looking photos gives the HDR software a more thorough work out.  I TRIED to get the final output from all three to look as much alike as I could.  I was only modestly successful

Photomatix Pro 5.1

A screen shot of Photomatix 5.1
click on the image to see a larger version
To be honest this was, and is still, my favorite.  I love the level of control it offers and it allows me to produce almost any sort of HDR photo I want.  But most importantly, it fits into my ACDSee centric PP workflow almost seamlessly.

All three HDR utilities will work with raw images, but Photomatix 5.1 also allows me to select a series of exposures in ACDSee, right click on the group and send them to Photomatix 5.1 for processing.  This alone is a time saver for me.  I will explain how the other two don't work as well in their respective sections.

It has a high degree of control in how it processes raw, a high degree of control in how it processes the merged photos, and a nice selection of color, tonality, and sharpening tools after the merged photo has been finalized.  It is frequently possible to get to a finished product with JUST Photomatix 5.1 without any further editing in ACDSee Ultimate 10 or any other bit mapped editor.

Photomatix 5.1 comes with canned presets and allows the user to create his or her own presets as well.

The sample finished photo looks pretty much how I remember the scene when I took it.

Corel PaintShop Pro X8 HDR Utility

Produced with PaintShop Pro X8 HDR Utility.
I particularly liked how the water looks in this version.
click on the image to see a larger version

This was my first HDR utility, and it is surprisingly good. It's biggest drawback for me is that while I can select a series of exposures for processing and send them to PSP from ACDSee, I can't send them to the HDR utility.  

I end up sending them to the Corel Raw Lab utility (the PSP Raw developer) if they are raw images, or to the PSP editor directly if they are tif or jpg images.  To use the Corel PSP HDR utility, I have to find and select the images from the very basic, built in, PSP organizer.

A screen shot of PSP X8's HDR Utility
Click on the image to see a larger version.
I think if Corel wants to remain competitive with PSP, one of the things it needs to do is alter their HDR utility to accept raw images from any source, not just the PSP organizer or Aftershot Pro, which I believe also comes with the HDR Utility.  

Software publishers seem to be terribly short sighted when it comes to doing things that might attract new users, so I don't expect this to happen!  But hey! you never know with certainty!

What I like about PSP's HDR utility is that it sort of shows you what it is doing every step of the way and allows you some input in how each step occurs.  The other two products, in an effort to make thing easy, kind of take automation further and you don't really get to see the 'sausage being made'!

It comes with a few standard presets and allows you to create your own.  But when I upgraded from PSP X6 to X8, I don't recall any effort to bring my saved presets over from X6.  (I haven't upgraded the other two to a new version, so I don't know if they are any better in that regard.)

Single Raw Photo, produced with
PaintShop Pro X6 HDR Utility
click on the image to see a larger version
Another thing I REALLY like, is the Single Raw Photo option in the PSP X8 HDR utility.  It literally creates 3 separate exposures from a single raw photo, and merges them as if they came from a series of three separate photos.  As near as I can tell, Photomatix 5.1 just does tone mapping to a single raw image, I don't think it is creating multiple exposures from the raw and merging them.  

The increased tonality capability of PSP's Single Raw Photo HDR utility is pretty amazing, and can match, if not occasionally, beat, ACDSee's Light EQ tool for squeezing out all the dynamic range a raw photo can offer.  

Yes, the user interface can be a bit intimidating, especially to a newbie, there are a lot of options you won't see in other HDR utilities.  But it isn't something the reasonably intelligent digital photographer can't get comfortable with in an hour's worth of practice.  I consider it a useful tool in my toolbox.

Affinity HDR Utility

Affinity is getting all the buzz and chatter right now, especially since, from what I've read, the OnOne raw product seems somewhat disappointing to many people who were looking forward to seeing the production version (at least the buzz and chatter seems more negative, I haven't tried it), and everyone always seems to want to take Adobe Photoshop down a bit.  

Affinity's raw development leaves a lot to be desired, but it's bit mapped editor is fairly good, though still a bit buggy.  The Affinity HDR module which needs elements of both seems to reflect this disjointed level of completeness, in my mind.

In many ways Affinity gets many HDR things right, and certainly, it is the only HDR utility of the three that offers a Curves tool for controlling tonality.  

It's a pretty automated process, and that makes it VERY easy to create HDR photos.  It also has the ability to use and create presets.

The problem is, I can't tell if the controls are a part of the post merge, pre finalization step or are just the standard bit mapped controls showing up to do THEIR thing!

It also can't accept a series of raw files from ACDSee and process them as HDR.  They go automatically to the raw develop persona as multiple instances of the persona, and I can't figure out how to get them to the HDR input window without going through the very primitive, standard Windows open file popup window.

Produced with Affinity Photo's HDR Utility
click on the image to see a larger version
To the good, once you get past the Windows selection popup window, creating HDRs is incredibly easy, and the output looks pretty good.  I don't think it is as good as Photomatix or Paintshop pro, but it is a whole lot easier to produce.

My suspicion is that Serif (the software developer and publisher of Affinity photo), sees the HDR utility as something that is designed to produce a fairly decent HDR exposure that you can finish up in the Affinity Photo bit mapped editor.  That is as valid an approach as Photomatix's "do as much as possible inside Photomatix" approach, I think since the Affinity Photo bit mapped editor is so complete. But I do think it complicates things for people trying to do product comparisons!

My Conclusions

I would rate the output of this test to be:
  1. Photomatix Pro 5.1
  2. Corel PaintShop Pro X8
  3. Serif's Affinity Photo 1.5
Photomatix Pro 5.1 works well for me and fits well within my normal workflow. I can do HDR quickly and easily with an ACDSee/Photomatix combination.  PSP X8's HDR utility while not as convenient to use as Photomatix, offers me a different approach to HDR that I like to have available.

Affinity's HDR module is not likely something I will use much.  While it is really easy to use, and produces fairly good results, I don't think it offers me, who is about to make the transition from a beginner HDR creator to an intermediate HDR creator, much that the other two products don't offer in better, more efficient ways.  It would be good for people who want to explore HDR without spending much money though.

I don't see this as a negative about Affinity Photo, overall.  It is a remarkable product in many ways, though it has a long way to go before it can offer PSP or Photoshop any serious competition.  I'm glad I purchased Affinity Photo, and I look forward to using its non HDR functions in the future, especially as Serif brings it up to a tested ready state.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Win 10 Alternatives to ExifToolGui

[UPDATE12/2/2016]  I have to withdraw my support for PhotoME and instead will now use ExifPilot for my Gui based exif editing.  I have discovered, one day after publishing this article that I am unable to export data from my ORF files  to other files.  The export/import capabilities of PhotoME are primitive and incomplete at best.  I have changed this article to reflect this. My apologies to any who this inconvenienced. [END UPDATE]

Embedded metadata in a photo is pretty important.  Most people want, at the very least, their name and copyright information embedded in the photo.  They want the camera, lens, and exposure information embedded within the photo.

Many photo managers, like ACDSee and Lightroom, allow one to search on that information, so it makes finding very specific types of photos pretty easy.

The problem is, many photo editors strip all or some of the exif data from the photos when they save it. This is particularly true when you send photos to the editor on a 'round trip' from a photo manager.  (Yeah, I'm looking at YOU PaintShop Pro!).

So a very common need is to copy the metadata found in the source photo (such as the raw or the Out of camera jpg) to the completed photo that comes back from the editor.

And that's where ExifTool comes in.  It is an Open Source library of  commands written by Phil Harvey, that allow other programs to manipulate, add, change, and delete embedded metadata such as the Exif and IPTC data that the file format you are using allows.  You can learn more and download Exiftool at this website:

The problem is, its own interface that everyday users can access is pretty primitive, it is a command line interface.

That means one needs to know how to invoke the command line interface of your operating system, and then enter a command similar to this one:

exiftool -artist=”Glen Barrington” StAugustine001.jpg StAugustine002.jpg StAugustine003.jpg
The line above inserts the name "Glen Barrington" into the metadata field callled "artist" in the three jpg photos called StAugustine001, StAugustine002, and StAugustine003.

To me, the command line is only a viable solution if I have a batch of photos to alter.  I want an easier, quicker way to modify the metadata, especially if it is only one photo at a time.  It is very powerful in that a command line interface allows for many subtle changes on a batch of photos.  BUT, that can be a lot of typing!

I personally found it to be a pain in the neck for one photo at a time.  I wanted a point and click type of user interface.

That's when I discovered ExifToolGUI written by Bogdan Hrastnik.  You can read about it here:

It was great! It allowed for that point and click user interface and even allowed one to access the command line interface of ExifTool directly from within ExifToolGUI itself!

Exif Tool works with Win 10, but ExifToolGui does not, though some claim to have gotten it to work.  At least I haven't been able to get it to work in spite of following the directions of people who have gotten it working.

I'm not entirely certain if it is an ExifToolGui issue or a Windows 10 issue. I've seen odd issues with Win10 and other software that make no sense to me.  At any rate, I've given up on ever getting it to work and set about finding something that DOES work for me.

I have found two products that work reasonably well for me on Win 10.  They are ExifPilot and PhotoMe.  I will discuss them in sequence.


ExifPilot is a free, but commercial, product published by TwoPilots Software. You can find it here:

I like this product very much.

To see a larger image, click on the photo.
For free, it will edit metadata on a single photo.  If you want to add batch processing, they charge $79.95 USD.  To me, that seems kind of pricy.  I might consider a $25 price to upgrade but not at $80.  I can't help but wonder if they would make more money on this product with a lower upgrade price, but I'm sure they have had someone run the numbers for them for optimal pricing.

While batch metadata processing is a great convenience, I only need batch processing outside of what ACDSee provides, maybe 2 or 3 times a year.  For that sort of money I will use the command line interface of ExifTool.  But ultimately, that is a decision only you can make for yourself.

It's a pretty straightforward user interface consisting of 3 columns with your folder hierarchy on the left, the file selection column in the middle and the column on the right, stacks the thumbnail image above the metadata display column.

Usage is pretty intuitive. You launch the program, and the last folder you were in is the default, and if you want another folder, you have to wait until that folder is fully displayed before you can switch.

After that, the operation of the program is straightforward.  The only surprise, which made sense after thought about it, was that one can't click on the field in the right hand column to change the field being displayed.  

Instead, the user has to click a button at the bottom of the column to bring up a change window.  (see screen print with superimposed arrow)  This is a good thing in that the user can't accidentally click on a field and change a field without meaning to.  The user has to make a conscious decision to change a field.

I tried to set it up as an external editor from within ACDSee Ultimate 10, that didn't work so well.  While I could select a photo from within ACDSee, and right click on it, Exif Pilot would launch, but it did not take the photo.  Instead, it opened the last folder used the previous time you used it.

Things I wish Exif Pilot would Fix/Change

  • Allow ExifPilot to function as an external editor for photo managers
  • Allow the user to control what default photo folder to open the program in.
  • Change presets would be great, one could create a preset and apply it to as many photos as we want.
  • As I said earlier, I like this software very much, but the $79.95 upgrade price for batch processing is simply too high for me to pay. (It costs more than ACDSee 20 which will do batch metadata editing on SOME metadata, but not all) 
But if you are content with single photo metadata editing with a standalone editor, it is an excellent product.


I found this to be an odd and interesting application.

It is a free program, the web page doesn't say anywhere that I could find that it is open source, just that it is freeware.

It has some great ideas that I wish were incorporated into other exif editors.  However it has serious flaws that make it unacceptable for any but the most primitive metadata editing.

Click on the image to see a larger version
PhotoMe will display a miniature icon in the upper right hand corner of the window, of any OTHER applications that are identified as the default program for that file type.

It does not do batch editing, however it can be set up as an external editor from within ACDSee (and I assume other file managers) so incorporating it into my workflow is very easy.  If I can't make a particular metadata change from within ACDSee itself, I can just right click a photo and send it to PhotoMe directly.  Unfortunately, it still only works on one photo at a time, and if you try to send more than one photo to PhotoMe, it won't load ANY photos.  However for one photo at a time editing, it is convenient to launch as an external editor from within ACDSee. 

It seems to display all the Exif tags and fields even the ones that it can't edit.  The great thing is, it identifies the official tag ids, which can be useful at times since not all applications that display metadata use the official names that the tag id represents.  To learn more about EXIF tags, go here:

It also groups the Exif data by its function, and has navigation tabs to facilitate the user editing the exact data that he or she wants to edit.  I think this makes great sense, when we think of a photo's exposure information, we don't think about it's tag ID or its storage location in the metadata portion of the file format, we think about "exposure info" and we are going to want to make sure that all the exposure info is correct.  PhotoME's method makes the sort of data you are looking at very clear and obvious.

The fields that it can change are highlighted in blue, one just clicks on the content column where the content is blue.  If the field is blank, you won't know if the field is editable until you click on it.  if it is editable, an edit window will appear, if it isn't, nothing happens.  I think the field name, the Tag ID should also be highlighted as well as the content field for easy identification.

PhotoMe doesn't support IPTC data, but I don't personally use that info very much, and I can change most of that from within ACDSee anyway (and in batch mode)

PhotoMe's support for raw is in need of an update.  To edit a raw image, you open the standard Windows 10 "Open File" window and select an image.  

However, while open file dialog window will display ORF files from my E500 and my E30 cameras, it will not display ORF files from my newer E-M10 (which is about 3 years old).  However, once either set of raw files are opened, both display for editing.  I have current Windows codecs installed, so it isn't a codec issue.  If I use ACDSee as a front end for PhotoME, this won't be a big issue since I can use ACDSee to view and select files for editing in PhotoME.

I have found it impossible to Export metadata from a photo to an intermediate file for import into another photo.  Right now it's pretty useless.  I can't export or import ANY info from a raw file, and while I can export from jpg or tif files, I can't import the exported files.  This is VERY problematic for me.

This is completely unacceptable in my eyes.  The ability to edit ONLY the data that PhotoME finds in a given photo makes the application completely unusable to repair metadata issues where that data has been stripped from an image.

The things I wish PhotoMe would fix/change.
  • Finish the metadata import/export functionality
  • The raw files discrepancy.
  • Add support for IPTC and XML data
  • Add batch capability.
  • Add the capability to accept multiple instances of selected photos from ACDSee or other photo managers, and either go into batch mode, or even just open multiple instances of PhotoME.
  • Change presets would be great. one could create a preset and apply it to as many photos as we want.

My Conclusions

ExifPilot seems more complete and less . . . tenuous.  While PhotoME offers the PROMISE of integrating into my ACDSee based workflow better, it simply is not in a tested ready state I expect.

With an ACDSee/PhotoMe combination, I could do much of my batch EXIF/IPTC editing needs from within ACDSee itself.  Then for photos that require editing ACDSee can't do, select photos for a round trip to PhotoME for individual attention.

But at the current state of affairs, PhotoME is all promise and no delivery.  I will likely use ExifPilot.  

I would have no problem paying $25 - $30 USD for the perfect Exif editor.  But so far, the perfect Exif editor doesn't exist.  At least not for Windows 10.