Friday, December 16, 2011

HDR vs Topaz Adjust ... Revisited

It's been a while since I've made these direct comparisons, and both the HDR processor Photomatix and the plug-in Topaz Adjust have released upgrades over the past few months.

This post is my latest installment in what has become an ongoing series of occasional comparisons.

Here are three exposures of a landmark on Key West, Florida, I shot earlier this month. The three bracketed images were shot hand-held in rapid succession. I present them here with no modification from the original RAW images, except to convert them to jpeg for posting.

Putting the three exposures through Photomatix resulted in this HDR image.

Taking the middle exposure and processing it in Topaz Adjust 5 produced this image.

Comparing the two side by side, there are differences. But, to be honest, it's hard for me to decide which one I like better.

For another test of the two processes, here are three bracketed images from the Rose Hill Cemetary in Macon, GA, also shot hand-held and without modification from the RAW originals.

Here's the resulting HDR image, created with Photomatix.

And this is the "middle" exposure of the three, processed in one of the presets available in Topaz Adjust 5.  It was a bit arbitrary in my selection, choosing the preset that most approximated my experience of the monument at the time.  I could have gone with a high key version, which was striking, or one that brought out brown colors in the stones.  But I chose a preset that was not far off from the original in effect.

The pictures are almost monochromatic, being of stone monuments.  The differences are subtle but clearly present. The original, middle exposure of the bracketed triplet, is satisfactory to me in outcome and effect. Even the "over exposure", the lightest of the three, is acceptable.  Where the differences matter most is what the plug-ins do to the blurred monuments in the background.  Both Photomatix and Topaz do something for the background that none of the three single exposures seems to pull off.

Verdict:  The differences between the two plug-ins are less profound than I expected.  Both Topaz and Photomatix, when used in moderation and without a heavy hand, produce pleasing enhancements to details, tonality and color. They both produce winners.  The only recommendation I can give is to use both, experiment a lot, and keep shooting.

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