HDR Darkroom 2 Review

HDR Darkroom 2 is a stand-alone tone mapping application from Everimaging Ltd that allows a user to create HDR images very quickly and easily. Prior to writing this review I had never used HDR Darkroom, to be perfectly honest I had never heard of it. My personal workflow includes a suite of other products but I have tried to set aside my expectations and present a fair review of HDR Darkroom based on its own merits.

The set of brackets that I’ve chosen to use for testing contain all of the elements and obstacles you may encounter when processing HDR images. There is movement in the trees that can produce ghosting, overly bright areas that border on being blown out in the lamps and clouds, chromatic aberrations, smooth sky and gritty texture in the bricks.

Installation

Installing HDR Darkroom was very quick and easy, within a few minutes of visiting the Everimaging website the software was ready to use. The download size is very compact too, only 13MB for Mac and 14MB for Windows.

Interface

When I first opened HDR Darkroom, I was immediately struck by the clean and user-friendly interface. The file functions and image control options are kept on separate sides of the display with a large workspace between them. The most basic viewing tools such as crop, rotate and zoom are displayed in large buttons along the bottom of the screen.

HDR Darkroom Tone Enhancer Preview - Curt Fleenor Photography

Importing Images

HDR Darkroom offers you the options to create an HDR image from a set of brackets, open a single file for tone-mapping or perform batch processing of several sets of images. Images must be opened directly in the application as there is no integration for Lightroom, Aperture or Photoshop that I could find.

HDR Darkroom Import Dialog - Curt Fleenor Photography
You can import images from a number of file formats including JPG, TIF, BMP, PNG, GIF and over 150 RAW formats plus Adobe DNG. I convert my images to DNG when importing into Lightroom so I was eager to try this option. It works but is a little confusing at first as you must specifically select that you are importing DNG files.

Alignment & Ghost Reduction

On the import dialog there are check boxes for image Alignment and Ghost Reduction. If you have taken your brackets using a tripod the alignment option can be left unchecked. Ghost Reduction is automatic, you are not required to choose a bracket to use for de-ghosting. From what I could tell, the ghost reduction algorithm seems to work very well. It was hard to see how well because the preview image was very pixelated.

HDR Darkroom 1:1 Crop Preview - Curt Fleenor Photography
 

Tone Mapping

There are three main methods provided for tone mapping your images: Tone Balancer, Tone Enhancer and Tone Compressor.

HDR Darkroom Tone Mapping Panel - Curt Fleenor Photography

Tone Balancer seems to provide the most realistic output. It attempts to create an image that is well balanced between the light and dark exposures. My results were generally very good. The exception was how the application handled overly bright regions like the bright clouds and lamp light. These areas tended to become blown out or have some degree of color cast.

Tone Enhancer introduces quite a bit more local contrast resulting in a highly detailed result. The amount of detail introduced can be controlled using the Strength slider. Tone Enhancer did not have the same issues with overly bright portions of the images that Tone Balancer showed. By combining Tone Enhancer with a low Strength setting you can produce a quite realistic result while maintaining control over more unruly areas of the image.

Tone Compressor, taken on face value, can produce a very flat and somewhat unimpressive image. Depending on your intention, this method may produce exactly the result you want. An image created using Tone Compressor could be used later in post-processing as a mask in Photoshop for instance.

There are two sliders for the tone mapping methods: Strength and Local Lighting. The Strength slider gives the user control over how much local contrast to apply. This will ultimately determine the intensity of the overall HDR image. The Local Lighting slider allows you control over the amount of fill light to lighten darker areas of the image by reducing detail contrast.

Adjustment Options

The simplicity of the interface extends into the adjustments panels, providing only the most basic necessities.

In the Basic Adjustments panel, you are given control over brightness, contrast, saturation and white/black point. The Color Adjustments panel offers sliders to control Color Temperature, Tint and Red/Green/Blue channels.

HDR Darkroom Adjustments Panels - Curt Fleenor Photography
The sliders in all of the adjustment areas tend to be very sensitive, slight adjustments can produce big changes. There is one difference to note between the two adjustment panels, the sliders in the Basic panel work independently of each other but the sliders in the Color panel do not. For instance, you can set the basic color temperature but if you try to fine tune a color channel (red, green or blue) the temperature color and tint sliders readjust themselves automatically. This may be by design but it was a little frustrating at times.

Noise Reduction

The process of combining and merging brackets into HDR images inherently generates noise. Everimaging Ltd has conveniently included a Noise Reduction function in HDR Darkroom. I found the the noise reduction to be a little heavy handed. While I could remove a noise from the smooth sky, I lost a lot of detail in the textured portions of the image.

Exporting Images

Once you have finished you can export your work into various file formats or even share them directly to your Twitter, Facebook or Flickr accounts.

I did encounter what could be a very troubling issue when I tried to export my test images. It seems that the exports are constrained to a very small size. The DNG files I originally imported were 5184 x 3456 pixels but the exports were constrained to 1022 x 682 pixels. I believe this constraint explains the pixelated previews I mentioned earlier.

HDR Darkroom Cropping Tool - Curt Fleenor Photography

The crop utility does give you the ability to enter a custom size but no matter what I tried it would not accept entries over 1022 pixels wide. My initial impression is that the developers have built the application to create web-ready output files for sharing on social media sites and blogs. While this may be acceptable for some people, it does certainly limit the potential audience for the application.

Benchmark Testing

No review would be complete without a side-by-side comparison to a similar product. So as a benchmark, I processed the same brackets in HDR Darkroom and Photomatix Pro. No additional post-processing has been performed on either image, they are both take directly from their respective applications.

Here is the result from Photomatix Pro using Details Enhancer:

HDR Darkroom - Photomatix Test Result - Curt Fleenor Photography

Here is the result from HDR Darkroom 2 using Tone Enhancer:

HDR Darkroom Tone Enhancer Result - Curt Fleenor Photography

The resulting images are quite similar in the way they were rendered. Both products reduced the ghosting in the trees and handled the brighter regions well. The Photomatix version has a bit more saturation while the HDR Darkroom version has more detail in the textures.

Conclusion

HDR Darkroom is a very fast, simple and intuitive tone mapping utility. Everimaging has done a very good job of creating an HDR application that will get the new user up and running very quickly. However, that same simplicity is perhaps its biggest drawback. For the advanced user, the lack of more precise controls, output limitations and no integration with other standard software platforms could be major obstacles. However, if you are just beginning to work with HDR then HDR Darkroom 2 is a nice, inexpensive place to start.

At the time of this article HDR Darkroom 2 was priced at $59 USD.

My photographic journey has taken me from simple landscape photos into the world of High Dynamic Range (HDR) images and long exposures. I use these disciplines to bring out the beauty of the world around us. Landscape photography is my first love but great images are everywhere and there is an ever-expanding set of tools available to the modern photographer to help create a unique vision. This is an amazing field whose technology is expanding exponentially and I am willing to try it all!

http://www.CurtFleenor.com

  • Ellie

    I’m new to hdr and don’t have big bucks to spend on software. maybe this will be my answer

  • Peter Petropolis

    to be perfectly honest I had never heard of it.

    Is dishonesty otherwise to be presumed?
    Does perfect honesty differ from the other (imperfect) type?