Oloneo HDR Software Review
See the table below for a quick summary of our review of Oloneo PhotoEngine.
Sharp Images Terrible Deghosting
Low Noise Inconsistent Auto Align
Good Natural Feel Strong Halos
Easy to use Expensive
Quick processing Not Great for Balanced Surreal Images
No MAC version
A couple of months ago there was a slight murmur around HDR circles about the promise shown by Oloneo’s PhotoEngine. The biggest complement of the software was that it could output well-balanced, natural images with little noise. Some went as far as to say that they may abandon their current software for that of Oloneo.
“At the core of Oloneo PhotoEngine and Oloneo HDRengine is a fully real-time, 32-bit floating-point per channel (96-bit per pixel), High Dynamic Range (HDR), ultra-wide gamut, full resolution and non-destructive image-editing engine. Oloneo’s color model handles a range of colors that largely surpasses what printers or screens are capable of displaying today. Combined with the suppression of any color shifting and clipping, it guarantees photographers against any loss of image data during the HDR process.”
Our readers’ take on it
Jim Heckt says:
“I’ve used it for some time now, however the company has not done an update for a long time. It has a bit of a stacking/ghost issue. It does manage color very well. It is very expensive compared to others.
My current default HDR tool is HDR Efex Pro 2 at this time.”
Adrian Goddard says:
“It is a great bit of software. Adjustments are visible nearly instantly on screen and what you see is what you get in the image it produces before then running it thru CS5 etc. TBC”
Our take on it
There are two software options: PhotoEngine (€125.00) & HDRengine (€49.33). Photographers serious about HDR should consider PhotoEngine over HDRengine, which seriously lacks depth in most areas. For example, the curves function, which I consider to be one of the key features that separates Oloneo from other programs is only present in PhotoEngine.
Here is the full features list for Oloneo PhotoEngine.
Step One – Handling RAWs
When you first load up PhotoEngine you are presented with the following screen:
Click to enlarge
Theoretically, PhotoEngine has a RAW viewer that you can see in the image above. The folder I’m using in this example had around 200 RAW images and a dozen .tif/jpg files. The thumbnail generation was extremely slow. I was forced to open up Lightroom to check the file names of the images I was going to use instead of waiting for the thumbnails to generate.
As you can see, the exif data is to the top left. On the right we have HDR DeNoise, HDR ReLight & HDR ToneMap. Sadly, the first two options will not work for the majority of brackets.
The problem is that, as the red writing states, in order to use these functions you can only use sets of images with the same shutter speed and f-stop value. While the f-stop value isn’t an issue, most HDRists use Aperture Priority in their shoots which means the only variable to change is the shutter speed. Effectively, the only images we can use this with are completely manual brackets.
Next we select the images we need and click the Add button the top right:
We can now choose to auto align our brackets if we wish. Oloneo recommends you to do this only if you didn’t use a tripod for the shots, or risk creating HDR artefacts in your final image.
In truth, I’ve found the auto align function to be very unreliable. Using this with the images below produced a very unusual output:
Tested on 6 other images, I haven’t encountered this problem again.
Next I tested the deghosting function, of which there are two options; Ghost removal method 1 & Ghost removal method 2. Oloneo, in their instruction manual, claim that method 2 is more reliable. They don’t go into detail on how the two differ.
Testing Method 1:
This really hasn’t helped in anyway.
Testing method 2:
While the ghosts seem to have been slightly eradicated (except for the corner of the lorry passing the bus), it has left the final image completely flat. seemingly, the software has stripped out the lower exposure completely. Again, this does nothing for the user.
Photomatix, using auto deghosting, rather than the manual option (which I always prefer), completely removed the ghosts and hasn’t left us with too much residual damage.
HDR ToneMap Project
Once we’ve imported our images to create our HDR ToneMap project, we are presented with the HDR interface. Loading time is very similar to that of Photomatix, if not slightly quicker.
These are the images I’ll work with:
The HDR interface:
To the left we have the a very useful ‘Timeline’ of changes that serves as a much better function than a simple Undo button. Below it there are a list of presets. Having played around with at least half of them, I’m confident that as with Photomatix’s presets, I will never use them.
Post-Processing in PhotoEngine
The initial image after importing your brackets is the 0 exposure – that is what you will see in front of you first. By sliding the TM (ToneMap) strength to the right, you increase the dynamic range of the image. As with any other HDR software, the further to the right you move the slider, the more surreal and out of control you make your images.
Underneath TM Strength you see Detail Strength where you can increase the contrast, and possibly the sharpness of the finer details. Here are two examples: One low in Detail Strength and the other high.
While this creates a noticeable difference, it also produces a terrible halo around objects of high contrast. The image below is the same one as the ‘High’ image above:
The exposure options are as you’d expect, and the same can be said about the Contrast function.
The Natural HDR Mode is a wee bit confusing in that I simply don’t understand what it does. when I first started the HDR project I ticked this option and the colours changed to a less vibrant, possibly more realistic color. The range of light was no different. It still looked like the 0 exposure.
Next we have Low Dynamic Tone, which is used to control general settings like Brightness, Contrast & White Balance. Quite how the Contrast function works differently to that in the High Dynamic Range box was not evident to me. There may be a significant difference, I simply couldn’t see it.
Scrolling down further, to the right we have the Curves.
Being a Curves user in Photoshop I like this function. It allows you to set much of the global saturation and contrast before exporting to Photoshop. It’s a nice touch.
This is where Oloneo comes into its own. Nowadays, HDR photographers are demanding more from HDR software. We’re no longer satisfied with fuzzy pixels and glowing chromatic aberration. We want sharp, clean images, that don’t scream halos from all angles. Photoshop/Lightroom have really taken advantage of this with their 32bit editing capabilities. So how does Oloneo’s 32bit editing fare?
In truth, it’s incredible. I’ve never seen such clarity and so few artefacts after HDR processing. The images, provided you don’t go crazy with the sliders, are identical in terms of sharpness & noise compared to the original RAWs.
In terms of chromatic aberration, it’s not great, but also not the worst.
I would like to make one special point regarding halos. They are easy enough to correct in Photoshop, but they plague HDR images. Unfortunately, Oloneo software can be very sensitive with halos.
I chose their ‘natural’ preset on a fairly simple image and it was surrounded in halos, albeit smallish ones:
Can’t see the halos? Tip your monitor back slightly and look around the edges of the building and the sky.
Concluding remarks and suggestions for Oloneo
For natural looking HDR landscapes I cannot recommend Oloneo enough. Some would say that NIK HDR Efex could rival it for natural looking, quality HDRs, and while HDR Efex is fantastic, it has serious difficulty in creating soft, fluffy clouds. It is very jagged in almost every preset.
As a way around the terrible artefacts we’re often stuck with after HDR processing, I regularly revert to 100% manually blending my exposures. It’s not a nice feeling to work at creating a tack sharp image, to find that in the end you’re left with those typical fuzzy pixels we’ve all become so familiar with. Oloneo, unless pushed to surreal limits, doesn’t leave you with soft pixels. They’re as crisp as when they were first captured. I would go a step further and also use Oloneo for evening/nightime cityscapes, or any natural scene that had very few moving objects.
Many of us work with luminosity masks when we manually blend exposures but with Oloneo, there’s very little need for that now. From now I will use the output from this as a base layer and gently layer in other exposures. I’ll have less need for luminosity masks since there’ll be very little in the way of darks and whites, or extremes in the base image.
I will not use Oloneo as a way to create surreal images because it really buckles under extreme tone mapping. Photomatix’s combination of Strength, Detail Contrast and Luminosity under well-balanced conditions can produce stunning moods and effects that no other software can. I’m especially fond of the Luminosity function that can add lovely highlighted tints at the end of edges and grass.
Recommendations for Oloneo
fix deghosting and aligning issues, including making a manual deghosting option.
Make a MAC version.
Change the Denoise option to fit images with varying shutter speeds.
Consider a Luminosity function like that of Photomatix.
Here’s an image I created recently using only Oloneo and Photoshop.