Photomatix Pro vs Aurora HDR 2017 | Which is best for you?

Hey folks – This article was updated in July 2017 using Photomatix Pro 6 and Aurora HDR 2017. Read it here!

Recently I came across an article I wrote in early 2015 comparing Photomatix Pro, Nik HDR Efex Pro and Lightroom’s HDR Merge. It is a good article with a lot of useful information, but a mere 18 months later it borders on obsolete.

Nik, now owned by Google, is antiquated by technology standards. While the software still works (and is absolutely FREE), updates or upgrades are unlikely. Lightroom’s HDR Merge also hasn’t changed much since it was introduced. It is a useful addition to Lightroom, but I find that software built specifically for HDR does a superior job.

Today I’m comparing Photomatix Pro vs Aurora HDR 2017 – arguably the best and most popular HDR tools currently on the market. If you’d like more information on Lightroom’s HDR Merge or Nik HDR Efex Pro, take a look at the article from 2015.

Photomatix Pro vs Auoroa HDR 2017

I’ve been a fan of HDR photography for a long time.

Until last year, Photomatix Pro was my go-to software for tone mapping (merging multiple exposures into a single image). Then Aurora HDR arrived and put a new spin on my HDR workflow.

While each of these HDR tools have similar goals (i.e. merging multiple exposures), the way I, as a photographer and artist approach each of them is very different. For instance, I use Photomatix Pro primarily to merge my bracketed images. Stylistic edits are then made in other software such as LightroomTopaz Adjust or Macphun’s Intensify.

Conversely, Aurora HDR is designed to be a one-stop-shop for both tone mapping (merging bracketed images) AND creating stylistic effects. There are a few things that Aurora HDR can’t do – such as cloning out distractions or cropping – but those can be done later in Lightroom or Photoshop.

The significant differences in how each piece of software is used make it difficult to compare them side-by-side. However, with my personal style, the final image from both methods is quite similar. Both programs do a great job, leading me to the conclusion that the best HDR software is the one that best fits your unique workflow.

Test Image: The Coleman Bridge

Original Bracketed Photos | Photomatix Pro vs Aurora HDR 2017

This bracketed series (f/7.1, ISO 100; EV-1.3, EV 0, EV+1.3) was captured handheld below the Coleman Bridge on the York River in Virginia.

Default Tone Mapping

First – lets take a look at the default results for each program.

Aurora HDR 2017

  • Lightroom >> Export >> Aurora HDR 2017 >> Open Original Images
  • Alignment – checked
  • Additional Settings >> Color Denoise – On >> Chromatic Aberration Removal – On
Aurora HDR 2017 with Default Settings
Aurora HDR 2017 with Default Settings

The photograph above from Aurora HDR 2017 (default settings) is underexposed and oversaturated.

Photomatix Pro

  • Lightroom >> Export >> Photomatix Pro
  • Align Images – checked, Crop aligned result – checked
  • Preset – Handheld (Standard)
  • Reduce Noise – Checked (All Source Images)
  • Reduce Chromatic Aberrations
  • Output Format TIFF 16-bit
  • Tone Mapping – Details Enhancer – Method Defaults
Photomatix Pro with Default Settings
Photomatix Pro with Default Settings

The photo above from Photomatix Pro (default settings) has more detail in the shadows and more realistic color. However, note the color of the sky through the metalwork of the bridge toward the center of the photo – it doesn’t match the sky in the rest of the photograph.

My HDR Workflow

Aurora HDR 2017

Final Image Processed with Aurora HDR 2017 & Lightroom
Final Image Processed with Aurora HDR 2017 & Lightroom

In Aurora:

  • Layer 1 – Default Tone Mapped Image
  • Layer 2 – Create Luminosity Mask of highlight areas – locally darken highlights to reduce clipping
  • Layer 3 – Globally Open Shadows, Further reduce Highlights; Desaturate Blue, Yellow, & Red in the HSL Panel
  • Layer 4 – Create Luminosity Mask of shadows (bridge), Increase Clarity, Structure, & Vibrance

In Lightroom:

  • Apply Lens Correction/Reduce Chromatic Aberration
  • Auto set White & Black Points (Hold shift key while double clicking on the words Whites & Blacks)
  • Add Clarity (+25)
  • Add subtle Vignette (-11)
  • Use Spot Removal Tool to remove two small artifacts in clouds
  • Add Sharpening (+81, Masking +70)

Photomatix Pro

Final Image Processed with Photomatix Pro & Lightroom
Final Image Processed with Photomatix Pro & Lightroom

In Photomatix:

  • Increase Strength (+80)
  • Decrease White Point & Increase Black Point while watching histogram to minimize clipping highlights and shadows
  • Increase Gamma (midtones)

In Lightroom:

  • Remove Chromatic Aberrations
  • Adjust White Balance (slightly warmer)
  • Auto set White & Black Points (Hold shift key while double clicking on the words Whites & Blacks)
  • Increase Clarity (+50)
  • Increase Vibrance (+27)
  • Locally adjust water – Decrease Clarity and Increase Vibrance
  • Sharpen (+82, Masking +64)
  • Add Subtle Vignette (-11)

Photomatix Pro vs Aurora HDR 2017 Workflow Comparison

I spent far more time making stylistic adjustments in Aurora HDR 2017 than with Photomatix Pro. Conversely, I made more stylistic adjustments in Lightroom on the photo processed in Photomatix Pro. In the end, the photos are nearly identical. There are subtle differences in color and detail, but my overall style came through with both tools.

Feature Comparison

  Aurora HDR 2017 Photomatix Pro
System Compatibility Mac Only (PC Version in Developement) Mac & PC
RAW Support Yes No
Plug-in Capability Yes Yes
Standalone Capability Yes Yes
Batch Processing Yes Yes
Free Trial Yes Yes
Money Back Guarantee Yes Yes
Military Discount Yes (Click Here for Info) No
Education Discount Yes (Click Here for Info) Yes (Click Here for Info)
Discount for my readers Use coupon code “angandrieux” for 10% off Use coupon code “angandrieux” for 15% off
Retail Price $99 $99

Photomatix Pro vs Aurora HDR 2017 | Which is best?

As you can see from the feature list above, both HDR tools have very similar features. The deciding factor is you and your personal workflow (unless you use a PC, then Photomatix is the obvious choice). I urge you to try both tools (they both offer free trials) and see which one is a better fit for your workflow.

My choice?

While I won’t be getting rid of Photomatix Pro anytime soon, my personal favorite is Aurora HDR 2017. I love having the stylistic options at my fingertips and the ability to work locally and with layers without leaving the program. I also prefer Aurora’s user interface. The layout and slider descriptions are more intuitive to me, all of which make my HDR workflow more efficient.

Try Aurora HDR 2017 for FREE

Try Photomatix Pro for FREE

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links which means that I may receive a commission if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase. I only share products that I believe will be valuable to my readers. All opinions are my own.

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