Photomatix Pro vs Aurora HDR

There are many HDR software options on the market, but Photomatix Pro 6 and Aurora HDR 2017 are two of the most popular. I own (and use) both; and while they ultimately have similar jobs they each have their areas of strength. I’ll dive in to a few of the differences below and show how they affect my workflow.

For this review I’m working with the following image set, captured handheld with my Canon 6D and 16-35mm f/4 L lens.

Bracketed shots of the Roanoke River Lighthouse in Edenton, NC
Roanoke River Lighthouse | Edenton | North Carolina

RAW Support

If you want to get the best possible color and depth to your HDR photograph you’ll want to import the RAW files from your camera. Luckily both Photomatix Pro 6 and Aurora HDR 2017 offer RAW file support.

Winner: TIE

Lightroom Compatibility

If you don’t use Lightroom you can skip this section.

Most photogs I know depend on Lightroom for image management and RAW conversion. When working with HDR I highly recommend working with RAW (unedited) files. Aurora HDR 2017 makes it incredibly simple! Their Lightroom plugin allows for export of edited TIFFs from Lightroom OR to export the RAW files directly to the HDR software. 

Photomatix Pro 6 also has a Lightroom plugin, BUT it only allows for exporting TIFFs. If you want to use your RAW files (and I think you should) you’ll have to find the original RAW files on your hard drive and open them in Photomatix Pro 6, bypassing Lightroom. Once you’ve processed your HDR you’ll have to import the new HDR photograph into your Lightroom library.

Winner: Aurora HDR 2017

Interface

While both apps are thoughtfully designed and laid out, the layout and overall look and feel are completely different.

Aurora HDR 2017 Interface | Photomatix vs Aurora HDR
Aurora HDR 2017 Interface

Aurora HDR 2017’s layout (shown above) is sleek and modern. All available tools are easy to find and available on a single screen.

Photomatix Pro Interface | Photomatix vs Aurora HDR
Photomatix Pro 6 Interface

Photomatix Pro 6’s interface feels a bit dated. The main editing screen (shown above) is primarily for tone-mapping. Further stylistic edits (contrast, sharpen, crop, and straighten) require that you finalize these settings before moving on to the next step.

Winner: Aurora HDR 2017

Speed

Both Photomatix Pro 6 and Aurora HDR 2017 work roughly equally well on my mid-2015 Macbook Pro. I timed a few processes with my smartphone stopwatch but it was hard to get a precise comparison as each program works a bit differently on import with steps requiring user input throughout the process.

Once you are in the app and working on your photo, Aurora HDR 2017’s sliders are very responsive, meaning that as you move the slider the preview changes.

Photomatix Pro 6’s sliders are not responsive. You move the slider, release the mouse button, then the effect preview shows. It is quick (virtually instantaneous) but it doesn’t show the addition or reduction of an effect as you are moving the slider.

Winner: Aurora HDR 2017 (for responsive sliders)

Deghosting – Selective vs. Global

Photomatix Pro 6 and Aurora HDR 2017 both have deghosting tools that will minimize/remove artifacts from objects that were moving as you captured your series of images. Both apps offer the option of global deghosting which applies the effect to the entire image. Unfortunately, as you add more deghosting you increase the likelihood of unwanted artifacts such as halos and noise. 

Photomatix Pro 6 also offers a selective deghosting tool that works really well. You can select the areas of your photograph where there was movement and the deghosting will only be applied to those areas thus preserving the quality of the rest of the image.

In the example below I used the selective deghosting in Photomatix Pro 6 and the ‘medium’ setting in Aurora HDR 2017 to remove ghosts from the flags. Please note that they were not my focus point and are slightly blurred due to depth of field.

Aurora HDR 2017 on the left, Photomatix Pro 6 on the right

Aurora HDR 2017 did a good job on the flag on the left, but the one of the right has visible ghosting. There are no visible ghosts on either flag in the Photomatix Pro 6 version (though the flag on the left is somewhat sharper in the Aurora HDR 2017 version).

Winner: Photomatix Pro (for selective deghosting)

Image Quality

This is where things get subjective…for the sake of simplicity I’m comparing the HDRs from each app with the default settings.

First we’ll compare the overall look and feel of each version:

Default HDR from Aurora HDR 2017 | Photomatix Pro vs Aurora HDR
Default HDR from Aurora HDR 2017

The photo above was processed with the default settings in Aurora HDR 2017. The entire image is somewhat underexposed and the colors are off. The sky has a turquoise hue and the grass is a bit too yellow.

Default HDR from Photomatix Pro 6 | Photomatix Pro vs Aurora HDR
Default HDR from Photomatix Pro 6

The version processed in Photomatix Pro 6 (above) is a bit more realistic. The overall image is brighter and the colors are more true, though the grass in the foreground is oversaturated.

Depending on an individual photographer’s style, both options provide a good starting point for creative enhancements, but my personal preference goes to the Photomatix Pro 6 version.

Next we’ll compare the details:

Detail comparison of the default HDR from Aurora HDR 2017 and Photomatix Pro 6
Aurora HDR 2017 on the left, Photomatix Pro 6 on the right

The sharpness of both images is roughly the same, but there is more detail in the shadows in the Photomatix Pro 6 version and more contrast in the Aurora HDR 2017 version.

Winner: Photomatix Pro 6 (barely, for the colors and detail in the shadows)

Platform Availability

Photomatix Pro 6 is available for Window, MacOS, and Linux (though the Linux version has fewer features). For the moment, Aurora HDR 2017 is only available for MacOS (though a Windows version is expected to be released late 2017).

Winner: Photomatix Pro 6

Cost

Both Photomatix Pro 6 and Aurora HDR 2017 are priced at $99.

Winner: Photomatix Pro (when you use my promo code)

Photomatix Pro vs Aurora HDR: Which is better?

This was an extremely tight race! Of the eight aspects covered above Photomatix Pro 6 took a slight lead. However, both pieces of software are excellent.

Aurora HDR 2017 has a nicer interface, integrates easily with Lightroom, but is only available (for now) for MacOS users.

Photomatix Pro 6 is cross-platrform, has selective deghosting and produces slightly better colors at the default settings. However, it is a pain to work with RAW images if Lightroom is your home base.

So, which is best? It all depends on your personal workflow (and the type of computer you use), but both are extremely capable for producing high-qualtiy HDR photographs.

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 (most of which I personally use and love). All opinions are my own.

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