Photomatix Pro vs Aurora HDR

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There are many HDR software options on the market, but Photomatix Pro 6 and Aurora HDR 2018 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 2018 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 2018 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 2018

Interface

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

Aurora HDR 2018 Interface Screenshot
Aurora HDR 2018 Interface

Aurora HDR 2018’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 2018

Speed

Both Photomatix Pro 6 and Aurora HDR 2018 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 2018’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 2018

Deghosting – Selective vs. Global

Photomatix Pro 6 and Aurora HDR 2018 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 2018 to remove ghosts from the flag and water. Please note that they were not my focus point and are slightly blurred due to depth of field.

Photomatix Pro 6 vs Aurora HDR 2018 Deghosting
Photomatix Pro 6 on the left, Aurora HDR 2018 on the right

Surprisingly, the global deghosting of Aurora HDR 2018 did a superior job in removing ghosts. In the photo on the right (Aurora HDR 2018) the flag is more crisp and there is more detail in the water. In the photo on the left the flag is a bit soft and the water looks muddy.

Winner: Aurora HDR 2018

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 Settings from Aurora HDR 2018
Default HDR from Aurora HDR 2018

The photo above was processed with the default settings in Aurora HDR 2018. Overall the result is quite natural, though the grass in the foreground is a touch oversaturated.

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) has more of the typical HDR look. There is a slight halo around the lighthouse and the grass went past oversaturated into neon territory.

Depending on an individual photographer’s style, both options provide a good starting point for creative enhancements, but my personal preference goes to the Aurora HDR 2018 version.

Next we’ll compare the details:

Photomatix Pro 6 vs Aurora HDR 2018 Details Comparison
Photomatix Pro 6 on the left, Aurora HDR 2018 on the right

The sharpness of both images is roughly the same. There is more detail in the shadows in the Photomatix Pro 6 version (which makes the image feel a bit flat) and more contrast in the Aurora HDR 2018 version.

Winner: Aurora HDR 2018

Platform Availability

Photomatix Pro 6 is available for Window, MacOS, and Linux (though the Linux version has fewer features). Aurora HDR 2018 is available for MacOS and Windows.

Winner: Photomatix Pro 6

Cost

Both Photomatix Pro 6 and Aurora HDR 2018 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 (and subjective) race! Of the eight aspects covered above Aurora HDR 2018 the lead. However, both pieces of software are excellent.

Aurora HDR 2018 has a nicer interface, integrates easily with Lightroom, and produces very natural results.

Photomatix Pro 6 has selective deghosting and and is slightly less expensive when you use my coupon code (angandrieux). 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, but both are extremely capable for producing high-qualtiy HDR photographs.

Originally published in July of 2017 – updated 12/28/17 to include Aurora HDR 2018.

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13 thoughts on “Photomatix Pro vs Aurora HDR

  1. I use Photomatix Pro with LR and Raw files all the time. No need to go outside of LR. PM Pro saves the result as a TIFF which is fine by me.
    Perhaps it is because I am on a PC and have the latest version of LR that supports my Raw format is why it works for me but not the author.

    1. Hi TJ, Thanks for your comment! I’m using the latest versions of both LR and Photomatix (on a Mac). I can easily export from LR to Photomatix but it exports my RAW files as TIFFs. I’d love to know a bit more about your process and how you are taking your RAW files directly from LR to Photomatix without exporting them as TIFFs. Maybe I missed something. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by! -Angela

    2. Hi Again TJ, I reached out to the Photomatix team and confirmed that when you use the LR plugin (Mac or Windows) you are converting your RAW files to TIF when you send them to Photomatix and they include any adjustments you may have made in LR. Thanks for prompting me to do some research. I learned something new, too! According to the folks at Photomatix/HDRSoft using the LR/ACR RAW conversion is usually preferable. Cheers! -Angela

  2. Hi Angela,

    I’ve just discovered your blog. Interesting insight on the deghosting. It’s something I’ve been looking for – something that will cope with trees, leaves, flags. It looks like Photomatix will – have you had a look at Aurora 2018 in this regard yet? Also On1? Would be interested to hear your thoughts.

    Alex

    1. Hi Alex, Thanks for checking out my site and taking the time to comment!

      Both Photomatix 6 and Aurora HDR 2018 have deghosting – the unique feature with Photomatix is that you can apply it selectively whereas Aurora, On1, Lightroom’s HDR Merge, etc. apply it globally.

      Aurora HDR 2018 does a good job with the deghosting HOWEVER because it is a global adjustment it can limit the amount of processing you do before you start seeing halos and other artifacts.

      I’ve also worked a bit with the On1 Beta that has HDR and I think it has a ways to go. The alignment/deghosting just isn’t up to par with the other software out there. That said, it is a beta version so it might be improved by the time the production version is released.

      Let me know if you have any other questions. Cheers! -Angela

  3. I don’t see how Aurora 2018 wins when it looses detail in a HDR image and introduces unwanted contrast before making final edits. Will Aurora add that loss of detail back when you try to remove contrast?

    1. Hi Bill – What detail loss are you referring to? As far as the contrast – you can certainly pull back on the contrast to flatten the image if that is the look you are going for. As I said in the article, it was a tight race and the results are very subjective. I see the result from Aurora getting me closer to a finished piece of art without as much jumping around to other apps/plugins whereas Photomatix needs a lot of further stylization before I consider a piece finished. At the end of the day, if you like that Photomatix version better, then that is the tool you should go with 🙂

  4. Aurora HDR has a limitation: it cannot save images bigger than 15000 pixels on the long side. It is very constraining for producing larges panorama (or 360 degres photospheres). , where HDR is the only way to overcome the high light ratios.

    1. I can see how that would be frustrating! I don’t work with panos often so I haven’t encountered that issue. I do know that the folks at Skylum are working on increasing the max file size for both Aurora HDR and Luminar. Not sure when it will be updated, but they are aware and working on it.

  5. I have both but have gone now to almost exclusively Aurora. I actually use the app for more than multi-image HDR. I find the sliders and the layers are easier to use than similar stuff in PS and my workflow is much faster (with some stuff, not all!).

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