HDR Software overview

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Certainly one of the most interesting upcoming technologies for photographers is High Dynamic Range Imaging (HDRI), allowing work with the full real world levels of illumination. While standard image formats utilizes 8 or 16 bits with applied gamma and color space, the HDR image format extends the bit depth up to 96bit in a linear color space.

On this overview we will focus on the currently available Windows GUI-based software packages that are able to create and process HDR images. I want to thank all authors of the respective software packages for their support during the creation of the overview, especially Geraldine Joffre, Andreas Schömann, Paul Nolan, and Thomas Lock. Aside from the windows based GUI packages Bernhard Vogl has evaluated, command line tools are also available and have been added to the table below.

The following software packages have been tested:

Software overview

Software Homepage Version Platforms Price Comments


2.5.6 Win 59.99 CDN -


1.22 Win 25 EUR -
FDRTools Basic


1.8.2 Win, Mac free -
FDRTools Advanced


1.8.2 Win, Mac 39.00 EUR -


1.0 Win free for non-commercial and educational use
(commercial license: HDRShop 2 (399.00 USD))
no further development, superseded by the commercial version 2.0


0.7 beta 4 Linux, Win, Mac free, open source All in one panorama creation program. See hugin
Photogenics HDR


7.0 Win, Linux 699.00 USD focuses on 3D workflow and film editing
Photomatix Pro


2.3.1 Win, Mac 99.00 USD -


9.0 (CS2) Win, Mac 649.00 USD (US download)
1042.84 EUR (Europe boxed)


2.11 Win free


1.5 Unix, Mac, (Win) free, open source Command line tools and two GUI (pfsview and qpfstmo) for creation and processing of hdr images.
PTGui Pro


7.2 Win, Mac 149 EUR All in one panorama creation program. See PTGui


1.8.12 Win, Mac, Linux free, open-source QT based GUI for pfstools, now including an automatic image alignment

As you can see,there is a wide variety of fees you have to pay for the different software packages. This is partly justified by the features and the editing functions the various programs offer.

HDR creation and tonemapping

Software measure camera response curve create HDR from bracketed images create HDR from camera RAW image (*1) tonemap image to LDR
single HDR image creation batch mode LDR image alignment ghost
number of different operators single image via GUI batch mode parameters save-/restoreable panoramic mapping (correct border and zenith/nadir blending)
automatic &
freehand &
 ? 11
EasyHDR  ? manual ?  ? 1 during creation
FDRTools Basic
& modify-able histogram

(via command line)
(via command line)
FDRTools Advanced
& modify-able histogram

(via command line)
(also supports compression & contrast bracketing)

(via command line)
hugin -
(by standard control points)
- - - - - - -
Photogenics HDR
(relies on EXIF data)
 ?  ?
(tethered shooting with Canon cameras possible)
Photomatix Pro
√ (selectable) 2 + 2 LDR blending methods
(no zenith/nadir possible)
(supposedly automatic)

(relies on EXIF data)
√ (selectable)  ? 4

(via command line)
√ (selectable)  ? 2 command line (HDRI2LDRI - adaptive logarithmic only) √/–
(can read MKHDRI-curves)
not necessary, global operator
(pfscalibration, pfstmo with qpfstmo GUI)

(via command line)
- - 7 √ (qpfstmo) -/–
(command line)
PTGui Pro
(via Batch Stitcher)

(by standard control points)
- - 1
(via Batch Stitcher)
pfstools calibration can be used

*1: Most software relies on DCRaw for RAW conversion. Some cameras with extended DR capabilities are not converted correctly (e.g. Fuji's S3 camera: Although DCRaw could theoretically read all photosensors, it would need one conversion call for every photosite which is not implemented in the tested software packages.)

HDR image manipulation

There are basically 3 types of appications available:

  • Converter software: This type of software will assist you in generating and tonemapping HDR images
  • Image editors: These are full-flagged image manipulation programs that will also give you the possibility of HDR generation and tonemapping
  • Panorama creation programs with the additional possibility of HDR generation and tonemapping
Software File formats (*1)
EXR/HDR: 96bit
TIFF: 32bit
software type full image editing capabilities manipulation essentials no. of builtin panoramic transformations filters plugins possible
read/write resize, crop, rotate white balance approx
HDR capable scriptable
Artizen EXR, HDR, TIFF, PFM image editor (color adjust) 4 >40 Tone Mapping Operator SDK included
EasyHDR HDR, TIFF converter
FDRTools Basic EXR, HDR, TIFF converter
FDRTools Advanced EXR, HDR, TIFF converter
HDRShop HDR, TIFF converter 6 (+ 3D rotation) ~15
hugin EXR, HDR, TIFF panorama creation program (panorama related transformations and cropping) 12 - - - n/a
Photogenics HDR EXR, HDR, TIFF image editor (color adjust) 4 >40 √ (beta)
Photomatix Pro EXR, HDR, TIFF converter 1
Photoshop EXR, HDR, TIFF
(always assumes 32bit)
image editor (white point adjust) >40 ~15
Picturenaut HDR, TIFF converter √ (resize) HDRShop plugins
pfstools EXR, HDR, JPEG-HDR (read only), PFM, TIFF converter 4 ~11 n/a
PTGui Pro EXR, HDR panorama creation program (panorama related transformations and cropping) 10 - - - n/a
Qtpfsgui JPEG, PNG, PPM, PBM, TIFF, EXR, HDR, PFS converter 4 ~11 - n/a

*1: TIFF: 32 bit floating point TIFF. Please note that the TIFF file format is an abstract container for various encoding methods. This may result in incompatibility when exchanging TIFF files between various applications.
This is also true to some extent for .hdr files. Though, all applications in this overview use the most recent file format.

UI functionality and large image processing

The best HDR software is not of much use if it lacks of an intuitive user interface. We will now have a look on some key functionality and UI design.
We will also have a look if the applications utilize a clever memory management. The test file is a HDR panorama stitched by Hugin with a size of 8000x4000 pixels (32 Mpix), converted to the Radiance (.hdr) format. (This is tested using a standard Windows XP setup w. 1GB of RAM, swapping to HDD allowed)

Software drag & drop operation from operating system possible large image processing
drop JPEG LDR images → generate HDR image drop HDR image load 32Mpix HDR file tone map 32Mpix image
Artizen yes / yes yes
EasyHDR no / no no runtime error
FDRTools Basic no / no no (very slow)
FDRTools Advanced no / no no (very slow)
HDRShop yes / no
(will open multiple images for editing)
yes n/a
hugin no / no yes -
Photogenics HDR yes / no
(will open multiple images for editing)
yes (very slow)
Photomatix Pro yes / yes yes √ (only in batch mode)
Photoshop yes / no
(will open multiple images for editing)
Picturenaut yes / no
(will open multiple images for editing)
pfstools no / no no n/a (no GUI) √ (depends on algorithm)
PTGui Pro no / no yes
Qtpfsgui no / no no √ (depends on algorithm)

See Also