HDR Software overview

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Revision as of 12:44, 22 August 2019 by Tobias (talk | contribs) (HDR creation and tonemapping: removed no-longer existing programs)
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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 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


3.13 Win, Mac 35 EUR (HOME)


Live preview while tone mapping, at full image resolution; Automatic and manual alignment; Automatic and manual ghost removal; Manual Chromatic Aberration correction; Advanced options for RAW import (with preview); Noise filtering at HDR generation step; Adobe Lightroom plug-in; Selective saturation and advanced white balancing; Post-processing filters (blur, sharpen, denoise, color adjust);
FDRTools Basic


2.6.2 Win, Mac free -
FDRTools Advanced


2.6.2 Win, Mac 39 EUR -


3.1 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no further development, superseded by the commercial version 2.0
Oloneo PhotoEngine


1.1 Win 149 USD / 125 EUR, 30-day free trial Oloneo® PhotoEngine™ is the only HDR and Raw processing software offering digital photographers full control over light and exposure in real-time. At the core of Oloneo PhotoEngine 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. A Lightroom plug-in is included.


2019.0.0 Linux, Win, Mac, FreeBSD free, open source All in one panorama creation program. See hugin
Photomatix Pro


6 Win, Mac 79 USD -


CC 2019 Win, Mac 59,49 EUR per month -


3.2 Win free


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


11.17 Win, Mac 125 EUR, 143 USD All in one panorama creation program. See PTGui
LuminanceHDR (was Qtpfsgui)


2.6.0 Win, Mac, Linux free, open-source QT based GUI for pfstools, now including an automatic image alignment. See Qtpfsgui


0.5.0 Win, Mac, Linux free, open-source HDRMerge combines two or more raw images into a single raw with an extended dynamic range.


2.10.12 Win, Mac, Linux free, open-source GIMP is a cross-platform image editor


4.2.5 Win, Mac, Linux free, open-source Krita is a professional FREE and open source painting program.

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)
(auto, manual)
(left/right border only)
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)
Oloneo PhotoEngine 4
(via PTBatcher GUI)

(by standard control points or align_image_stack, also used by LuminanceHDR)

experimental command line tools deghosting_mask and hugin_hdrmerge with kahn option
- - - - - -
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
EasyHDR EXR, HDR, TIFF converter
(+ free hand rotation)
FDRTools Basic EXR, HDR, TIFF converter
FDRTools Advanced EXR, HDR, TIFF converter
HDRShop HDR, TIFF converter 6 (+ 3D rotation) ~15
Oloneo PhotoEngine HDR HDR merge, image editor, raw processing, dynamic relighting (Relight)

- - - - -
Hugin EXR, HDR, TIFF panorama creation program (panorama related transformations and cropping) 20 - - - n/a
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
LuminanceHDR JPEG, PNG, PPM, PBM, TIFF, EXR, HDR, PFS, RAW (read only, all cameras supported by dcraw) 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
EasyHDR yes / yes yes
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
Oloneo PhotoEngine yes / yes yes

Hugin no / no yes -
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
LuminanceHDR yes / yes yes √ (depends on algorithm)

See Also

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