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The number of available High Dynamic Range Imaging freeware programs out there rapidly grows all the time. There are some that stand out and can boast a loyal set of users, and others that help support the aforementioned examples by just not cutting it. For those of us who love HDR photography, and are just starting out on an exploration of what this realm provides us creatively, free HDR software is the logical gateway to creating our own body of HDR work. Below, an assortment of free HDR downloadable programs is listed.

I. pfstools

The pfstools package is basically a set of command line programs for manipulating, reading, and writing high dynamic range images and video frames. pfstools can be integrated with GNU Octave or MATLAB, so it can function as a broader platform for processing HDR images. It also includes Qt and OpenGL HDR image viewers. For those not wanting to work with a command line interface, Qtpfsgui might better be the way to go. Qtpfsgui groups the functionality of pfstmo and pfscalibration in a GUI interface.

II. Qtpfsgui

This is an open source GUI application that can provide a decent workflow for HDR imaging. Being freeware, this is rightfully a favored first choice as an introduction to HDR image processing. Great as a springboard if the artist seeks to delve deeper and more assuredly into HDR photography. Qtpfsgui is compatible with Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Users just starting out should be encouraged to really explore its options to the fullest to get worthwhile results. Should be considered good enough for the favorably free price. Qtpfsgui will create HDR files from JPEG, 8-bit/16-bit TIFF, and RAW files. It can rotate, resize, tone-map, load and save HDR images. It can also copy exif data between sets of images. Qtpfsgui will also support a variety of formats such as openEXR (extension:exr), radiance RGBE (extension: hdr), RAW image formats, PFS native format (extension: pfs), and the TIFF formats (16-bit, 32-bit and Log Luv).

III. FDRTools Basic

FDRTools Basic is a collection of basic tools for the novice HDR enthusiast seeking to learn about what is possible with HDR experimentation. It will combine bracketed exposures into an HDR image comfortably enough. It will import RAW images, and prepare the HDR images for display or print with its tone-mapping option. It will also archive and export the HDR image in the user’s choice of format. This freeware is not one that claims the allegiance of many. But, it is free and can be utilized as a springboard for learning more about the scope of HDR image processing.

IV. Picturenaut

Picturenaut, which has sprung forth from the German photographic arts community, has been developing steadily over the last few years. It appears to grow with consistent upgrades made possible by user feedback. Picturenaut is often favorably reviewed, but many find that it is limited in resources, therefore making available limited results..Some features of Picturenaut include image alignment, color balancing, exposure correction, and noise reduction. Picturenaut will also support various HDR formats such as PFM (Portable Float Map), EXR (OpenEXR), HDR (Radiance), JPEG, TIFF (32-bit Floating Point), TIFF (LogLuv), and TGA (Targa, no alpha channel).

V. Photomatix Pro (trial)

This is the one paid program that must be included here, as the trial is fully functional and it is a superior product for serious HDR photographers and artists. The main difference that begs full disclosure from the start here is that users of the Photomatix trial version cannot save their work without watermarks embedded in the image. Otherwise, the trial software is an amazing tool that will produce HDR as it is supposed to be, and can instruct the exploring first-time user on so much in a short time. Some key features of Photomatix, while generalizing for brevity’s sake, are: merging bracketed exposures, batch processing, image alignment, deghosting, noise reduction and allowances for either 8-bi, 16-bit images. or RAW files. Also, there is the powerful tone-mapping function alongside of Exposure Fusion.


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