Photomatix Review 2017: Best Tool to Edit and Blend HDR Photos?
Powerful HDR software with lots of presets and features
Moderately priced at $39 USD for Essentials and $99 for Pro
Ease of Use
Steep learning curve for beginner photographers
Good tutorial resources, email support for customers
What I like:
- Lots of nice tools for manipulating and adjusting photos.
- Selective brush tool is effective for specific edits.
- Variety of presets including custom presets.
- Good amount of written tutorials and tips for program use and photography.
What I dislike:
- A bit time-consuming to get used to the program.
- Issue (possible bug) with undoing brush tool strokes.
- Limited file sharing options when exporting an edited image.
Summary: If you want to create amazing HDR edits and exposure combinations, Photomatix is a great option. Whether you’re a budding photographer or a seasoned professional, Photomatix offers tools to enhance your photos with ease using presets, several rendering algorithms, and a standard set of color adjustment tools.
With Photomatix, you can selectively blend your photos with the brush tool, change the tone and color with the brush tool, or edit a dozen pictures at once in batch processing mode. While this HDR software does lack some functionality associated with other photo editing tools, your money will get you a program that runs well and gets you to the finish line.
Whether used as a standalone or plugin, Photomatix Pro is certainly a program worth considering for your HDR needs. HDRSoft offers a cheaper and less extensive version of the program called Photomatix Essentials for those who edit as hobbyists or have no need for advanced tools.
Why Should You Trust Me?
My name is Nicole Pav, and I'm just another technology consumer looking for the best information on new and interesting programs. My computer is my primary tool, and I'm always searching for the most effective and useful programs to add to my arsenal. Like you, my budget isn't unlimited, so picking the right program means I spend a lot of time researching each product and comparing its features. However, this process can be very tedious when the only information I can find comes from flashy web pages or sales pitches.
That's why I'm here writing truthful reviews of products I've actually tried. With Photomatix Pro 6, I spent several days learning how to use the program, testing out various features so I would have a well-rounded review of how it works. While I'm certainly not a professional photographer or editor, I can say that this review will give you insight into the tools Photomatix provides, hopefully easing some of your unboxing anxiety. I even reached out to the support team to gain clarification and a few program features and provide deeper insight into the program (read more below).
Disclaimer: While we did receive an NFR code in order to effectively test out Photomatix Pro 6, the parent company HDRSoft had no influence in the creation of this review. Additionally, the content written here is the result of my own experiences, and I am not sponsored by HDRSoft in any way.
What is Photomatix?
Photomatix is a program that can be used to merge and adjust an exposure bracket of images or perform edits on a single image. You can adjust your images with a range of controls from saturation to curves. You can also fix perception and distort your image to perform more complex corrections. It features an array of presets to get you started and offers help with specific styles. The program is compatible with Adobe Lightroom as a plugin, which allows you to access all Photomatix features if you already own Lightroom through an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription.
Is Photomatix Free?
Not, it's not freeware. Photomatix Essentials is priced at $39 for standalone use only, with a limitation of 5 bracketed photos per set. Photomatix Pro costs $99 to buy through the official HDRsoft website, which gives you access to the software and the Lightroom plugin as well. You can use your license on Windows and Mac computers, regardless of what you originally purchased, on several computers that you own. However, you cannot use your license on a computer for someone else's use.
If you have purchased Photomatix Pro 5, then you can upgrade for free to version 6. Earlier users will need to pay $29 to access the new program and must submit a request through this form on the Photomatix site. They also offer extensive academic discounts, around 60-75% depending on your status as a student.
HDRSoft offers a trial if you aren't sure about buying the program right away. You can download the program and use it for as long as you like, but all your images will be watermarked. Validating a license will immediately remove this restriction.
What Are Some Examples of Work Done in Photomatix Pro?
There are many examples of work done in Photomatix available over the internet, but HDRSoft also provides a reference page of user-submitted galleries and work. Here are a few standouts:
If you need more inspiration or want to see more images, check out the Photomatix image gallery by clicking here. The galleries are arranged by feature or artist, with some pieces pulled from contests and competitions.
Photomatix Pro vs. Photomatix Essentials
HDRSoft offers a few variations of their program to fit the needs of different users. Photomatix Pro is one of the larger packages, offering multiple HDR rendering methods, more than 40 presets, a Lightroom plugin, and a few more advanced tools. The Pro version also includes batch editing and more distortion correction tools. On the other hand, Photomatix Essentials offer 3 rendering methods, 30 presets, and sticks to the main editing features. It also costs much less.
For those who want to do professional editing with an HDRSoft product, Photomatix Pro is probably the way to go. A more casual user will probably be just as well served by the more condensed "Essentials" model. If you can't seem to decide between the two, you can use HDRSoft's comparison chart to see which program covers the features you need to work effectively.
How Do I Use Photomatix?
Sometimes it can be daunting to get started with a new program. Luckily, Photomatix has been around for awhile and is fairly well known. HDRSoft runs a Youtube channel with tutorials and resources for users of all experience levels, and there are plenty of third-party resources as well.
This video will give you an overview of the program and good introduction to its capabilities.
They even have videos on setting up exposure bracketing on your DSLR camera, for models from several different brands. Here's an example for the Canon 7D.
If you prefer written material to videos, there's an extensive FAQ section on their website, as well as a lengthy user manual for the both the Mac and Windows versions of the program.
Each of these resources includes not only program information, but help getting started with HDR photography as well.
Photomatix Pro: Exploring The Features & Tools
Please note: I tested Photomatix on my MacBook Pro and this review was created entirely based on experiences with the Mac version. If you're using the PC version, some processes will be slightly different.
Interface & Integration
Getting started with Photomatix is fairly simple. The download has to be unzipped before providing you with a PKG file. The setup process is painless — just open the PKG and follow the instructions on each of the five steps.
Once the program has installed, it will be in your applications folder, which is usually organized alphabetically.
When you open the program, you'll need to decide whether you're using the trial version or if you'd like to activate the software with a license key.
Once you add a license key, you'll receive a small confirmation pop up. After that, you’ll be sent to the program interface.
Most opening options are unavailable in Photomatix until you start using the program. You'll want to start with the large "Browse & Load" button in the middle of the screen or choose a batch processing mode from the left-hand side.
You'll be prompted to select your photos (if you shot brackets, you can select all the brackets at once), and then confirm your choices as well as review some more advanced import options, such as un-ghosting, under "Choose Merge Options".
Once you've completed all of these steps, your image will open in the main editor so that you can begin making enhancements. Although Photomatix provides some sample images on their website that you can use to experiment with the program, I chose a bland but bright bracket of images taken of a fish tank castle to see the effects of the program on a more mundane shot. It's definitely not a stellar photo — the goal is to use Photomatix to improve the shot as much as possible.
When you import your image as brackets, it is merged into a single shot before you begin editing. If you've imported a single shot, then your image will appear the same as in the original file.
The interface is divided into three main panels. The left-hand side contains sliders for adjusting color and editing settings, as well as options for blending multiple exposures. For any option you mouse over, the empty box in the bottom left corner will display explanatory information.
The middle panel is the canvas. It displays the image you are working on. Buttons along the top allow you to undo and redo, or view the new image in comparison to the original. You can also zoom and change the image position.
The right-hand side contains a long scrolling bar of presets. They come in many styles, and you can make your own if you aren't satisfied with any of the current options.
Photomatix functions in a series of windows. Using a tool often opens a new window, and everything you're working on has its own window as well. The startup screen that was previously shown remains open once the editor is running as well, and smaller boxes such as the one for the histogram shown above appear frequently. If you like to have everything in one place, this could get annoying, but it does allow greater customization of the workflow.
One of Photomatix's key features is its ability to be used a plugin in Adobe Lightroom. The Lightroom plugin comes with Photomatix Pro 6, but if you need the plugin for another program such as Apple Aperture or Photoshop, you'll need to purchase the plugin separately.
HDRSoft provides a great written tutorial on installing the Lightroom plugin. Because I don't have an Adobe subscription, I wasn't able to experiment with this. However, the plugin installs automatically if Lightroom is already on your computer. If you download Lightroom later, you can make sure the plugin is present with the aforementioned tutorial.
If you're already a Lightroom user, this video tutorial will help you get started with using the Photomatix plugin.
Presets are a great tool for photo editing. While you'll rarely want to leave them as-is, they offer a starting point and can help generate ideas for your work process and final outcome. They're also extremely effective for batch edits.
When you first open an image, no presets are applied. You can fix this by choosing one of over 40 options from the right-hand side.
You can change the bar to two-column view if you are willing to sacrifice some space in the name of convenience. The presets start blandly, with titles such as "Natural" and " Realistic" before changing into more dramatic effects such as the "Painter" set. There are also several options in the black and white range. I applied three different features to my image to see some of the styles available.
As you can see, the first image is semi-realistic while the second takes a bit more creative freedom and looks almost like a video game asset. The last image really brings out the bright spots of the image so that the castle just barely contrasts the plants around it.
For any preset you apply, the left-hand adjustments will automatically update to reflect the filter settings. You can change these to alter the strength and character of the effect on your image. However, you cannot layer two presets on top of each other. Choosing a new preset will erase the edits you made with the last one. It will also remove any adjustments you made with the brush tool.
Since Photomatix doesn't have a layer system but is non-destructive, you can edit a slider at any time but it will affect your entire image.
You can also make your own presets, which is helpful if you tend to shoot scenes that are very similar or when editing a batch of photos with similar enhancements needed. All you have to do is edit the first image by hand and then choose "Save Preset".
Your presets will then be visible in the sidebar just like the default options when you toggle to “My Presets".
Editing and Adjustment
Editing is the whole reason to get Photomatix Pro in the first place, and the program does a great job processing enhancements and changes. The editing panel on the left side is split into three categories from top to bottom. All of the subsections scroll within their confined box to display more sliders.
The first is called HDR Settings, and the drop-down allows you to pick from five different modes. Note that changing your mode will erase all previous adjustments for the included sliders. The mode you choose affects the algorithm used to render the final HDR image.
Next is Color Settings, which contains standards like saturation and brightness. You can edit the entire image or one color channel at a time by selecting the corresponding choice from the drop-down menu.
Lastly, the Blending panel allows you to create custom combinations of images. In this panel, you can blend your edited photo with one of the original exposures. If you imported a single image and not a bracket, you'll be blending with the original image.
If you ever aren't sure what an adjustment does, you can mouse over it and see a description in the bottom left corner of the screen.
You also may have noticed that the Color and Blending panels have a small brush icon. The brush tools allow you to edit a section of the image (either blending or color correction) without affecting the rest of the image. It can detect edges, and you can make your brush as big or small as needed.
This allows you to make adjustments to a section of the image without changing the entire picture. When I was using these tools, I had an issue with the undo tool in which a single brush stroke was not reverted at once. Instead, it was undone in what seemed like a piece by piece manner, gradually getting smaller and forcing me to press undo over and over to completely get rid of the stroke (“Clear All” was still helpful though). I sent a ticket to the HDRsoft support about this and received the following response:
I was somewhat disappointed. The brief reply only referenced my attachment and not the possible bug I had written about. It also took around 3 days to receive that response. For now, I'll have to assume this is some sort of error since there was no clear explanation in either direction. However, overall the editing tools in Photomatix Pro 6 are very comprehensive and will enhance your images with precision and accuracy.
Finishing & Exporting
Once all your edits are complete, choose "Next: Finish" from the bottom right corner of the program.
This will render your image and give you a few final options for editing, such as the Crop and Straighten tool. However, you won't have access to any of the original editing tools or presets.
When you click Done, the edit window will be closed and you'll be left with just your image in its own window. To do anything further, save the enhanced photo.
For a photo editing program, Photomatix Pro has surprisingly few options when it comes to exporting images. There is no "export" or "share" integration with other programs, so you don't have the streamlined social integration that other programs offer.
Instead, you can use the classic "Save As" to move your editing image from the program to your computer. This will prompt a standard dialog box for saving a file, with fields for the document name and location.
You can choose between three file extensions: JPEG, TIFF 16-bit, and TIFF 8-bit. This is a bit disappointing. I expect a program that markets itself for professionals would at least offer PNG and GIF options as well. A PSD (photoshop) format would be appreciated as well--but without layer functionality, I can understand why it would be missing.
Despite the lack of supported files, you can always use a third-party converter to change your image over. Regardless, Photomatix also offers a resolution choice for exporting, ranging from original size to half and lower resolutions.
I was underwhelmed by the exporting options. For a program that's been around more than a decade, I would expect a greater variety of choices when it came to exporting my final image.
Reasons Behind My Review and Ratings
There's no doubt you'll be able to create great HDR edits with Photomatix. The program is designed to help you enhance your photos and provides a great set of tools to do so. However, it does lack some important functionalities that can be found in other programs. For example, there's no layer functionality; I couldn't find a curves chart; there are only three formats available to export your image to. While many users will not be hindered by this, it is something to keep in mind when considering a program to purchase.
At $99, Photomatix Pro is cheaper than buying subscription software if you plan to use the program long term. They also offer a less expensive package, the "Essentials" for $39. However, the product has some steep competition with programs such as Aurora HDR that are considerably cheaper and offer near-identical tools. Additionally, certain aspects of the program, such as plugin functionality beyond Lightroom, raises the price further. While Photomatix definitely doesn't sell you short, you may be able to get more for your money if you know what features you need and those you do not.
Ease of Use: 3.5/5
The overall functionality of this software is very solid. It was laid out in a clean manner and buttons were recognizable immediately. The “Help” box in the bottom left corner is also a nice touch, helping you get a brief overview of a tool before you use it. However, I did encounter a few issues such as a possible bug in which the undo button slowly reverted a single brush stroke segment by segment. Additionally, I didn't feel comfortable attempting to use the program right out of the box and found it necessary to read tutorials to get started. If you're an experienced professional photo editor, this might be less of a problem.
Photomatix Pro has a great network of support and resources for its users. With a large user base, there's a plethora of tutorial material in addition to the official HDRSoft material. The FAQ section of their site is extensive and covers everything from plugin integration to how to take HDR photos on your camera. User manuals are well written and available for every version of the program. Their email support says that they will answer your question within 1-2 days depending on complexity, but my previously mentioned query regarding a possible bug received a response after about 3 days.
The response was somewhat unsatisfying. I was forced to assume I had encountered a bug since customer support didn't quite understand what I was talking about. While the rest of their resources are really great, their email team did not meet the standard they set.
Aurora HDR by MacPhun (MacOS)
For a sleek and inexpensive HDR photo editing program, Aurora HDR is an extremely competitive option with features to rival those of Photomatix. At only $60, it's relatively easy to learn and offers a great variety of editing tools. You can read my review of Aurora here to learn more about its specific features and capabilities.
Affinity Photo (MacOS & Windows)
If you want to edit photos but aren't necessarily and HDR mastermind, Affinity Photo weighs in at about $50 and contains many editing tools you would find in Lightroom and Photoshop without the HDR emphasis. You'll be able to create great enhancements regardless of experience level.
Adobe Lightroom (MacOS & Windows, Web)
It's impossible to talk about creative software without mentioning Adobe, the golden standard in the industry. Lightroom is no different in this regard — it's widely used across the industry, and offers cutting-edge features. You can read our Lightroom review here. However, it comes at a monthly price that's impossible to avoid unless you're already subscribed to Adobe Creative Cloud.
This is a great tool for getting started with HDR without downloading anything to your computer. Fotor is web-based, and most features are available for free. You can upgrade to remove ads and unlock additional features if you're satisfied with the program.
Photomatix Pro is an HDR photo editing program built by HDRSoft primarily for rendering exposure brackets -- but it's also effective for editing a single image. You can process one at a time or apply edits to an entire batch of images, using tools ranging from your classic color corrections to dozens of presets in various styles, as well as distortion and perception tools that will help take your photos to the next level.
The program is ideal for those who currently or want to professionally edit photos and require advanced tools. It would also be optimal for photography students who are looking to enhance their photos or learn to do manipulations. The program is also available as a plugin that integrates with Adobe Lightroom, a photography industry staple, allowing you to effectively use both the Adobe Creative Suite and enhance your photos with Photomatix’s specific tools.