Macphun’s Aurora HDR Pro Review – Updated 2019
The Macphun Aurora HDR 2018 is the latest iteration of the Macphun photo editing software, Aurora HDR. While this version boasts a great number of features, its primary purpose remains to be utilising HDR techniques to customise photos and produce high quality, dramatic images.
For those of you who are unaware or unsure as to what HDR, or ‘High Dynamic Range’ implies, imagine the typical plight one faces when in front of a beautiful sunset. In an attempt to capture its beauty before it fades away, the viewer whips out their camera phone to take a picture only to find that the colours on camera are duller and don’t capture the real essence of the view in person. This is due to the limited dynamic range of even the best of modern cameras. HDR is basically the correction of images with limited dynamic range by taking multiple images and merging them together to create a more dynamic image such as what we see in real life.
This would have been a complicated process to undertake before, especially in making realistic looking images that aren’t oversaturated, but has become much easier to use and understand, in large part thanks to developers like Macphun for creating Aurora HDR. On board the Macphun team is a master of HDR techniques, Trey Ratcliff, who has helped enormously with the features seen on the program today. To prevent the user from treading the fine line between ‘vibrant’ and ‘oversaturated’, the new version of Aurora HDR has a tone mapping engine shown in the new HDR Basic panel. This panel is equipped with all the basic tools needed to create a life-like image.
The other new features Aurora HDR 2018 has introduced, aside from tone mapping, since its 2017 predecessor are:
-Availability on both Mac and Windows, as opposed to its earlier versions which were only available on a Mac. The Mac version is now also equipped with Touch Bar support for faster access to editing features
-A new user interface that is meant to provide a more responsive and easygoing experience for its users in their photo-editing endeavours
-A history panel: this will show the user each change made on to the image in descending order for easier reference as to which parts they may wish to go back to
-A lens correction tool to get rid of distortions on the lens captured in the picture
-A transform tool to easily manipulate the image
-An HDR Enhance Filter to adjust elements such as colour, clarity, and contrast
-And improvements on speed, RAW handling, cropping options, and an improved structure algorithm
Though most of the above features are evident enough when going through the program, the question of whether it actually delivers a better photo editing experience as opposed to its predecessors is what we shall explore here.
Let’s start first with the new Windows platform version of this editor.
Making the program available to Windows users is definitely a step in the right direction, though there are still a lot of issues to sort out before these users can fully experience what Aurora HDR has to offer. For starters, several of the tools such as the transform tool, the lens correction tool, and the image flip and rotate were not available at launch, while other features will be added at an indefinite date.
As for the performance and speed of this update, though there is a general improvement of about 9 seconds in loading time, it still isn’t necessarily “fast”. Though this is still a significant improvement considering the fact that the images and application itself are quite large files that take time to load and set up. Some image files can even go up to 800 MB.
Perhaps the greatest improvement introduced by Aurora would be their tone mapping features. Though the changes may not seem entirely noticeable to the untrained eye, these manual adjustment tools allow for reduction in noise, which make that unsightly glowing ‘halo’ effect around objects in the picture. If you’d prefer a glowing radiant effect, but one that’s more precise, there is an Image Radiance and Glow panel. The HDR basic panel provides a great starting point for photo editing, with many fine tuning options like the Smart Tone slider, which lifts dark shadow details. Or the HDR Structure Panel which takes care of photo definition on micro or macro levels. The HDR Details Boost panel allows the user to adjust details on a small, medium, and large scale.
On the other hand, the layers and masking features should not go unnoticed. For beginners, or professionals in need of a quick, go-to edit, the pre-existing layers can be added on to any image and adjusted using opacity, blending and masking tools. If you’re editing photos in a series that all require the same mood and lighting effects, a layer filter could provide a quick fix without the redundancy of manually editing each picture in the series. You can add as many layers as you wish on to your photos just as you would on Photoshop.
The presets provided and designed by Macphun and Trey themselves range from Basic, Architecture, Landscape and Dramatic so the person who’s just getting into photo editing can get a hint of what it is they’re looking to emulate in their own pictures
The great thing about Aurora that sets it apart from mainstream photo editing platforms such as Photoshop and Lightroom is that aside from offering mere colour and lighting adjustments such as hue and saturation, it offers access to all the Manual HDR panels. If Photoshop or Lightroom are still your preferred mode of operation, Aurora HDR is also available as a plug-in to these programs to be used as a supplementing force.
Overall, the Aurora HDR Pro is definitely worth looking into. If you are unsure as to whether you want to invest in it, there is a 15-day free trial period which you are encouraged to check out if you are seriously looking into making your photographs more commercially viable.