Aurora HDR 2017; A review

Since its first version, Aurora HDR has been a huge success for Macphun. Aurora HDR 2017 is the second version to be released. It has new features, such as a polariser filter and a batch mode. Its tone mapping algorithm has been improved and other improvements are scattered throughout the application. It’s now more than ever the golden standard of HDR photography.

Macphun booked a resounding success with its first version of Aurora HDR, due to the application’s interface, flexible and powerful capabilities, and the involvement of Trey Ratcliff. The 2017 version will fare even better because the developers have listened carefully to users’ comments and remarks. Macphun has included the improvements and new features its users asked for from the very beginning. The number one on users’ wish list was batch processing.

Batch processing has been implemented in a brilliant way. It’s a two-step process wrapped in two user-friendly form-based windows. First you’ll be asked to define the images — bracketed or not — that will be used for the result. The next step is to fill in the criteria you want the app to use when processing your images. You can choose the default HDR preset to be applied or any of the other presets, including your own saved ones.

Aurora HDR 2017

Batch processing is fast. The only thing that takes some time is analysing the images and correcting for chromatic aberration, alignment, etc.

Aurora HDR 2017 batch window

Macphun claims the new version also has better tone mapping. This claim is hard to verify as the first version was near-perfect. However, you will notice the new HDR tone mapping algorithm does offer a bit more detail and contrast. Noise has been reduced as well. What you’ll also notice when launching Aurora HDR 2017 is that colours of the default HDR result are closer to the originals than those of the first version.

My personal favourite new feature is the polarise filter, which makes it easy to obtain deep blue skies with contrasting clouds. It works just like a real polarise filter, although if you crank up the value there’s a risk of creating auras around small details such as tree branches, etc.

Aurora HDR 2017

New also is a zone-based luminosity mask capability. When you hover over the histogram with your mouse in Aurora HDR 2017, a zone graphic appears. Clicking on one of the zone icons makes a button appear that asks if you want to create luminosity mask. On the original image layer, that doesn’t seem like a good idea as all adjustments you create from then on will only apply to the masked areas. However, applying such a mask on one of Aurora HDR’s layers is a great way to further fine tune your image to perfection.

Other improvements in Aurora HDR 2017

The new Feather & Density brush parameters are hidden behind a drop-down menu icon that — oddly enough — has been placed in the mask controls area of the toolbar. I was initially looking for these new controls in the brush parameter context menu. A radial masking tool has now been added too. Layers are now categorised in types with the new Texture type giving you the flexibility to add grain or even a painted structure.

Aurora HDR 2017
Shot, 5-bracketed, in the Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp. Default HDR preset.

A large number of features have been improved too, including the g­radient masking tool, the addition of Darken, Colour Burn and Lighten blend modes for layers. There are more advanced Tone Mapping controls, offering a better recovery of “washed” highlights, and as I already said before, the colour temperature tool now produces more realistic results.

Aurora HDR 2017
5-bracket shot of a window in the Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp. Aurora HDR setting architecture, natural, with some minor manual tuning.

Aurora HDR 2017 now comes with over 70 categorised HDR presets, including new sets from Trey Ratcliff,
Serge Ramelli and Captain Kimo. Images can be resized and sharpened on export. Native RAW files support has been improved, including better DNG handling.

In short, those of us who were awed by the first version of Aurora HDR will be happy to know Aurora HDR 2017 is even better. The software can be downloaded from the Macphun site and currently costs €89. This is an offer that includes a Trey Ratcliff Deep-dive Video, 1-year of basic SmugMug, 60-day KelbyOne Membership and 25 prints from Parabo Press.

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