HDR without a tripod: Photoshop vs Photoshop+Photomatix Pro 4 vs Photomatix Pro 4

I was challenged by interesting question from Google+ discussion: what post processing is preferred if you are shooting a multiple exposure HDR without a tripod. I’ve tested 3 methods:

1. Align and Merge to HDR image in Photoshop

2. Stack and align bracketed exposures in Photoshop and then assemble HDR image in Photomatix Pro 4

3. Align and process HDR in Photomatix Pro 4


All 3 ways have advantages and disadvantages. I’ll show you 100% fragments, and you will make your own decision on what is the best and where.
My preference will depend from time I have for processing each image. For perfect result, I think, we need to combine all 3 methods and using masking in Photoshop to use only the best parts from each image. The fastest way for creating handheld HDR is Photomatix Pro 4, but we will get little bit blurred image with lost some details.

I found that the optimum method for me is to use Photoshop for aligning only and process HDR file in Photomatix Pro 4. Alternatively, Photomatix plugin for Photoshop can be used, I believe it gives the same result.

Now, the test results:

This is the test image without any post HDR ajustments and corrections with saved as much details as possible:

Test HDR image

Test HDR image

First image processed in Photoshop without sharpening or other adjustments, second image aligned in Photoshop and assembled in Photomatix Pro 4, and third HDR was created in Photomatix Pro 4 entirely.

HDR test: Photoshop vs Photomatix Pro 4

HDR test: Photoshop vs Photomatix Pro 4

Handheld HDR test

Handheld HDR test

High Dynamic Range photography test

High Dynamic Range photography test

HDR  Phoroshop Photomatix PRO 4

HDR Phoroshop Photomatix PRO 4

HDR photography test

HDR photography test

The winner method for me is Photoshop plus Photomatix Pro 4.

What do you think?

Thank you for looking. Any feedback and suggestions are very welcome!
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7 comments to HDR without a tripod: Photoshop vs Photoshop+Photomatix Pro 4 vs Photomatix Pro 4

  • Jeremy

    Interesting results… can you do it again *with* a tripod?
    A lot of the huge glitches, especially in the PS+PM4 column, resulted from large differences in alignment, right? (well, “large” is a relative term… “large” compared to the differences you’d get with a tripod)
    If you took out all the because-of-being-hand-held misalignments and just had the minute ones you’d have on a tripod, I wonder if PS+PM4 would win in every test area and not just in most.

  • Good idea Jeremy. We will definitely do such test. Thank you.

  • Chuckie

    Shooting hdr without a tripod and comparing is like comparing the handling of 3 high performance race cars with the air left out on the tires. Great equipment and software will never give great results without proper support. This is a fine experiment showing why even a greatly skilled photographer needs some help from proper [not always costly] equipment in achieving good to great results.
    constructive not negative comments

  • AS

    I used to align and merge in PS and then tonemap in photomatix 3.however, Photomatix 4 is working better and tonemapping works better when u use photomatix to merge and align.

  • Very interesting results and pretty much what I expected from my experience. It would be interesting to also add a tripod to the test method since I suspect the quality would be significantly better than any of the 3. Thanks for taking the time.

  • WOW! That’s what I am looking for.

    I am not close to professional photography yet, so I haven’t had need to print high resolutions photos. All three methods look good to me. I pull the images in to Photomatix for de-ghosting and processing. Then I do the rest in Photoshop and use Ninja plugin to remove the noise in the photos.

    My troubles is this. If you have 100 sets of photo to process, it really takes long time to process each one of them.

    I guess there is no short-cut.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Terence, I process every photo from 30 min to 1 hour, and there is no short-cut for acceptable result.

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