Photoshop vs. Photomatix Pro

My last post created a little discussion about what method is best for processing HDR and if you already have Photoshop, is it necessary to go out and spend more money just to get get the benefits from HDR photography.  Instead of debating this with myself in this post, I thought I would take an HDR file and process it using both software packages and see which one you prefer.  As I said in a comment in my last post, I am always on the lookout for the “next thing” especially if it is going to speed my workflow and give me the results that I want.  The bottom line is that there really is no “better” solution, just the solution that’s best for you.  Also in the comments, Roger pointed me to an article over in Layers Magazine called HDR Another Way in Photoshop that is uses two exposures and then overlies the images and masks back in the tones that are wanted for the final image.  There is certainly more than one way to skin this HDR cat but as I read through the article I noticed that there were no less than 25 adjustment layers used to create their image.


I would love to have that kind of time to work an image but let’s face it, i have other things to do and probably not the patience for it.  Now if I can find a software solution that brings me close and then I can spend a fraction of the time in Photoshop finishing off the image then sign me up!

So let’s take a look at our image to be processed.


Normal, +2 stops, -2 stops

So here are my three exposures; one normal, one shot at +2 stops, and one shot at -2 stops.  I processed the images in Photoshop to create my HDR file (see Part I of my HDR tutorial for more information on this process).  Once I had the HDR file, I then went about processing them in Photoshop and Photomatix Pro.

In Photoshop I changed my mode from 32-bit to 16-bit.  This brought up a dialog box that offers four different ways to make this conversion:

Exposure and Gamma, Highlight Compression,  Equalize Histogram, and Local Adaption.  Local Adaption is the only one worth a damn for this project and is the setting used by most individuals who use Photoshop to process their HDR images.  By using this method, you can adjust the Radius, Threshold and Tone Curve to get the best possible detail and tonal range from your HDR file.

Here is that file without any further Photoshop adjustments.


HDR file processed in Photoshop from 32-bit down to 16-bit using Local Adaption method

Now here is the same file processed in Photomatix Pro as described in Part II of my tutorial.

Red Rocks HDR file tonemapped in Photomatix Pro but without further Photoshop processing

Both of these images would require further processing and sharpening in Photoshop but it gives you a good idea of where each software application goes with the HDR file.  There are many more effects and techniques including combining the HDR images with normal processed exposures for more realistic images.  Just like any image in Photoshop, you can work it till the day you die and never be done.  Unless you decide you are done because in the end, it’s your decision where to take your images and yours to decide what “look” you really want.

But if I can help you get there, just give me a shout.  I’m happy to help.


  1. Roger Tregelles says:

    I’m sold! Photomatix Pro really rocks and just plain blows the doors off of stock CS3 for HDR work. Here’s hoping my bonus next week covers picking this up. I also agree that the method at Layers Magazine is way too time consuming (25 layers is a lot of work). Thanks again Jeff for your help and excellent series of articles on this subject. Of note while surfing I found this article about High Dynamic Range Imaging at Take care. 🙂


  2. Wow, what a difference! I’ve heard and read a lot about how much Photoshop lacks in the area of HDR, but I’ve never seen a comparison. I have to admit, I don’t quite get HDR…I’m too much of a traditionalist, I guess (as much as one can be traditional with a digital camera in their hands), but your side-by-side comparison is all the evidence anyone needs who works with HDR – well done!

  3. …and when I say I don’t “get” HDR, it’s not that I don’t understand the technical side, I just prefer a more traditional approach to image processing. 🙂

  4. Nate Flickinger says:

    Very interesting to see a side by side of the images. I have been working with hdr images in photoshop alone, and after seeing the image you edited in photomatix, I too believe im sold on photomatix.

    Thanks for the insight. Keep up the great work.

  5. another website that plugs Photomatix… perhaps PM is really on to something. 9 out of 9 sites seem to agree with my own eyes that PM has a better algorithm than the gargantuan PSCS*….

    I’ve been up late at night trying to manually tone map HDR images in CS3 with terrible results: funky magenta and neon green hues that burn the retinas in the light of day… all with -1 0 +1 ev images.

    With PM (trial) I get virtually perfect results and lots of refinement left in the final image.

    It’s hard to say that the dinosaur (Adobe) has left the building, but it truly, truly has here in the case of HDR.

    $99 is a screaming deal in comparison to PS CS3.

    All this, and I’ll be a CS4 + new 17″ MacBook Pro junkie coming on Oct. 14 2008.

    — f9a

  6. Is it too late to contribute a comment? Looking at these pictures I feel that the one processed in PM has the rocky escarpments just too brightly lit from the front and the sky too overbearingly bright. I can see that there may be some subjects that come out as much better pictures with PM, but maybe its a mistake to use it too indiscriminately. Sorry if I seem to disagree with everyone, and perhaps I need to see further examples before being convinced. As it stands however it seems to me that PM so often produces a kind of Disneyland look that is noticeable a mile away.


  1. […] Джон Хеджкоу, 2005г. Фотосъемка движения Морли Д., 1982г Photoshop vs. Photomatix Pro. Что лучше для создания HDR — Photoshop или Photomatix. Первый […]

  2. PhotoWalkPro » Photoshop vs. Photomatix Pro

    A comparison of processing HDR images between Photoshop CS3 and Photomatix Pro.

Speak Your Mind