You have probably already heard about the new program from Macphun and Trey Ratcliff. Even I already posted about it. And today, I will share with you my thoughts about this new pieced of software. You can get Aurora from the StuckInCustoms store here or from Macphun here.

First of all, Aurora HDR is only available for Mac OS currently. For me that’s a bit of a complication, as I use Windows on all my devices. But so I can take a look at this software, I borrowed a Macbook Pro and tried it on that. It was not the newest model, so it was a bit slower when confronted with 36Mpix files, but it was still usable. But let’s get back to Aurora.

When looking at Aurora, in comparison to other HDR tonemapping software I use or used, I will define it as a middle ground between Photomatix and Photoengine, with a part of Lightroom sprinkled in. What I mean with this, that it’s not as straightforward as Photoengie, but does not overwhelm you with tonemapping options as Photomatix. And on top, it offers many edits that are very familiar from Lightroom.


 
If you look at Aurora more, you will quite quickly see what the goal is here. It’s to take the most used edits you perform on HDR photos, and instead of having them in multiple applications, they tried to put them all into one program. This may work for your work-flow, or may not. For instance if you have a whole library in Lightroom, it quite easier just to do a mass edits there, before you even start with HDR processing. On other hand, if you are just starting with HDR, and still looking for your work-flow, this may work just fine for you.

In my personal workflow, the tonemapping software is just one step, before I go into Photoshop. I prefer the more gradual control I can get there, to a more limited set that is usually available in tonemapping software. The most important thing for me there, is the quality of the tonemapped image. In this Aurora provide very good results. You can see this easily, just by loading the brackets into the software, and moving the tonemapping slider. If you see a strong HDR effect, light inversion and bright outlines, the algorithm is not the best.

Features

As I mentioned, Aurora offers a wide variety of possible edits. You get quite a long list, with Tonemapping, Tone, Structure, HDR Denoise, Image Radiance, Color, Details, Glow, Top & Bottom Lighting, Tone Curve, Color Filter, Color Toning and Vignette. Some are new, some will be familiar to you if you used other software. But again, as I mentioned, just from the list you can see what everything is put together in one place in Aurora.

You can of course skip any editing and just use the provided presets, but than you will miss all the fun of creating your own style.

Let’s look at few. I quite like the default tone-mapping that was applied to the images I tried. For most images I had no need to even tweak the Tonemapping, just the Tone. Here I actually had to tone down the Smart Tone quite a bit, as the default gives a too strong HDR look, compared to what I like. But going down into negative values, corrected this rather quickly. Also, the default made every single image too bright, so that had to be also corrected under tone. Additionaly, same as other tone-maping software, there is quite a lack of contrast in the results, and that has to be added. But what you get here, is already quite a nice tone-mapping result, and a good start to further edits.

Aurora HDR
Aurora HDR

 
I really liked that under Tone, you can find separate sliders for highlights, midtones, shadows, black and whites. I especially like the midtones slider, which is missing from Lightroom. Having these all right here, makes for much better control about the result. Next you have structure. It looks like a combination of clarity from Lightrom, with Detail extractor and Tonal contrast form Color Efex. It’s an interesting effect, which needs to be used very gently, as it’s very easy to just oversature your photo with detail.

Aurora HDR
Aurora HDR

 
Another very nice implementation is of the gradient filters. here its called Top & Bottom Lighting, and they added two separate exposures sliders, which makes it very easy to to balance the brightness, if your image is split along a horizon. Other edits you can do, is to de-noise your image or add sharpness, add radiance or glow. It really tries to provide a one software solution to most situations with HDR. Like this it even can be used when you goal is not really a HDR picture, as Aurora allows you just to add a single exposure as input.

Aurora HDR
Aurora HDR

 
Aurora also supports layers. This work quite similar to adjustment layers in Photoshop. So what you do is, you create a layer, make adjustments on it and then tweak the mask and opacity to where and how much the effect is used. This work very nice, if you have images where different parts need different adjustments. Of course if you need a more pixel based layers, if you do retouching and similar, Phothoshop is a must.

Overall

Overall I’m quite impressed with what all Aurora provides and what results it can bring. I still need more time to experiment more, and get used to it, but that will come after a Windows version is released. But for you, if you are using a MacOS computer, you should give it a try.

You can find a trial version on the aurorahdr.com website.

And to end this review, here you have 4 photos edited only in Aurora (with only some dust spots removed in Photoshop). I can imagine in all doing few more tweaks in Photoshop, or even more directly in Aurora, but in all cases, this is a very good result.




Today, I will show you how I edited this sunset shot taken under the SNP bridge in Bratislava. If you are also curious about the exif data, you can find it in the original post here..

So let’s get started. If you look at the original photos, you see quite a few problems. First, the biggest is the wrong white balance, then overexposed sky, the bridge is too dark, and there are quite a few dust spots and objects that need to be removed.

An autumn sunset
An autumn sunset

I started as always in Lightrom with these 5 exposures. I corrected white balance, removed chromatic aberrations and corrected the perspective a little bit. From there I exported all the files as 16-bit tiffs, and loaded them into Oloneo PhotoEngine. There I adjusted strength, contrast and tweaked white balance a little more.

An autumn sunset
An autumn sunset

With that done, I continued in Photoshop. There I did the following edits (layers numbered from bottom up)
1. Photoengine result.
2. -2EV exposure, to darken the sky a little under the bridge
3. 0EV exposure, to recover the cloud there a little, as I did not like the result from HDR tonemapping
4. Removed all the trash from the grass and the rocks
5. Removed the blurry people from the top of the bridge :)
6. Color Efex pro Polarization filter, to get more color into the sky, and the sunset. I toned it down on the highlights, as it was too strong there.
7. -2EV exposure again, as the previous edit brightened the sky too much
8. added contrast to the sky and the water
9+10. at first I thought they would not bother me, but after a while they did. So on these two layers I removed the cable in the bottom of the photo and the single ray of light going through the bridge.
11. More overall contrast
12. Toned down the warmth of the photo a little, as it was a bit too red for me
13. Brightened the shadows, while also adding contrast to them (aren’t curves great? :)).

An autumn sunset
An autumn sunset

And that’s all I did with this image. To find out more on how I edit, check out the guides and before after categories on this blog, or check out my video tutorial series here:
Master exposure blending

Around two weeks ago I posted about getting the Surface Pro 4, and my first impressions of it, and today I will go more into it, what I like and don’t like about the tablet.

Hardware

Fist I have to note, that I had the Surface I got replaced. The fist one I received, had a small problem. The left side of the screen was not glued on properly, so the glass moved about 1mm every-time I touched it. So I had to return that one, and got a new one, without the issue.

I have the middle of the pack configuration. It has the dual core i5 processo, 8gb of ram and 256 memory. I still added another 128gb SDXC memory card for expansion.

So from the hardware side, the Surface Pro 4 is designed very nicely. The bezels are slim, the more angled edges are easy to hold, and the stand is just perfect. After a day or two with it, you start to wonder why not all tablets have a stand :)

The power cable, the keyboard and the pen all attach magnetically. This is very nice, especially for the keyboard, as it guides itself mostly in the connection, and so it’s easy to attach even in complete dark. Regrettably you can attach the pen only to the left or the right side (only left when power cable is connected), and it would be so nice if it could be also attached on the top. Its in the way if you hold the tablet in your hands and want the pen to be attached.

The screen with the very high resolution (2736×1824) is bright and vibrant. I often found the suggested brightness to be too much, and had to tone it down (you are offered: darkest, dark, suggested, bright, brighter and I often use the dark setting). The both tablets I had had a slight light bleed in the center of the bottom edge, with the second one being better. In both cases, the only time I seen the bleed was by the Surface logo by startup. In regular use, it’s invisible.

The front stereo speakers are wonderful. They are font facing, and really loud. I wish a bit that they were on the bottom edge except of the top edge, as when I hold the tablet, I sometime cover them with my thumbs. Still, I never managed to block the sound that way.

Surface Pro 4
Surface Pro 4

 
For me is hard to judge the pen. Even that I own a Wacom tablet, I use it very rarely, and not that much in photo editing. Still, the surface pen is nicely weighted, feels like a real pen, and I have not seen any lag (probably if I did a slow motion video of writing, there would be some visible, but thats just crazy), until I tried some huge brushes. But since I see the same when using mouse on my desktop PC, I don’t think thats really a pen issue. I ran into an issue, where the pen would stop working, while still being connected with bluetooth, but taking out the pen’s battery and putting it back in solved that immediately.

The Surface has a fan inside, which for me is on very rarely. Recently I only heard it twice. Once after an hour of drawing in Photoshop (but it turned off after few minutes) and once during Windows update. Overall the surface heats up very little. 2-3 hours of full HD streaming, and you feel almost no heat on the back.

There are two cameras on it, and I can’t care less about them. I could see them useful for Skype and thats about it. Take it how it is, if you need a photo, you will take it with your camera or you phone. Both are better. (for comparison, the camera on the Nexus tablet I had the last two years, was used once, after which I deleted the photo, and took out my phone to take a new one :))

When used as a tablet (2-3 apps + browser + streamed video) I was getting through 30-50% of battery during 3 hours of use. You of course would not get this much from it when doing processor heavy tasks, but while only drawing in Photoshop, the times were very comparable.

Software

Regrettably, the Surface Pro 4 is delivered with an older version of Windows, firmware and drivers. So you can expect blue screens, crashes and errors until you update everything. I had them all, on both devices. But right away, there was a new version of everything, and all problems I had went away.

The most persistent one was the crashing of the Intel video drivers, where the screen will became unresponsive for few seconds and than you would get a message that the driver has restarted. For me this was solved with the latest driver update few days ago and I haven’t had it since.

Overall, if I look at the stability after all the updates, it is really stable. There are few apps here and there that like to crash randomly (note that I said apps, normal programs seem to work without a problem), but I presume thats a problem on the app side, where they not yet have been properly updated for windows 10.

Windows Hello is just wonderful. It logs me in within seconds, just by looking at the tablet. I do need that also for my main desktop now :). The start menu (or start screen in tablet mode) is very useful, where with the help of an app like Pin more, you can pin just anything, from programs, games, websites, folder to files.

It also so great to not have to limit myself to second grade mobile applications, and just being able to install anything I want. A full desktop browser is so much better than a mobile ones (and web-pages don’t try to push their mobile apps on you on every occasion). One has so much freedom again, what to install, what to use, how to use it.

Surface Pro 4
Surface Pro 4

 
But there are some oddities, which one has to get used to. The most are from the change of how apps are made between windows 8 and windows 10. For instance the swipe from he top, which should open the context menus, has a second application in Windows 10, where it shows the title bar. So if you do it, it can happen that you get the title bar, over the context menu. Of course, newer apps that have been updated already, don’t have these problems anymore.

Overall, I do like using Windows 10 as a tablet on the Surface. It take a while to get used to, but I already prefer it to Android or iOS. Just the ability to swipe from left to get to all opened programs, and the ability to split the screen easily, is so much better than anything they provide. Btw. I moved the task bar to the left side of the screen. Like this I have the start and back buttons right next to my thumb when holding the tablet in landscape :)

Performance

I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of this little tablet. It starts programs on par or sometimes even faster than my main desktop (I think it’s due to faster SSD in the Surface than I use). The program switching is quick, and it’s the same with apps and legacy programs.

But let’s look more into the programs I use the most. Photoshop, Lightroom and Photoengine. In all I tried photos from the Sony A7r, so 36Mpix photos. And to show you how it worked out, here is a short video, where I do random edits in all of them.

Two notes to this video. The fan came on when I started exporting from Lightroom and turned off about a minute after I closed all the programs (I put music in the video, as I did no commentary, and one could not hear the fan in the recording). Secondly, this was all on battery power.

Music: http://www.bensound.com

As you can see Lightroom runs very well. It loads photos fast, and the edits are shown almost immediately. There is a little choppiness when scrolling in the library, but I noticed the same on my i7, 16gb ram desktop.

Btw. Lightroom also has a touch mode, which I haven’t even bothered with. It’s horrible. It removes all the reasons why I use Lightroom, hiding all the sliders into separate menus. It’s just horrible.

Photoengine runs perfectly. I don’t know how they do it, but it runs great on everything. It’s fast, responsive, you see the result immediately.

Photoshop can get a bit slower on the Surface. In the video I loaded 4, 36mpix 16bitt tiff files. Thats actually quite a lot. But as you can see, it still is usable, and the filters are calculated in a reasonable time.

As you can see, the tablet was still nicely responsive, with the programs closing and opening rather quickly.

Overall

Overall I’m quite impressed. The Surface pro 4 is a really nice tablet, and a fairy good laptop. And that was what I was searching for, a tablet, that I can use as a laptop if I need to. If you try one, you may find that you have to overcome few problems, and get used to few new things, but I believe it’s worth it. I will do another post about the surface, in a month or two, with an update how it working out long term.

And as a little bonus, here is my current desktop setup, with the surface, and my main PC :)

For those curious, the monitor is the LG 34UM95, the keyboard is a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, the mouse is a Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse also by Microsoft. There is a back light on the monitor, where I can choose the color I want, and the figure in the middle is the Smart Doll by Danny Choo :)

I decided to extend my black Friday discount on my Master Exposure Blending tutorial, to be active for the whole of December. So from now, until the 1st January, you can get my video tutorials for 29USD instead the normal 49USD. Just use the code “BF2015” at checkout.

Add to Cart

To get all the info, and sample videos on the series, please check the Master exposure blending page.

and here you can see the introduction video, to see what it’s about

And again a year passed, and again we got to the Black friday deals. As usually, this is one of the best times you can buy software and tutorials on the web, so same as last year, I will list here the ones I use or I find interesting, with all the discount codes and links where to buy them. And if you would like to know more what software I personally use, you can check out this post, where I show each program I use.

HDRshooter sale

Add to CartOf course I will start with my own sale :) For the next week you can get my Master exposure blending tutorial videos with a 40% discount. Just use the code “BF2015” on checkout.

For more info, check the Master exposure blending page here.

Trey Ratcliff videos

From the 26th to the 30th, you will get 30% off from most of Treys tutorial videos, so head over to the StuckInCustoms store to check them out.

Btw. also the new HDR software the Aurora Pro is also available from Trey and Macphun. No discount there, but if you buy it now, you get a free copy of the Macphun plugin Noiseless.

Infocusdeal

At Infocusdeals you can get a nice video tutorial collection all about landscape photography from many talented photographers (Colby Brown, Ian Plant, Sean Bagshaw and more). You can check out the content and buy them (for 49usd) at the Infocusdeals website.

500px subscription

500px is currently running a 30% off promotion for the black friday, for their Plus and Awesome accounts. No promo code needed. Discount applied at checkout. More at 500px.com.

Smugmug Subscription

Same as last year, Smugmug is again offering a 40% off discount for new subscribers. So if you need a good portfolio site, I suggest you check it out. More info on the discount, on the smugmug blog here.

Topaz Collection

The Topaz Collection from Topaz Labs, which now with the new Topaz Texture Effects includes 17 different products, is normally sold for 499.99 USD, but from the 25th to the 30th you can pick up the whole collection for just 249.99 USD, that’s 50% off. To do so, you have to use the code “BLACKFRIDAY2015” at checkout. You can find the whole collection at the Topaz Store.

Imagenomic plugins

I’ve been using their Noiseware plugin for years now, and so can you, and much cheaper today :) Imagenomic is offering a 30% off discount on all their plugins from the 26th to the 30th, with the code “BF2015“. Here you can find Noiseware on Imagenomic site, but allso all the other plugins their provide.

Macphun

Macphun is running a big promotion on their Creative Kit plugins collection, where for 89.99 usd you don’t just get the plugins, but a lot of tutorials, textures and other discounts. You can find it on the Macphun website. The offer is valid from the 21st November to the 1st December.

On1 plugins

On1 is having a sale on most of their software today, ranging from 20% to 50% off. You can head over to their web-page for more info, no code required.

Moo cards

The company Moo, which I mentioned yesterday, is having a cyber monday sale of 30% off on all products on monday the 30th. I think those that used them before can use the discount imediately (they send out a promo email about this :)), all other, on the 30th November. You can check out their website here at Moo.com.

Manga Studio 5 & CLIP STUDIO PAINT PRO

This is not really photography related, but since I just picked up a copy for myself, maybe some of you will also find it interesting :) Manga studio (or Clip Studio Paint pro, as it’s the same software) is a really nice drawing software for your PC or Mac. And right now they are having a 65% off discount, where it costs only 14.99 usd. You can find out more on their official page.

//update

Oloneo Photoengine

One of my favorite HDR softwares has the biggest sale I ever seen from them. A whooping 50% off until the December 28th. Thats 62 euro instead of regular 128 euro (+tax). This software I can only highly recommend. You can find it on their homepage www.oloneo.com, and the discount coupon should be applied for you. If not, it is “CHRISTMAS2015PE“.

That’s all for now, If I find any more interesting ones during the day, I will update the post :)

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