PhotoDweeb: Serious Nerdery follows
Was reading "Photo Nuts and Post" by Neil Creek and he mentioned that his favorite tool for blending bracketed shots was LR/Enfuse. This set off a sequence of discoveries starting with LR/Enfuse, and culminating in discovering the LightRoom users candy store called Photographer’s Toolbox.
Wasn’t familiar with LR/Enfuse, and having gone through so many HDR programs, had little interest... but anything that extends Lightroom is like tinfoil to a Magpie for me. LR/Enfuse being donationware —limited to 500px output for the trial period— so painless to test. I was impressed enough to send money for an unlock within a few minutes.
Enfuse is based on a series of ‘nix packages which you can get for free and configure to run on a Mac but Timothy Armes has rolled them into a Lightroom specific plug-in—hence the “LR/”— that’s available trhough Photographers Toolbox, and worth paying for.
Rather than get into a comprehensive review of all the HDR products I’ve tried, I’ll defer that to another post and focus on the differences between LR/Enfuse and Nik HDR Efex, which is my current goto blender.
Up front, there is no way that LR/Enfuse will replace HDR Efex Pro in my digidarkroom. The key problem with HDR is avoiding the overblown output that sets off a gag reflex in most established photographers not named Trey Radcliff. Nik’s “U-point” technology gives them a leg up on all other plug-in vendors that’s hard to beat and HDR Efex keeps evolving, and is simply the best for right now.
So what LR/Enfuse brings to the table, making it worth adding one more plug in, is that it is totally integrated into LR, works in the LR 4 Beta, and it supports batching. My normal workflow with HDR is to separate them into their own subfolder for that shoot, and then tediously merge them all to see which ones have the least problems with ghosting, blending and composition. I did say tedious, no? With LR/Enfuse I can stack bracketed photos then process the entire folder in one go.
Enfuse results are something different from HDR, in that the Enfuse engine avoids tone-mapping (translating a broad range of colors to those usable by digital equipment), instead it finds the sweet point for overall exposure and blends the best pixels in a way that actually reduces noise, avoiding a major side effect of tone-mapping. Lightroom renders the images without having to export to TIFF, images are aligned so well that handheld shots that were unusable in other HDR apps can be blended, and batching is a matter of making stacks then ticking a checkbox in LR/Enfuse.
Here are three bracketed exposures I shot from the North Tillamook Jetty looking south.
Here is the HDR Efex Pro output at default settings.
A lot of the issues with it could have been fixed while in HDR Efex, but it's a little heavy handed just out of the box.
Here is the LR/Enfuse output at default settings.
LR/Enfuse’s main weakness is that there is little control, and it produces a rather light, low contrast, mostly mid-range image. It’s like having one nicely lit, slightly exposed-to-the-right shot. But the strengths for me is that mid-range image makes a good working platform in Lightroom, and the computer does the heavy lifting on a folder full of bracketed shots, making it easier to cull which can be tossed.
I really like it. And, if you mostly use Lightroom, I recommend taking a look the other goodies offered on Photographer’s Toolbox.
Photo location: 45°34'13.01"N, 123°57'33.78"W looking south towards Bay Ocean Spit.