Photomatix Pro 4 vs. LuminanceHDR 2
Price: Photomatix $99 Luminance Free
For the vast majority of my work, I use Photomatix, and have done right from the time I started creating HDRs. This was one of the first, if not the first, program that could turn bracketed exposures into an HDR, with many similar programs appearing later to capitalise on the success of HDR amongst the expanding base of photography caused by the arrival of digital systems. Luminance is not quite like this, at least in principle, as it is open-source and therefore free. I share my photos under a Creative Commons licence, and so feel an affinity with others who release their work for limited or no income, with the assumption that if people like your work, they will either donate or purchase other products from you.
Rather than turn this into a microscopic look at the various minutiae of each program, I have imported the same three exposures into both programs, then tried my hardest to create the best HDR I can from both. The two results are clearly totally different, with neither being perfect (largely thanks to the amount of sensor dust!). This is where the hard part comes in, as you turn an HDR into something much more realistic.
I don’t really want to go on about the differences between the Photomatix and Luminance, as they are pretty self-evident, but I will mention what I consider are a couple of important points. Firstly, Luminance can deal much better with bright points of light such as the sun than can Photomatix. Secondly, it almost always produces a much lower contrast version. This can be positive and negative, as the lower contrast also seems to result in a softer feel to the image.
Clearly, neither version is perfect. To create the final image required layer masking in parts of both, as well as some selective curves changes.
But which program is better? Well, on this evidence you would have to say they are pretty equal. I should point out here though, that this is only the second photo where I have used part of the Luminance HDR in the final image. On the whole, Photomatix is far better at producing HDRs and is definitely a worthwhile purchase, but considering Luminance is free, there is certainly no excuse for not having it!