Review of Machinery HDR Effects

18 Mar 2014 793
Updated April 2017 This review is essentially based upon version 2.9 but there is little to the basics that has changed up to 3.0.25 issued this month, except those additional features that come along regularly like sharpening and correction of chromatic aberration. I need none of these because I always go into Photoshop afterwards to make local changes and prefer to do things like that there. Machinery HDR Effects is a very good product and attractively priced. Do yourself a favour and give it a try. The trial version limits the output to files whose long dimension is 1280 pixels but otherwise it is fully functional. Then if you decide to remove that restriction, it will only cost you a moderate sum. Normally you work on a preview of the image with all the features in it except that it is cut down to less pixels. This makes adjustments work much faster and the interaction as you move the controls is very good, usually close to instantaneous. Only when you have finished making adjustments need you have those settings applied to the full size image. The software then goes through the process of doing so and can take some time, but that is not a problem as no interaction is required once you reach that stage. I have been using Machinery HDR Effects since March 2014 and ever since then there have been frequent updates with additional features that can be useful. Personally, I am most concerned at the core functions of being able to open RAW files, merge exposure bracketing without ghosting and combine them into as a result that has the best tonal gradation possible. You can save the result either as a TIFF or JPEG file. Not only does Machinery fit the bill, it automatically sets the options to what usually gives perfectly satisfactory results without afterwards having to tweak the controls manually more than slightly in most cases to satisfy your preferences. It also does an excellent job of getting the best out of a single frame. This image above is the thumbnail browser, which Machinery call the Explorer. I have the folder tree on auto-hide but you can show it on the left fixed or hidden and easily change between all three. I selected frames for merging to HDR and dragged them below to form the project. This consists of two bracketed sets of exposures with the framing distinctly different as I moved my aim a little in between the two and a further single frame of something else in between which I accidentally included in the project. Machinery had no trouble at all and very fast automatically produced the amazing result below, no ghosting or appearance of my phantom frame. If it does not look amazing to you, bear in mind that this is only the trial version which limits the resolution and I have not applied any sharpening. The first time I used only the first bracketed set plus the rogue frame and it was close to perfection with little intervention needed from me to get as good as the result shown below. Given that my second attempt with all twelve frames needed no adjustment at all does make me wonder if it carried over some tone mapping influences from what I had done immediately before. The tone mapping is very fast. In Photoshop afterwards I usually use Auto Levels, which I try just to get a check on how well I have set the brightness range from 0 to 255, Machinery usually gets it perfectly well adjusted automatically and not just with this project, with most of them. The best way I have found to invoke the editor and to merge and tone map is to drag and then right click on the selected images in the project window at the bottom and then to select that option. [Use the right arrow key to get to the next page and afterwards the left to move backwards] Page 1 of 11
03 Apr 2017 339
Here is the Editor. You can paste single image files directly into here for processing but, if there are several to be merged to HDR, go into the Explorer and drag from the thumbnails into the project window underneath, make sure you have them all selected there and finally right click and select Edit. As you start with Edit, the file or files are processed and you will see a preview here. Once you have tweakd the controls, if you want to change from the automatic settings, then only after are the settings applied to the full size image. By working on a smaller preview the response when you change settings is fast and effective. You have a few tools to choose from but I rarely use anything but Basic and HDR. Page 2 of 11
18 Mar 2014 505
Edit - Basics Once you have invoked the editor with your project, I find that Machinery usually does a pretty good job before I even intervene. In most cases all I have to do is fine tune the brightness, perhaps also the contrast sometimes in the Basics controls shown here on the right before I go into the next set of controls. Page 3 of 11
18 Mar 2014 477
Edit - HDR After using the Basic controls, I select the HDR controls and mostly have to tweak the light and dark settings. I often also have to set the micro contrast, which is in another set of controls on the right, but not always. And that usually is it. See a bigger copy of the result below and my further observations there about this shot, several others and what I can now do that I could not before with anything else. Page 4 of 11
25 May 2011 498
Result of merging and mapping the project shown in Explorer I am thrilled with this result and cannot wait to get to work on it with the full version of Machinery. It looks a lot better on my monitor than it does here. I do have some other stuff here in other albums of comparable pictorial quality but here are several points I need to add. In the first place, with my previous software, this shot was one of my rejects because of ghosting with a set of handheld exposures and none was good enough to use on its own, so I am lucky I kept the files instead of binning them. I already have found a lot of stuff that before I came across Machinery appeared to be useless, but now I know that with many of them that is anything but the case. That is because I now can use all the exposures in my bracketed sets since ghosting no longer is a problem and the tone mapping is excellent, sometimes better than that! So now I will have to go through all my digital images again. That is the bad news but the good news is that Machinery is very quick and easy to use and, given that already I have other failures that suddenly have turned into successes, I have no doubt that it is well worth the effort. When I went to the South Western USA for 24 days in 2011, I was amazed how many successful shots I had and how few rejects. The same was true when I went to Slovenia the following year. However, it now seems that the proportions are going to turn out to be significantly better as now all my handheld bracketed sets are perfectly usable instead of only single exposures. But that is not all. For my work, I do not find that an HDR developer is enough. I usually want to tweak beyond the easy and the obvious. In most cases I also want to do some work on areas of the image selectively so, for that, I always go into Photoshop. In many cases with my landscapes, I find a huge improvement can be made with the skies. I often replace them and even synthesise my own by using the patch tool to improve upon the sky in a picture or from another frame I have used for that purpose. The more I have done it over the last few years, the easier it gets and the better I am at doing it. A great sky in a landscape can turn a mediocre picture into a masterpiece, just like hair can become a woman's crowning glory! The bottom line in all the remaining shots shown below, some of which I have worked at before with other HDR software, but they were often a lot of work even to get to the stage I have reached with these unfinished efforts here just to see what Machinery can do. Before many were a huge amount of effort and all too often part way on the road to failure before giving up! Not so any more and only a few minutes spent on each! Page 5 of 11
25 May 2011 507
This is the result of Machinery automation, no need to tweak at all Previously one of my failures, although I used part of the frame to overlay onto another which, to my way of thinking, was spectacularly successful. See the composite of Zion National Park in my album for South Western USA and, if you are interested, how I made it in my album called Photo Technique. Page 6 of 11
11 Sep 2012 1 513
Rejected before but easily mapped here In PhotoEngine, ghosting forced me to resort to only one frame but it was not a success, not what I had in mind. This is exactly what I wanted and in Machinery very quickly done. Page 7 of 11
11 Sep 2012 467
Not at all good before but very happy with result here This is exactly what I wanted, again now possible thanks to Machinery. I followed up with only a little work in Photoshop to darken and give more colour to the sky on the left. I had spent hours on it before in Photoshop with just one frame through PhotoEngine to avoid ghosting, but it was hard work and not very successful. Page 8 of 11
03 Jun 2011 517
A big improvement You will find this with a much better sky in my album for the South Western USA. However, instead of having to use only one frame and then spend hours making very necessary improvements, straight out of Machinery there is little that remains to be done. I might want to do it again and make it less contrasty but one thing stands out. Just to the right of the big rock face on the left, into the valley of the Grand Canyon much lower down, I had a halo effect which I could not get rid of. Laboriously I did manage to largely remove the halo but it was hard work, took several iterations and was not entirely successful. With Machinery, there is virtually no halo! I have had the same problem more than once before and I now have hopes of overcoming halos much more successfully, often avoiding them altogether. Page 9 of 11
03 Jun 2011 515
Much easier to reach this stage Like the shot two up before this one in this review, almost from the same spot in Powell Point, Grand Canyon at sunset, I had been limited to using only one frame because of ghosting. I was shocked because there only was the tiniest movement handheld between exposure bracketed frames. I spent quite a lot of time afterwards making very necessary improvements in Photoshop but straight out of Machinery I get much the same with little or no additional work whatsoever. I am sold on Machinery Effects. Several bracketed exposure projects I could not process before give wonderful results very quickly and easily. With it I can even merge exposures when people are in the frames and have moved around very noticeably and I still get no ghosting. Until discovering Machinery, I was using other HDR software that did an excellent job except that it was useless with handheld exposure bracketed shots (almost all mine are) and even those on a tripod if there was the tiniest amount of movement in any of the frames. Quite the opposite with Machinery, so it has become a very welcome alternative and I now entirely rely upon it. In the preview file size, Machinery is fast. Of course, later when you want to create a full size image, it slows down a lot, but the preview stage means you get very good interaction with the controls when you are figuring out the needed settings. I have rarely had any ghosting and the results are as good or better than anything else I have ever used, sometimes by a huge margin. At first I missed there being no history, which can make trial and error adjustments easier to make and then to make a choice from, except that with Machinery I am now getting near to perfection quickly, often with no intervention at all over what is done automatically in the merge and initial tone mapping. As a result, I am now beginning to doubt if I would actually ever need to use the history or presets. Machinery does have the latter though, if you want to try them. There have been about thirty updates in the three years I have been using Machinery. In my opinion, it was pretty good at the outset and additions to my mind are nice to have but not essential. Others may rely upon them more than I do, so I suggest you try out the trial version for yourself to make a judgement of all the features. One feature that occasionally I find useful; is batch processing, where you first run one set of bracketed exposures through and save a preset. This is very useful where you want to merge each set and then stitch into a panorama, as having the same settings makes the blending of them trouble free. This is a great product. Page 11 of 11 [Last page]