Hydra Pro 3.11 review - Create HDR and tone-mapped results from single or multiple images
Increasing detail and contrast in the highlight areas increases the noise but there are no noise-suppression controls available.
Considering HDR and tone mapping was all the rage five years ago and that vintage photography has replaced it for a must-have look, it’s good to see that there are still apps out there keeping the flame alive so to speak. Hydra Pro 3.1 is one such app, and unusually, it is a standalone app rather than being a plug-in. Single images can be loaded and tone-mapped, or multiple images loaded at once and the app will combine them.
There are two sections then, the first is the Prepare stage and the second is the Develop one. If you only have one image then simply click on Develop to get on with it. Otherwise, images can be added, or in fact removed as well, from the stack of varying exposures that have been loaded. The EXIF data for each one is displayed so you can check resolution and more importantly, exposure characteristics. At this stage the overall EV setting and the white balance temperature can be altered. There’s also a tick box for RAW sharpening, but no control over how much. If the multiple images were all shot on a tripod and you kept it dead still, then they should all be nicely lined up. If not then it needs doing and the best method is to tick Align Images and the option to line up according to content. Doing this brings up a number of control points showing where the reference image and the ones under it are being aligned. You can alter this by dragging the second image window to make the points line up. The automated content alignment actually does a good job anyway so most of the time it isn’t necessary. The reference points can be repositioned anywhere on the image. For any unresolved overlap there’s crop and ghost removal functions.
There are some basic presets for tone-mapping but most give poor results. The exception is the sepia-tone but you don’t need a HDR app for that.
Then it’s on to the Develop section and there are a number of presets to have a look at. These include photo realistic and a concentrated version, then ones with tints and tones. There are also some black and white versions. It has to be said that the results from all of these, save the sepia-tone, left something to be desired, no matter what the source images, whether multiple or single. So, the Adjust tab is required so that it can all be done manually.
First up is the overall exposure (again) but here you need to use it alongside the shadows and highlights sliders to get the basic brightness right while retaining highlights. Then there are the tweaks, covering details, brightness, contrast, hue and saturation. These can be applied globally, but if you don’t get a good result then a drop-down option lets the operations be carried out on shadows, highlights and individual RGB channels. It’s usually at this point you’ll want to be using Hydra as a plug-in for Aperture or Lightroom, rather than as a standalone app, so you could use a layer mask as the app doesn’t have them and the controls are simple sliders. One of the side effects of putting detail and contrast into the sky is that it produces noise. Unfortunately there’s no option for noise removal here. Other functions add a fairly ghastly Orton-style glow overlay, a clunky vignette or a very limited border. One good feature is that as you tinker you can make snapshots so that different versions can be compared.
Once everything is finished the image can be saved as a standard or radiance .HDR file, uploaded to social media, or sent to iPhoto, Aperture or Lightroom.
The image merging process works reasonably well and has some good optins for lining up content and removing ghosting but the tone-mapping doesn’t do enough or offer enough control such as masks or brushes. The presets rarely deliver a worthwhile result and other plug-ins like Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro 2 are streets ahead of Hydra.