Lightroom 6 /CC Photomerge HDR Review

After reviewing the Photomerge Panorama feature in Lightroom 6 / CC and, apart from a few niggles, being generally impressed with the result, naturally I decided to review the Photomerge HDR feature built into LR6.

Now, I don’t generally do much HDR: I don’t often like the ‘look’ so I try and keep it toned down and as natural looking compared with what is considered the ‘norm’ for HDR. I purchased the Photomatix 32-bit merge to HDR plugin for LR a while ago and have been using it to create numerous semi-HDR images by merging the RAW files into a 32-bit TIFF and manually tone mapping them in LR rather than using the full blown Photomatix Pro software. This allows a more realistic look to be created: the key is subtlety. From looking at other reviews and trying the feature itself, if subtlety is for you then LR HDR is for you. If you like some of the more adventurous settings that can be found in the full blown Photomatix software, then it’s very unlikely that LR HDR will float your boat.

Trey Ratcliffe falls into the latter category. His blog review was the first I read on the HDR feature and it made me a little bit sceptical about it. Trey’s work pretty much falls well inside the borderline of what I find acceptable HDR imaging. On his ‘review’page there is only one image that I don’t wholly like (I don’t dislike it either, I’m just on the fence) and that’s the cottage/ sunset photo. Everything else is very nicely done, so I was a little worried when he stated he thought the HDR feature was, well, pants to put it politely.

That really meant that I had to try it to see what it was like.

So what is it like? Well, like the panorama feature it’s easy to use: there isn’t much to it. Select the files from the filmstrip and press Ctrl + H, or right click and select Photomerge>HDR.

Up pops a dialogue window:


Note once again it doesn’t fit the screen and neither can you zoom….please fix this Adobe!

Select if you want to auto-align the images (always a good idea), auto-tone the images (not a good idea) and the level of de-ghosting and hit merge.

As with the Panorama feature a single 16-bit DNG file is created having all the RAW editing capability of the single RAW files. Should you wish to change any setting after the HDR merge, say the white balance or exposure, you can do so. There is no need to edit the RAW files individually and have to remerge them again. It is a truly fantastic revelation: it’s a shame no other programs do this, but I guess now there is no need to.

And that’s it. If you were expecting anything else, then at this point you will probably feel very let down and disappointed. If on the other hand you love hand toning your images then this is right up your street.

If you’ve never done toning by hand before you are probably wondering what on earth LR has done to your image because it probably looks like it hasn’t done anything useful. At all. And that appears to be the consensus on the net: it hasn’t done anything useful, and why bother with it? To be honest I don’t blame you at all if you look at your image and come to that conclusion because it isn’t obvious what it has done. But trust me, it has. Read on and all will be revealed.

Here’s a set of images I want to merge: 7 photos overlooking Lake Windermere as the sun was setting. The scene isn’t brilliant I admit, I was just playing with settings at the time, it’s just that these popped up when I opened LR so it was convenient to use them.


So, put them in the LR HDR mixer, and out pops this file:

LR HDR predit

Looks a little similar to image number 4, the middle exposure (shown below) doesn’t it?

Middle Exposure No Edit

Not surprising a lot of people are scratching their heads. But hidden within that 16-bit image is a LOT of data. You just need to uncover it. A quick shuffle of some sliders yields this:

LR HDR post edit

Now trying that with the middle exposure on its own gives you this:

Middle Exposure edited

Oh dear….. the ground is similar, but there is no detail in the sky around the sun and the clouds are blown out. In the LR HDR image, it’s all there. The image is much cleaner in terms of noise too. If you are a Canon shooter like myself then you’ll know that pushing the shadows hard is never a good idea. I don’t think I need be afraid of doing that again: noise in the shadows is very minimal, almost negligible in fact.

As a comparison I tried the Photomatix 32-bit merge to HDR plugin and this came out. The sun is burnt out there too. In all, not as good as LR (and bear in mind it’s a starting point, like the LR image).


When the exposure of the LR HDR image is matched to that of the Photomatix, it’s clear that LR is the winner.

HDR match HDRsfot

So, a lot of ticks in the boxes at the moment, but what about performance?

To be honest, compared with the Pano feature, it’s a bit of a slow coach: it took 1 minute 10 seconds just to preview the image, and 2 minutes from selecting the files to getting the final DNG.

The Photomatix plugin on the other took 1 minute 40 from start to finish and that included selecting a lot more tick boxes and changing settings in the dialogue box, not to mention exporting the images in the first place.

However, as IQ is far more important, this tends to pale into insignificance. LR allows you to carry on working on images whilst the merging chugs away in the background so it’s not exactly a problem.

LR6 gets another thumbs up from me: just fix the annoying preview where it doesn’t fill the screen or you can’t zoom please Adobe!

Lightroom 6 /CC Photomerge Panorama Review

As stated in my earlier post, one of my main reasons for upgrading to LR6 was because of the built in Photomerge functions, particularly the panoramic feature, which I use a lot. Some people question why I create panoramas rather than just use a wide angle lens. The answer to that is simple: detail. Using a short to medium prime lens, say 50-80mm, hyperfocusing and taking multiple frames allows you to capture substantially more detail than taking a single frame using a wide angle lens of say 17-24mm. The camera is able to resolve far more fine detail, such as foliage, far better than it would using a wide lens.

The final image can be well in excess of 80MP. That doesn’t sound much does it? A Nikon D800 will capture the scene at 36MP with a wide angle lens you say, so what’s the advantage? Well, to get that letterbox effect you’ll need to crop away 30-50% of your image. Suddenly 36MP becomes 24MP or less. And I’ll guarantee that even the great D800 with a high quality 17mm lens will not resolve anywhere near as much detail or be as sharp as using a medium telephoto lens and creating a panorama.

When printing having a high MP count means better enlargements. There is simply more information in the image, more data, and hence allowing you to print at a very high DPI.

Also there is no perspective distortion: the image will appear as a human would see it.

Not convinced? Watch this video and you might be.

There are disadvantages to the method however: it won’t work for fast changing scenes where the light is constantly changing, or where clouds are moving rapidly, and maybe you do want that distortion effect simply because it fits the image well and adds an extra element of interest to the image. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not adverse to using a wide angle lens. I own one and love the interesting effects and perspective it can generate.

So, cut to the chase: is the Lightroom Panorama Photomerge any good?

Well it’s fairly simple to use. Simply select the images on the filmstrip and either press Ctrl+M or right click Photomerge>Panorama. In short it’s no different to using PS or any other application such as AutoPanoPro. There is one key advantage however: you don’t have to edit the image before you merge it, with the exception of removing vignetting etc or anything that might adversely affect the panorama. The reason is the photomerge creates a DNG file (essentially a RAW file) from the original images. What this means is that you have full control over the overall resulting image in the same way you had over the individual RAW files. If you wish to change something such as white balance, exposure, well, any setting really, you can apply it to the panorama as opposed to having to rework each file and then re-stitch the panorama into a new image. Pretty amazing stuff, and currently LR6/CC is the only program that can do this.

After you have initiated the Photomerge function, LR will go off and create a preview image of the completed panorama. And this is my biggest issue with the merge feature. Unlike any other software I have tried, you cannot zoom into the preview to check everything is OK. This is what I am met with on my 23″ screen when I try to merge 11 images.

Pano problem

Adobe please take note: This is ridiculous! I’d expect the preview to at least fill to the extents of the border. That wouldn’t be quite so bad. But not being able to zoom either? Who missed that one under test?

The only way you can zoom in to check everything is OK is to complete the panorama… at least you can carry on working on other images whilst this is taking place.

After the preview has been rendered, pick the projection mode, select if you want to crop the image (leave it unchecked if you want to use content aware fill in PS if you wish to retain parts of the image that would be otherwise cropped out) and click merge. Once complete the resulting DNG is added to the LR library adjacent to the photos used to create it. And then you can edit it to your heart’s content in the Develop module or PS as you wish.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is SPEED! It is quick…. far quicker than any other program to create a panorama that I have come across so far.

LR took 22 seconds to render the image and 2minutes 10 seconds to complete the merge from selecting the images to adding it to the library. The resultant file was a 176MB DNG.

In comparison Autopano took 3 minutes 10 seconds from start to finish, but a large proportion of that was spent exporting the images to TIFF files. It also doesn’t add the image to the LR catalogue automatically. It created a 114MB TIFF file. I think the extra 60MB to give RAW editing capability is worth it.

PS on the other hand took a lengthy 4 minutes 30 seconds. It adds the resultant image to the catalogue, but it’s a whopping 1.26GB PSD file.

Overall I’d give it a thumbs up. It’s fast, it creates a very usable finished file…just fix the annoying preview where it doesn’t fill the screen or you can’t zoom please Adobe!

I really hope that’s the only niggle, but I doubt it somehow. This software has been over two years in the making, it’s been long awaited and I was hoping that was because it was being thoroughly tested and was bug free. Looking at the comments on Facebook on the Lightroom page, I don’t think it is.

Adobe really should have released this as a Beta, but then that doesn’t seem to mean much from past experience. I tested the Beta of LR5, found a load of bugs, reported them on the Facebook page as requested (and as did others) but it looks as though they never made it to the developers for the final version. The result was a highly buggy LR5 final release a few months later and disgruntled people. It appears that we should have posted them to the Adobe forum, but it seems  the Facebook and Developer people weren’t talking…..oh well….

Lightroom 6/CC Has Landed!

Well, it’s taken a while but Lightroom 6 / Lightroom CC (shudder) has finally landed! It’s nearly taken two years, and there have been rumours flying around since at least July 2014 as to when the latest and greatest version will come out. Here’s a download link to a trial if you are interested in trying it out.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the matter of whether it is LR 6 or LR CC and whether or not they are the same product. You only have to look at the forums and LR Facebook page to see that it’s perplexed many people, myself included.

The simple answer is: it is both. They (currently) are the one and the same. They have the same functionality and features. I’ve been told that they will have the same updates applied to them. Whether this will remain true, or whether LR CC will go the same way as its Photoshop bigger brother is an entirely different matter.

When the CC model came out you could buy a perpetual licence version or CC version of PS. The CC version got updated with features, and the perpetual didn’t (bar bug fixes), even though at the time they were effectively the same version of software (keep reading if you want to find out why). If you really wanted these updates and features you had to pay for them via CC subscription. This is my biggest fear: LR will go the same way and you will be forced to pay through the nose for software you don’t need.

Now, don’t get me wrong, for some people the CC model is fantastic and it makes great software easily affordable. But for others, like myself, who use PS so little (in fact I’m still using an old version of PS Elements) it is simply a waste of money. In the UK the cost of CC is nearly £9 per month. If I was running with the CC subscription, that upgrade would have cost me nearly £200 as opposed to a one off cost of £59 to upgrade. It’s a bit of a no-brainer. Add on to that the very few changes that are made through the year to PS, and bug fixes that should come as standard with LR/ ACR you have to question is it worth it? For me, no.

Anyway, enough procrastination. LR6: what’s new? And is the upgrade worth it? Over the next few days I’ll be playing with it and posting comments on the new features, but for now here are some snippets of what you can expect.

Face Recognition

Personally this is not a selling point. At first I thought of it as a bit of a gimmick, but after some careful thought, it might be of some use to professionals, particularly wedding photographers.

How does it work? It searches your photos for things that look like faces, and displays these faces as a grid, ready for you to identify the people.

As stated, personally I don’t have any interest in it, but then I’ve thought that about a few software features in the past and come around to liking them. This might be one of them. Time will tell.

Built in Photo Merge: HDR & Panorama

This was a key selling point for me: it is now possible to merge photos into HDR images and panoramas without needing to use other software such as Photoshop.

A massive advantage is that the merged images is a DNG file that has the editing flexibility of the original files. In other words you don’t need to edit your images before you merge the image.

Personally I don’t do much HDR work but the feature is there, which is nicety. I purchased the Photomatix 32-bit merge to HDR plugin for LR a while ago and have been using it to create numerous semi-HDR images by merging the RAW files into a 32-bit TIFF and manually tone mapping them in LR rather than using the full blown Photomatix Pro software. This allows a more realistic look to be created: the key is subtlety.

The HDR photomerge feature in LR6 merges the RAW files into a single 16-bit floating point DNG file, so there are pros and cons to the method. Allegedly the 16-bit files should hold enough contrast data to do the job although it will be interesting to do a comparison against 32-bit files. Tone mapping is done manually in the Develop module in LR: there are no preset starting points like there is in software such as Photomatix.

Panoramas are where it’s at for me however. Since watching Serge Ramelli’s video on creating panoramas rather than shooting wide angle, I’ve used this method a lot. Of course there are times when this method just won’t work, but there are time when it does, and it allows you to create exceptionally detailed images, so I’m really looking forward to trying this out.

Filter brush

Another wish answered, although the appearance of this tool was known a long time ago….. Developed in a previous version of ACR it never made it across to LR because of legal reasons (in short Adobe can’t make major changes to dot releases of perpetually licenced products).

You can now use the brush to locally modify filter settings. This means if you want to apply a graduated filter on a sky in an image where the horizon is interrupted by other objects, you can now use the brush to prevent the filter from affecting these objects.

GPU Acceleration

Finally, another wish answered: using the GPU capability of your graphics card to speed up editing.  This provides real-time or near-time updates to the image while making adjustments in the Develop module using sliders.

To make the most of this you will need a decent graphics card. I have a mediocre card, and whilst it shows, there is still a significant performance enhancement. I’m almost tempted to upgrade it…..

There are some cons to using GPU acceleration however:

– Slower loading times: it takes a little extra time to pass the data from the CPU to the GPU, so there’s a slight delay in initially the loading the photo.

– Slower detail adjustments: The preview for sharpening, noise reduction and grain is slightly slower to update.

– Second screen lag: If you work with the Lightroom’s secondary windows open, the lag in updating is more noticeable with the GPU enabled.

Slideshow makeover

By far the biggest  single change is to the Slideshow module. I have only ever created one slideshow in LR before and was generally unimpressed with its offerings. It had very limited features, probably far less than some freeware programs. It seems it has had quite a few new features added, so I’ll be interested in trying them out.

Well, it’s getting late, and as much as I’d like to stay up and play with my new toy I really need some sleep, so watch this space for more comments.