Aurora HDR 2018 for Windows REVIEW



First of all i want to thank all of the great people of Macphun Software who made this review possible and a very special thank you to Natalie! She has sent me an Email a very long while ago and asked if i wanted to test their software. I knew that Aurora HDR2017 is  around for quite some time now for Mac and that it is a great software and that they are also in the making of the Windows PC version, so i immediately answerd yes of course, send me the full version when it´s ready and i will provide some feedback for you guys and give you my honest oppinion in a review.

So..i´m one the first people on the planet who got this software to test before the official release. For me this is a special honor, since i´m a big fan of Trey Ratcliff for a very long time. Years ago he used Photomatix HDR software to create his images, but then he teamed up with Macphun Software to build a much better HDR editing experience and a lot of his knowledge and ideas went into Aurora HDR. So again big thx to Trey as well!


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Pre-Order Bonuses:

  • Trey Ratcliff Deep Dive video
  • Travel Photography Tutorial by Matt Granger
  • Source Brackets
  • 3-month Zenfolio Pro website, including a complementary design consultation. $60 value.

What’s new in Aurora HDR 2018:

  • Next-generation Tone Mapping – A new smart Tone Mapping algorithm automatically reduces noise, and produces more realistic and natural initial results.
  • Mac and Windows versions – Aurora HDR 2018 is available both for Mac and PC users, enabling mixed-computer households to share the same product key.
  • Lens Correction Tool* – The new Lens Correction filter easily fixes all kinds of lens distortion, from barrel and pincushion to chromatic aberration and vignetting.
  • Transform Tool* – Easily scale, rotate and shift your image to better fit your vision.
  • Dodge & Burn Filter – Selectively lighten or darken specific areas of an image to artfully direct your viewer’s eye towards the key subject of your image, similar to a traditional darkroom technique.
  • HDR Enhance Filter – Adds details and clarity to an image, adjusting colors, details and contrast without creating artificial halos or other problems.
  • User Interface – A new, modern and responsive user interface brings a powerful, yet  joyful experience to HDR photo editing.
  • History Panel – An easy-to-reference list of edits made to your image, the History panel allows you to click on any editing step to revert the photo to an earlier stage of editing.
  • Touch Bar support for Mac – Aurora HDR 2018 adds Touch Bar support to give new MacBook Pro users fast access to key editing features and speed up their workflow.
  • Image Flip and Rotate* – Perfect for correcting photos with incorrect horizons or making creative compositions or other stylistic changes to an image.
  • IMPROVED:  New Structure Algorithm – The re-developed Structure tool allows you to adjust detail and clarity of an image to get a classic HDR effect with great detail or a smoother effect with less details.
  • IMPROVED: RAW handling – An improved RAW conversion brings out more details in shadows/highlights, displays colors more accurately and reduces noise in RAW files.
  • IMPROVED: Crop tool update – Now specify custom crop sizes for even more versatility.
  • IMPROVED: Speed – Faster merging and masking performance, improvement in RAW image processing.

* Lens Correction and Transform tools, as well as image flip and rotate will be available in the Mac version at launch, and arrive in the PC version with the first free update in the beginning of October. Other tools and features that are currently available for Mac only would be added to PC version by the end of the year.



I used to use Photomatix quite a lot years ago, but  i never felt that it had a great usability like Lightroom for example and i always wished that someone would make an user interface similar to Lightroom for HDR.


When you start Aurora HDR2018 you can import your image files like RAW, TIF, JPG, PNG… you can import only 1 file or multiple files. I would highly recommend to use multiple files from brackets you shot with your camera in RAW or TIF for the best quality. The more files you select  and the bigger the files are (uncompressed raw) the longer it will take to process the HDR so that you can start working. I used 9 shot brackets with uncompressed 24 megapixel Raws and TIFs for some of my images to test, shot with the Fuji XT-2 and the time for loading these images was still acceptable.


I only have an Intel Core i5 with 3.2Ghz and 16gig ram and  my 9 brackets in Tif and Raw took about 45 seconds to load into Aurora HDR 2018. So of course this needs a lot of CPU power and the speed will depend   a lot on your PC and of course they can and will improve the speed even more with updates.


In the import dialogue you can allready choose if you want to remove any ghosting when you have moving subjects in your images and also chromatic aberrations. In the early version i got from them the ghost reduction worked very well, but they need to update it because a lot of times the image was looking strange depending on the reference image you choose. I allready sent them feedback for this so i´m shure they will update that.




As soon as your HDR was created you are presented with a very clean looking UI. If you worked with Lightroom then you will feel right at home in Aurora HDR2018. Macphun Software took a lot of inspiration from Lightroom and thats a very good thing. In the main windows you have your image preview, which could be improved, the resolution scaling for better viewing could be optimized. I´m using a dell 4k monitor. On the bottom you can select presets for your image. On the right side you have your sliders.


Everything you would expect and need is here in the basics:


HDR Basic – color temperature, tint, exposure, contrast, highlight shadows, whites blacks, saturation, vibrance, color contrast and a histogram




Then you have some advanced features like HDR structure which you don´t have in any other HDR software as well as denoising, image radiance and a polarizer



And then the fun really starts with HDR detail boost, glow and my favorite the top & bottom tuning, which again is a unique feature i haven´t seen in any other software yet! With this feature you can quickly edit the top and the bottom of any image without having to use anything else.



The fun continues with tone curves to adjust your image.



HSL, color toning and even dodge & burn is in here!



On top of all that you even get layers like in Photoshop  which is a great feature and local brush adjustments like in Lightroom



If you think you still want to stay in Lightroom or Photoshop then you can use Aurora HDR2018 also as a plugin



What´s also great is that you can compare  a before and after anytime, which is every usefull. So all in all the user inteface and the usability is just great!





So everything is there what you would expect and a LOT more for editing HDR photos. The way you edit your photos is very similar to lightroom, but a lot of the options are very different and  unique. Since it is HDR you will definetly need some practice, but you can also use the great looking presets that come with Aurora HDR  2018 as a starting point. My favorite is the one called “Landscape Detailed” and the ones in “realistic HDR”.



Now HDR has some kind of a bad reputation maybe, because there are tons of photos which look “unrealistic” or “artificial” and of course you can tweak your HDR photos with Aurora 2018 to look exactly like out of this world, but you don´t have to 🙂  Things have changed, you can now dose every effect and sliders exactly the way you want your photos to look like, if you want a super realstic HDR photo Aurora HDR 2018 is the way to go!


Aurora HDR 2018 & FUJI RAW FILES


If you know my blog then you probably also have read my posts about Capture One Pro, On1 and  Iridient X Transformer and how much more detail you get with them in comparison to Lightroom using Fuji RAW files. Well unfortunately Aurora HDR 2018 is no exception here, when you are using Fuji RAW files you get noticeble less detail than in Capture One Pro for example. I have allready sent Macphun Software some feedback on that too, so i´m shure they will improve that.


For now if you have a Fuji camera i can really recommend to import your files in Capture One Pro first for example and then export them as TIF files. This is also very usefull if you want to apply Fuji looks like Astia, Velvia…Aurora HDR 2018 does not have camera profiles yet unfortunately.


Here are some examples i made using 9 shot brackets from the Fuji XT-2, some of the photos like in the tunnel would have been impossible to make without Aurora HDR 2018 since it was pitch black in there!


Update: Here are some more shots done with the Fuji XT-2 using 9 shot brackets, make shure to look at the church shots. It was really, really dark in the church i could  not see all that detail with my own eyes there 🙂 incredible



You can also do black & white HDR


As you can see the detail, image quality and the extreme dynamic range you get to play with in Aurora HDR 2018 is just fantastic!



Aurora HDR 2018 is finally here for Windows PCs and it is by far the best and most flexible HDR software available. It has unique features for HDR editing which you can´t get in any  other software and the user interface and usability is allready great. This software is made for HDR of course but you can also use single exposures and give them a special look and make your images look realistic or very artistic, just how you like it. HDR is even more huge now in 2017 since there are HDR TVs, Monitors, Gaming Consoles, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video….which can display and provied HDR Content, so it also gets more and more important for photographers and videographers.


There are some things which  i mentioned in this review, that will be for shure improved via updates, but overall this is allready a great editing software. Aurora HDR 2018 is available for 89 $ only and i can highly recommend it!


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