Hydra 2 Review

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It wasn't so long ago that I reviewed Creaceed's High Dynamic Range (HDR) application and Aperture plugin, Hydra. If you've never heard of HDR before, it is the process of taking multiple exposures of a subject and combining them into one picture that more closely resembles what you see with the human eye. When done right, it is wonderful. When overdone, it looks bizarre. Wikipedia explains it at length.

I was impressed with Hydra when I last reviewed it but recomended using the stand-alone application over the Aperture plug-in. At that time, the Aperture plug-in hadn't caught up with the stand alone application feature set. With version 2, it does now.

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The new Aperture interface is fantastic. If you can run iPhoto, you should have no trouble with Hydra. It has a live preview, sliders, and checkboxes which, with a little experimentation, can have you tuning your HDR photographs in no time without cracking the manual.

Hydra still does an excellent job of combining photographs and image matching. Creaceed has a lot of experience in this field from its other product, MorphAge, and it shows. Indeed the new version uses additional technologies to account for small distortions between your images. On or off the tripod, you can perform HDR using Hydra.

The new version also includes a loupe tool that previews your image at full quality allowing you to see the rendered image eliminating nasty surprises.

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Tone mapping has also improved in the new version. Tone mapping is the part of the HDR workflow where the application takes all of the combined HDR data and makes it into a visually attractive picture. It makes the skies richly blue and the grass richly green. The new version includes a perceptive tone mapper which attempts to mimic human perception. I'm sure there is a lot of science behind this. I just think it makes the pictures look better.

More than anything, version 2 shows the maturity of an application on its second iteration. Slightly more polish, features, and more intuitive.

Whenever discussing HDR software, you can not ignore the 800 pound gorilla, Photomatix. I've owned Photomatix for some time. While there are several new tools to fine tune your image in Hydra, Photomatix still has more granular control than Hydra. However, Photomatix also is more expensive, comes with a steeper learning curve, and takes longer to use.

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I am an amateur photographer. I've never sold an image to Life Magazine yet I get an unreasonable amount of pleasure from taking good pictures. Even though I own a license to Photomatix, I've done all of my HDR work in the past six months through Hydra. Without really thinking about it, I've discovered the speed, ease of use, and ability to perform the HDR function from within Aperture outweighs any benefits from the additional features in Photomatix. If you want to try your hand at HDR, give Hydra a chance. The pictures look stunning and there is no pain involved in operation.

Hydra is a Leopard only application and a license costs $79.95. You can download a trial from the developer at www.creaceed.com.

You can listen to this review on the MacReviewCast episode 201.