Well, I gave in and finally bought Photomatix. After experimenting with three different programs, Lightroom, Photoshop CS5, and Photomatix, I figured this was the best way to go.
Lightroom does an excellent job simulating HDR with it’s Fill Light slider, but the quality gets real low real quick. I have a few presets created, and it works nice for some pictures, but it just doesn’t make the cut, especially since it can only work with one, single, 8-bit or 16-bit image.
I was able to use Photoshop CS5 for a few days with a trial version. I worked really hard to get what I wanted, even to the point of reading up on it and following specific directions. There were just too many steps. And the end product always appeared flat. If I ever upgrade to CS5, I’ll have more time to work with it, but that upgrade will probably be in the far future.
It was at least a year ago that I first started looking into Photomatix. With the perpetual, watermarked, trial version, I remember being very surprised and pleased with the colorful, almost surreal product that it produced. And consistent, too. Every time I would take a batch of pictures through, I always came up with something I liked. It’s got a lot of settings and you could tweak things forever, but once you get used to it, it really doesn’t take that much time. Usually, a little contrast had to be added in Lightroom once the merge was completed.
So I went ahead and bought it. It’s normally like $100, but you can get free 15% or 20% coupons online. Here are a few of my first images with the program. They are all fusions of three images, each with a difference of at least one stop of light.