I’ve been a fan of Nik Software for a decade. They make amazing software. I use all of their products, but I use Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro every day.

I was very excited when I found out they were going to make an HDR plug-in. So far, the best HDR/Tone Map solution I’ve used is Photomatix Pro. Photomatix has a beta version (4.0) in the hands of some photographers right now. I haven’t seen it yet, but I hear it’s quite good. Nik has a tall order to enter this crowded field and do something special.

I was one of about 10 photographers/journalists who were invited to San Diego this week to test out a pre-Beta version of Nik’s new HDR plug-in. Most of the company executives were there as were some pretty big names in photography, including my pal Trey Ratcliff who wrote the only HDR book you’ll ever need, A World in HDR.

We went to Balboa Park and shot as a group. Unfortunately there were no clouds so it was difficult to find good HDR subjects. We did come upon a few nice spots and we all shot happily, waiting to go back to Nik to try out the software. We were treated to a nice talk about HDR hosted by Trey and plenty of food. Then Nik fired up a computer for each of us running Lightroom. We off-loaded our cards and imported to LightRoom to do the RAW decoding, then exported to the pre-Beta Nik HDR plug-in. The product manager showed us the basics, but frankly, the Nik HDR plug-in is so easy to use, most of us had it figured out without much help.

If you’re at all familiar with the Nik interface from any of their other plug-ins, you are ahead of the game because the new HDR plug-in uses the same interface.

The plug-in is designed for people who don’t want to have to tweak a whole bunch of sliders for an hour to get a good result. It also has a bias toward more natural-looking HDR shots, which personally, more closely matches my style.

Keep in mind I am discussing (with Nik’s permission) what I’ve seen so far. There could be changes once the program goes into full beta and finally goes gold for retail.

So far, here’s what the plug-in offers. There are a variety of pre-sets that make it easy to get your image in the ball park with one click. You can edit the presets, make your own from scratch and once the program is in the wild, download presets made by other Nik users. You can refine each image in many ways. Currently, you can use another set of contrast presets which impact the main presets to refine the look you want. You can even desaturate for black and white or add finishing touches like a vignette.

The interface is simple and efficient. You also have access to Nik’s patented U-Point power points that allow selective editing. No need to make complicated masks. Just move the U-Point over the area you want to impact and start editing.

The program is a bit slow now, but Nik assured us that once it gets out of testing phase they can and will speed it up. The results sure don’t look beta. I can’t show you anything here because we weren’t allowed to take the plug-in home. I can tell you that if you want to see what it’s capable of, Nik has a nice sample HDR gallery on their web site.

According to Nik, it’s highly unlikely the program will ship with some of the more advanced features you might find in Photomatix Pro like chromatic aberration control. There’s also little control over ghosting and no noise-reduction control. I hear Photomatix Pro has a new very advanced feature in 4.0 that allows better ghosting control than ever before. Nik’s product on the other hand offers U-Point editing which Photomatix does not. This means your edits in Photomatix are global while they can be local in the Nik product. What the Nik program does do – it does very well and again, that’s in pre-beta.

Nik isn’t announcing pricing or shipping dates but I’d suspect you’ll be able to buy it on or before Photokina. Nik has the bulk of its employees in Germany so that’s a natural show to debut the new product at. Expect pricing to be similar to other Nik products.

I can’t give the product a ranking yet since it’s not available at retail. I can tell you that for some people, I think it may end up being the perfect solution. People like Trey Ratcliff who want the ultimate control over the HDR process may stick with Photomatix Pro – at least for some images anyway. But as it sits, I’d have no problem using the new Nik product. It’s fast, easy and the presets (which are still developing) are amazing.

As soon as we get final pricing and shipping information we’ll post that information here at Photofocus and on Twitter.
This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store

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