Copyright Scott Bourne 2010 - All Rights Reserved

I’ve recently written about my two favorite HDR programs, Photomatix Pro and Nik HDR Efex Pro. Photomatix costs about a hundred bucks, and unless you already have the Nik Complete Collection, HDR Efex Pro costs about a hundred and fifty.

When I reviewed these programs some of my audience asked me if there’s a less expensive alternative. The answer is yes. In fact there are several. But my hands-down favorite is Topaz Adjust 4. For less than $50 you get a program that is very powerful, yet very easy to use. And what’s more, it creates a faux HDR look from one single image that rivals what you can do in some of the more expensive programs.

Copyright Scott Bourne 2010 - All Rights Reserved

Every image in this post was made using a Nikon D7000, a Nikkor 28-300 lens and Topaz Adjust 4. In every case, the images were shot hand-held. Each resulting image corms from one single frame – not a series of over and under-exposed shots.

Don’t ask me how they do it, but the engineers at Topaz have figured out how to render very impressive images that look like they were shot using traditional HDR techniques at the press of a keyboard button.

Copyright Scott Bourne 2010 - All Rights Reserved

I’ve reviewed this program in the past, but never really talked about it much in the context of HDR. The latest version has presets that are labeled  and designated for faux HDR, but frankly, once you start playing with the software, you can get that look using most of the presets and adjusting or fine tuning them.

You can create, share and download your presets or download those created by other photographers. This is a very fun way to use the program and to get ideas for your images that you may not have had on your own.

You get complete control over exposure, detail, color and noise. What’s more, it’s quick. It’s easy. It’s affordable.

Topaz doesn’t offer all the bells and whistles of Photomatix or HDR Efex Pro. But those two programs are dedicated to HDR and cost more.

Topaz Adjust 4 is a viable answer for someone who can’t afford the other options but who wants the same look.

There are a few things about the program that just plain bug me, such as the fact that you have to remember to make your adjustments on a layer before launching the plug-in. (Plug-ins from Nik Software automatically render the changes on a duplicate layer for you so you have the option of blending them in with Layer Styles or adjusting their opacity.) You can do this manually but it would be a simple thing for them to include in their workflow. I also don’t understand why you have to receive this big nary pop-up window when you launch Topax Adjust that says – wait for it – you just launched Topaz Adjust. Yes I know. That’s what I expected to happen when I selected Topaz Adjust in the drop down menu in Photoshop. Whatever.

Copyright Scott Bourne 2010 - All Rights Reserved

In any event, these two foibles aside, the program absolutely rocks. Even though I actually use Photomatix Pro AND Nik HDR Efec Pro in my own personal workflow, I also use Topaz Adjust 4 when I want to tweak things that I didn’t shoot with HDR in mind.

Topaz Adjust supports 16bit, 64-bit PS CS4, and smart objects. Adjust is also multi-core optimized. You can get a free 30-day trial at http://www.topazlabs.com/adjust/.

Highly recommended.

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