Best Free High Dynamic Range (HDR) Software

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Imagine that you are inside a large Gothic cathedral, and the sunlight is streaming in from the windows on to a beautiful painting. You pull out your digital camera and take a photograph of the beautiful artwork on the church wall near one of the windows. You need not have bothered. Your digital photograph will be a flop. Either the painting will be dark and barely visible, or the window will appear as a glaring and dominant white area that is hardly recognizable as a window. Or both. The problem is not your camera. The problem is that the dynamic range of the scene exceeds what the camera is able to capture.

Since the birth of photography, photographers have attempted to increase the dynamic range that a photograph captures to recreate how our eyes see. A camera is able to capture a dynamic range of about 1:1,024 where the human eye is capable of seeing somewhere around 1:65,500. In the days of film, bridging this gap occurred in the darkroom. Today it occurs in the computer using a very nice program called HDR or High Dynamic Range.

There is an abundance of information on the web regarding HDR photography, so I will only cover the basics here.

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See Also: Best Free HDR Software Samples - A Real World Test


Rated Products

The difficulty I encountered while reviewing these programs was not knowing what the skill level of the reader would be. Novices at photography and those that do not want to spend a lot of time on their computers will prefer a different program than someone who is highly skilled at computer usage and picky about their photography. In my review, I have attempted to illuminate the assets and liabilities of each program to help you decide what is best for you at your level.


Gives good results with average work, best for photographers who want to spend a little more time with the image.

Our Rating: 
License: Free (Limited features)
Best alignment of hand-held images. Controls well labeled. Best results were obtained using SUM operator rather than HDR operator.
Old style interface. Halos can occur on areas of great contrast when using SUM operator. Poor documentation. Only saves in JPG (-1 star).
Read full review...

Luminance HDR  

An open-source application creates good results for amateur and serious amateur photographers.

Our Rating: 
License: Free (Open source)
Good results using default settings. Thumbnails of different algorithms.
Cryptic interface. No live refresh - render to see the effects of moving the slider. Moderate results on handheld image test. Poor documentation.
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The easiest to use and the best choice for novice photographers.

Our Rating: 
License: Free (Private/Educational use)
Easiest to use, good results with default settings.
Poor results on hand-held images. Not as much tweak-ability as other programs.
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FDRTools Basic  

Offers the greatest ability to fine tune and tweak the finished product.

Our Rating: 
License: Free (Limited features)
Greatest amount of control over finished product. Very good documentation.
Results often looked muddy. Refresh on preview can be slow. Did poorly with handheld images.
Read full review...

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Average: 4.5 (265 votes)


Tried Fusion and worked ok on SUMM (as advised) thought I'd try Luminescence but it doesn't accept PNG files therefore will keep to Fusion - Cheers

FYI, just downloaded fresh copies of installers for Luminance and Picturenaut. Noticed that Picturenaut now offers separate x86 and x64 versions. Just figured you ought to know. Haven't tested them yet as I'm almost out of time (start work in 15 minutes).

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. The product details have now been updated. MC - Site Manager.