Luminance HDR 2.0.0 review
For the past four years the name of Qtpfsgui, a free HDR imaging tool, has caused lots of sniggering. Now a brand new version is out with a new name — Luminance HDR. Fortunately it's not the only new thing since 1.9.3 that was released a year ago, so let's have a closer look.
"Qtpfsgui 1.0. No, I wasn't cleaning the keyboard. It's what the app is called" © some blogger
Sounds familiar, eh? Let's see what's improved to justify the epic name change.
There are no dramatic changes in UI whatsoever, but some actions were actually taken to make it a less pain in the neck.
First of all, menu was reorganized to match users expectations. The "Edit" menu now features rotation action, resize command, tonemapping and projective transformation.
The next thing — rather better looking dialogs, especially Preferences.
And finally the HDR wizard dialog now fetches embedded JPEG preview when you try to create a new HDR image from a bunch of Raw files.
Unfortunately you still cannot add multiple images other than in one go.
Selection and cropping
New lead developer Franco Comida implemented part of the OpenUsability 2008 project by Vladimir Smida — tonemapping of a selection. If you ever used Qtpfsgui before, you do know that the sole reason of not implementing preview was because tonemapping operators working in gradient domains (Fattal's and Mantiuk's) create different pictures for different image sizes.
So now this is partly solved. You need to make original HDR image visible by pressing this button:
Then you only need to draw a selection rectangle which you can adjust any way you like: grab inside the frame to move the frame around, drag sides to adjust width or height, drag corners to adjust both.
Then you need to enable Process selection checkbox and hit Apply button. That way just the selection will be processed and the value from Result Size combo box will be ignored, so the output is always 1:1.
And since rectangular selection infrastructure was in place, Franco went ahead and implemented cropping of an original HDR image in the main window. The principle is absolutely the same: you drag a mouse cursor to draw a rectangular frame and then either click a crop tool button in the toolbar or go for Edit > Crop to Selection. And because there is no proper undo/redo, a new HDR image will be created out of the crop.
The tonemapping dialog features a number of major changes.
First one is undo and redo for tonemapping settings per operator. If you changes some settings and wish to go back, just click either of the two button in the lower right part of settings part.
Second change is an awfully confusing feature of processing a previous HDR image. I've been messing around with it for a long time, but it still doesn't make any sense to me. What you will see is that when the Process Original HDR checkbox is off, Luminance HDR plain refuses to do anything, and when it's on, two images will be created: one of them unsavable and the other one, in case of mantiuk06, in need for a gamma adjustment from 1.0 to 2.0.
The third change is a new dialog "Active TM processes". In case your PC is so fancy that you can run several tonemapping operations at once and not suffer from seeing your lovely computer suffering of asthma, it will display progress indicator for each of them.
The last change worth mentioning is quite a handy Sync View button that locks zoom level of several tonemapped images and syncs navigation, so you can scroll one image and the rest will be scrolled accordingly. That way you can easily compare results of different versions of same processed HDR image.
The new version features mantiuk'08 operator which actually wasn't created with photography in mind at all. It is supposed to do tonemapping of HDR scenes for low dynamic range displays.
However some people manage to put it to a good use, so why not?
Apart from that, bugs in other tonemapping operators were fixed. If something still doesn't work nicely, you can always file a bug report.
Documentation and localization
The project always had issues with documentation, especially because the application demanded and still demands reading scientific papers to get a grip on those cryptic options :) Somewhere between 1.9.3 and 2.0.0 after being savagely nagged Franco gave up and ported help browser from Fontmatrix (where it was ported from Scribus) and was given basics of a better documentation in return.
The new documentation features description for three of the eight tonemapping operators, docs on setting the application up and a workflow guide. So it isn't there (at least yet), but is quite an improvement over the past version.
The general good impression of 2.0.0 is somewhat spoiled by the fact that there are no major shifts towards a usable user interface for people without a PhD in image science.
The future of the project is not quite clear. A year and a half ago Giuseppe Rota, who started the project, had to move on and left the project. So did Daniel Kaneider who had joined shortly before that. As a consequence the initial team (apart form translators) doesn't exist anymore, and Franco seems to be the only person who works on the project (with few external patches submitted) and he doesn't seem to care about usability much, judging by my own experience.
As a result, the user base seems to be falling apart, especially with more user friendly apps like Dynamic HDR around. The Luminance HDR 2.0.0 release has made the situation even more unstable, because the Windows installers are now sold for EUR15 (not given away like before). A number of people are not happy with that decision, because, traditionally for open source projects, there have always been more Windows users than those with Linux or Mac.
In case development goes same way and users keep abandoning it, is this going to be a real issue? A year or two ago it could be. However we are in 2010 now, and there is a number of concurrent solutions at hand.
DigiKam now features easy user interface to Enfuse which, as you might know, outputs nice exposure blended images with no "artistic" artifacts that most popular tools like Photomatix or Artizen are known to produce. Besides there have been experiments of reusing bits of Qtpfsgui to create UI for pfstmo in the very same digiKam (or was it KIPI plug-ins? whatever).
And of course darktable with its 32bit float LAB native processing is ready for someone to come and write an Enfuse plug-in.
So let's just stick to the good ol' wait-and-see rule for now.
Written by: Alexandre Prokoudine
License: GNU FDL 1.1