[Contest] Oloneo PhotoEngine [Forum Exclusive]

| November 23, 2012

Oloneo PhotoEngine is an exciting professional grade photo editing toolbox which has four main components:

Let’s first take a look at the HDR ToneMap module. HDR stands forHighDynamicRangeand refers to a technique to bring out the details in the lightest and darkest areas of photographs. The human eye can see a much greater range of lighting and color details than cameras can. That’s why you’re oftentimes surprised to find that your photo doesn’t show every thing you could see when you snapped it. That’s where HDR comes to the rescue.

I’ve seen a number HDR plugins and programs released in the last couple of years. I’ve been using a simple standalone one as part of my photo workflow. It’s been a godsend since it’s pulled out details that would otherwise be lost in the shadows. But it’s not without it limitations. And like most HDR programs, using it often results in halos surrounding people and objects in the photographs.

So, I became really excited when I read that the HDR ToneMap module in Oloneo PhotoEngine offers halo control as well 32-bit per channel processing and a host of other professional level features that are simple and easy for beginning and intermediate users. So, let’s jump in to the hands-on review.

Installation was very smooth and simple. At first launch, you will be prompted to input your serial number or enjoy a 30-day free trial. What I found very cool was that it automatically opened the “Sample Files” folder it makes in your Documents directory. Within that folder, I found three different project files—one for each of the three modules—along with their individual jpegs. I’ll come back to this later.

HDR ToneMap supports the use of the RAW format of over 300 high-end digital cameras as well as the JPG or TIFF formats. You’ll really appreciate the support for RAW if you have a nice DSLR camera since that format contains far more photographic detail than is possible in the common jpeg format.

Like many other HDR programs, Oloneo PhotoEngine can do tone-mapping on a single image: that’s what you’ll be using unless you’re photographing something that doesn’t move. However, truly remarkable shots of landscapes and other still subjects are possible with some simple planning. You’ll want to take two or three shots of the same scene and only change the shutter speed. As they explain in their very well-written manual, if you want really “high quality results, it is recommended to reduce the Exposure Value and increase the number of photos” to five.

As you see below, the first step is to browse to the folder containing your photos and selecting the photos for your project. I’ve selected the three sample ones taken at different shutter speeds for HDR tone mapping.

Note that you will see the info for each photo in the top right panel. Also, info is given for the selected photo in the top left panel as well as for the picture over which your move is hovering. You’ll notice that the HDR Relight and HDR DeNoise panels are grayed out since the selected photos don’t meet their requirements; more on that later.

In addition, there’s a check box for “Auto Align” if your shots weren’t taken on a tripod. If there are any moving objects like birds, trees in windy conditions or waves, then there’s a pull down for “Ghost Removal” that can remove them. Then all you have to do is click “Create HDR ToneMap Project.” It will then begin processing your shots and open up to ToneMap screen.

In the screenshot below, you’ll see how very simple it is to create a good looking HDR shot from a single photo. In this case, it’s a shot of the Capilano Suspension Bridge in British Columbia. On the bottom left, there are a number of presets available; you can also create your own. As you’ll see in the top left panel, I’ve chosen the Grunge preset and enabled “HDR Natural Mode”. For the more ambitious who’ve already learned their stripes in Photoshop and other high-end imaging editing programs, the top right panel—“Info”— displays a composite histogram of the red, blue and green channels and shows how they change as you apply various settings.

In the “High Dynamic Tone Mapping” panel below the histogram, there is a pull-down menu offering a range of choices. The first is “None” which always allows you to see the unprocessed starting point. Then for beginners wanting to go beyond the built-in presets, there’s “Auto Tone Mapper” tool with a single slider that varies the strength of the effect. And for the intermediate to professional, there are three other “Tone Mapper” tools: “Local”, “Advanced” and “Global.” These offer very a sophisticated degree of control over exposure, contrast, detail size, detail strength, or edge sharpening depending upon the tool selected.

Below the Tone Mapping tool panel, you’ll find more tools which can be used either with or without doing any tone mapping. The first set controls brightness, contrast and saturation as well as white balance via an eye dropper or via color wheel, tint and temperature settings.

Next you’ll find “Photographic Print Toning [which] simulates a chemical process that replaces the silver contained in the photo emulsion by a toner or another metal. …. Unlike the real world process, the Photographic Print Toning in PhotoEngine can also work with color photos.” Finally there are Brightness Curve, Saturation Curve, and Color Equalizer boxes that allow highly specific adjustments to be made. And I should point out that these tools operate at up to 96-bit (24 bits per channel) for RAW formats.

Whew… this program offers a lot of goodies doesn’t it? And I bet you’re ready to see some actual results right?

One thing, the original shots were taken with a Nikon DSLR at 4.8 megapixels. In order to make the shots web-ready, they were seriously reduced—only 550 pixels wide which is about 14% of original size—and only provide an idea of just how impressive Oloneo PhotoEngine can make your photos. First, let’s look this snapshot taken in the Canadian Rockies. The peak looks pretty good, but notice how the details of the trees are lost in shadows.

The next shot below was HDR processed by a simple program I’ve been using for awhile. Until today, I was quite happy with it. As you can see, it is an improvement for it pulls some of the details from the shadows.

And below is the first result I got using Oloneo’s HDR ToneMapper.”

An amazing difference, isn’t it? Let’s look at another comparison. This time, I’ll show the original snapshot of an elk side-by-side with the result from HDR ToneMapper. Note that for presentation purposes, these photos have now been drastically reduced to only 7% of their original size. Nonetheless, you will see the fantastic difference between the two. It also highlights what I said earlier about cameras not being able to see the range of colors and details that the human eye can. The processed one looks like what I remember seeing.

Finally, I want to show a photo of this lake-side cabin in the woods that has been processed by HDR ToneMapper. It made the all the colors and details really pop. You should see it at full resolution. It’s gorgeous!

There two more modules in Oloneo PhotoEngine I want to briefly talk about even though I don’t have shots to show you: HDR Relight and HDR DeNoise. The problem I had is that I didn’t have any photos handy that fit the requirements of these two modules.

The manual states that a “HDR ReLight project requires from two to six photos [which have] the same exposure values (shutter speed, aperture and ISO) and the same white balance. Each of [them] should show the same scene under a different illumination.” You’ll recall I mentioned the photos the program includes in its “Sample Files” folder. In there you’ll find a Relight project along with its three photos of a room with two light sources. One has only a little ambient light while a different light source is turned on in each of the other two.

I played around this a bit. I was highly impressed with the program’s ability to individually turn the light sources on or off and alter their individual white balance and intensities. I read in the manual that it can even turn a day-lit scene into a night-time one. I’ve taken some shots of interior scenes before and have often found that the various light sources in the scene interfere with the shot I was trying to get. After playing with the sample ReLight project, I believe it’s likely I’ve found the answer to that problem.

Like ReLight ones, HDR DeNoise projects require two or more shots of the same scene with the same exposure values. Likewise, it goes without saying that both types of projects require using a tripod. The manual also points out that you’ll get the best results with four photos taken in burst mode. It also explains that it “is perfect for low light photos and still life photos under natural light.”

They include six photos for their sample DeNoise project. I loaded it up and exported the result as a jpeg. By the way, that reminds me. Oloneo PhotoEngine automatically detects if you have Photoshop installed which it will set as the default external editor so you can work on it further. There’s also a LightRoom plug-in available.

Anyway, I was really curious about this module. I then opened up the DeNoise processed jpeg and compared it with the six sample photos in the picture viewer I use in my workflow. As each photo replaced another on my screen, I could see how the noise was a bit different in each of the sample. It was amazing to see how clean the end result was. I don’t often take still life photos, but when I do I’ll definitely plan my shots so I can run them through this module.

Oloneo also offers another product: HDRengine which only has some the HDR features contained in their PhotoEngine as you can see from their feature comparison page. They offer fully-functional, 30-day free trials for both of them. The license agreement allows you to install the product on two machines as long as they are not being used simultaneously: perfect for your workstation at home and your laptop while out on a shoot.

Currently there is only a Windows version which works on both 32 and 64 bit systems and has a minimum requirement of 1.5 GB RAM and at least a 1.6 GHz processor (dual core recommended.)

I’ve found Oloneo PhotoEngine to be an exceptional program which is easy for beginners to use but also sophisticated enough for demanding professionals. You owe it to yourself to get the free trial and see what it can do for you. I like it a lot, maybe you will too.

Reviewed by Jelson


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