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Aurora HDR vs LR/Enfuse

Published: 18/10/2018

Ever since Aurora HDR 2019 was released and everyone was raving about how much the HDR processing has improved, I've been interested to see how it compares to LR/Enfuse. I tried it and it looks pretty good to me but I asked Simon Maxwell in London (the author of the Enfuse e-book and video series) to see how he thinks it compares to LR/Enfuse. Here is Simon's comparison. The two images to the right compare Simon's results with LR/Enfuse and Aurora HDR 2019.

Aurora Pro HDR Initial Impressions
As a diehard Lightroom user, I was very pleased to see that Aurora can be used as a Lightroom plug-in; in fact, I found it to be one of the easiest third-party scripts to be installed in Lightroom. Unlike other plugins where you have to locate the main Lightroom plugins folder (not always easy!) with Aurora, you simply load it from the Aurora control panel (File: Install Plug-Ins) and there you have the option to add the plugin to Lightroom, Photoshop, or even Elements. From within Lightroom, it runs a little differently to some plugins in that the command is File: Export with Preset: this enables a series of files to be taken over to Aurora for blending, maintaining any initial Lightroom adjustments such as profiles, white balance, or sharpening, etc.

So much for ease of installation: Is it any good for a real estate photography workflow? Well, my two requirements would be image quality of course, but perhaps as important would be the efficiency of operation. The best HDR software in the world is wonderful if you are a landscape photographer looking to spend an hour processing one beautiful shot for a wall print, but with an average real estate shoot consisting of 25-30 series of bracketed images, I need something which frankly moves things along efficiently!

Processing Time
I was impressed at the speed at which Aurora processed a group of brackets from Lightroom: It very quickly identifies the files and establishes their EV difference; you need to agree for the grouped files to be merged; and from my experience, the speed with which the HDR image is generated is very impressive--about fifteen seconds. You do need to monitor the process in Aurora though, as you need to click "Apply" to the finished result, which is then usefully reimported into Lightroom.

As far as I can see though, it is not possible to batch process images from Lightroom in Aurora, although you can batch process  by opening files within Aurora directly (much like Photomatix).

Image Quality
What about image quality? There are a number of adjustment settings in Aurora which can be applied to the blended TIFF image, including a potentially useful adjustment layer-type feature, enabling an effect to be applied to select areas of an image. There are also a whole series of "looks" or presets which can be applied to the image. And this is where I really do feel that the features are perhaps overkill for the real estate photographer; the preset versions just result in too unnatural a look for images which should really aim to recreate the recorded scene fairly faithfully. Presets like "HDR Look" or "Bright Sun", while they have their place for other types of photography, are just too super-saturated or grungy-looking for my tastes.

That said, the as-processed first preset "Natural" gave a really excellent result; nicely saturated color, good tonal range, and what looks like a bit of local contrast enhancement (what Aurora calls "Structure") applied automatically to the TIFF. By way of a comparison, I ran an identical series of ambient-only brackets in both Aurora and via the Enfuse Lightroom plugin and then examined them side by side with the reference tool in Lightroom. Consistently, the Aurora "out of the works" versions were instantly satisfying to view. However, with the application of some plus Clarity and plus Vibrance in Lightroom to the Enfuse-processed files, I was able to produce virtually identical results. With both programs and in all cases, I felt that a bit of shadow lightening was called for. Now I know that I have a slight vested interest in Enfuse, but I really could not see a real advantage, in tonal range terms at least, to running brackets through Aurora. The better a program can cope with extremes of light and dark, the more useful it is going to be to the real estate photographer. So many adjustments can be applied in Lightroom to a blended file that differences in color saturation or local contrast can be quickly and precisely matched. It may well be that with precise application of the Aurora tools, namely its HDR details boosting feature, you can create a very impressive image which enlarges well. But is that necessarily a useful feature when turning out a series of images whose end use is to be viewed on a desktop monitor at best, and more realistically, a tablet or mobile device?

In conclusion, I would urge anyone to download Aurora Pro 2019 on the two-week free trial basis and run some tests with their own images. That's the only way you will be able to gauge whether this option really results in better-looking images, as compared to your existing processing methods. My feeling? Aurora couldn't put any more tonal detail into my shots than Enfuse does, nor could I run it in batch mode from within Lightroom. So for my run of the mill work, I would not be in a hurry to switch over. Will I buy it? Very possibly. I think that with some perseverance, there is a place for it when perhaps working on very exclusive architectural shoots where a small number of final images are to be supplied for large format end use. But for the real estate photographer, it is I think a case of too much icing on the cake!

Larry Lohrman

4 comments on “Aurora HDR vs LR/Enfuse”

  1. Interesting. I love AuroraPro and have done since its inception with the caveat that to begin with it seemed to be designed for that surreal photographic esthetic and not for use just to bring out highlight and shadow detail but to end up with a natural looking image. I tend to go for a more saturated image than most RE photographers but that does not take HDR to achieve. I trying to tame it for RE work was a bit of a hassle. I only used it for external images since it made walls mottle in a most undesirable way. And here we tend to discuss only interiors. I find the property, grounds, groves, gardens, pools, front views with blinding white cement driveways and water works are just as important to control and work with.

    But I think it is a mistake to compare the Skylum products of AuroraPro and Luminar to Adobe products or other software. Rather I think it should or can be another tool in your processing tool box, not a "this or that" situation. I don't use LR. Instead as someone who started working with Photoshop from its inception on my 124 Mac, it is simply in my blood. So I partner AuroraPro and Luminar in conjunction with Photoshop and its Bridge sibling. I am still trying to find time to learn LR which I think would be a better choice, but for us old dogs, such a major change takes time to learn and integrate into a work flow already well established.

    With each new year and its upgraded version of AuroraPro, it improves hugely in speed, use of tools, how the tools work and how it now becomes more and more useful for creating images in areas other than landscape and surreal images. Instead I use it when I have extremes of contrast since I don't use flash to balance out lighting. When I have more evenly lit images, I go straight to Bridge using the best of the bracketed exposure, use the pre-sets that I create, then to photoshop and often use Luminar as a plug in to Photoshop that makes a seamless bridge between the two. Luminar has a great color picker to turn whites totally neutral. But I rely on Photoshop to correct verticals and horizontals and fix my lens distortions for both Aurora and Luminar images. The new 2019 Luminar is slated to have a slider to intensify the sky and only the sky. Something I am looking forward to.

    So I will usually process my exteriors starting in Aurora since here in Southern California our normal light is intense sun and contrast is always high. Then finish in Photoshop. With interiors I tend to start with Bridge/Photoshop using one image and tweek with Luminar unless the contrast range is just not captured from one image. That becomes pretty obvious quickly, and I switch over to Aurora and use the brackets. If I have a room that has sun shining in, I will start in Aurora or if I have a room with a lot of ambient light in one part but dark in the other I do the same. Both Aurora and Luminar have the same color picker that will bring the image into neutral as long as there is something that is white in the image like a towel, bedspread, base board or crown moulding, matts for photos or art etc.

    Lastly, for those new to both AuroraPro and Luminar, there seems to be a critical approach to the supplied pre-sets. This new 2019 Aurora presents a pretty good image right off the bat, like most photographers, we like to create our own look. So I make the overall changes like exposure, color, saturation, perhaps some vignetting and sharpening and save it as my own pre-set(s) for use on the following images. I have numerous pre-set for external images, internal images, contrasty ones and flat lit ones, rooms decorated in neutrals and others with more intense color schemes as well as different lenses and camera brands. I never use the supplied pre-sets. The 2019 Aurora is far better at supplying a good image right as it first displays your monitor than previous versions. So most don't need a lot of additional work. But I do anyway so I can create my pre-sets using some of the overall settings from highlights and whites, shadow detail, unsharpen, color balance and saturation, perhaps some vignette.

    But for those shooting drone images and use a DJI, Skylum abandoned respecting the embedded lens correction that DJI equips their images that is respected by Photoshop, Bridge and I imagine LR as well. They had it in the 2017 version but not the 2018 and now not the 2019. I have been in contact with them. They promised to fix that with the mid term upgrade for the 2018 which ended up making the program crash on my Mac after the first couple of images processed and did not fix the DJI image issue. The 2019 did not crash my Mac but also did not respect the DJI image lens correction so I have to process in Aurora first them do a lens correction in Photoshop and if I used LR probably would do the same thing in LR.

    But the Skylum team are making such huge jumps in the software from year to year and even every 6 months with free upgrades, I am hoping they will add this back in as well. The entire processing engine in the 2019 has been changed since the 2018 version.

    So even though the Skylum products have not been around a long time, they have been a God send for me as a non-flash photographer both with stills and video. Oops! I did not mean to suggest that I can use Skylum with video but the HDR look has influenced in the look I search for in video so that my stills and video both have close to the same look since they both appear on the Tourbuzz property sites I supply for my clients.

    So if you already have a good workflow that meets your requirements and those of your clients, don't bother. But if you want to explore a wider range of look and feel or are still working out how you want your images to look, try the free limited use versions and see what it will do for you. But don't get stuck on the pre-sets provided. Instead work with the "filters" that I think of more as tools, and take it from there.

  2. I purchased Aurora 2019 for RE shoots but feel that the lack of batch shooting that LR/Enfuse offers makes is a poor choice for interior shots. It does work well for exteriors where the dynamic range can be extreme.

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