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!
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).
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!