When I first started taking photos with my iPhone, I was immediately drawn to HDR camera apps because I was really into HDR at the time. I still use HDR camera apps to capture a lot of my images because dynamic range is important to me. I’ve gone through phases where ProHDR was king, then True HDR got a big update and the quality caught up to ProHDR, so I used it exclusively. Then, VividHDR came onto the scene with its TIF files and quicker turnaround times. Now, its time to compare the 3 HDR camera apps, so I can stop wondering which one I should be using over the others.
ProHDR version 4.5.1 $1.99 4.2MB Last updated 2-15-13
True HDR version 2.6 $1.99 5.3MB Last updated 2-19-13
VividHDR version 1.6 $1.99 12.1MB Last updated 3-9-14
For this first shot, I’m using the iPro super wide angle lens and the iPhone mounted to my tripod. ProHDR has the automatic sliders turned on. True HDR is shot in Auto Capture mode. VividHDR is set to lively and saving as a TIFF file, which are larger, and contain more info.
The tree is backlit, which means, in a single exposure, I would lose either shadow or highlight detail, depending on where I set my exposure. If that doesn’t make sense to you, you would either end up with a properly exposed tree and a white sky, or a properly exposed sky with a silhouette of the tree. I want detail throughout the image, so lets see which HDR camera app does the best job in these challenging conditions.
(To get a better look at the comparison, you can click to see it larger)
The first thing that leaps out at me, is that ProHDR looks like it’s almost finished, because the automatic sliders did a pretty good job. I always warn people to dial back the saturation if you do use the automatic sliders.
How did the apps do in blending the exposures together?
ProHDR- I like the choices the algorithm made. It looks fairly natural.
True HDR- It did a slightly better job than Pro. If you look at the brightest parts of the sky, where the leaves meet the sky, there is better detail in the leaves.
VividHDR- Disappointing. The highlights are awful. The tree branch on the left edge has some darker shadows in the other 2 images, leading me to believe that’s how it should have been processed. I can’t get over how bad the sky looks!
Shadows and Highlights
I’m looking to see if there is any clipping in the shadows or highlights of the images now. Btw, clipping is a term used to describe the loss of detail in highlights (completely white) and shadows (completely black.)
ProHDR does have some clipping in both the shadows and highlights. You can see the sky on the horizon is blown out, as well as the dappled light on the ground next to the tree. Having said that, it doesn’t bother me in this image, because the highlights are in the places I’d expect them (maybe not on the horizon here, but it’s not distracting.)
True HDR is the darkest of the 3 images and some shadows have been clipped. I’m not too worried about how dark it is, because you can lift the shadows a bit in Snapseed. The highlights look to be in great shape, probably the best of the 3 images.
VividHDR…yikes. I expected better. The highlights got muddied when the exposures were blended together. The ground looks unrealistic because it lacks contrast.
Pro- The color looks great. They’re a little warmer If I was being picky, I would say the blue sky might be slightly off.
True- The colors look realistic to me. I’d prefer to start editing from this palette.
Vivid- The sky is different shades of blue, and the green in the tree is too vibrant. To be fair, the lively filter probably exacerbated those issues.
Pro- 3.5 MB
True- 3.1 MB
Vivid- The TIFF was 13.5 MB. I saved the image as a jpg, so I could upload it here. The jpg is 7.9 MB
A Closer Look
Click to see each image at full size.
This scene is a challenge because of the bright snow and the shadows in the trees. Since I don’t live anywhere near snow, and don’t have much experience taking photos in it, I didn’t know what to expect.
I shot this with the iPro super wide angle lens, but the iPhone wasn’t mounted on my tripod. Instead, I set it on top of my tripod and tried to hold it in place myself. This lead to slightly different compositions, but they’re close enough.
Pro- The algorithm struggled with this image. The bright exposure is a little overexposed (look at the blown highlights in the water) and the dark exposure is off too (the snow looks very unnatural on the right.)
True- The details in the sky and snow are very good. If the highlights in the water are grey, and need to be brightened. The snow needs to be a bit brighter too. Overall, I’d say this is the best blend.
Vivid- It looks really good in most of the image. The water looks natural. The sky is a little off, and for some reason, the top part of the trees lack contrast. Really, it looks like there is a grey gradient from the top right corner of the image down over the tops of the trees. Very odd. The sky ruined this one for me, but I’d say its a close second to TrueHDR.
Shadows and Highlights
Pro- Highlights are blown in the water, and muddied in the snow. There is more detail in the shadows than in the other images.
True- Probably the best detail in the snow. The highlights in the water are muddied a bit. The shadows could stand to be lifted a little, but they’re not too bad.
Vivid- The highlights in the clouds are gone…thats not natural. The highlights look good everywhere else. The shadows could be brightened in this image as well. The shadows don’t bother me, though.
Pro- The colors are more vibrant than the other two. Maybe a little oversaturated in the creek.
True- The colors look natural to me. Great place to start.
Vivid- Here, the colors look a little muted, and possibly a little cool. Thats probably because this was shot with the natural filter instead of lively. This is a pretty good place to start from too.
Pro- 3 MB
True- 2.4 MB
Vivid- TIFF= 11.6MB jpg= 6MB
A Closer Look
Click for full size
How long does it take to go from touching the shutter to seeing the HDR image? (I used a stopwatch on my old iPhone, so the times might be slightly off.)
Pro- auto sliders off= 11.98 seconds auto sliders on= 13.27 seconds
True- 11.96 seconds (that includes tapping the merge button, which slows the process down)
Vivid- 9.06 seconds and its probably even quicker because I feel like I stopped the stopwatch slightly after it finished.
The apps aren’t all created equal. Here are some advantages that each have over the others.
- The automatic sliders are superior to the sliders in the other two apps. They’re very useful in getting the first step of post processing going.
- There is a timer that can be set for 2 or 10 seconds. This is great if you’re mounted on a tripod and want to improve sharpness, and perfectly line up the images to be blended.
- You can change the resolution to speed up the app.
- You can import a single image to edit in the app, or import 2 to blend as an HDR image.
- There are 20 filters, borders, and the ability to add text to your image.
- There is even a manual for beginners.
- There is something to be said for simplicity, and TrueHDR keeps things simple with a lack of options. All you have to do is set up your shot, press the shutter, and you get a very nice result.
- TrueHDR also gives you the option to import images from your camera roll to be blended.
- There is a lengthy manual for beginners.
- The developers are committed to improving the app.
- TIFF files!
- It’s about 25% faster than the other two apps.
- There are 5 filter presets to choose from.
*One more thing worth noting is I did not crop these images. ProHDR captures the widest angle, True HDR is slightly cropped, and VividHDR is noticeably cropped.
What Did I Take Away From This?
I still need to do some comparisons with different settings, and without the wide angle lens, but based on these initial shots:
It looks like VividHDR is still a little behind the other two apps because of the blending algorithm. I’m a bit nervous about using anything other than the Natural filter, at this point. Its still a good app, and I believe there will be improvements to it in the future. Quick tip, don’t mess with the sliders to adjust brightness, contrast, etc. Use an app like Snapseed for that.
ProHDR is very solid, and easily produces vivid hdr images. It is very tempting to share images immediately after the automatic sliders bring the image to life.
True HDR, which has been my favorite for months now, consistently creates well blended, natural looking images. While they come out a bit muted, or boring, the images are a safe starting point for post processing. Quick tip, don’t mess with the sliders to adjust brightness, contrast, etc. Use an app like Snapseed for that.
What do you think?
I’m interested in hearing your experiences with these apps and why you might prefer one over the others.