ALMOST READY, BUT NOT QUITE
Recently, team at HDRlog contacted me to review HDRinstant, which is new software designed to create HDR still images from non-HDR video footage. I was intrigued and wanted to review it for my weekly newsletter.
The software is from HDRlog, a French company with excellent image processing credentials, but the Mac-version of their software is not yet ready for prime-time. In fact, it has crashed consistently and I’ve been unable to complete any tasks with it. (I’m running version 2.2.1.)
So, for now, I’m not recommending the software simply for reliability reasons. But, in reviewing this software, there are so many simple and obvious problems with it, that I want the developers to take the time necessary to create a product that video pros would be interested in using.
Price: $25 (Light), $99 (Full version)
A free trial, which creates watermarked images, is also available
THINGS THE COMPANY NEEDS TO WORK ON
HDRinstant has three versions: Free, Light and Professional. There’s no indication which version of the software is installed on my system. The opening screen should only display the highest level version that’s installed and ready to operate.
The YouTube tutorial that HDRlog suggests people watch to learn how to use the HDRinstant software should be scrapped and redone. The audio is very poor, it is impossible to read the text on the screen and there is no clear idea of what is being done. This YouTube video isn’t a tutorial, it’s a demo with bad audio.
A tutorial clearly explains:
The images on the HDRinstant website have far too much sharpening. No sensible videographer would try to pitch these images to a client. Sharpening should be subtle, these images are not. If you read the manual, you’ll learn that the user has control over the amount of image sharpening. However, these images are not a good example of what this software can do and should not be the first thing we see when going to the website.
The user manual is written for Windows. It would not be hard to create a second version using Mac screens and nomenclature. Worse, screen shots in the manual don’t match the text that describes the screen shot (i.e. page 25). I should also mention that several of the screen shots are in French. Sigh…
As long as I’m looking at the manual, the screen images are too small, the interface text is too blurry to read. Better use of close-ups and cleaner images would help. Remember, the goal of a user manual is to explain to new users, who have no clue how the software works, how to use the software.
Also, the writing in the user manual should be reviewed by someone who is not an engineer and has a fluent command of English. This need not be so cryptic.
The website needs links to usage tutorials, as well as access to help files – in fact, there are no help or support files on the HDRinstant website that I was able to find.
The software workflow is not intuitive. It is unclear when to save an image vs. clicking Next. In fact, why doesn’t Next automatically save the image? Why do we need to save the image in the first place?
NOTE: I couldn’t get past clicking the Next button on the first screen. The software crashed to the Finder six out of six times – at which point, I gave up. The screen shot illustrates the system I used to review this software.
Thinking of the workflow, several key steps are hidden in menus that you need to Control-click to access. The software assumes that users already know how it works which, for new users, is never the case. If something is essential, like saving an image, there needs to be a clear, easy and obvious way to achieve it.
Why is the default codec for saving frames JPEG? With all the artifacting that JPEG normally inserts into an image, this seems very counter-intuitive. A better option seems to me to be TIFF or PNG. My preference is TIFF; after all, we are trying to create a very high-quality HDR image.
Worse, JPEG only allows saving images in 8-bit. HDR will benefit from greater bit depth.
HDRlog are the experts in image processing. We look to you for advice on how to make our images look great. Is JPEG REALLY the best option? If so, why offer all the others?
When I reload an image, why doesn’t the software know which video file it came from?
As an engineering exercise, this software shows potential. However, the developers need to take a step back and improve the stability of the program. Then, work on the interface to make it much more accessible for general users to gain the benefit of this program.
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