Full Review: Aurora HDR Photo Editing Software With Before & After Photo Gallery

This is a 100% honest, 100% authentic Aurora HDR Pro version 1.2.2 photo editing software review. Dadtography received a complimentary download of the product, but we were not compensated in any way for this post. Some links below, marked as (af), may be affiliate links. Sales made resulting from clicks on affiliate links provide a small percentage of each sale to Dadtography.com.

Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical when first approached by Macphun.com, the makers of the Aurora HDR photo editing software. Was Aurora HDR yet another image editor trying to steal market share from the "big boys" like Adobe's Photoshop and Lightroom products?

Participating in the Samsung Imagelogger project introduced me to the Lightroom product. My satisfaction with Adobe Lightroom remains high. I've really gotten used to the features and layout. However, I've yet to make the jump to the Adobe Cloud where HDR editing is supported.

When I was asked to check out the Aurora HDR product (af), I almost dismissed it without even taking a look. Well, I'm glad that I didn't do that, because the product surprised me a bit.

It should be known that I'm not an advanced HDR photo editing user at this point. I know my way around my cameras and I can hold my own in Lightroom, but HDR is a pretty new concept to me. I've seen the amazing photos that it produces, and read some of the controversies surrounding the technique - namely the photos aren't "realistic".

To me, though, photography is definitely an art form, and HDR editing is one way to express your vision in a unique way. I set out to see just how good the Aurora HDR software was, from a beginner's perspective.

Getting Started with Aurora HDR: Standard vs Pro Versions

Macphun Aurora HDR Standard vs Pro

A getting started guide to Aurora HDR by Macphun.com. This article gets into the differences between the standard and pro versions of the app.

Read More

Here's the stuff we really like about Aurora HDR:

I want to put together a simple list of easy to understand concepts for us HDR editing novices. From my perspective, here are a list of the aspects the Aurora HDR software has going for it:

  • Modern user interface (UI) - I know this may sound a bit silly, but as a software professional, I really appreciate a good looking, functional application. This app looks like someone put some time and thought into the design of the application. Considering how many options there are in photo editing, I really like the look and feel of Aurora HDR.
  • Familiar Layout (as compared to Lightroom) - Part necessity and part tradition, photo editing software largely have the same features and functions so their arrangement of those features doesn't often deviate too dramatically. Having worked with Adobe Lightroom for a few years now, I appreciate the familiarity Aurora HDR provides.
  • Very handy filter presets - from a novice HDR editor's perspective, I really like the presets that come with Aurora. I usually learn through experimentation when editing photos, so the presets are a good way for me to "see what this does" and adjust my settings from there.
  • Use as a Stand-alone app or Lightroom & Photoshop plugins - I've been using the app as a stand-alone program on my Mac, but you also have the ability to install either Lightroom or Photoshop plugins as well. Installing the plug-ins provides Aurora HDR editing functionality inside those applications. So if you don't even want to bother with using Aurora separately from your existing workflow, you don't have to!
  • RAW camera file support - This feature may be considered a bit on the advanced side, but I like that Aurora supports native camera RAW files. RAW files contain all the original information from an image and are much easier to manipulate. You can still import JPG files for editing in Aurora, but I strongly recommend you work your way to using RAW files instead.

Here's the stuff we don't like about Aurora HDR:

Overall, Aurora HDR is a great image editing software. Finding a good app to edit photos can be a real challenge. You have to balance ease of use with powerful features and that can be very difficult to do. That said, Aurora has its challenges. Here are the biggest ones I've noticed so far.

Aurora Performance Can Be Somewhat Sluggish

The app seems to become a bit slow, especially when pulling in a large number of bracketed files. I'm doing most of my editing on an older (mid-2011) 27" iMac with the following specs:

  • Intel Core i5 processor at 2.7 Ghz
  • 20GB of RAM
  • AMD Radeon HD 6770M 512MB of video RAM
  • 4TB External Hard Drive via WiFi connection

Clearly, it's not the latest and greatest hardware so your experience may vary if your computer has a bit more power than mine. The performance of my external hard drive over the WiFi network may be part of the problem. The network performance may not be able to keep up in my case.

Aurora HDR Saved Files Can Be Large

The HDR photos I've edited so far have all been using DNG files as the source files. I'm pulling in between 3 and 7 DNG files to create the final HDR image. Each DNG file is around 30MB and it looks like the Aurora HDR saved files simply add all those source files together. I've had a few Aurora files that have been close to 1GB in size.

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The majority of the photos you see on Dadtography.com were edited exclusively using Aurora HDR or Luminar.

Official Mac system requirements:

  • Processor Core 2 Duo from late 2009 or newer
  • Minimum 4 GB RAM
  • OS X 10.9.5 Mavericks or newer
  • 2 GB free space on hard drive
  • Display resolution 1280 x 800 or higher
  • Retina displays supported

There Just Aren't Enough Feature Differences Between "Standard" and "Pro"

Don't get me wrong, I think the features that are in the pro version of the app are well worth the cost. I think my complaint is that the standard version shouldn't even be offered without them. My favorite feature by far that's only in the pro version is the auto-ghosting reduction. Check out the examples below. One image is with ghosting reduction turned "on" and the other is with it turned "off".

Demonstrating Aurora HDR's Ghosting Feature

HDR Bright No Ghost Reduction
HDR Bright With High Ghost Reduction

The above is an extreme example of the Ghosting reduction feature. Both photos were taken hand-held (not using a tripod) and aren't exact matches. What the ghosting removal feature tries to do is remove the differences between the photos automatically. Notice on the first image with "no ghosting", the "double vision" effect on the Universe of Energy sign. This is almost entirely removed by the ghosting reduction feature of Aurora HDR.

[bctt tweet="Check out this example of @WeAreMacphun #AuroraHDR ghosting reduction feature." username="dadtography"]

What are the features found in Aurora HDR?

The feature list was pulled from the Aurora HDR "Getting Started" tutorial website (af). For a full list of the differences between the Standard and Pro versions of Aurora, I wrote up this post with all the details.

  • Revolutionary tone-mapping technology (less noise, realistic results)
  • Advanced high quality image processing engine
  • JPEG, PNG, TIFF support
  • Adobe RGB wide color profile support
  • ProPhoto wide color profile support
  • Built-in sample photos
  • Native RAW files support (Aurora HDR™ Pro)
  • Real-time image processing
  • 38 HDR presets in 5 categories
  • Signature presets by Trey Ratcliff (Aurora HDR™ Pro)
  • Custom presets import and export
  • Layers & Masking
  • Support of different Blend modes for Layers
  • Custom texture overlays
  • Luminosity masking
  • Custom brush for selective editing
  • Gradient masking tool
  • Layer source changing
  • Masking with brackets
  • Color clipping preview
  • Duplicate layer
  • Advanced Tone Mapping controls
  • Smart Tone technology
  • Highlights / Midtones / Shadows adjusters
  • Whites & Blacks
  • Color contrast tool
  • Advanced Structure & Clarity technology
  • HDR denoise
  • Image Radiance effect
  • Image Details enhancer tool
  • Glow effect
  • Graduated ND filter emulation ("Top & Bottom Lighting")
  • Tone curve tool
  • Color filter tool - Selective coloring
  • Color toning
  • Vignette
  • Automatic Alignment, Deghosting & Chromatic aberration reduction
  • Histogram
  • Crop tool
  • Align image
  • Quick compare
  • Side by side comparison
  • Image navigator window
  • Full Screen preview mode
  • Facebook sharing
  • Flickr sharing
  • SmugMug sharing
  • Export to email, iMessage, Photos for Mac, Creative Kit apps & other apps
  • Photoshop plug-in (Aurora HDR™ Pro)
  • Lightroom plug-in (Aurora HDR™ Pro)
  • Aperture plug-in (Aurora HDR™ Pro)

Is Aurora HDR easy to use?

Ease of use is very important when it comes to a photo editing application for me. It took me a while to get used to editing photos in Adobe Lightroom, but as I did, the process became faster as well as more and more enjoyable.

Many people that don't fully understand what photography is only see the aspect of taking the photos. They don't fully appreciate all of the effort that goes into the process after the photos have been taken.

Starting from a perspective of having around 2-3 years of Adobe Lightroom experience, I was able to get started very quickly with the Aurora HDR editing process. That said, even if you don't have a ton of experience in photo editing programs like Lightroom or Photoshop, I think you'll pick up on Aurora pretty quickly. The user interface is very intuitive, and despite all the options, the application makes it easy to experiment with settings to see what you like and don't like.

The Aurora HDR interface is very intuitive and makes it easy to experiment with photo settings.

Aurora HDR Software FAQ

A: No, Aurora HDR is currently a Mac-only application. Macphun has indicated they intend to make a Windows-compatible version at some point.

A: HDR stands for "high dynamic range". The process involves merging multiple versions of a scene into a single image to create a more vibrant edited photo.

Aurora HDR Before and After Gallery

Click any image below to view a larger version.

What do you think? Have you used Aurora HDR for photo editing? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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