Quantum HDR Engine

Aurora HDR

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If you’re on the hunt for the best photo editing software out there, you’re definitely not alone. I’ve been trying out new programs for months now. The problem is balancing functionality, price and complexity.

I thought it would be great to compare two photo editors: one specialized in Aurora HDR and one “mainstream” in Adobe Lightroom. When I compared them side-by-side, there were winners and losers. But don’t jump to conclusions. Read my review below and see what app wins each category.

Skylum Aurora vs Adobe Lightroom: An Intro to this comparison review.

I love photography, but quite honestly, I hate photo editing. There are just so many tools and programs available to choose from – Aurora HDR vs Lightroom is just the beginning.

When I see all of those awesome photos on Instagram, it just frustrates me that I couldn’t edit my photos like that.

Did you notice I said “couldn’t”? Because I can now.

When I first got into photography, I was using Lightroom to edit all of my photos and I was pretty happy with how they were turning out. But, I always felt like I wasn’t getting everything out of the tool that I should be. It’s at about that time I was introduced to the Skylum photo editing tools – Aurora HDR and later Luminar Neptune. I’ve since switched over to these tools for all of my editing and thought I’d put together this blog post about some of the differences between Aurora HDR and Lightroom that made me switch.

What’s new in the Aurora HDR 1.2.0 update?

Skylum (af) announced a major update to the Aurora HDR photo editing product, it is calling version 1.2.0. This update appears to include a number of new features, enhancements and performance improvements over the previous version. Below is the list of the most notable changes:

  1. Speed boost for editing and adjusting. We’ve dramatically increased performance across all areas of Aurora HDR 2018 1.2.0 on Windows and Mac.
  2. Fast single-file opening. With an improved image processing engine, Aurora HDR is now much faster when opening single files.
  3. Loupedeck integration (for Mac&Windows). Now, users can quickly process photos in Aurora HDR using physical dials, knobs, and keys.
  4. Batch processing (for Windows). Aurora HDR 2018 1.2.0 will allow Windows users to edit a large number of photos simultaneously.
  5. Better memory management. Aurora HDR 2018 1.2.0 is also optimized to make better use of memory, with more intelligent memory management and improved stability.
  6. Windows version catches up to Mac version. Windows users will receive a flip/rotate tool, bringing Aurora HDR for Windows more in line with its macOS counterpart.
  7. Aurora HDR now supports more cameras than before. The full list across both Windows and MacOS includes:
    • Canon EOS 3000D / Rebel T100 / 4000D
    • FujiFilm X-H1
    • FujiFilm X-A20
    • FujiFilm X-A5
    • FujiFilm X-E3
    • Olympus E-PL9
    • Panasonic DC-GF10 / Panasonic DC-GF90
    • Panasonic DC-GX9 / DC-GX7MK3
    • Panasonic DC-TZ200 / DC-ZS200 / DC-TZ202 / DC-TZ220 / DC-ZS220 / DC-TX2
    • PhaseOne IQ3 100MP Trichromatic
    • Sony A7 III
When I see all of those awesome photos on Instagram, it just frustrates me that I couldn’t edit my photos like that.

Aurora HDR vs Lightroom: Functionality versus Purpose

When introducing a comparison of Aurora HDR and Lightroom, you should start with an apples-to-apples comparison. The fact is that the intention of these two photo editors isn’t quite aligned from the start.

How can you compare functionality of two photo editing applications unless you first talk about their purpose?

Aurora HDR is a specialized photo editor for a certain type of photography – called High Dynamic Range, or HDR.

Most information you’ll find out there now focuses on HDR in televisions. It’s the same concept in the case of Aurora HDR, but for photography, of course.

On the other hand, Adobe Lightroom is a more all-purpose photo editor. It doesn’t really “specialize” in any particular type of photo editing.

…Adobe Lightroom is a more all-purpose photo editor. It doesn’t really “specialize” in any particular type of photo editing.

Differentiator: Aurora HDR is Specialized, Lightroom is not.

While Aurora HDR is a specialized photo editor meant for one type of editing & photography style, Adobe Lightroom is not specialized. Rather, it’s an all-purpose photo editor meant for all types of editing and all styles of photography.

Aurora HDR is most commonly used for landscape photography, since that’s the most common form of photography for high dynamic range.

Sure, you can edit portraits and other photos in Aurora HDR, but it’s not really an all-purpose editor like Lightroom is. Here is a portrait of my son that I edited using Aurora HDR. Notice how the detail really pops in this edit? That’s high dynamic range in action.

Differentiator: Mac vs PC and Licensing

As of the latest version of Aurora HDR, it is now compatible with both PC and Mac. Both Aurora and Lightroom will work on either a PC or a Mac, however, licensing is definitely a differentiator. When you purchase an Aurora HDR license, you can install the application on up to 5 computers – Mac or PC!

Differentiator: Lightroom is a better organizer

Aurora HDR does have its short-comings, and Lightroom definitely beats Aurora in its ability to organize photos. If you’re a pro, or if you have a ton of photos, you’d appreciate Lightroom’s ability to keep all of those photos nicely organized.

Lightroom has what they call “Collections”. A collection can be a physical collection (folder structure) and / or a “smart collection”. Smart collections can be just about anything – from photos that share the same prominent color (eg: red photos) or the same person or theme, etc. Only your imagination limits the types of smart collections you can build.

I get around Aurora’s file organization by being organized in my folder structures where I keep my photos. I save all of my photos to the cloud and locally on a massive 5TB external hard drive (af). With so much storage, I keep four versions of my files:

  • Camera-generated jpeg
  • Camera-generated RAW
  • Converted DNG
  • Aurora saved edit .mpau (Aurora’s native format)

Lightroom vs Aurora HDR – How do the UI (user interfaces) compare?

This has to be the biggest difference I noticed between using Lightroom and Aurora HDR. The user interface of Aurora (and Luminar) is far less cluttered to me than Lightroom.

Lightroom is a very powerful photo editing software, but with all that power comes complexity. If you’re not a professional, you may not need all of the options and features a program like Lightroom provides. Or, better yet, you may not need them all at the same time.

The UI of Lightroom is very utility oriented, as to be expected since there is a lot of functionality to account for. In comparison, the UI for Aurora HDR feels more elegant to me. As an application, it still offers a lot of features, but does so in a way that’s just easier to look at than Lightroom. Here are two comparison screen shots for you. The first is of Lightroom (version 5.5) and the second is of Aurora HDR Pro (version 1.2.7).

Lightroom Interface

Aurora HDR vs Lightroom - Adobe Lightroom v5.5 User Interface

Aurora HDR Interface

Aurora HDR vs Lightroom - Aurora HDR Pro v1.2.7 User Interface

Aurora HDR vs Lightroom – comparison summary.

When it comes down to it, although these two software programs are both photo editing tools, the core differences in functionality and intent really make it difficult to compare them.

You can make images of similar quality in both Aurora HDR and Adobe Lightroom. However, we feel that Aurora is the better editing experience – it’s easy to use, it’s more intuitive and it’s less expensive than Lightroom. It’s not perfect, but Aurora HDR is a great app!

It’s not likely that Aurora HDR will ever “take over” as your primary photo editing suite – but that’s okay, because it wasn’t necessarily built for that purpose. Aurora HDR is great at editing high dynamic range photos. That’s why it was built and it does that function very well, in my opinion.

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