Aurora HDR 2018 Review. How does the latest version of this HDR photo editor perform?

Editor's note: This post has been updated as of the latest release of Aurora HDR 2018 version 1.2.0.

Welcome to our Aurora HDR 2018 review in-depth blog post. This post was originally written prior to the release of the latest version of Aurora HDR. I've been using the Aurora HDR product for over a year now, and I was very glad to hear that a major update was coming.

To be honest, I struggled with this review post a bit. How do you write an honest, yet very favorable review of a product? Well, you do so with experience and proof. I love Aurora HDR 2018 and when you see some of the photos I've been able to make using this product (below), I think you'll understand why.

Macphun Aurora HDR 2018 Review

This is a 100% honest, 100% authentic Aurora HDR 2018 version 1.2.0 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.

All images are originals taken by Dadtographer Daniel. Most photos were edited using DNG source files. Please don't use our photos without permission.

Aurora HDR 2018 is simple, it's fast and it's powerful. You've seen stunning HDR photos and wondered how they did it. This is how!

Aurora HDR 2018: Apple's "App of the Year"

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Aurora HDR 2018 is your total high dynamic range photo editing experience with the most complete set of tools available. The newest version of Aurora HDR is now available.

What's new in the Aurora HDR 1.2.0 update?

Skylum (af) has just 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

Navigate this Aurora HDR review post:

(or just keep scrolling to browse our Aurora HDR review)

What is HDR photography?

Learn more about this specialized type of editing technique.

Is it Windows compatible?

Learn more about Aurora HDR 2018 for Windows.

More About Aurora

Learn more about the latest version of Aurora HDR editor.

What are the features?

Learn more about the features of Aurora HDR.

What's new in 2018?

Learn more about the new additions to the latest release.

Want to see a video?

Check out this video of the filter presets in action.

What needs improvement?

Learn more about the what we like about Aurora HDR 2018.

Is it easy to use?

Read our thoughts on ease of using Aurora HDR 2018.

How's the user interface?

Compare the Aurora HDR 2017 and 2018 user interfaces.

Unofficial Aurora HDR FAQ

Check out our Aurora HDR 2018 frequently asked questions (FAQ).

Before and After Gallery

See a few of our first images edited using Aurora HDR 2018.

HDR

/hdr/
noun
short for high dynamic range. High dynamic range (HDR) photography is a specialized photo technique and style most commonly used for landscape photography. HDR is the process of taking multiple versions of the same image, at different exposures, and merging them together.

What is Aurora HDR 2018?

Aurora HDR 2018 is the latest update to the popular photo editing software that specializes in high dynamic range photography. What is HDR photography? Great question!

High dynamic range (HDR) is a specialized photo technique and style most commonly used for landscape photography. HDR is the process of taking multiple versions of the same image, at different exposures, and merging them together.

Those multiple images provide additional detail not available in a single image file, which creates impressive colors, deep darks and beautiful contrasts.

Aurora HDR 2018 is a photo editing program that specializes in editing HDR photography, but can be used as a general purpose editor as well.

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This Aurora HDR 2018 Review Focuses on the Mac Version

We're a Mac-only household, so this review will focus on the initial release 1.0 of Aurora HDR 2018.

This review will focus on Aurora HDR 2018 as an application and not necessarily focus on the differences between Aurora HDR 2017 Pro and HDR 2018. There are new enhancements included in this release of Aurora.

What's new in 2018 vs Aurora HDR 2017?

  • Next-generation Tone Mapping – A new smart Tone Mapping algorithm automatically reduces noise, and produces more realistic and natural initial results.
  • Mac and Windows versions – Aurora HDR 2018 is available both for Mac and PC users, enabling mixed-computer households to share the same product key.
  • Lens Correction Tool* – The new Lens Correction filter easily fixes all kinds of lens distortion, from barrel and pincushion to chromatic aberration and vignetting.
  • Transform Tool* – Easily scale, rotate and shift your image to better fit your vision.
  • Dodge & Burn Filter – Selectively lighten or darken specific areas of an image to artfully direct your viewer’s eye towards the key subject of your image, similar to a traditional darkroom technique.
  • HDR Enhance Filter - Adds details and clarity to an image, adjusting colors, details and contrast without creating artificial halos or other problems.
  • User Interface – A new, modern and responsive user interface brings a powerful, yet  joyful experience to HDR photo editing.
  • History Panel – An easy-to-reference list of edits made to your image, the History panel allows you to click on any editing step to revert the photo to an earlier stage of editing.
  • Touch Bar support for Mac – Aurora HDR 2018 adds Touch Bar support to give new MacBook Pro users fast access to key editing features and speed up their workflow.
  • Image Flip and Rotate* – Perfect for correcting photos with incorrect horizons or making creative compositions or other stylistic changes to an image.
  • IMPROVED:  New Structure Algorithm – The re-developed Structure tool allows you to adjust detail and clarity of an image to get a classic HDR effect with great detail or a smoother effect with less details.
  • IMPROVED: RAW handling – An improved RAW conversion brings out more details in shadows/highlights, displays colors more accurately and reduces noise in RAW files.
  • IMPROVED: Crop tool update – Now specify custom crop sizes for even more versatility.
  • IMPROVED: Speed – Faster merging and masking performance, improvement in RAW image processing.

*Lens correction and transform tools, as well as image flip and rotate will be available in the Mac version at launch, and arrive in the PC version with the first free update in the beginning of October. Other tools and features that are currently available for Mac only would be added to PC version by the end of the year.

Aurora HDR 2018 - No photo editing software is perfect. This is what we didn't like.

Aurora HDR 2018 is a solid performer, overall, and I don't usually like to lead with the negatives, but because I was also a user of Aurora HDR 2017 Pro, I zeroed right in on a few key areas.

No photo editing software is perfect. The updates found in Aurora HDR  2018 are helpful, but a few aspects could still be improved.

Aurora Performance Is Still a Bit Sluggish

Aurora HDR 2018 boasts performance improvements over HDR 2017, and we do see some speed improvements. We did an unscientific test where we loaded the same image, under the same circumstances (same computer, same connection, etc) and we timed the difference in performance.

As you can see, start-to-finish loading and processing was a bit faster with the 2018 version of Aurora HDR. However, I wouldn't necessarily call it "fast" just yet.

Aurora HDR 2017 Pro Took 1m 01 sec to load and process a DNG source file.
Aurora HDR 2018 Took 51 sec to load and process the same DNG source file.

To provide a bit more context, here are specs from the machine I'm using (Aurora HDR 2018 Mac version):

  • MacBook Pro 13 inch, late 2013
  • Intel Core i5 processor at 2.4 Ghz
  • 8GB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM
  • Intel Iris 1536 MB Video
  • 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 also be contributing to the slowness a bit. The network performance may not be able to keep up in my case.

However, I think the direct comparison of loading and processing an image in both Aurora HDR 2017 Pro and HDR 2018 shows the "pure" performance updates included in the latest version of Aurora.

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.

Aurora HDR 2018 - Now Available on Windows

It has finally arrived! The long-anticipated release of an Aurora HDR product that's compatible with Windows is finally here.

Additional tools and features will be added to PC version throughout the year as free updates to Aurora HDR.

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Powerful HDR photo editing is no longer exclusive to Mac computers.

Aurora HDR 2018 Mac Technical Requirements

Apple Mac devices

  • MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, iMac Pro, Mac Pro, Mac mini

Processor

  • Intel 64-bit Core 2 Duo or better

Memory

  • 4 Gb RAM or more

OS X

  • Sierra 10.12.6, El Capitan 10.11.5, Yosemite 10.10.5

Hard disk

  • 2 Gb free space, SSD for best performance

Display

  • 1280 x 768 size or better

Aurora HDR 2018 Windows Technical Requirements

Windows-based hardware

  • PC with mouse or similar input device
  • Direct X 10 compatible Graphics Cards of better

Processor

  • Intel Core i3 or better

Memory

  • 4 Gb RAM or more

OS

  • Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows 10

Hard disk

  • 2 Gb free space, SSD for best performance

Display

  • 1280 x 768 size or better

Aurora HDR 2018 - The features you'd expect from a top-notch photo editor.

Aurora HDR 2018 is packed with a lot of powerful image editing features. I'd strongly recommend downloading Aurora HDR (af) and trying it out free for 15 days. That's my personal favorite way to know if a photo editor is right for me.

  • 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)

Demonstrating Aurora HDR 2018 Filters in Action

Aurora HDR 2018 - Simple controls and intuitive layout make it very easy to use.

Hands down, the ease of use of the Aurora 2018 platform is the best part of using this program to edit HDR photos.

The controls are intelligently arranged in the interface, icons are intuitive (and when they're not, they have provide hints).

Check out the side-by-side comparison of Aurora HDR Pro 2017 and Aurora HDR 2018. You can see a few subtle differences between the two interfaces in these screen shots, but nothing too major.

If you're already running Aurora HDR Pro on a Mac, I'm not sure it's worth the cost of the upgrade.

However, if you're using a competitor tool or you're a Windows user, you really should consider checking this version of Aurora HDR out!

The Aurora HDR 2018 interface is very intuitive, clean and is simple to use, even for non-professional photographers.

Comparing UI: Aurora HDR Pro vs Aurora HDR 2018

Aurora HDR 2017 Aurora HDR 2018

Aurora HDR 2018 Software FAQ

A: Yes! Aurora HDR 2018 is the first release of the HDR photo editing software that is compatible with both Mac and Windows.

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 2018 - Before and After Gallery

Below is a gallery of the very first images we've edited using the new 2018 version. Each image includes a "before and after" side-by-side comparison you can see right in the editor. There's also the full hi-res edited version as well.

Click any image below to view a larger version.

What do you think? Have you tried Aurora HDR 2018? Leave a comment below!

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