How Good Can a $9.99 HDR App Be?

I’m always on the look out for new software…. I also got to experience the joy of the Blue Light special as a child.  For those of you not in the know… those were random sales for a short time only that went unannounced… if you were at K-mart for those 15 minutes… you got the deal.

This… is a blue light special. HDR & FX Studio

This week only (at least that’s what the Mac App Store says) you can pick up HDR & FX Studio By Union Well Limited.  They boast that it’s 75% off.

I felt like gambling…. $10 I’ll give it a try (the app is only sold through the App store which doesn’t support demos or trials).


The app loads fast. I mean instant fast.

It merges fast.

And it has a ton of useful presets that give you results fast. If you just like to play around and experiment, this app is well designed for those who crave quick feedback as they play with their images.

The Merge

What’s a little confusing is how you load images in for a merge. Drag and drop doesn’t work…

  1. Choose File>Open or File > Open Folder and navigate to the image.
  2. Click OK to  add them to a waiting area (or queue) . Loading 6 raw files took around 3 seconds.
  3. Click the HDR tab.
  4. Choose Alignment and/or Ghost Reduction (to compensate for wind or slight movement)
  5. Click  the Start to Merge button
For a high-res HDR with 6 Shots and Ghost Reduction, it took about 25 seconds on a 2 year old laptop. Once merged, there are to HDR tone mapping modes modes to choose from.

Fine Edit

After merging, you graduate to the Fine Edit tab.  You have several choices here.

  • More than 15 parameters are organized into 7 categories
  • You get user interface feedback like Curves and a Histogram
  • Can adjust Color balance, color temperature and tint adjustment
  • Remove, lens distortion and reduce noise
  • All offer real-time feedback

My only complaint is that it was hard to make selective adjustments in the skies.  Obviously a tool like Nik’s HDR Efex Pro gives you greater control here (but it costs a lot more).


What will appeal to most users will be the several effect presets you can access. These are broken up into:

  • FX: This mode offers both color and texture overlays.  They are diverse but offer no controls
  • Vignettes: A nice collection of edges, again with no controls to modify.
  • Frames: From useful to cliché, you’ve got several to choose from (with surprise, no controls)

The Bottom Line

This is a good $10 spent that offers some fun methods to experiment and some good presets.  It does work well with raw files and can even output its own format to 32 and 16 bit files.

The UI is fun, but somewhat limiting once you leave the Fine Edit area. The whole application is very fast and appears to be GPU accelerated. I really like its black and white options and as a fun alternative to a more hardcore tool, it was enjoyable to use and made some pleasant as well as “out there” HDR conversions.

© Richard Harrington

Again, how it handles skies seems to be the only big issue…  I got a little more banding and texture in the skies than I like.  Not an issue with black and white or effects-like HDR, but may be for some of you.

© Richard Harrington

Is it worth $10…   absolutely…

Is it worth $40…. probably not.

Check it out on the Mac App Store. Here’s a detailed features list too.

The company also seems to be behind some more full featured tools that are cross platform – HDR Photo Pro and HDR Darkroom.  These products do have demo versions to try,

About Richard Harrington

Richard Harrington is the founder of RHED Pixel, a visual communications company based in Washington, D.C. He is the Publisher of Photofocus as well as an author on Rich has authored several books including From Still to Motion, Understanding Photoshop, Professional Web Video, and Creating DSLR Video.

Posted on October 12, 2011, in HDR, Review and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on How Good Can a $9.99 HDR App Be?.

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