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Home » HDR in Luminar Neo – Is HDR Merge Better than Aurora HDR?

HDR in Luminar Neo – Is HDR Merge Better than Aurora HDR?

hdr merge in Luminar Neo

HDR in Luminar Neo is a simple and effective way to merge multiple exposures to create a single high dynamic range image.

But unlike other Luminar Neo updates, the HDR Merge pack is an optional extra, costing US$49. And while HDR in Luminar Neo is as practical as Skylum Software’s Aurora HDR – it lacks its stablemates’ vast feature set and creative freedom. So, is HDR in Luminar Neo worth it? Jump to Conclusion

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Table of Contents

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

What is HDR in Luminar Neo

Luminar Neo’s HDR merge pack was released on the 28th of July as a paid extension for Luminar Neo. And like all other HDR products, HDR in Luminar Neo enables you to blend multiple exposures to create a single high dynamic range photo. If you want to know more about Luminar Neo – stop by my Luminar Neo Review.

What is HDR

HDR stands for high dynamic range. In photography, dynamic range – is a measure of the tonal distance between your photograph’s darkest and brightest tones.

But certain high-contrast scenes, such as a Sunrise, may require more dynamic range than your camera can record. As a result, you’ll have to choose between exposing the brightest parts of your image – at the expense of darker details or vice versa.

But with HDR, you take two (or more) photos. One which prioritizes exposure for the scene’s brightest elements and another that captures the darkest shadows. Then, you use an application such as HDR in Luminar Neo to merge both photos, creating a single high dynamic range photo that captures all. Read Do you really need HDR?

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Luminar HDR

Tonal Compression

However, HDR is no free lunch. While you can exploit HDR to capture 16 EV worth of dynamic range, it still has to fit into a 9EV JPEG file.

Tonal compression squeezes the tones to fit that 9EV space. And the more compression required, the more contrasty and unworldly your HDR image will appear. You may hate it. Or you might lean into it for effect. But in some cases, it is unavoidable.

How to install HDR in Luminar Neo

The HDR merge pack is a premium extension for Luminar Neo. To install, click on the orange puzzle icon next to the Luminar Neo logo.

Afterwhich, you will be presented with Luminar Neo’s extension page – including the HDR Merge pack. Click Install. Once finished – restart Luminar Neo.

How to use HDR in Luminar Neo

Using HDR in Luminar Neo is straightforward.

1. Select your photos

To begin, select each of the photos you wish to merge. This is done by clicking on each image while holding the Control key.

2. Drag your photo to the Merge window

Using your mouse, drag your selected images into the merge window.

3. Select Merge options

To access settings, click the Gear icon at the top-right corner of the Merge window. I recommend you tick the box for Auto Alignment if each of your photos were taken handheld. If you took your photos with a tripod (recommended), leave Auto Alignment unticked.

Ghost reduction is not necessary for static scenes such as landscapes. But if you have cars or people moving about, select Ghost Reduction and a Reference frame, and Luminar Neo will do its best to avoid motion blurring the moving subjects.

4. Click Merge

Merging can take some time, particularly if you work with large images and larger stacks. Once Luminar Neo has finished, you’ll be presented with the finished HDR image. At this point, you’ll be able to edit your HDR image like any other photo.

Is HDR in Luminar Neo any good?

HDR in Luminar Neo produces excellent results. The tonal compression is well handled, and the images look natural. Furthermore, Luminar Neo does a great job of aligning the image stack. Much better than some other applications I have used.

I’ve yet to stress the Ghost Reduction tool, but my first impressions are positive.

HDR in Luminar Neo Samples

The following samples compare Luminar Neo’s HDR with a standard balanced exposure.

Standard 5-stack test

This HDR photo is derived from a stack of 5 raw images. All photos were taken handheld and automatically aligned by Luminar Neo HDR. As you can see, the result appears entirely natural and well aligned.

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Luminar HDR

Extreme contrast test

This sample is another 5-photo stack of a high-contrast scene. Due to the extreme dynamic range – the intense tonal compression makes the photo a little painting-like. Nevertheless, the result is comparable with other HDR applications and succeeds in restoring both the shadows and the cloudy sky.

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Luminar HDR

Single photo test

You can use HDR in Luminar Neo to process a single photo. In practical terms, this serves as an alternative to manually lifting shadows and dropping highlights. Overall, it works well. However, the HDR aesthetic is clear to see – I kind of like it.

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Luminar HDR

What’s HDR in Luminar Neo missing

HDR in Luminar Neo produces natural-looking and well-aligned HDR images straight out of the box. However, if you are a die-hard HDR fan – you might resent Luminar Neo’s HDR simplicity.

You may get a similar result in editing the merged photo using Luminar Neo’s standard tools. But if you want complete hands-on control of the HDR process, there are better options. For instance, there are no HDR-centric presets or adjustments for Tonal compression.

Alternatives to HDR in Luminar Neo

Affinity Photo is excellent. I also like ON1’s HDR bundle, which is included in ON1 Photo Raw. But ironically, my favorite HDR application is Skylum Software’s Aurora HDR.

ON1 HDR in ON1 Photo Raw 2022.5

Luminar HDR vs Aurora HDR

HDR in Luminar Neo appears to be as good as Aurora HDR in producing well-aligned natural-looking HDR images. This is hardly surprising since Skylum Software created both Luminar Neo and Aurora HDR.

Going full-on HDR with Aurora HDR

However, Aurora HDR is a full-blooded HDR application with adjustments such as HDR Clarity, Smart Structure, and HDR Denoising. Furthermore, Aurora is packed with HDR-centric presets, which work well on single photos and image stacks. As a result, Aurora HDR offers more creative freedom than Luminar Neo HDR.

Sadly, Aurora HDR is more expensive and is to be discontinued. However, Aurora HDR has featured in recent sales, and I bought my copy for less than $30.

Overall, if you’re looking for a quick and easy route to attractive HDR images – HDR in Luminar Neo is everything you need. But if you want stacks of manual adjustment and the means to push your HDR images to their extreme, Aurora HDR is the better choice. Click here to try Aurora HDR for free.

Conclusion

HDR in Luminar Neo is relatively affordable and easy to use. More importantly, it produces attractive, natural-looking HDR images.

Too Simple?

However, Luminar Neo’s HDR lacks the vast array of manual adjustments on other HDR applications, such as Skylum’s own Aurora HDR.

Whether this matters to you depends on your needs. If you seek the quickest, easiest route to an attractive HDR image, I strongly recommend you check out Luminar Neo’s HDR Merge pack.

On the other hand, you might find Neo’s lack of HDR adjustments restricts your creative freedom. In which case, I recommend you pick up a copy of Aurora HDR while you can.

Is HDR in Luminar Neo worth it?

Yes. Although Luminar Neo’s HDR merge pack lacks the creative freedom offered by other products such as Aurora HDR, it does the essentials very well. Its image alignment is excellent, and it handles moving subjects very well. But most importantly, it’s easy to use and produces natural and attractive-looking HDR images.

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