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The HDR race continues as TrueHDR gets updated

Mel Martin

We've been keeping a close eye on the race for the best HDR (high dynamic range) photo app for the iPhone. In my latest survey, I advised that progress would be fast as paid apps move to compete with the free Apple HDR software, and that's what's happened.

TrueHDR, a US$1.99 app, has been updated to add a fast Autocapture mode and a SemiAuto mode (where you can drag the exposure control points around to get the best picture).

I thought it was worth another quick look in order to see how the updated TrueHDR compares to Pro HDR ($1.99) and the built-in iPhone 4 camera (with and without the HDR processing).

Gallery: iPhone HDR apps comparison | 4 Photos

My results were similar to the last test, although TrueHDR takes the photos faster. Sadly, it still lags in processing, taking 48 seconds to deliver a finished image. Pro HDR takes 24 seconds, and Apple's built in HDR delivers an image in under 2 seconds. Both Pro HDR and TrueHDR allow you to do the processing later, so if time is an issue, just keep shooting and make your HDR photos after the fact. TrueHDR also has a quicker processing mode, but color saturation suffers.

To test the cameras, I found a scene that had bright sky and dark shadows. My results were not surprising, but they were interesting. Without any HDR, the image had a pretty blown out sky and deep shadows with loss of detail. Using the built-in Apple HDR, the skies improved, and there was some detail recovered in shadows. I consistently find the Apple HDR to be subtle but natural.

With Pro HDR in auto mode, the shadows were recovered nicely, but there were some areas of the exposure that seemed a bit too overexposed. I suspect that manually choosing the exposure points would have fixed that, but since the Apple HDR has no manual mode, I wanted to test all of the apps using the automatic option.

TrueHDR seemed to have the best overall balance of exposure. In that respect, the app seems improved from the last version I tested, which was overly contrasty.

For many people, the built-in Apple HDR will be just fine. It is very natural, and I've never found it to oversaturate. Pro HDR brings richer colors, and it's the only app that lets you adjust saturation, brightness, contrast, and color balance after you have taken the image but before you save it. That allows you to adjust your image to taste. If you think your image is oversaturated, you can tame it. TrueHDR has an improved shooting mode, but it is still very slow in processing and tone mapping the image. It's twice as slow as Pro HDR, and neither one is as instant as the built-in Apple HDR. Of course, Apple has an advantage because it has complete access to the hardware, which is something that it hasn't offered to third parties.

You can see the images in the gallery and make your own decisions, because liking or not liking an image is a matter of taste. My images aren't full-sized (to keep them loading fast).

It's worth noting that TrueHDR and Pro HDR run on 3G the 3GS and the iPhone 4, but the Apple HDR processing requires an iPhone 4. We're going to keep an eye on all of these apps and watch for anything new that pops up. With Apple in the game things are going to be very competitive, and the developers of the paid apps believe that they can bring stronger features and better images as they continue to upgrade.

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