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Oloneo PhotoEngine Review

We put the beta release of Oloneo's HDR PhotoEngine to test

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OloneoOloneo's Photo Engine is a new image processing software that offers controls to perform HDR and Noise reduction, as well as being able to control lighting and exposure.

Oloneo are inviting photographers to download this beta release and trial before it reaches final  production stage. This means you can download and use the software for free, but there may be bugs. The question is - is PhotoEngine really as good as they say and, although free, would you want to waste time debugging or is it ready to impress? Peter Bargh decides to become a guinea pig.

System Specifications

Oloneo PhotoEngine: Download and Instalation
You can download the Beta software from Oloneo's website
At the time of testing it's still in its infancy, launched the day before we got our hands on it, and the website is sparse for help.

There are several instructional videos that are more like advertising videos for each feature, but they do give you the basics and are just a few minutes long. There's a forum too (on flickr) but it's only just started so it's still quiet and you may not get answers there. There's also a comment form where you can post bugs and questions, I suspect the team will be small and will be inundated over the coming months so you may not get a reply. Basically you're on your own, but thankfully the software is fairly self explanatory.

Browse window of Oloneo PhotoEngine

Oloneo PhotoEngine: Features
When you launch the program you have a central browsing window. This lets you select pics from your hard disk or connected external drive and view them as thumbnails. The size of thumbs can be adjusted using a slider. The program can view RAW files and supports over 300 cameras.

You then select the picture/s you want to use and add them to the right hand project window where they appear with details of the shutter speed and aperture, ISO setting and relative stops. The beta (1.0.300.98) had a flaw that stated my under exposed shot was +1.62 and the over exposed was -1.70. I pointed out to support that these figures were the wrong way round and they agreed, I assume it will be corrected in a future release. 

Once photos are added you have a choice of options to merge them as HDR image (HDR ToneMap), merge with noise reduction (HDR DeNoise), merge as an adjustable light source image (HDR ReLight) or simply process the  RAW file. 

HDR Tone Mapping with Oloneo PhotoEngine

HDR ToneMap, as the name suggests, is a HDR and Tone Mapping option all in one. You select a range of single frame exposures that you've taken and then blend them with this mode. The set of shots need to have been taken with a fixed aperture so the shutter speed needs to be the exposure variant. There's an Auto Align option for times when you haven't used a tripod and the frames are not identical.

Once combined  a  set of image adjustment options appear on the right. The High Dynamic Tone Mapping palette has options to adjust the Tone Map and Detail strengths, as well as exposure and contrast.

The next palette is Low Dynamic tone which can be used to convert a photo to black and white. With sliders for exposure, brightness, contrast and saturation. And just below that is the colour temperature wheel. Here you can use standard sliders for temperature and tint that you find on programs like Lightroom, as well as a fancy colour wheel slider. There's also an eyedropper tool at the top of the image that can be used to sample a neutral pixel range from the image and adjust the white balance to suite. Hit a neutral area and the white balance will be automatically corrected.

The next palette is Photographic Print Toning which lets you adjust highlight and shadow colours, like the split toning feature of some programs. This would be used if you want to create lith or cross processing style effects.

Below this are advanced  graphs to adjust brightness, like you would with Photoshop's Curves, but also individual graphs for saturation and hue, giving lots of flexibility once you have combined your HDR image.

The above adjustments can also be used to successfully process a RAW file, apart from one critical option which appears to have been missed and that's sharpening. And that is a serious omission.

HDR ReLight is a new feature where you shoot a scene that has multiple light sources and turn just one different light on for each exposure. When combined the program automatically detects the individual lights and provides an individual adjustment for each light. It's like adding a dimmer switch for each light source.
PhotoEngine Relight

HDR DeNoise combines several identical shots taken at high ISO. As noise is randomly placed the software can compute which pixels are noise and which are genuine and then adjusts the noise so it matches surround genuine pixels, thus making the image noise free. Well that's the simplified theory!

PhotoEngine DeNoise

Whatever you do is recorded on the left in the Time Machine palette. Any stage can be returned to and snapshots called Versions can be created and reverted to. You can even press play and see the work animated, although I'm not sure why you would want to!

If you select Save As from the menu you can create a Tiff or Jpeg and then open in your favourite image editing program. These images are downsized to 8-bit for Jpeg or 8-Bit and 16-bit as a TIFF. PhotoMatix offers a 16-bit conversion.

Once the image is combined it can be saved as a PhotoEngine.rcd file. The project then appears at the bottom of the browse window and can be recalled with ease to do further adjustments later.

Oloneo PhotoEngine: Performance
The initial stage of any process is browsing and it's here where we hit our first bug in the software. There's an option to browse down to individual images. I might, for example, want to just process a specific RAW file. When I navigate down to a single image and click open it selects and opens the whole folder. I assume that will be fixed soon.

Impressively, opening a whole folder takes just a few seconds to create thumbnails of the entire contents, even RAW files, so I wasn't overly concerned.

My first test was a HDR bracket and I decided to play a bit unfair and select a hand held shot that I knew wasn't a carefully matched, identical composition.

Olomeo are making a big thing about speed and they're right to do so. A three image HDR combination took just 13 seconds with PhotoEngine, whereas the same trio was 55 seconds with PhotoMatix. The downside is the memory used on PhotoEngine was 713,000k while Photomatix sucked up 440,000k. This is a problem for the beta as it tended to time out and come up with a “your image is corrupt” message which was not true. On other occasions it throw up an out of memory message, while sometimes it didn't say anything and just gave up without you knowing anything was wrong, apart from no merged image! Hopefully this issue will be resolved soon as it's very hit & miss to use, especially if you want to combine more than two images.

The program does a fair job, but you still don't want to be too far off with each frame. In my hand held test image I wasn't far out, but it's caused jittery edges. Having said that PhotoMatix can't do a better job, so it won't lose points because of this.

align feature in PhotoEngine
Left is PhotoDesign Unaligned, middle is PhotoDesign Aligned and right is PhotoMatix Aligned

The sliders in the High Dynamic Tone Mapping palette are easy to follow - dragging to the left reduces the strength and to the right increases it. To get a realistic effect keep left and for a more cartoon like affect drag to the right. A balance of all three can give very impressive results in a much easier way than PhotoMatix. For those who really can't get to grips with multi control sliders you can select Auto Tone Mapper from the drop down and just one scale then needs to be adjusted which combines all the sliders giving one dynamic control. This works really well, and what's also impressive is the immediate speed in which the effect takes place on the main image.

Cartoon like HDR using PhotoMatix overcooked HDR using Lightroom
Here's an example of turning up the HDR Tone Mapping to give the cartoon-like effect. This would normally result in halos in some programs. Left is PhotoEngine. The result is  good when viewed mall but when you inspect closely there's lots of artifacts and the edges do have halos in certain areas (check the right hand rock). The middle shot is a very impressive PhotoMatix HDR no halos and well toned. Right is the most cartoon like you can get using lightroom's recovery, fill light  and contrast to maximum effect which gives a tonemapped effect, but also bad halos and edge outlines.
PhotoEngine Noise in contrasty situations
With a tripod mounted set of exposures the program does a really good job most of the time producing excellent HDR images with minimal effort. In the example above the left shot is a mid point exposure where the right was too dark and the left too light.  The shot was adjusted in Photoshop to try and get the best exposure. The shadow areas are as far as they can go without making it go murky grey and the chrome highlights are blown, so cannot be pulled back any further.

The right hand shot was three shots processed using PhotoEngine. Notice the detail in the centre of the two dials at the front and in the focus knob on the right and on the leather front face. It doesn't look HDR'd in my eyes.

Using the lower palettes gives you access to the Print sliders where you can do split toning etc. I managed to get a darkroom style sepia tone while  also showing that if you use the sliders haphazardly you'll end up with a halo around stepped contrast areas.
toned image using PhotoEngine

Next up is HDR ReLight. Here your images need fixed subject matter, exposed with the same shutter speed and aperture combination, but with each of your shots (maximum of six) you activate one element of the image's total illumination and record that. Then, when combined, you can adjust the temperature, tint and colour of each source.

This is the first time I've used a feature like this, so I had to shoot a test image. I set up a room scene using two reading lamps, artificial fire, backlit candle and two overhead room lights. All but one source of illumination is turned off in succession and exposed.

PhotoEngine Relight

When merged the program recognised the individual sources and throws up six control panels on the right. You can then adjust the brightness of each light. This really works well and is loads of fun. I can imagine this feature will be a winner for interior photographers shooting fancy room sets with wall lights, ceiling lights, cove lights etc. The way you'd do it now is balance everything on set and shoot. Weeks later you may wish that you'd turned down one element. Equally it may not be possible to dim certain elements to get a more pleasing balance. Here you can, and with loads of flexibility.

The downside on my test image there seemed to be a bug in one of the sliders. As soon as you touch it it throws in a hard purple cast which can then only be removed by dragging the sliders totally to the left. 

PhotoEngine Relight bug

To test HDR DeNoise I used two test image sets taken with the camera at ISO3200. The first was a high contrast scene illuminated from the left so the right side is in shadow. I was hoping the program would magically combine my four shots and not only remove the noise but make the shadow area clear - a bit like it does in ReLight.
PhotoEngine Noise test
The result did show reduced noise, but while the overall noise pattern had been removed it left some very clearly defined random colour spots.

My second  image was a less taxing exposure. An evenly lit colourful still life of some Russian dolls (below). I would have no need to shoot this at ISO3200, but at least it shows what the software does.
noisy pixelsOnce again the noise was reduced beautifully, but disappointingly like the first shot I have a selection of defined pixel clumps scattered around the photo. I opened an image in Photoshop to make sure it wasn't hot pixels in the camera. I also did a six shot exposure of a black item two stops under exposed to ensure it recorded dark and blended that and no odd pixels showed. I then opened a single image in PhotoEngine and it also had the rogue pixels. I've let the support team know about that and will hopefully get a response to say what the cause is.
PhotoEngine Noise test Image opened in Photoshop
Above is a single shot at ISO3200 and opened using Photoshop. The same shot opened using PhotoEngine where it has introduced hot pixels.
PhotoEngine DeNoise processed
The hot pixels are not removed, even when a sequence of three images are combined using PhotoEngine's DeNoise feature. The overall noise, however, is reduced considerably.

Oloneo PhotoEngine: Verdict

When I first installed this program I got very excited - the look and feel of the program is better than PhotoMatix, the controls easier to follow and the speed much better. I then saw the first result of dragging the sliders and that added further to my excitement - the saying as happy as a pig in muck springs to mind. A really nice HDR developed in moments and better than versions I'd had from my HDR brackets using Photoshop's Merge to HDR or PhotoMatix.

But then the love at first sight bubble burst and the program started playing up with memory errors  and became hit and miss. I could do one HDR and then I had to close and reopen to free up memory. As I want on I realised it struggles with large RAW files. If I converted my dngs to jpgs it whistled through the process.

Then there's the issue of rogue pixels introduced in the noise test. certain shots displaying bad colour fringing, ReLight colour problems and, of course, the serious omission of no sharpening option. Also what about a Mac option?

Despite these problems I did really enjoy using PhotoEngine and will certainly be using this frequently in combination with Lightroom and Photoshop. I mark it Highly Recommended because it's free and works well on many images. If the above issue are fixed, and the full release is competitively priced this will be a clear winner. It has potential to be the V6 of HDR engines! 

Oloneo PhotoEngine: Pros
Very quick processing times
Good looking and intuitive interface
High quality realistic blends
Beta is free

Oloneo PhotoEngine: Cons
No sharpening
Still several bugs
Odd pixels introduced in ReNoise
Memory intensive
No Mac option


Oloneo PhotoEngine: Specifications
Price Currently Free as a Beta
Operating system Windows Mac OS
System Windows XP (Service pack 3) (32-bit or 64-bit) Windows Vista (32-bit or 64-bit)
Windows 7 (32-bit or 64-bit)
n/a release in pipeline
Processing CPU: 1.6 GHz Intel or AMD with SSE2, dual-core recommended n/a
Memory RAM: 1.5GB
Hard disk: 200MB of available space
Installation Download
Monitor 1024X720

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13 Aug 2010 6:41AM
It seems to be a good software but to test it completely needs some more time.

ZakBlack 13 105 14 England
15 Aug 2010 5:00PM
Thankfully there is no mac option ;}

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