There’s a new HDR iphone photo app called vividHDR. Its App Store description makes some pretty big claims, including accurate image alignment, ghost removal, and several HDR processing modes. It boasts images that are “stunning,” “natural,” and “accurate.”
Its developer has set very high expectations for the app, but vividHDR meets them for me and is the closest to true traditional High Dynamic Range photography that I have found on the iPhone. Keep reading for my full review.
Traditional HDR Photography
In traditional High Dynamic Range photography, multiple bracketed exposures are combined to increase the dynamic range of the photograph. The darker, underexposed image holds the highlights better while the brighter overexposed image increases shadow detail. The normally exposed middle image helps to preserve the color and overall tonal qualities of the photo. When all three exposures are combined in a program like Photoshop, the results are a much greater dynamic range and more vibrant colors than any of the single exposures alone could provide. See photographer Trey Ratcliff’s real website for excellent examples of true HDR photography. You’ll understand why so many of us were disappointed with his 100 Cameras in One app.
iPhone HDR Photography
While this process is similar to iPhone HDR apps, the end results are often vastly different. I normally don’t like iPhone HDR apps. I feel that most of the time they create an overprocessed color effect that’s more its own effect than something close to traditional High Dynamic Range photography. Colors are often distorted and unnatural. There’s often extreme halos and other artifacts throughout the image — you know the ones I’m talking about. Many iPhone HDR apps have image alignment problems that often cause ghosting. I was very pleasantly surpised to find that vividHDR doesn’t have these issues.
vividHDR for iPhone and iPad
This a very easy-to-use camera app. The viewfinder itself is very simple. There are just three controls — Help, HDR mode, and shutter release button. All other settings, tools, and controls fly in and out with a swipe of a finger.
Before you shoot, you can select from one of the four HDR shooting modes — Natural, Lively, Dramatic, or Custom. Each mode has a little more intensity. Custom HDR mode is what I recommend you use most of the time. Custom mode allows you to choose between the other three HDR modes with live previews after you capture your three exposures.
The settings menu is clean and basic. It includes toggles for a rule of thirds grid, auto preview, and Geotags. Geotag location data is turned off by default. To add this to your photographs, you’ll need to turn it on. A quick swipe and a tap will set you right up.
Although you can tap to lock focus anywhere on screen, I got pretty good results from the app’s automatic focus lock. There is no exposure or white balance locks.
vividHDR is fast for a non-Apple HDR camera. On an iPhone 5, it consistently took about 5 1/2 seconds for the app to lock focus, analyze the image, and capture three bracketed exposures. It took an additional two seconds to align, process, and combine the three images. All told about eight seconds shot-to-shot time. Very impressive times for an iPhone HDR app.
Photos are saved to the apps own lightbox where they can be viewed, shared or saved to your camera roll. Again, the interface is very flat, easy to figure out, and very clean. There are very few tools here. You can check some of the image’s EXIF data. Here, you can also do a quick comparison between the original exposure and your HDR processed exposure. Pretty cool!
The processed results of vividHDR are about the best I’ve seen in an iPhone HDR photo app. Colors are vibrant yet natural. Alignment is accurate. Images have none of the ghosting that plague nearly every other iPhone HDR photo app.
Natural processing adds color weight and brightness to the image. It brings out shadow detail and holds highlights while still maintaining bright, vibrant, natural looking colors.
Lively processing fills in even more shadows and really brightens up and saturates colors. Colors are bright and vibrant yet still hold a natural look. Skies look pretty incredible with Lively processing. The Lively processing mode in vividHDR is what I expect High Dynamic Range photography to look like.
Dramatic processing is just that. It’s the app cranked up to 11. Some colors took on an almost fluorescent look. I saw some visible color shift in the processed images that I didn’t like with Dramatic mode. My fireplace bricks are not that orange. Details sometimes looked a little oversharpened to me. With the amount of saturation and other color moves, it’s probably to be expected. Although I tend to like the surreal oversaturation of LOMO photo apps, for this use Dramatic mode is a little too bold for me and my least favorite of the three.
What amazed me about all three HDR modes was the sharpness of the images. Alignment is very precise. Unless there is actual movement in the frame, you’re not likely to notice any ghosting in the image. Also, even with Dramatic mode, the highest intensity HDR effect, there were no halos or other artifacts. Tonally, images were fairly smooth for iPhone photos. I saw less noise in all three levels of HDR than I did in my reference images shot with Apple Camera.
See my additional sample images below. All sample images in this post can be clicked and enlarged.
I noticed the app’s viewfinder has the slightly narrower aspect ratio that Apple’s iPhone 5 Camera does. That means that your actual photo will contain just a little more image on the long edges of the frame than you see in the viewfinder. Point off for this. An accurate viewfinder is very important for me in an app like this.
vividHDR is a camera-app only. Unlike some other HDR apps, it won’t import and combine previously shot images from your camera roll.
Other than the three presets, there’s no way to adjust how the three exposures are combined. The app does an outstanding job on its own and this isn’t really a problem for me. I could not find a way to access the three individual exposures. These might be important omissions for some and need to be pointed out. For me, though, these are definitely not a dealbreaker.
vividHDR saves at just under 8 MP on an iPhone 5 and 4S. There are some pixels trimmed around the edges for alignment. The app can save EXIF data, but this needs to be toggled on in the app’s settings.
vividHDR is in a class by itself when it comes to iPhone photo apps. It’s a true HDR app that creates stunning bright and vibrant color photos. In particular, I think the Natural and Lively modes are quite good. For iPhone, it’s the closest I’ve found to true traditional High Dynamic Range photography without the overprocessing and halos often associated with iPhone HDR.
I really like vividHDR. This is the bracketed exposure iPhone HDR app I’ve been waiting for.
vividhdr is $1.99 in the App Store. It’s a Universal app designed for both iPhone and iPad. Requirements: Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (4th generation), iPod touch (5th generation), iPad 2 Wi-Fi, iPad 2 Wi-Fi + 3G, iPad (3rd generation), iPad Wi-Fi + 4G, iPad (4th generation), iPad Wi-Fi + Cellular (4th generation), iPad mini and iPad mini Wi-Fi + Cellular. Requires iOS 6.0 or later. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.
More vividHDR Sample Images
Click to View Gallery
Right-click to view higher-res images
Updated 08.07.13: Added bit about importing from camera roll.