HDRtist HDR Photo

HDRtist Review: Free HDR Software for Macs

We get asked two questions a lot:

  • What is the best Mac HDR software?
  • What is the best free HDR software?

While obviously those are two questions that are going to have very different answers, there is one piece of software that we’ve been using which has really surprised me, HDRtist.

HDRtist is super minimalist free HDR software for Macs.  When I first installed it and started processing a few images I thought I was missing something.  You drag your images into the program and have a slider for strength.  That’s it.

The first time I fired it up I had to download some additional software for HDR alignment, but it wasn’t a big deal. After that, it’s as simple as drag, drop, slide, go.

I honestly don’t believe there is any other easier way to create an HDR photo composite than HDRtist. This is as simple as it gets.

HDRtist HDR Photo of Lower NYC

Notice the soft features, and dull colors

So now the question remains, how on earth can a piece of software that simple be any good? Well it all depends on your market, and what you’re trying to do with it.

There are a lot of people out there who consider their iPhone to be all they need to create amazing photographs.  This is the perfect software for that set of people.  The ones who don’t care about customization, they don’t care about the small details, they just want to make a more dramatic photo.

Photo Quality

If you have Photomatix or HDR Efex Pro, are you going to want this? Probably not.  It is extremely fast and easy, but the results certainly aren’t on the same level.

I found the images to be much softer and details to be much less pronounced.  I really missed the ability to adjust clipping, gamma and black/white balance, because there just wasn’t enough depth to get the desired effects straight out of the box.

That said, if you already have Photoshop and don’t want to deal with the finicky HDR Pro tools built in, this could potentially be a good option.  For straight out of the box HDR processing, it really isn’t bad.  You just need to have a tool that you can use to edit the details – and Photoshop is perfect for this.

HDRtist also gives you the option to edit the photos further in “funtastic photos”.  I clicked on it and was prompted download the free trial.  I don’t know about you, but anything labeld “funtastic photos” is enough to make me know that I’m not going to like what they have to offer.

HDRtist HDR photo of the Brooklyn Bridge

The colors are all over the place, but the detail in the bricks is pretty impressive.

However once again, this brings us back to the fact that this isn’t HDR software for diehard photographers.  This is for the iPhone set, or those that aren’t looking at every intricacy of a photo.  They just want something that looks cooler than their friends traditional photos.

I found the image alignment to be pretty hit and miss.  If you took a handheld shot, then you’re going to have a difficult time with HDRtist.  While the image alignment for the most part isn’t bad, it is definitely not on par with some of the premium pieces of software.


If you are looking for free HDR software for a Mac, I personally think this is the best thing out there.  While you essentially have no customization options, the final results I received were pretty good for free, and it doesn’t get any easier than this to process HDR.

It isn’t worth your time if you have any premium HDR software and are happy with it however.