What’s New in Macphun’s Aurora HDR 2018?

by | Sep 12, 2017

Aurora HDR 2018 – Everything You Need to Know

Not very long ago I wrote a full review on Aurora HDR and now, a new version has just been released. A company called Macphun is the creator behind the program and released the first version of Aurora HDR back in 2015. Since then, Macphun has been constantly updating, tweaking, and refreshing things in the software. It’s cool to see a company taking the time and effort to listen to customer feedback and put it back into the software to keep making it better and better.

Before you go any further, make sure that you check out my full review of Aurora HDR here, because even though this is a new version, everything in the review still remains accurate and true. Then, below I will go through everything that is new in Aurora HDR 2018.

Also, while you’re at it, Macphun is also behind a new-ish program called Luminar. If you haven’t heard of it before or are curious to learn a bit more, make sure to check out my full review of Luminar here.

Without further ado, let’s crack into what’s new with Aurora 2018 and find out if it’s worth upgrading.

I also just want to quickly say that some of the links on this page may be affiliate links. This means that if you go through one of these links to make a purchase, I would get a small commission from it, but this doesn’t cost you anything extra. I also only review products and resources that I use and trust. I recommend them because I hope that they can be helpful or useful to you, not because of the small commission.

Quick Video Tour of the New Aurora HDR 2018:

Here’s a quick video I made to show you around the new interface and give you a preview of what’s changed for 2018.


What’s New in Aurora HDR 2018?

First things first, Aurora HDR 2018 will be released on September 28th, but is available for pre-order starting today, September 12th. As for pricing, here are the deets:

  • Current users of Aurora HDR can upgrade to 2018 for $59 ($49 if you pre-order)
  • New users can get Aurora HDR 2018 for $99 ($89 if you pre-order)


1. Aurora HDR is Finally Available for Windows:

For the longest time, Aurora HDR was only available for Mac users. I guess this made sense being made by a company called Macphun. Now after 3 years since its first release, Windows users can get in on the party.

This has never mattered much to me because I use a Mac anyways, but someone out there must be excited about this.


2. New Dodge and Burn Filter:

Aurora HDR 2018 New Dodge and Burn

The new dodge and burn tool in Aurora HDR 2018 is really useful. It’s simple, and basically just lets you lighten or darken areas by brushing/painting. This is something that I always like to do to photos and now that there is a specific tool it saves a few steps and makes things a bit easier.

Aurora HDR Dodge and Burn Tool

The way it works is that you choose the amount of lightening or darkening that you want to apply. Then you click the button that says “Start Painting.” Along the top, you can then choose if you want to lighten or darken or erase. You can also choose the size of the brush. That’s it and it doesn’t get much easier.


3. New Lens Corrections and Transform Tools:

Lens Correction Panel in Aurora HDR 2018

There are two extra features in Aurora 2018 called Lens Corrections and Transform. The Lens Correction sliders help you manually correct things in your photo like distortion, vignetting, and chromatic aberrations.

The Transform tool on the other hand lets you do things like rotate the photo around the x or y axis, offset it, change the aspect ratio, and stretch or move it in different directions.

Transform Panel in Aurora HDR 2018

Neither tools are immediately useful in all photos, but they are handy to have and come in use from time to time either for creative purposes or to try to correct something in the photo that looks funky out of the camera.


4. New Interface and Layout:

New Layout and Interface in Aurora 2018

Things have moved around, some of the icons have changed slightly, the text is a bit crisper, and the sliders look different. None of this makes Aurora HDR 2018 any more functional or better to use than earlier versions, but I do think the changes that Macphun has made are improvements.

Some of the things that have moved and the icons that have changed actually make things a bit more intuitive, but other than that it’s a fresh look more than anything.

History Panel in New Version of Aurora HDR

While we’re talking about the interface, I’ll also mention that the new version of Aurora HDR has a history panel included. This is standard in other photo editing software like Lightroom and Photoshop so it’s nice to see here. It’s one of those things that you don’t really notice until you need it, but when you do need it it’s nice to be able to go back a couple of steps or review what you’ve done so far.


5. Smoother Performance and Less Glitchy:

One of my complaints about the previous versions of Aurora HDR is that they were a bit glitchy, awkward, and slow to use. My biggest complaint was that when you would move a slider, the photo would become blurry as you were making changes. This made it really tough to make fine changes and small incremental adjustments because it was really distracting when the photo wasn’t crisp as you were trying to get things dialed in. 

The good news is that this seems to be completely fixed in Aurora HDR 2018. Everything is a bit more smooth to operate and you don’t have the blurry image problem that happened before. There is still some loading and processing that happens when you are doing things like cropping, loading or exporting an image, or zooming in or out, but this is expected and easy to deal with.

I’d have to say that this is probably the biggest improvement that I’ve noticed in Aurora HDR 2018 and is a good reason to upgrade to the newer version by itself. Most of the other changes are either cosmetic or small enough features that they are nice to have but not really critical.


6. Other Fancy Pants Stuff:

There are a bunch of other improvements tucked into the new version of Aurora HDR such as better tone mapping, updated algorithms for some of the sliders, improved RAW handling, faster merging and masking, and improved RAW image processing. I didn’t really notice each of these individual changes or any of the specific details, but I would say they all add up to a better overall feel of the program. All of this may contribute to the smoother performance that I mentioned in point #5, so I’m definitely not discounting it, I just didn’t notice them individually.

I also didn’t specifically notice any differences in the image processing or tone mapping, but who knows, maybe there was less noise and better colour throughout the photos, but I can’t see a drastic difference.


What’s Still Missing from Aurora HDR 2018?

With every new update, there is always something that is inevitably missed unfortunately. I mention some of these in my full review of Aurora HDR as well, but I’ll mention them again here.

Aurora HDR 2018 still doesn’t have a spot removal or clone stamp tool to get rid of dust spots or unwanted dots and splotches in a photo. This is something that I think is really needed and you can always do it in other programs but it would be nice to be able to remove them in Aurora.

Another feature that I think would be awesome to see is the ability to merge panoramic photos in Aurora HDR. Because you’re usually putting bracketed photos into Aurora, it would be especially useful if you could merge bracketed panoramas. Some software can do this but they are generally panorama specific software such as PTGui. Still, we can always wish so I’m going to have to include this on my wishlist. 

The last thing that I wish was in Aurora HDR is an auto-mask feature on the brush tool. This is something from Lightroom that helps you be more accurate when you are painting or brushing by cleverly staying within certain lines in the photo. It works really well and once you get used to having it, it’s a bummer not to have it. So hopefully this is something that will be included in a future version of Aurora.


Is it Worth Buying or Upgrading to Aurora HDR 2018?

First things first, if you don’t have Aurora HDR at all, I think it’s a very strong “yes, you should buy it!” It’s really fun to use and is by far the best HDR software out there. But don’t just take my word on it, go and download your free trial of Aurora and see what you think of it.

The harder question to answer is if it’s worth upgrading to 2018 from earlier versions. To me, the relatively small cost of $49 or $59 is pretty minimal to stay current and up to date. There is definitely a fresh look to the program that is refreshing and there are enough small changes in the layout, functionality, and interface that it has an improved feel to it.

The biggest improvement that I’ve noticed that makes the upgrade especially worthwhile is the smoother performance and increased speed. This is immediately noticeable as the glitchy, clunky feel was my biggest complaint about previous versions. So this alone makes it worth upgrading to me.

On the other hand, if you’re totally happy with a previous version or Aurora HDR, there’s nothing groundbreaking or totally essential hidden within the 2018 version that makes it crucial to have.

So give it a shot, get your copy now, and let me know what you think. Hopefully I’ve answered some questions for you, but as always, send me an email or leave a comment below if you have anything to add or want to ask a question.

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