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(Credit: Inmortal Producciones)

Ever had an instance where you're shooting drone video and you thought, "I should have snapped a still from that scene!" I have this problem more often than I care to admit. Fortunately, I have a few options to grab a still beyond clicking the screenshot button in Windows. Better yet, there's an option to create actual HDR images from your video stills. Let's take a look at HDRInstant.

What is HDRInstant

HDRInstant is a cross-platform desktop application for Windows designed to grab still images from video footage. It uses its own algorithm to analyze the sharpest frames of your footage then stack neighboring frames to produce an image with high dynamic range (HDR).

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(Credit: Ant Pruitt)

Typical HDR production happens when a photographer takes three or more images in succession of a scene, but with bracketed exposure levels. For example, three shots are snapped. One image is overexposed, the second has balanced exposure, the third is underexposed. Photographers then use photo editing software to blend the three images together into one final shot which in turn creates a higher dynamic range in the image. The shadows are dark, but still allow you to see detail. The highlights are not blown out, but are just bright enough for more drama.

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HDRInstant is essentially following the same process, but uses video frames instead. In addition to this processing, the images can be output to a 16-bit or 32-bit rendering, which is much higher than the typical 8-bit structure seen with most photography shown online. This larger bit depth gives more flexibility when it comes to post-processing and the final image quality.

Getting started with HDRInstant

Three versions of this application -- Free, Light, and Pro -- are available as well as a plugin for users running Adobe Lightroom. The version pricing ranges from $25 to $99 for a license. Of course, each price bracket gives you specific features.

In my review, I found that the Pro version the way to go. Photographers may find the tools offered to be quite useful. The Free and Light versions seem to be a crapshoot where you hope the algorithm gets it right when it comes to creating the final image. At least with the Pro version, you can make tonal adjustments and fine-tune your final image.

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Pros

  • The app works. The app really crunches the numbers in trying to figure out the best frames in your video footage to be considered for an actual still image.
  • Ease of use really helps. Pick your frame, pick your neighboring frames, combine the frames, tone map, export. Done.
  • Exported images are rich with detail, color, and dynamic range. The quality is also improved. Notice the images below. The processed image is on the left. The original is on the right. Both images received the exact same tone mapping and post processing. The image on the left is definitely better in quality and clarity.
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(Credit: Ant Pruitt)

Cons

  • Speed. Rendering 16 or 32-bit images is a lot of work on a computer. I'm running an 8-core CPU, and the app still took several minutes to complete the image compilation.
  • GPUs not used. Installed graphics processing units are not utilized at all for the rendering.
  • Pricing seems a little steep for what is being offered. "Time is money" is the common phrase creative artists say. This takes quite a bit of time. Rendering from 4K/UHD video may take almost an hour to produce an HDR image with this software. This image wasn't finished rendering just yet and my CPU was definitely getting taxed.
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(Credit: Ant Pruitt)

Bottom line

The application would be OK if the pricing wasn't set to $100, in my opinion. The final images did look nice upon rendering. Unfortunately, I personally couldn't find value spending that much time and system resources on compiling an image that I would probably have to spend another five to ten minutes tone-mapping and processing.

GPU support isn't currently offered with HDRInstant, but the team advised that this is something on the project board to be considered for future versions of the software. Even though this software was pitched to me as an option for getting more out of your drone video, it works better with a larger images sensor such as those found on a DSLR or mirrorless camera. If you add great quality to this process, you'll get great quality on output.

What software are you using to pull stills from video? Tag me on Twitter with your thoughts. I've previously used the screen-capture option in Windows or the frame capture built into Adobe Premiere Pro. Granted, I don't get HDR images, but I do get nice quality images in less time with those methods.

Apps

  • Windows and MacOS. You can get HDRInstant for Windows and MacOS. You'll have to register your email address to get the download via its download page.
  • Mac. Note that MacOS compatibility is only via the Lightroom Plugin.
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(Credit: Ant Pruitt)

Competitive products

  • Adobe Premiere Pro. Using Premiere Pro or any other NLE video editing software, you can export individual frames as a still image. Sometimes this is just as useful and faster. Creating dynamic range wouldn't be easily possible, if at all possible. At any rate, you can still process still frames with your photo editor of choice.
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(Credit: Ant Pruitt)
  • Screenshot function from Windows or Mac. This clearly isn't the most elegant way to go about getting still images from your video, but it's doable. Depending upon the quality of still image needed, this can be useful for quick grabs.

Also see

Ant Pruitt is an IT Support Professional with a passion for showing the non-geek how great technology can be. He writes for a variety of tech publications and hosts his own podcast. Ant is also an avid photographer and weight lifter.