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When looking around at HDR and Tone Mapping, and looking at the examples on the Photomatix homepage, I see examples that read:

Result after applying the Tone Mapping tool (Original RAW file converted into 16-bit image with exposure adjustment of -1)

So apparently one can create a "better" looking image with just the RAW file? (or maybe not)

Anyways - this made me wonder if there is a one-click-solution to get a "better" JPEG from the RAW file than what the camera produces itself? Or is raw only valuable when doing some manual post-processing, tweaking the right stuff?

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What software are you asking about? Photomatix specifically? Photoshop, Lightroom, other? –  dpollitt Aug 24 '11 at 15:16
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@dpollitt - I really don't mind the software. Would any answer be very software specific? Maybe possible answers would include the "best" software for "one-click". –  Martin Aug 24 '11 at 15:36
    
I guess it depends on what you mean by "better". There are a LOT of things that can make a photo better, and RAW will always give you more working room than JPEG. –  jrista Aug 25 '11 at 4:49
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3 Answers

Adobe Lightroom (and, I believe, Apple's Aperture) allows you to store develop presets as one-click actions, and even to apply them automatically on import. One of the settings in Lightroom is called 'recovery', which will pull back lost detail from highlights, effectively increasing the dynamic range of the original. You can get about 1/2 stop of extra detail using this method. Additionally, depending on the quality of the camera's sensor and its low light performance, you may be able to boost the 'fill light' which will bring out detail in the darker areas of the photograph, though this tends to introduce noise (though it should be said that Lightroom 3's noise reduction is excellent).

If you defined a preset to apply these two modifications to images on import, then you could export them to JPG directly, which may provide what you are looking for.

Obviously the term 'better' is subjective as Matt suggests, but from your question I am assuming you are looking to squeeze as much dynamic range as possible from a single RAW file.

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You could certainly create an action/script to take advantage of the extra dynamic range available in the raw, and tonemap that down to the dynamic range of a JPEG (all without manual intervention) to produce HDR-esque JPEGs. And if you regard that look as better, then the answer to your question is yes.

Incidentally features like Canon's Auto-Lighting Optimizer and Nikon's Adaptive D-Lighting do something like that in camera to give you slightly punchier JPEGs with more shadow detail in tricky conditions.

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The notion that HDR is a solution to getting "snap" is/was popular but because HDR has such a distinctive look, it's becoming less so. Here is an example of a single image (and pretty much one-click) HDR approach. You might love this kind of effect to pieces but, again, it can get repetitive over time. For the record, the software used was Adobe Lightroom to process RAW, slight exposure adjustment for the top image. Nik HDR Efex Pro for the bottom image -- Single image HDR, second variation, no tweaks.

Before:

enter image description here

After:

enter image description here

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Thanks for highlighting that "more dramatic" doesn't necessarily mean "better". (I was and am ware aware of this, that's why I but "better" in quotes in the question.) –  Martin Aug 25 '11 at 7:39
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