That said, up to now Photomatix has been my first choice but these results may change that.
The goal here was to produce the image that I liked best in all three programs. I did not look at the other images while working in any program, with the exception that I knew I really wanted colourful skies when I got to the third one (P'matix). And I was not trying to MATCH the images.
was to select all 5 source images (bracketed burst, 1 stop apart, RAW. I open them in the HDR program, then look through the thumbnail presets for the one closest to what I want, then I modify it with sliders until I had done the best I could. I then saved the files and exported them to CS5 for further tweaking.
Once open in CS5 I created a new layer and ran a hi-pass filter. I adjusted the image with curves, then I ran DFine 2.0, sky preset which I masked back in. Next I ran Viveza 2 to increase the saturation in the sky (except the CS5 one where I had to REDUCE the saturation overall).
Back to Lightroom where I tweaked a little and synced the cropping and metadata. I then exported each one as a 720 px-wide jpg for posting here.
Here are the images:
1. Processed in Photoshop CS5 HDR Pro
2. Processed with Nik HDR Efex Pro
3. Processed with Photomatix HDR Pro 4
Now remember, I was not trying to MATCH the images, just to do the best I could with a pleasant image.
1. On first look, CS5 HDR Pro produced a very pleasing image with lots of detail and saturation, with the least amount of effort and fiddling. But the saturation came in way too high and there's very visible chromatic aberration.
2. Nik HDR Efex Pro gave me a really clean image but there was almost no colour in the clouds until i ran Viveza. Again there was some evidence of chromatic aberration but I thought the image was much smoother overall. This program gave me much more range doing details than the other two. I should take out a little colour bias from this image but didn't notice until I was posting this.
3. I maxed out almost all the controls in Photomatix and still couldn't get the kind of detail and sharpness I liked and again, there was no colour in the clouds. A small hue/saturation adjustment in Photoshop gave me all the colour I wanted but really bad artifacting so I backed it out. Microsmoothing helped a lot with the noise in the sky. There was NO evidence of chromatic aberration even when I viewed the image at 200%. I ended up with lots of Halo around the trees, though.
Until I actually looked at all 3 images together, I didn't know which one I preferred. I'm not going to tell you, though, because that's subjective (well this whole thing is subjective!) and you may have a different preference. CS5 was the easiest one to use. Nik had the broadest range and lots of room left to play. Photomatix was maxed out but gave the cleanest result.
I know this is a silly comparison, using just one image and subjective rather than objective adjustments and inconsistent treatment. So please file it under "For What it's Worth".