Mandelbulber is a fractal program with a difference. It moves beyond the usual abstract 2D images to produce amazing 3D fractals, with complex shading, ray-tracing, full lighting control, high resolution support (you can create images larger than 16,000 x 16,000 pixels), even the ability to create custom animations where the camera flies around and into your chosen view.

All this configurability does make for a complex interface, with more than 200 settings and controls spread across multiple tabs. But don't let that put you off: most of the options can be ignored, at least initially, and you can create some great images with very little effort.

Just clicking "Render" gets the process started, with Mandelbulber using its default settings to produce your first fractal. Click the View tab and you're able to manipulate this in 3D space: the left-hand buttons rotate the fractal; the right-hand buttons move your viewpoint; "Forward" zooms in; "Back" zooms out, and "Reset view" returns to the starting point.

Click the "Fractal" tab and choose a new "Fractal formula type" to produce different images. "Polynomic power 2", "FoldingIntPower2", "Smooth Mandelbox" and "Tglad's formula" are great places to start, while "Generalized Mandelbox Fold" manages to create Borg cube-type designs entirely mathematically. (Changing fractal type doesn't alter your view settings, so if you don't see the new fractal after it's been generated, click View > Reset view.)

As you zoom into these images, so you might want them to become more detailed. Click the Engine tab and try increasing the "Detail level" and "Max iterations".

The "Image" tab is useful, too. Here you can increase the image resolution, tweak brightness and contrast, as well as save your fractal as a JPG or PNG for sharing with others later.

And finally, if you're working on a really interesting fractal but have run out of time, click "Save Settings" to save the current Mandelbulber configuration, and "Load Settings" next time to restore it.

v2.08
- Materials: Added editor for materials as a separate dock
- Materials: Added real-time preview for edited material
- Materials: Added Material Manager dock which can be used to select, add, remove, load and save materials
- Materials: Added selection widgets for materials (with preview)
- Materials: Added possibility to assign selected materials to fractals and primitives. In boolean mode each fractal can use different material
- Materials: Added loading and saving materials to separate .fract file
- Shaders: SSAO and raytraced reflections are enabled by default
- Shaders: Converted existing shaders to use material data
- Shaders: Added bicubic interpolation for textures
- Shaders: Added mipmapping for textures
- Shaders: Added texture mapping algorithms: planar, spherical, cylindrical, cubic
- Shaders: Added support for color, luminosity, diffuse, normal map, bump map, displacement map textures
- Shaders: Corrected calculation of opacity for transparency effect
- Shaders: Added "flat" mapping for background picture
- Shaders: Corrected orientation of textures for background and environment mapping
- Shaders: Fixed bug in FastAmbientOcclusion. Sometimes it generated white points.
- Shaders: Calculating of normal vector converted from 4 point version to 6 point version which is more symmetrical and accurate. Rendering speed change is mostly not visible.
- Volume export: added tool (Export Volume Layers) to export fractal shape as images with slices (e.g. to use for 3D printing)
- SSAO: Much improved quality of Random SSAO effect
- DOF: Corrected equations for blur opacity
- DOF: Added multi-pass rendering of second phase
- DOF: Corrected randomizing algorithm (eliminated stepping)
- DOF: Added adjustment for blur opacity
- Added new fractal formulas:
  * Msltoe Toroidal Bulb
  * Riemann Bulb Msltoe Mod2
  * Transform - Surf Fold Multi
  * AboxModKaliEiffie
  * Imaginary scator Power 2
  * Collatz fractal
  * Menger Pwr2 Polynomial
  * Transform - Power2 Polynomial
  * Mandelbox Menger
  * Mandelbulb_Bermarte
  * Mandelbulb_Kali
  * Mandelbulb_Kali_Multi
  * Transform - Rotation Folding Plane
  * Transform - Quaternion Fold
  * Transform - Menger Fold
  * Menger Middle Mod
  * Msltoe Toroidal Multi
  * Amazing_Surf_Multi
  * Mandelbox Menger
- Fractals: Added checkbox on each formula tab to disable selected formulas in hybrid or boolean mode
- Fractals: Corrected incompatibility for IFS formula with older settings files.
- Fractals: Added detection of Not-A-Number results to avoid computation hanging
- Fractals: Changed 'get Julia constant' behavior. When Julia constant is set, the Julia mode is automatically enabled and image renders.
- Fractals: After selecting Julia constant, mouse click mode is changed back to "move the camera" mode.
- Image: Added possibility to save an image as surface normals
- NetRender: client-server are compatible until major version is the same (e.g. 2.08 will be compatible with 2.08-1)
- NetRender: now there is possible to connect client during rendering of image
- NetRender: Updated NetRender to send all textures through the network.
- NetRender: Fixed bug: - crash - when client version was wrong it cleared message buffer after client was deleted (with message buffer)
- UI: Added auto-refresh function. There is new checkbox just below RENDER button. This function should be good for experimenting with different fractal parameters, because image will re-rendered automatically when any parameter will be changed.
- UI: Added image quality presets
- UI: in preferences dialog now there are two tabs: general, image
- UI: preferences dialog and animation player now opens only once (bring to front, when already opened)
- UI: added option to load thumbnail cache from server (mandelbulber.org) which speeds up displaying previews for examples
- UI: added generate thumbnails option to render thumbnails for all example files
- UI: improved UI elements for selecting textures
- UI: in edit field's context menu there are added options: "remove from keyframe animation" and "remove from flight animation". Added icons.
- CLI: added voxel export as CLI option
- CLI: added test option
- CLI: fixed bug: Progress bar was not showed in CLI mode.
- Animation: the player gets new images from current animation render, as they get saved to the animation folder
- Animation: notification for keyframe/flight folder does not exist
- Animation: Fixed problem with not updated interpolation of keyframes after change of parameters. There was missing clearing of interpolator cache.
- Settings: Added error handling for missing value for any parameter in settings file.
- Settings: Updated conversion of old settings (v1.21) to be compatible with new materials
- Settings: Added conversion of settings older than 2.08 to be compatible with new materials.
- OSX: Changed shared Dir for OSX
- Performance: optimized access to light sources data
- Performance: extendedAux now is not an array. It makes rendering of hybrid fractals faster
- Performance: Added logging verbosity level parameter for WriteLog. This will reduce memory usage caused by log.
- Performance: Changed refreshing if progress bar to be only when image is updated. This speeds up rendering when main loop is processed by every 10ms.
- Performance: Added protection against using of partially allocated image (now is more thread safe)
- Examples: Added animation: hybrid 02 - rectangle hieroglyphs animation.fract
- Examples: Added example materials
- Examples: Added example textures
- Compilation: added CMakeLists.txt to build the project with cmake
- Compilation: source code cleanup to eliminate cmake, clang and gcc  warnings
- Compilation: cleaned up structure of includes
- Compilation: program prepared for compilation with MSVC
- Compilation: switched to Qt 5.6.1

Verdict

Mandelbulber is a hugely powerful fractal generator with an astonishing number of features, yet recent updates mean it's now also very accessible for beginners.