Before the current love of retro, the previous fad in photography was the HDR and subsequently, the tone-mapped image. The high dynamic range image was laudable in concept, capturing an otherwise contrast impossible range. The tone-mapping follow up can be applied to combined HDR images or to single images and that’s the case with Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro 2. See Group test: what's the best photo-editing software?
As the name might suggest, this shares a similar interface to Nik’s marvellous Efex 4. That means recipe presets on the left, previews in the middle and parameters on the right. One of the preview options is to have a before and after split down the middle or run before and after images next to each other. Alas, this is not the original image and the tone-mapped version because the filter – Photoshop, Aperture and Lightroom compatible – automatically renders a balanced image as the start. Anything you then come up with is compared to that, which is a little strange. Take a look at Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 too.
There are numerous presets to generate lots of varied results, ranging from dramatic and effective to stupid and cartoon-like. The parameters can be used to tweak all aspects of the process so just one preset can be used in many different ways. If you come up with something that works particularly well it can also be saved as your own preset. See also Ashampoo ImageFX review.