I've used VRay for rendering since the beginning. It was what we were taught to use in school and it was my renderer of choice when I started working freelance. Being such a popular render engine, I didn't even consider using anything else. I'd seen Corona, Octane and all of the other render engines, but I saw no reason to switch from VRay. That was until I discovered FStorm about two years ago. I joined the FStorm Facebook page and couldn't believe some of the renders that were being posted.
I did more research into it, then found out it was a new render engine, still in development and anyone could use it for free. I downloaded it immediately, excited to test it out, but unfortunately, my old PC wasn't able to run it due to an out of date CPU and I would have to wait almost a year before building a new PC and finally trying it. FStorm developed a lot in that time, getting faster but also adding important features available in other engines. I still couldn't believe some of the results that people were getting, specifically for ArchViz. I was especially surprised when they posted their render times, often only a few minutes. I was used to waiting an hour for a low quality render in VRay, even with a fast CPU.
When I finally got to use FStorm, it changed the way I worked and it changed the way I thought about rendering. I was getting the results I wanted straight from the renderer, no need for any post processing. Things like glare, depth of field and tone mapping were so simple, it felt like how a render engine should be. For me, I never enjoyed using VRay, it just felt like something I was stuck with and had to accept that it wasn't a simple thing to use. But with FStorm, it felt like I could just focus on the things that matter and not have to get caught up in render settings. I don't think that VRay or any other engines are bad, but I don't think they are as straight forward as they could be. There are things that VRay does well, there's a reason it is so popular, but for my workflow and the results I want, VRay never suited me.
With FStorm being a GPU renderer, speed is one of it's big features. Another benefit of GPU rendering, you can decrease render times simply by adding more GPU's. It's much easier to have 2 or even 8 GPU's in system than having 2 or more CPU's. I upgraded from a GTX 1060 to a 1080Ti recently and the decrease in render times has been great. The biggest thing for me was reducing the time needed for test renders. With VRay, I usually did a low resolution render in 30-60 minutes. I probably could have changed some settings and reduced that time slightly, but it was never going to be that fast without taking a big hit in quality and noise levels. However since switching to FStorm, I've been doing my test renders in often 10-20 minutes and the results are fantastic. No need for any post processing in Photoshop, I can use tone mapping inside of FStorm, save the image and send it to the client. This means that changes can be made so much faster and I can spend more time working, less time waiting.
One of the things I love most about FStorm is the quality of it's glare. The glare settings are not baked into the render, meaning it can be changed during or after the render. It produces very realistic glare which is great for light bulbs, windows and reflections. I think glare is extremely important when it comes to photo-realism and is often overlooked by artists. It's subtle, but it really helps the light look real when there is a small amount of glare, as would be present in a real photo. The glare settings in FStorm make it easy to change the size and contrast of the glare, perfect if you want a soft glow or a large lens flare.
Two examples of the glare in FStorm from a recent study I did.
Depth of Field
This was one of the things that drew me to FStorm when I first saw the renders. It has the best depth of field and bokeh of any render engine I have ever seen and to make things even better, it doesn't take a long time to render depth of field. One of the things that I never liked about VRay was it's depth of field. Although it has the ability to do it, it's very slow, to the point where I never used it. I never found using Z-Depth for depth of field in Photoshop to be an elegant solution, at least for me, I never enjoyed the results. But depth of field in FStorm is fast, beautiful and simple. With FStorm, you get immediate results, so you can see how the blur is going to look very quickly and change the focus just by clicking on any part of the render. For close up renders, depth of field is a must and as a result of using FStorm, I have done a lot more close up renders just to experiment with it.
A close up render from my first full project using FStorm. I really wanted to push the DOF in this.
With Fstorm's tone mapping, you have a lot of control over the render, meaning you can change everything, including exposure, after the render. The great thing about this is that you can never render at the wrong shutter speed, because it can be completely changed after the render is done. I've found this to be especially useful when you want to keep both the interior and exterior at the correct exposure without blowing out the windows or having a dark interior. So being able to change the exposure and then compositing the windows back in using Photoshop is very useful. FStorm also has burn value settings, so you can reduce hot spots and retain detail in the brighter parts of your image, much like a camera has dynamic range. Having the ability to change this after the render is good for when you want to have brighter areas of the image or if you want to pull back some detail from the highlights.
Of course FStorm also has the ability to change things like contrast, saturation and white balance, which can all be set in each camera individually or in the global settings. But my favourite part of the tone mapping settings is LUT's. A LUT can completely change an image, without the need to take it into Photoshop. FStorm comes with a long list of LUT's which are okay, but adding your own is the way to go. FStorm lets you set the strength of the LUT (something that I couldn't do when I was using VRay), which is extremely useful because one LUT doesn't always work well at full strength depending on the scene and the lighting.
The same render with and without a LUT. The first one is very flat without any LUT.
I don't dislike VRay, but I do like FStorm very much. It's not just about the speed of GPU rendering, it's the quality of the renders and the ease of use. Since switching to FStorm, I have found that I spend more time on the little details and the things that don't really matter, because I know I will be able to see the results almost instantly. Being able to make tiny adjustments to a material and seeing the results straight away is great, where as in VRay, I would have just ignored it. Although I do enjoy post processing in Photoshop, I prefer to do everything in the renderer. Of course this is possible in VRay too, but I never found that my images were how I wanted them to look until I spent time in Photoshop with render elements tweaking every little thing. FStorm also has so much room to grow. With such a great developer who is very active in the Facebook group, updates come out frequently and bugs are fixed straight away. You can tell he cares about his product and it shows.
I'm probably still going to use VRay for some projects, FStorm isn't perfect and doesn't work with everything yet. Although it does work with Forest Pack, it takes some work to get the materials switched over to FStorm and it can be a little tricky. It's one of the reasons I haven't done an exterior render in FStorm yet, even though I know it is possible to do so. I have started an exterior house project, but haven't had the time to get it finished. Hopefully I will be able to work on that in the near future.
Thank you for reading my first blog post, I hope to do more of these, maybe doing breakdowns of projects and posting my studies when I have more time to get back to doing them.