Just to add a little bit about the HDR hating.
It's often times not possible to expose an entire image properly with a single image. Look at this photo for for example. The car is exposed properly but the wheels/tires are horribly under exposed. Had the wheels been exposed properly, the car would have been blown out to kingdom come. The only way around it is to set up some strobes on the wheels, or do an HDR. An HDR would be quite a bit easier to do since you wouldn't need to setup lights. Furthermore, just because it's an HDR doesn't mean that it needs to be way over rendered. If done concervitivly, you can make a good HDR image without being able to tell it's obviously an HDR.