yah I feel where you're coming from. It seems like that grainyness would be distracting.
Anyways, regarding the vanilla vs tweaked hdr/ssao, I've got screenshots in this thread.
The first one with my pics is vanilla compard to some other guy's natural mod (not the pydon one.. some other guy on the crytek forums) it was too dark and too much hdr. I tweaked it a little and posted more pics of the lightened ssao and less intense HDR.