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What is dynamic range? Theory and practice

Many have heard of such a concept as dynamic range... In photography and video filming, this is the ability of the camera to simultaneously display both light and dark details of a scene in one frame. The width of the spectrum of hues from full black to full white is called dynamic range.

dynamic rangeOur eyes are capable of capturing much more light fluctuations than modern cameras. The task of the cameras is to get as close as possible to what we see. The photo below shows how the same frame looks like with a low dynamic range (little information in the shadows and highlights) and with a high one (well-developed shadow and light zones).

dynamic range in practice

What does dynamic range depend on?

There are two main factors - software and hardware.

One of the main software methods is to merge several frames to obtain the maximum amount of information in one final photograph. This method is called HDR photography... Now it is actively used in telephones. By the way, we can see how a photo with HDR differs on the phone and 1 photo without gluing, processed from a raw file from a Fujifilm X-T3 + camera lens 12mm.

If you glue several photos in manual mode, then this is done due to exposure bracketing. That is, you take a series of shots with different degrees of illumination in order to capture both the dark parts of the scene being shot and the light ones. I talked about this in detail in this video:

But we were talking about software dynamic range expansion. From a hardware point of view, the size and type of your camera's sensor is important. If you take away software improvements from modern phones, you get a very sad picture. Cameras with large matrices are capable of producing a wide dynamic range without stitching frames.

The dynamic range of a camera depends on the following factors:

  • matrix type
  • matrix size

Important matrix type. For example, Fujifilm's BSI (back-illuminated) crop cameras offer greater dynamic range than cameras with conventional CMOS sensors. You can verify this by looking at the graphs on this site.

But, in any case, in the first place is sensor size. Full frame will always take precedence over crop. BUT medium format before full frame.

crop gopro full frame

Micra 4/3 significantly inferior in dynamic range crop cameras. It doesn't even need to be compared to a full frame. APS-C cameras significantly better convey light shades relative to micro 4/3. Comparison of micro and crop here. I'm talking about photography here, it looks like a video, but there are nuances.

Also note that footage captured on high ISOwill have significantly lower DDs than baseline values. For this reason, the serious photographer should only rely on a tripod and not the advertised today matrix stabilization.

But this is in theory ... but in practice?

Where are the dynamic range capabilities of cameras realized? First of all, it is landscape, architectural and interior photography... Also, good dynamic range comes in handy when shooting. wedding walks. Usually they take place in difficult hard lighting, and the task of the photographer is to shoot them correctly and process them correctly, which helps good raw files.

Next question, how important are the differences between cameras in real life? In practice, it turns out that you should not chase the most technically advanced camera. After all, the same effect, if not even better, can be obtained through direct hands. That is, if, for example, you need shoot interior or landscape - use multiple exposure and HDR. Merged 3 frames from a "bad" camera will give a noticeably greater effect than 1 frame with a cool and fancy one.

Below is a practical example of dynamic range on Fujifilm X T3... At the top is the source, at the bottom is an extruded raw file (without HDR).

dynamic range comparison

Of course, it is still desirable to upgrade your photo equipment from time to time. Very old cameras or outdated crops will not give the optimal effect even from 3 frames. In such cases, you can get a good range if you stitch 6 frames together. But this is more time consuming and can cause problems when merging if there are moving objects in the frame. Well, in the case of shooting a reportage, you don’t have time for gluing at all, and some margin for DD is always pleasant. From practical experience, I can say that cameras such as the Canon 5D Mark III / IV, Canon r with a head enough for reportage work. What Nikons capable of more - very good. And these cameras are just as noteworthy as new items from Panasonic. But here Sony I cannot recommend it to anyone, despite the advantages in theoretical parameters.

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