My favorite function in modern DLSRs

You are either a regular of this blog, or a new reader. If you are a regular, you might want to take a sit because what I am about to say will hit you hard. 
So I got a D600. First because traveling with a Mamiya RZ 67 is impossibru. Also I wanted to work on my digital skills, get better at architecture and cityscapes, and therefore, practice a lot. I have been using it for a few month now, and I realized that one function on this DSLR turns out to be an absolute must: the built-in HDR.

- "Amagaaaaad Ronan you hate HDR and digital stuff! what da hell is this contradicting nonsense ! I worshipped you and fed from your every word and now I am as confused as when Ricky Martin made his coming out !*"
- Here we go. Well, dear follower, this is not at all what I wrote in previous posts. Let me remind you of my position on digital and HDR:
  • Digital is great, and complementary to film. It convenient, fast, powerful in bad conditions, so much better than analog for many many things but...
  • ... film as a dynamic range like no digital sensor ever had, try velvia 50 and see for yourself.
  • Film allows very large films / sensors from 60x70mm and larger, which with corresponding lenses leads to systems capable of stunning results, although fairly cumbersome to use.
  • B&W film looks better due to a more linear and rich range of tones and nicer looking noise.
  • The overly abused use of extreme forms of HDR is the photographic equivalent of Nikky Minaj. It's ugly, vulgar, and can cause the tasteful man to cry blood. 
  • HDR was intended to compensate the lack of dynamic range of digital sensor, not to make pictures look like a clown's face.
  • Come on Ricky Martin was way to well groomed to be straight !
So no I don't hate digital stuff. Yes I prefer the crafting of analog and mostly the feel of images due to dynamic range and B&W rendering, but I also love my digital camera; it just depends on what I'm shooting and where.

No I don't think HDR should be left aside, I think it should be used in order to compensate the physical limitation of digital sensors. And here is my point: the built is HDR function on the D600, and I am sure on any other advanced DSLR, allows a rendering of colors and light that I find very very interesting with minimal effort. If you are not using it because you are afraid it will look like that:

What is that? the next Call of Duty? 
Well change your mind, you must try it in high contrast situations. It leads to things like that that I find very mellow and subtle. This is what HDR used in a more classic way looks like:

- "Hum...Ronan, this is not HDR. It looks totally ├╝bber normal to me. Nice composition by the way."
-  Oh thanks! Indeed dear reader. It does, and that is precisely the point. As I said before, digital sensors suffer from poor dynamic range, which is the capacity to render both bright and dark areas of a picture correctly. In other words, you often have the choice between:

  • exposing the shady areas well, but the rest is burned out
  • exposing the bright areas properly, but the rest is all black

Digital cameras, especially in ISO higher than 400, get pretty poor at that (FYI the best sensors for dynamic range are the ones of the D800, D4 and D600, in that order). It can suck pretty bad on a sunny day.

Interesting fact, what a lot of people like about the image feel from digital Leica M cameras is precisely their good dynamic range. Simply most viewers have a hard time putting a name on it.

Used wisely, that is to say when necessary, it really leads to beautiful landscapes. Yes landscapes only, it still does take 2 pictures and you need a steady subject. I prevents you from having to use graduated filters, which is a pain, or do manual HDR at home on PS.

So when do I use HDR with my D600:

  • high contrast landscapes, on bright and sun shinning days.
  • ISO above 400 when dynamic range falls appart, even if contrast is not so high
  • when I wont need to process the image much, because you can't shoot HDR in RAW. 
  • I use +/- 2 stops in general, but it's good to play around
  • Not for action shooting or portraits, I find that portraits deserve to make a choice on how to expose your subject, but then again, it's a matter of taste.
Anyway, I hope some of you who never use this, because you wonder what that's for, will now benefit from that great function. Now go out and take pictures !

PS: some exemples of film images with good dynamic range. Notice how darker and brighter areas are rendering with good level of details. Dimensions appear more as a consequence of depth of field rather than exaggerated shades.

Courtesy of Lefty.

*Visualize a Family Guy-like funny flashback of your own creation.

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