Since the very beginning of digital photography, high contrast situations have always been a problem. When the brightness contrast between shadows and highlights exceeds the camera’s dynamic range, either shadow information or highlight information will be sacrificed. Various attempts have been made at working around this problem, the most notable technique being HDR (‘high dynamic range’) photography. Other attempts were hardware-based, such as Fujifilm’s Super CCD sensors that featured dual photosites at each pixel location for shadow and highlight sensitivity respectively.
The latest patent describing a solution for high contrast situations comes from Olympus, and it describes a technique that would allow for different areas of an image to be captured at different exposures. In theory, this would allow for very bright areas in an image to be deliberately underexposed, while darker areas would be deliberately overexposed at the same time. This way, the final image would retain detail in both the highlights and the shadows, without the necessity of taking multiple exposures for a later HDR merging.
The patent description spotted by Egami states that this technology could be used for night scenes and fireworks photography first and foremost, but lacks to mention whether it would also be suited at landscape photography, for example. The way it works per the patent description is that during bulb shooting with live preview enabled, the photographer can tweak the exposure of different areas in the picture on screen, by checking the histogram and moving exposure sliders accordingly–at least that’s what we make of the information available.
It’s not entirely clear if this feature would be based on a hardware or a software solution, i.e. whether the different exposure values could be achieved by different read-out times for the sensor, or whether it would be achieved through the firmware, though the Google-translated line “I do cumulative addition of image” seems to indicate the latter. Whichever way Olympus plans to implement this feature, it is an interesting new take at the long-time issue of dynamic range, and we’d love to see something like this available for all kinds of photographic scenarios.