Is the High Dynamic Range Setting in Your Camera Useful?

After testing various camera systems, I believe high dynamic range settings truly matter for post-production.

First off, I’m a guy who avoids post-production at any cost. Any that’s easier with some camera systems than others. But, if you really have to do post-production, high dynamic range (HDR) setting matters. I think it matters if you want to spend less time in post-production. I also think it matters to understand what you want from your images. Most of all, though, I think it’s best for realizing just how great modern cameras are.

I first thought about this with Fujifilm cameras. Those cameras have a lot that can affect the image quality. First and foremost are their film simulations. Please don’t tell me you ignore those and do it in post-production. If that’s the case, then you’re ignoring a major part of the brand’s identity. You can also control the dynamic range in the camera. And in my tests, it has always affected both the RAW and the JPEG. If I ever need to do post-production, then RAW files just look different.

Then I tried this with other brands, namely Canon and Sony. Whenever I used Dynamic Range optimization, I found that I created photos I preferred. But photographers often say they’ll sit later on and fix them in post-production. Over the years, I’ve translated that to say some people are just really lazy. And I agree fully with that idea unless it’s just not possible in your current situation.

So when would the high dynamic range option be useful?

  • Landscape photography: It will help you edit a lot less. You may not even need to edit at all. Just beam the images to your phone and put them on social media!
  • Portrait photography: Ever wanted to get more detail from the highlights because you’re spot metering for a face?
  • Photowalking: The other night, I was walking in the rain and discovered how much extra detail a camera pulled that I could’ve never seen with my eyes.
  • Black and white: I create my own custom black and white profiles on almost every camera. Add in HDR mode, and you’ll have a look that’s closer to some film emulsions. Avoid this if you want a high-contrast look.

Of course, that isn’t the end of it all. Some cameras have a clarity option. I turn that on all the time with my Fujifilm X Pro 3. And when I use the Canon EOS R5, I love what it does too. On the Sony a1, I appreciate that they added this to the creative looks. For what it’s worth though, their images are crunchy enough. I haven’t seen this option with Leica, Panasonic, or Olympus either. But if you add HDR toning to an image and boost clarity, then the effects will apply to the RAW file. And if that’s the case, you can basically just look at the RAW file in Capture One and convert it straight to a JPEG. 

If you’re newer to photography, I think you should give this a shot. You’ll spend more time creating and shooting. You won’t need to Photoshop or edit like crazy in post-production. And most importantly, you’ll become a more creative photographer who can get a lot of work done faster. If you ever want to break into being a professional photographer, you’ll realize how important time is for your money.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.