Dynamic Range

11 Sep 2023

Modern cameras really are quite remarkable. When I got back into photography in the late naughts, although even the budget cameras let you take some amazing images, they definitely had their limits, and each time I’ve upgraded my camera I’ve generally1 been impressed with what the new leap in tech brought with it, but at the same time I think we take such progress for granted, so it was nice to be reminded of just how good things are.

I recently2 posted this photo of Arlington House in Margate:

A photo I’m quite pleased with in and of itself, but I’m also pleased that I got the photo at all, given that what I got in camera at the time was exposed for the sky and not the building, and as such the tower was effectively black:

A screenshot of lightroom showing the before and after processing of a photo of a block of flats with the sun over/behind them. On the left the flats are so dark in contrast to the sun that you can see no features in them. On the right you can see the block of flats as you would normally, as the detail was still there in the RAW image file.

Even if I pixel peep on the tower, whilst there is noise, it’s not very obtrusive, such that I didn’t try to remove it in post.

A screenshot of a close zoom on the finished photo, showing there is some noise to the pixels, but nothing significant to remove from seeing features.

And this is a from a camera that was seven years old when it took this photo, so even getting older second hand cameras you still get magical performance these days. Perhaps it’s just because I do remember the early DSLR days, aka I’m old, that this feels like magic to me: these days your phone will not just have good dynamic range it’ll also automatically do HDR shots where it takes multiple pictures at different exposures and combines them for you, so now cameras are just even more amazing still. But I feel it’s good to reflect on how amazingly good cameras are now.

  1. The once exception was when I went from the Fujifilm X-E2, with its XTrans-II sensor to the X100F camera with its XTrans-III sensor, which had unfortunate structured artifacting in low light that I found distracting that made me regret the swap and caused me to jump from Fujifilm to Sony. ↩︎

  2. Sort of recently: this post was drafted in March 2022 but never completed until September 2023 as I did a tidy up of the blog. ↩︎