Dynamic Range

2 minute read

“Dynamic Range” is a term used to define the range of tonal detail that a camera can capture between its noise floor and clipping. Simply speaking it is describing the ratio between the brightest and darkest tones that a camera can record within a single frame.

Higher dynamic range matters when an image you’re shooting has a drastic difference in lighting – for example, if you’re inside a location with bright windows and a dim interior. The light coming from the windows is much brighter than the light within the walls, so either the light from the windows will be too bright and overexposed (so they’ll just appear white), or the walls will be too dark and underexposed (so they’ll just appear black), and you’ll end up losing detail. Here are some good example images of this scenario.

A higher amount of dynamic range allows you to shoot these images while retaining as much information as possible.

A camera’s dynamic range describes how much subject detail can vary before being recorded as featureless black or white. Having a higher dynamic range therefore improves exposure and post-production flexibility, broadens the possibilities for dramatic and unevenly-lit scenes, and enhances image quality and detail.

Dynamic range is typically described in terms of “stops,” where each unit increase translates into a doubling of dynamic range. The language of “stops” comes from the days of physical film cameras and is a very common way to talk about amounts of light. Current high-end digital camera sensors can capture over 13 stops of dynamic range making it comparable to color film negatives. At this threshold of dynamic range, captured images meet or exceed the capabilities of existing displays, but with the release of upcoming HDR display technology the gap is getting smaller.

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