Testing Nikon D7100′s HDR Feature

After almost six years of traveling with my trusty but old D40x, I finally got a new model, the D7100, the latest (released just this year) midrange entry from Nikon. One of the newest features I was excited about the newest model is its in-camera capability to shoot in HDR mode, which saves you a lot of work in post-processing especially when shooting in situations with tricky lighting.

HDR stands for high-dynamic range, a photographic technique in which multiple shots with different exposures are taken and combined into a single image to allow a greater dynamic range from the shadows to the highlights. This creates a single image that faithfully represents all the dark and bright areas of the image without losing details, just as when you adjust an image in post-processing through, say, levels or brightness/contrast.

I had a great chance to test the HDR feature during a weekend trip to Batanes, which is a photographer’s paradise. For instance, I took a picture of the Sabtang lighthouse, one using the normal exposure mode and the other using HDR exposure. In the first one, the lighthouse and the island are filled with shadows due to the strong light of the sky. Hence the camera’s built-in meter has to choose whether to show the correct exposure of either the sky or the cliff. It chose the sky, so while the sky isn’t too bright or too dark, the cliff came too dark.

Without HDR imaging, the cliff is filled with shadows. The clouds also don't have too much details.

With HDR imaging, the camera takes two pictures rapidly in succession. One image takes into consideration the brightness of the sky and therefore would result in a picture similar to the one above, which is slightly underexposed. The other photo takes into consideration the cliff, and would hence be overexposed. The camera would then combine the two images to produce this:

With HDR imaging, the shadows on the cliff are minimized, and details on the clouds appear.

HDR is sometimes used to an exaggerated degree to produce an artistic effect on pictures, by increasing the contrast between the dark and bright areas of an image. Some photographers (unsurprisingly the conservative ones) aren’t warm to the idea. Personally I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, specially when used judiciously. As long as it enhances the images, and does not distract from what the photographer is trying to convey, then go ahead, use it.

View of Batanes' capital, Basco, from our hotel's rooftop during sunset using a very high HDR imaging and a small aperture (f/11)

A romantic view of the sunset using strong HDR imaging and a "shade" white balance to enhance the early evening's warm tones

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