Dynamic Range -- what it is, what it's good for, and how much you 'need'

Started Oct 17, 2011 | Discussions thread
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Dynamic Range -- what it is, what it's good for, and how much you 'need'
Oct 17, 2011

Seems that there's a lot of confusion (at least with some) about what DR (dynamic range) is and what it's good for. This purpose of this thread is to get this cleared up.

I'd like to begin with a rather stark example of what 13.7 stops of DR (D7000) offers over 11.2 stops of DR (5D2):

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1032&message=38379069

Let's continue with the definition of DR from three different sources (all of which say the same thing, just a bit differently):

Cambridge in Color:
http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/dynamic-range.htm

Dynamic range in photography describes the ratio between the maximum and minimum measurable light intensities (white and black, respectively).

DxOMark:

http://www.dxomark.com/index.php/About/In-depth-measurements/Measurements/Noise

Dynamic range is defined as the ratio between the highest and lowest gray luminance a sensor can capture. However, the lowest gray luminance makes sense only if it is not drowned by noise, thus this lower boundary is defined as the gray luminance for which the SNR is larger than 1. The dynamic range is a ratio of gray luminance; it has no defined unit per se, but it can be expressed in Ev, or f-stops.

Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_range

Dynamic range, abbreviated DR or DNR,[1] is the ratio between the largest and smallest possible values of a changeable quantity, such as in sound and light.

Now, let me point to Part 1 of Uwe Steinmueller's outstanding HDR article which explains DR and demonstrates what wider DR can be used for:

http://www.dpreview.com/articles/0478806851/the-art-of-hdr-photography-part-1

So, there you have it. What DR is and what it is useful for. Whether or not any particular photographer "needs" more DR than what they have with the system they are using is another matter entirely -- just like anything else (megapixels, AF speed, frame rate, etc, etc., etc.).

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