Can we have too much Dynamic Range?

Started May 2, 2014 | Discussions thread
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meland OP
Senior MemberPosts: 5,336
Re: Tonality of color neg film?
In reply to jrtrent, May 2, 2014

jrtrent wrote:

Lightpath48 wrote:

When my son-in-law bought his Nikon D5100 I immediately saw what looked like "duller" images than those from my D5000. I later found out that his camera's sensor had superior DR, and with a little PP, those images were significantly better. My little Fuji X10's DR400 images tend to look flatter than its DR100 images by quite a bit. But again, they perk up with PP, yet without the clipped highlights of DR100 shooting.

I found this quote interesting:

"Camera manufacturers are faced with a classic tradeoff: contrast versus dynamic range. Most images look best with enhanced contrast, but if contrast is increased, dynamic range suffers. Dynamic range can be increased by decreasing contrast, but images tend to look flat. That won't sell cameras!

One way around this tradeoff is to apply a curve, shown in solid black in Fig. 2. Contrast is reduced in the shadows and highlights, but increased in the important midtone area, which is responsible for perceived contrast."

The OP had asked, "Can a sensor with a greater DR produce end up producing results that look 'flat' without post processing," but I wonder if the sensor itself makes much difference in what we see or if it's mostly the manufacturer choosing tonal curves that can look pleasant or unpleasant according to one's taste. For example, my first digital camera was a Leica Digilux 1; shadows went very quickly to black while highlights were often harshly clipped, and turning down the contrast left you with very flat pictures. My second digital camera was a Sony Mavica FD200; its shadows never seemed to go completely black and while highlights would lose detail, they didn't take on the ugly, harsh look of the Leica, yet the pictures had pleasing contrast that wasn't too flat. Was the Sony's 1/2.7" 2 megapixel sensor really that much better than the Leica's 1/1.76" 4 megapixel sensor, or did I just prefer Sony's choice in tonal curves? A Samsung DSLR that I still use regularly has a contrast control that I keep at -2; I get good shadow/highlight detail but without the pictures looking too flat. An Olympus E-450 has an auto gradation setting which applies Apical's tone mapping technology ("applies pixel-by-pixel tone curve adjustment automatically to pull out detail simultaneously from shadows and highlights while leaving midtones untouched") which also results in very pleasing pictures to my eyes. I have a feeling the processor is much more important than the sensor.

I suspect you're right about the importance of the processor - by the way yours is the most interesting answer so far, so thanks for that.

The processor surely plays a role in producing images (JPEGs anyway) that are of 'pleasing' contrast and that may well involve not using all the available DR.

But when RAW users (as most here surely are) what then?  Assuming the RAWs are not modified by the processor as well!  Of course if you are using a proprietary converter like Canon's DPP it will replicate certain JPEG settings like Standard, Neutral or Landscape in which case it is also 'throwing' away some of the available DR, or modifying the tone curve, to give contrast or punch to the image.  And no doubt Lightroom and other converters try to mimic those settings with their presets.

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