Can we have too much Dynamic Range?

Started May 2, 2014 | Discussions thread
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Gerry Winterbourne
Veteran MemberPosts: 9,824
Re: Can we have too much Dynamic Range?
In reply to meland, May 3, 2014

meland wrote:

Not wishing to be provocative since virtually everyone seems to think more DR is better, but can we have too much Dynamic Range?

I doubt it. If we start from the presumption that we want to represent a scene in some way, being able to capture all the information in the scene can hardly be a bad thing of itself (see below about using the information).

As someone else said, there's no point in going beyond what the scene contains. Most scenes have DR within the capacity of current sensors - indeed, many are within the limited DR that JPGs offer - but some have much wider DR. Currently we deal with such scenes by HDR: while it's unfortunately true that many HDR shots look awful they don't have to.

There's scope for sensors with wider DR than current ones but that scope is limited by technology and physics. It seems unlikely that with current technology we'll get sensors with wider DR than all but a very few wide DR scenes. I won't speculate about revolutionary technology other than to assume that any new problems it brings will have new solutions.

Can a sensor with a greater DR produce end up producing results that look 'flat' without post processing?

Not "can" but "must". All output media (screen, print or whatever) have very narrow DR; in other words. Try to put more contrast into that and you have to squeeze up the tones; you therefore reduce the difference - contrast - between adjacent tones. So any sensor with DR wider than the few stops available in the output must produce flat results unless ...

... unless, of course, we find clever ways of dealing with that flatness. There are, in essence, only two ways to do that: curtail the DR or manipulate contrast to defeat the flatness. In practice the two are often combined: in a typical OOC JPG has a tone curve to manipulate contrast and (often but not always) the DR is curtailed from the raw file.

After all many photographers, especially landscape photographers, used to prefer certain films like Fuji Velvia and that had a quite limited DR.

Chicken or egg? Did (do) they opt for narrow DR because they want it, or do they want the contrast offered by some types of film and accept narrow DR as the price of getting it? It's a rhetorical question because few film photographers thought about DR as such.

If your medium doesn't have an option of wide DR you have to learn how to make the best of what it does offer. Very often limited options generate enhanced creativity to deal with them (in any field, not just photography). But, on the other hand, limited options also limit possibilities.

Whatever the medium - film, digital or anything else - a skilled operator can develop techniques to make the most of it if he wishes; or he can deliberately choose to restrict his use of it. (That, of course, is what using Velvia rather than a less vivid film means).

If you use a contrasty film or sensor with narrow DR you choose the restricted option before shooting. UseĀ a wide DR sensor and you can still choose to restrict later. But I can't think of any way a sensor could deliver DR wider than a skilled operator can't use fully.

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First camera 1953, first Pentax 1985, first DSLR 2006

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