It’s true that you can make great High Dynamic Range Images with almost any camera with full manual controls, but a wide and fast bracket sequence makes it so much easier. These cameras are at the top of the heap for serious HDR photographers.
Photographers who are serious about High Dynamic Range Imaging know that one of the secrets to creating powerful tone mapped images resides in cameras that can quickly and effectively capture a truly wide dynamic range of source images. And the two camera features that really put these HDR All-star cameras ahead of the rest are Auto Exposure Bracketing settings and burst rate.
True, any camera with manual controls can be used for bracketing shots for an HDR sequence, but the less you have to touch your camera between shots, and the more rapidly a camera can capture a bracketed series of shots, the less chance you’ll encounter alignment and/or ghosting issues due to movement between frames.
The criteria for selecting these 2009 HDR All-Star Cameras is actually quite simple: a one shutter touch Auto Exposure Bracket Sequence that covers a minimum of -3 to +3 EV span around the median exposure and the ability to capture this exposure range span in RAW mode in 1 second or less. There’s many cameras in market that will capture a bracket series of shots up to +/-2, but the extra dynamic range headroom of a +/-3 (and upwards) EV span really sets these cameras apart from the pack for serious HDR photographers.
- Also check out our video series on Advanced HDR workflows with Adobe Photoshop CS4: Part 1 and Part 2.
Sigma DP2 and Sigma DP1S
Sigma’s Fovoen chip-packing serious compact twins, the 24.2mm f/2.8 (equiv) DP2 and 16.6mm f/4 (equiv) DP1S pack an impressive combination of big- camera key HDR features into a compact and economical package. A one-touch 3-shot burst at up to 3 EVs between shots in just one second in X3F RAW mode should be wide enough for most situations. The manual focus option for double-bracketed sequences or wider manual shot bracketing ensures pixel-perfect focus distance for all shots in the series.
Nice bonus touch: the hard boxy lines of this camera duo allow it to be placed either vertically or horizontally on any flat surface for HDRI shooting without a tripod.
This ultra-luxe compact from Leica sports a 24 mm f/2.8 Elmarit lens that’s a 36mm equivalent on a fullframe 35mm camera and has a pricetag to match its pedigree. This red-badged compact tank will capture an AEB sequence at up to 3 EVs for 3 shots in JPEG+RAW in 1 second on a 12.2 megapixel APS-C sensor.
Nice bonus touch: Adobe DNG raw files should be readable straight away in most HDR programs.
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
Canon’s newest high-speed APS-H sensor-sized pro SLR, the 16.1 MP EOS 1D Mark IV is an amazing HDR SLR. Right out of the box, it shoots a 3-shot AEB sequence at up to 3 EV steps in about three tenths of a second with fast shutter speeds, but like the Mark IIIs, this can be expanded via Custom Functions to up to 7 shots in the AEB sequence–again at up to 3 EVs between shots. Add this 7-shot AEB seqeunce with 3 EV span to the per-shot estimated 11+ EV dynamic range of the sensor at ISO 100 and that pretty much spans the maximum potential dynamic range of just about anything you might encounter to photograph on or around planet Earth.
Nice bonus touch: Wide EV spread and super-fast burst rate allows for handheld bracket sequence shooting in many situations.
Canon has finally expanded the AEB sequence below the 1D and 1Ds lines from a maxium of +/-2 for three shots to +/-3 for three shots on the APS-C sized 18 MP Canon EOS 7D , and we are very happy to see this! (We’d like to see them step it up to five shots, too!) With a burst speed of 8 frames per second, this one will grab a nice wide series of 3 source images in under 4 tenths of a second when shutter speeds are fast enough to allow it.
Nice Bonus touch: Exposure compensation goes to +/-5 EV and can be combined with AEB for semi-manual/semi-automatic double or triple bracket sequencing for very high dynamic range scenes.
The 14.6 mp APS-C Pentax K-7 is the first SLR with a true in-camera HDR processing function that captures 3 shots at +/-3 and tone maps a single JPG output image, but that’s not the reason why the Pentax K-7 made this list. Here’s the reasons: One-touch Auto Exposure Bracketing burst setting options for a 3 or 5 shot AEB burst capture at up to 2 EVs for a very wide dynamic range capture sequence in under 1 second with fast shutter speeds and DNG Raw option for instant compatibility with all HDR generation programs.
Nice Bonus touch: In-camera HDR, obviously. Along with weather-tough build for extreme condition HDR photography.
Pentax’s APS-C 12.4 megapixel CMOS-chipped K-x packs a heck of a lot of big-camera features into a small SLR at an entry level price including 720p HD video, the same spread on in-camera HDR as the K-7 and a very respectable 4.7 frames per second burst rate. Combine this fast frame rate with a 3-shot AEB sequence that goes up to 3 EVs in ⅓ or ½ stop increments and that’s a nice dynamic range spread captured in well less than a second in many instances. Add in the huge selection of Pentax K-mount lenses available, and this has a lot of serious HDR potential in a small, very affordable package.
Nice bonus touch: Four color options in the US market, and 100 combinations in Japan brightens up SLR-based photography.
Nikon’s impressive 12.1 MP full-frame D3s can capture an AEB sequence of up to nine frames at up to 1EV step between frames at nine frames per second for a -4 through +4 burst. All that adds up to a real winner of a camera for HDRI. Building on the impressive high ISO performance of the Nikon D3, the high ISO image quality of the Nikon D3s should allow creative risk-taking photographers to make impressive hand-held HDR capture sequences even in very low light situations thanks to a very usable ISO 12,800 setting.
Nice bonus touch: ISO expansion up to 102,400 for extreme lighting situations.
Like the full-frame Nikon D3s, Nikon’s 12.3 megapixel APS-C chipped D300s will shoot up to nine shots at up to 1 EV spacing in just over a second with the optional MB-D10 power pack and grip, and just a touch slower than that on its own.
Nice bonus touch: Active D-Lighting bracketing setting of up to five shots may be all that’s needed for pulling up shadows and bringing down hotspots on images that aren’t truly needing an HDR workflow to capture the nuances of the scene.
Indeed, these cameras, along with the Nikon D3X have great features sets for HDRI photography but all of these cameras were introduced prior to 2009, thus making them class of 2008 or 2007 All-Stars. All three of these are still in market, and are very well worth a look for HDR shooting.
Two new small-shop software titles that HDR photographers should check out
So much of the evolution and popularization of HDR imaging has come from the contributions of small-shop software developers and here’s two great new programs HDR shooters should be sure to check out.
I met with Igor Tryndin, creator of HDR Photostudio at the PhotoPlus trade show in October to talk with him about HDR Photostudio, and I am super-impressed with this program for its versatility, power, and photorealistic tone mapping. How impressed am I, you might ask me rhetorically? So much so that it is the being added in to the second edition of my book, Practical HDRI, due out in spring 2010, and I have been seriously debating running Windows Vista on my Mac or buying a PC laptop so I can start using this program right now, since the Mac version is still in development. It’s that impressive for working with HDR images.
Breeze Systems DSLR Remote Pro
Chris Breeze’s DSLR Remote Pro for Windows has been around for a number of years , but now this amazing program for tethered shooting with Canon SLRs comes to the Mac platform! Preview your shots on your laptop screen, and control almost every recent EOS camera from your keyboard for amazing bracket sequences of up to fifteen shots at up to 2 EV steps between frames.
What do you think of our list of 2009 HDR All-Stars? Did we miss any deserving cameras, in your opinion?