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Three just-announced cameras from Panasonic have a wider AEB range than past models. And this is a good thing for HDRI photography.
Yes yes, I know. HDRI is still a hotly contested and polarizing topic amongst photographers.
And ten years ago it was film versus digital. And one hundred years ago it was glass plates versus rollfilm. Today it is HDRI: love it or hate it. So it goes.
Yes, there are a lot of over-the-top images out there in the Flickrverse that were run through 32-bit processing with all the dials cranked up to 11 to give that black-light '70s poster feel to images, and maybe that's not your thing.
A big part of the problem is that all too often, photographers rely on the HDR software to overcompensate for underbracketing the scene. And unfortunately, this style of HDR photography is all that many photographers think of when they hear the term HDRI.
And I think a big part of the reason for this underbracketing and over-mapping is due to certain camera limitations. Namely: Auto-Exposure Bracketing sequences that don't allow photographers to easily capture the full dynamic range of a high-contrast scene. There is a big difference in overall tonal range between an AEB sequence that has a maximum spread of +/-2 for three shots, and +/-3 for three shots.
That extra EV on each side of the AEB sequence gives a wider range of values for a merged 32-bit file, meaning that the photographer doesn't have to push the dials so hard during tone mapping to compress the 32-bit files dynamic range into the smaller 8 and 16 bit spaces. And that, in turn, can result in more natural-looking expanded-dynamic-range images.
I can't wait to get my hands on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 (click here for Panasonic's official press release), with its potent combination of a fast, sharp Leica DC f/2 lens, new microlensed 10-megapixel chip, and the latest version of the Venus Engine to capture. I reckon these elements will capture top-quality HDR images because of that wider AEB sequence that will be enhanced thanks to the image quality legacy of the LX line of cameras. (Throw in the lens profiler tool in Adobe Camera Raw 6.1 and Lightroom 3 and it just gets that much cooler!)
(And as I'm writing this right now, I'm thinking of a pocketable HDRI shoot-out this fall between the LX5, the Sigma DP1x, and the Leica X1 and whatever other great new pocketable HDR rockets come out of the Photokina and PhotoPlus release cycle. Check back in the fall...)
The just-announced pair of new Panasonic EVF cameras, the Lumix DMC-FZ40 (click here for Panasonic's official press release) and the DMC-FZ100 (click here for Panasonic's official press release), also have a lot of potential for HDRI photography, again because of that wider AEB range of +/-3 EV for three shots along with RAW capture.
I'm very happy to see this new, wider AEB range in cameras in the Panasonic stable. You may not need this wide a bracket sequence all the time, but since it is basically a simple adjustment during firmware design, I still cannot understand why so many cameras come hobbled straight out of the box, as I have ranted about here!
For example, I was particularly excited about the on-paper AEB specs for the micro four thirds Panasonic Lumix GF1 late last year which read like this: 3, 5, or 7 frames, 1/3- to 2.0 EV steps. But in-camera, what this meant was that it would span up to 2 EVs around the metered exposure, whether it was in a 3, 5 or 7 shot sequence. The maximum EV spread was limited to +/-2 because the more shots you selected, the tighter the EV offset between each shot you were allowed. And this really bummed me out.
I'm hoping that before the end of the product cycle year, there's a micro four thirds camera (and/or any other MILC-type camera) that qualifies as a 2010 HDR All-Star camera (see the class of 2009 here). And if the expanded AEB settings on these new Lumix models are any indication, it appears that the manufacturers are starting to listen to what HDR shooters have been asking for. And that makes me happy.
So here's a question for you: What features (or lack thereof) influence your camera decisions? Does AEB matter to you, too? Or is it something else? Let us know!