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HDR DNG's and Why You Should Use Them

Published: 11/06/2020

Author: Colin Robertson

What if I told you that you could dramatically increase the dynamic range of your camera's raw files? This might be old news to many of you, but I was recently reminded that there are a lot of folks who might not understand the difference between HDR and an HDR DNG.

"I know about HDR and I don't like how it looks!" Yeah, me too. But this is not HDR HDR... The kind of gross, tone mapped, no-contrast looking images that give HDR a bad name. This is using a bracket of raw files from your camera; say, -1 EV, 0 EV, +1 EV, and using Lightroom to merge those files together to create a new raw file with hugely expanded dynamic range, and unless you really crank the shadows and highlight recovery, it has none of that gross "HDR look". I want to reiterate, it's a raw file, and it still retains all of the information available from the original raw files.

This is especially useful in real estate photography where we deal with high dynamic range situations all the time. We want to see into the shadows of a room (without seeing noise) and get the outside view at the same time; all while fixing the white balance when that dang CFL bulb threw off our camera's white balance. With HDR DNG's, you can do that. 

Merging a raw bracket into an HDR DNG can also lengthen the life of older cameras that work perfectly well but might not have the best dynamic range. I used them extensively with my Canon 7D before I picked up the EOS R, which has a sensor capable of a much greater dynamic range.

It's not going to replace a flash workflow, and it doesn't always merge files perfectly, but I have found it to be an incredibly useful tool. My new Ricoh Theta Z1 even has a plugin you can install to automatically create an HDR DNG in-camera--a feature I would love to see implemented in mirrorless and DSLR cameras!

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