The importance of HDR in smartphone cameras

Both iPhones and Android smartphones now have cameras as standard that support the so-called HDR mode. But what is behind the term and what are the characteristics of photos taken with HDR? TECHNOLOGY BUTTON explains.

The word HDR has become a trend in the industry in recent years. TVs, cameras and smartphones can use HDR, but the term does not always have the same meaning. While HDR in televisions is based on special hardware, the camera technology in smartphones with and without HDR is the same. The manufacturers enable HDR recordings with the help of special software that can enable recordings with more contrast and details.

What does HDR mean?

HDR is the abbreviation for “High Dynamic Range”, translated as “high dynamic range”. The technology describes the ability to perceive more than normal optics can. It was first used in the mid-1980s in the field of image processing on the computer, but a little later the technology was also used in photography. Smartphones with HDR have also been around since 2012. The Google Nexus 4 was one of the first models to have the HDR function built into the camera as standard.

How do HDR photos work on the smartphone?

Basically, an HDR image taken with a smartphone is not related to the lenses of the camera, rather it is a function of the mobile phone’s photo app. In a short time, the camera takes several (usually three) pictures one after the other – each with a different exposure value. The software then merges the captured images into a single photo. The result is images with more details, optimal exposure and strong contrasts that are closer to the perception of the human eye than a conventional photo taken without HDR.

In principle, HDR is an advantage with smartphone cameras. The technology eliminates problems such as recordings that are too bright or too dark, flat details and insufficient dynamics.

In these situations you should use HDR

  • Landscape shots : Particularly in landscape shots, some details can be lost due to poor exposure. HDR compensates for the difference in exposure between the sky and the landscape and prevents certain areas from appearing overexposed.
  • Whenever the sun is blinding : Strong sun rays wash out the colors and often cause glare in the lens. In addition, annoying shadows can appear. Users can prevent all of these points by activating HDR on their smartphone. (see photo below).

The activated HDR mode (right photo) compensates for strong overexposure in particular.

Also read: Did you know why many cameras can only film for 30 minutes?

HDR is not always recommended

However, there are also some situations in which HDR tends to make the recording worse.

  • Recordings with movement : Since several photos are shot in quick succession with HDR, blurring quickly arises when moving.
  • High contrast is lost : if you want to photograph the silhouette of a body in the dark, for example, the HDR mode would wash out the contrast.

Conclusion : Even the HDR mode cannot save a dark backdrop. However, if used correctly, your photos will be much more detailed.

Activate HDR on the smartphone

As already mentioned at the beginning, the HDR function is part of the camera software on Android smartphones and iPhones. Many third-party camera apps that can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store also advertise HDR.

Activating the function is very easy. The appropriate menu item can usually be found in the settings of the camera app. Android users can access this directly via the camera, click here on “Settings” and on “HDR”. You can then choose whether you want to activate HDR “always” or “only when required” (automatically when the exposure requires it).

Owners of an iPhone from Apple go to the settings of their device and select the item “Camera”. Here you will find the “HDR” area a little further down and activate “Intelligent HDR”. If you would like to save a version without HDR in addition to the optimized recording, you can also check the “Keep normal photo” option.

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