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iPhone HDR Photography Works Well in Right Conditions



One of the big features Apple trumpeted in its release of iOS 4.1 for the iPhone was High Dynamic Range (HDR) photo capability. Most photographers and Photo Shop users know all about this. Essentially you take multiple exposures of the same thing and through software blend them together. This allows for a greater range when you’re taking a photo of a subject that has both light and dark components. Think bright sunlight and lots of shadows.The idea is that the camera will capture more of what the naked eye actually sees. I’m no pro when it comes to photography, so I’m picking up on this as I go.

That said, I’ve been very pleased with the iPhone 4 camera since its release as it has been doing the job quite well for me in many circumstances when previous versions just didn’t measure up. The addition of the HDR feature adds a new dimension, although in my limited testing, success with this feature will depend quite a bit on the lighting and subject matter. But that’s true in most photography situations. What I like most about the HDR feature is that by and large it is automatic. You hit the button to turn the feature on and three images are captured to supposedly give you the best result. The original non-HDR image is also saved so you can compare.

This morning as I was waiting for a meeting to begin downtown in Winchester, I took advantage of the time, a high bright sky, and snapped a few photos to see how well the new feature works. You can see the results for yourself in the photo album below. The HDR images are on the right. I also snapped a few shots in my apartment last night as well for comparison.

The good news is that this makes an already excellent phone camera better. Too bad, Apple didn’t decide to include the same camera and enhancements with the new iPod Touch.



  1. John

    09/09/2010 at 10:58 am

    The phone actually saves only 2 images. The final HDR composite and the original. While it may use 3 images to create the HDR image, it is only one shutter actuation and works instantaneously as if you were using the ‘regular’ camera.

    Many reviews incorrectly insinuate that you are taking three separate images with three unique shutter actuations. Not the case.

    • Xavier Lanier

      09/09/2010 at 11:34 am

      There’s more than one shutter action. You can test this on your iPhone by taking a photo of a fast moving object. If it were a single shutter action you’d simply see an even blur or streak across both saved images. In other words, you could super-impose them and all shapes would line up.
      With iPhone 4.1, when you shoot a moving object will show up in different spots in the photo, with some blur between them. The moving objects in the images can not be aligned. It appears that iPhone 4.1 does indeed take three images in quick succession, most likely at something approaching 30 fps, similar to the video camera function.

  2. HG

    09/09/2010 at 12:56 pm

    I haven’t updated my iPhone 4 yet, but does it take more memory, when taking HDR pictures? Can you still snap several pictures quickly.

    • Xavier Lanier

      09/09/2010 at 1:01 pm

      Yes, it does take more memory to shoot HDR photos since both the HDR and normal exposures are saved to your camera roll. You can always delete one or the other if you are displeased with one of them or just want to save space on your iPhone.
      Unfortunately, it does take quite a while to take a picture in HDR so you can’t take photos in quick succession. As I noted above, it’s not great for fast moving objects. It’s best for scenic shots.
      The iPhone 4 takes about 3 or four seconds to snap and process an HDR photo. Keep in mind that you can turn HDR on/off easily from the iPhone’s camera application.

  3. Mike

    09/10/2010 at 11:54 am

    Too true about the ipod touch.
    I was considering getting one after the recent launch event.
    Then I read engadget’s review which pointed out that the touch is not at all an iphone minus the phone for various reasons. The kind of crappy camera killed it for me.

    I really would be interested in an iphone without the phone, or the associated data plan.

    • Xavier Lanier

      09/10/2010 at 12:27 pm

      You can get one- just need to sign up for AT&T plan, fork over $199 and an ETF…
      One of the reasons the iPhone is more expensive than the iPod Touch is the more expensive camera, components. It would be great if there were an iPod Touch Pro, or something that had content creation in mind.

  4. Mg

    11/02/2010 at 9:05 pm

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  6. Mg

    11/02/2010 at 9:05 pm

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