HDR with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 is Much Improved

HDR image using Nik HDR Efex and 5 exposures at 2ev.

My biggest complaint with the various mirrorless cameras I’ve used over the last couple of years has been their rather anemic HDR (High Dynamic Range) capabilities.  Generally they only offered to bracket 3 or 5 images with up to about 1ev spacing.  They’ve been getting better, but now the Olympus OM-D E-M1 has raised the bar and given us extensive HDR functions.

The new E-M1 has an awesome HDR setup.  Auto HDR is there if you want, but even better are the great options for bracketing your exposures with either 3, 5, or 7 frames at 2ev, or 3 or 5 frames at 3ev. Nice!

Out of the box, the default settings are to press the HDR Button and turn the Front Dial to choose your HDR settings.  (The HDR Button is the front half of that button on the top left shoulder of the camera.)  Olympus has gone even further by having the camera automatically set the ISO to 200 and Drive to Sequential Shooting so it will take all the desired shots with a single press of the shutter button … you don’t even need to hold it down for the full sequence.

The Auto HDR offers two settings called HDR1 and HDR2, with each of those taking 4 exposures and combining them in-camera to create your HDR image.  If you’re in JPG only, you’ll just get one exposure, the HDR.  However, if you have RAW+JPG selected, you’ll get an HDR JPG and a normally exposed RAW file.

I should mention that the E-M1 also offers an AEB (auto-exposure bracketing) mode in a separate menu (Menu > Shooting Menu 2 > Bracketing), for those who really just want to bracket the exposure of their images to make sure they get the perfect one.  The options on that menu are much more limited than the HDR options.

The above image is a full HDR image, created by taking 5 exposures at 2ev spacing into Nik HDR Efex and then back through Lightroom 5.  Below are in-camera HDR images, using HDR1 and HDR2, plus a normal exposure and a copy of HDR1 edited further in Lightroom5.

For more information about HDR with the E-M1 (and E-M5II), be sure and check out Gary Friedman’s excellent and very thorough books.
Available at:  www.FriedmanArchives.com

Normal Exposure – note the blown highlights out the window
In-Camera HDR2
In-Camera HDR1
HDR1 Edited in Lightroom5.  Cut the highlights, enhanced the shadows, and added Clarity and Saturation

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Auto HDR with the Sony NEX-7

Sony’s newer cameras have been offering an in-camera HDR (high dynamic range) function.

When you select this “auto HDR” mode, you can also set the EV (exposure value) range from 1 to 6. This is a total range and not the spacing between each of the 3 images it will shoot. So far, I’ve just been using the 6 EV range and been quite happy with the results.

When this mode is selected, the camera takes 3 quick images with the proper over/under exposure values and then combines them, automatically, to produce an HDR image. One nice thing it also does is to save the normal exposed image in addition to the HDR. This allows you to have at least the normal exposure in  case you’re not pleased with the HDR.

At first, I was skeptical and then not particularly impressed with the output. The images had a flat look that seemed to lack contrast and color saturation. However, as I began to work with the HDR images, I found that just a bit of post processing could correct that. And, in retrospect, it actually makes sense. The HDR image was doing what it was supposed to do … i.e. save the highlights and shadows for you, such that the detail information was preserved.

In this sunrise image, the auto HDR worked great. It preserved the detail in the brighter clouds, didn’t allow the sun to be completely blown out, and also saved the shadow detail in the trees.

It seems, the more I use it … well, the more I use it. 🙂 What I mean by that is that as I become more adept at working with the HDR image it produces, I find I am more likely to use that feature. There’s really not much to lose – if the auto HDR doesn’t produce for me, I always have the normally exposed image to work with.

So, if you have an NEX-7, give it a whirl – I think you’ll like what you see!

Sony NEX-7 w/Sony 18-200mm OSS; auto HDR
Lightroom 4 (beta)