Updated 1/16/2013 – Add Nikon D600 and D800 to chart.
Here’s what to look for in a camera for HDR photography. HDR, or High Dynamic Range ,Photos start off as 3 or more separate photographs at 3 or more different exposures and then are combined with programs like Photomatix. This process allows one to see the detail in the shadows and highlights that may be lost in a single photograph. It also has the ability to create some pretty cool special effects. The first thing we are going to figure out is what cameras will be best suited for HDR photography. The number one camera function for this is AEB, or Auto Exposure Bracketing. Many of the new digital cameras on the market today have this function. Once you setup this function you can shoot multiple photos by pressing and holding the shutter release until all 3 or more photos are taken. All photos will be shot at the same aperture but at different shutter speeds. One with a proper exposure, one overexposed and one underexposed.
Before we get into camera setup, we need to understand the relationship between exposure compensation and the EV, or Exposure Value. A +1 EV is equal to +1 stop – that means doubling of the time the shutter is open. In the other direction a -1EV is equal to -1 stop – that means cutting the time the shutter is open by one half.
For best results shooting HDR we want a camera with a minimum of + /– 2EV for a total of 4EV range. Also look for a camera with a high frames per second rate (fps). Just remember the best cameras for HDR run in the $3000 to $7000 range. But don’t worry, the lower priced models do a good job as well. The camera I use is my new Nikon D300s that works great and my older Nikon D80 that does a pretty good job as well.
For best results set the camera to the RAW file format, if available. RAW files have all the information and will even have more detail in the shadows and highlights that are lost in the JPG file format. JPG files from your camera discards a lot of useful information that can help in HDR post processing. Set the exposure compensation EV steps to 1 or 2. (2 is better, if available). Common values in cameras are 1/3, ½, 2/3, .7, 1, 2, 3. Set the camera to auto exposure bracketing. Set the number of exposures (most cameras have at least 3 but some have 5, 7 or 9). Just remember, cameras with a maximum 1EV or less may require 5, 7, or even 9 exposures to achieve a 4EV range or more. Set camera’s burst rate to high, if available. This will minimize ghosting of moving objects. Set the camera to Aperture Priority. For best results install the camera on a sturdy tripod and connect a remote cable shutter release. I do not recommended hand holding your camera. You are now ready to shoot.
You can combine your bracketed photos in programs like Photomatix or Photoshop among others.
Below is a list of cameras that meet the minimum requirements or better for HDR. I only listed Canon and Nikon in this chart. If your camera is not on this list it may still be good for HDR. Check you camera manual for the auto exposure bracketing specifications. Please share your questions or comments below and we will get back to you.
Want more information on HDR Photography, check out these books at barnes & Noble. Books on HDR