One of the latest features in the new iPhone was a new feature for the camera app that I thought would be silly but that I have fallen in love with.
There is a growing interest among photographers in HDR or High Dynamic Range photography. HDR overcomes a limitation that cameras have compared to the human eye. When you take a picture of a scene and you want to capture the details in areas of shadow, you need to open up the aperture or opening in the lens to let in more light. But if you let in more light, then the brighter areas of the photograph will “blow out”. That is to say, instead of more detail in the light areas of the photo you will get less, as all of the bright colors turn white because of the excess of light. You can get the details in the bright parts of a scene by using a smaller aperture, but then again you will lose information in the dark regions of the shot. What HDR does is combine multiple pictures with the aperture set at different opening sizes. The these various pictures can be combined in post processing typically using specialized software.
When Apple announced that a new feature in the iPhone 4 would be HDR photography I was very skeptical. Pro photographers usually mount their cameras on a tripod to take the multiple photographs needed for an HDR image. Certainly this was going to be more of a gimmick than a useful feature. But I was wrong. Look at the following photographs from my iPhone 4 with the standard picture at the left and the HDR photo on the right:
In almost every case I find that I prefer the HDR shot. It does take longer to take an HDR picture which is the one drawback. Purists have argued that this is not true HDR, but a simplified version, but I don’t think most consumers will care. I think we will see this as a trend and in 2 years I expect all point and shoot cameras to offer a similar mode.