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In photography, the dynamic range, measured in stops, is very crucial. Often, an increase of a single stop equals a doubling of the brightness level. The more stops a camera can cover without clipping, the higher the dynamic range, and therefore the better the camera. So, what exactly does dynamic range means?
Simply, dynamic range is the difference between the darkest and the lightest tones in an image. In other words, pure black and pure white.
Why is dynamic range important?
You may ask, why consider a camera with an excellent dynamic range? Below is the answer.
To help you understand the significance of the dynamic range, let’s recap what we said previously. That dynamic range determines how much information can be seen in an image in both the highlights and shadows at the same time at a given exposure.
Now, if you are in a high contrast scene and have a camera with a low dynamic range that only lets you capture information from brighter or darker portions, you will struggle to expose your image with a good range of both.
But if you own a camera with a higher dynamic range, you will have an easy time capturing more information in both the highlights and in the shadows. Hence you will shoot and process excellent images.
A good dynamic range also prevents posterization during editing. Prevent posterization by getting a camera with an excellent dynamic range.
Usable dynamic range
Ugly noise can make editing a bit tedious. Luckily there is a way to avoid such noise. How? By making sure both the highlights and shadows are rendered well. To do this, you must be aware of the difference between the total dynamic range and usable dynamic range.
Usable dynamic range is sometimes much smaller than the total dynamic range and eliminates the trouble of visible noise if you make the shadows lighter during editing. Basically, if you go for a camera with a highly usable dynamic range, you have a guarantee no noise will appear in post-editing if you make the shadows lighter.
How is the dynamic range measured?
To help you understand this, let’s have a look at how CameraStuffReview measures the dynamic range. They do so by exposing a grayscale so that the lightest area is 14 stops lighter than the darkest area.
CameraStuffReview goes further to use Imatest to analyzes how many areas in the grayscale the camera can distinguish. Now, the more areas the camera can distinguish, the higher the total dynamic range of a sensor. The remaining areas are completely black or completely white.
RAW files and JPG files
CameraStuffReview even goes a step further to measure the dynamic range of RAW files (without any noise) and JPG (with noise suppression) that are stored in the camera.
- The dynamic range of RAW files is a better scale for the performance of the camera sensor.
- The dynamic range for a JPG file is higher but strongly dependent on various parameters such as contrast, image style, and other corrections.
This means there is a chance of improving the dynamic range of the JPG file by selecting other camera settings for the JPG conversion.
Cameras with the very highest dynamic range
- Nikon D810, D800E, D750, D4s,
- Fujifilm X-E1
If looking for a camera with an excellent dynamic range, the Nikon SLR with a large, full-frame sensor (D810, D750) will not disappoint. Nikon D4s high dynamic range at low ISO values is something you will love. Not to mention that it is notable at the high ISO values. You will love Fujifilm X-E1 for its full-format sensor.
Camera with a very good dynamic range
- Sony A7r
- Nikon D7100, D5300, D5200, D3300,
- Canon 1 Dx,
- Samsung NX1
The above are yet other excellent cameras if the dynamic range is a concern. Sony A7r has 36 megapixels on a full-format sensor, and Samsung and Nikon cameras have an APS-C sensor. There are excellent gadgets to own.
Cameras with good dynamic range
- Samsung NX30,
- Canon 5D mk3,
- Canon 6D,
- Nikon D3200, D3300,
- Sony A77,
- Olympus OM-D E-M5, E-M1,
- Panasonic GH4, GM5
All cameras in this category are above average when it comes to dynamic range. Additionally, if you first underexpose a shot by 4 stops and then later make it 4 stops lighter in Photoshop, then the edited shot is nearly indistinguishable from the original, properly exposed shot. Count yourself lucky if you own any camera in this category. In fact, when it comes to sensor size, they outshine the Canon cameras with an APS-C sensor (Canon 7D, 60D, 650D, etc.)
1-inch sensor surprises with dynamic range
The sensors of cameras with full-frame sensors have a surface 8 times greater than a camera with a 1-inch sensor. If technological advancements are nothing to consider, then large sensors under the same conditions capture 3 stops more light than the small sensor. For example, the total dynamic range of a Nikon D810 is both 100 ISO and at 6400 ISO. That is approximately 3 stops greater than the total dynamic range of a Nikon J3.
Full frame cameras
Provided you are certain of what you are doing, full-frame cameras will generally give you a wider dynamic range that APS-C cameras with the exact pixel count. That said, let’s have a look at some of the top full-frame cameras you can buy. Ready?
Autofocus: 273-point AF | User level: Enthusiast/expert | Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Screen type: 3.0-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,100K dots | Megapixels: 24.5MP | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 12fps | Movies: 4K at 30p
- Excellent handling
- Limited buffer depth
- Single card slot
- Solid video and still quality
Although not the newest in the Nikon’s Z system, it still retains its spot as one of the best full-frame cameras. Its cool features make it a must-have gadget for any enthusiast photographer. It is just a perfect camera for any serious photographer.
Sony Alpha A7 III
Autofocus: 693-point AF | Sensor size: Full-frame C screen type: 3.0-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 921,000 dots |MOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 10fps | User level: Enthusiast/expert | Movies: 4K
- 10fps burst shooting
- Battery life could be better
- Advanced 693-point AF system
- Limited touchscreen control
This is an ideal camera when on a budget. Whether planning to shoot stills or videos, action, or static subjects, indoors or out, Sony Alpha A7 III is built to get the job done. You enjoy the advantage of sensor-based stabilization and 710-shot battery life when you own this camera.
Sensor size: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 45.7MP | Autofocus: 493-point AF | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,100,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 9fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Expert
- Excellent image quality
- Modest official battery life
- XQD cards still pricey
- Very responsive
As one of the Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless camera, it is designed with consideration to get the work done. Its solid sensor combined with effective image stabilization plus beautiful EVF, excellent handling, competent AF performance, and great response throughout form the bones of what makes this camera a must-have gadget.
Allowing you to use F-mount lenses through the FTZ adapter, this camera makes the journey from DSLR to mirrorless fairly painless if you’ve already had a collection of lenses.
Sony Alpha A7R III
Sensor size: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 42.2MP | Autofocus: 399-point AF | Screen type: 3.0-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 1,440,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Expert
- Limited touchscreen control
- 10fps at 42.2MP
- Fast AF performance
- Battery life could be better
Do you own A7 but need more pixels? Sony Alpha A7R III comes in handy. With this camera, you never have to sacrifice performance for resolution or vice versa. At the same time, its versatility means it’s just at home perched on a mountain as it is in a studio or out shooting action.
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 45.4MP | Autofocus: 153-point AF, 99 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,359,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 7fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Expert
- Live View AF could be faster
- SnapBridge still needs work
- Breathtaking results
- Excellent performance
Nikon D850 is still one of the most advanced DSLRs that comes with a 45MP full-frame sensor and 7fps burst shooting. It can record 4K quality, and its size and weight make it an excellent option for most photographers.
Canon EOS RP
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 26.2MP | Autofocus: 5,655-point AF | Screen type: 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Enthusiast
- 4K video limitations
- Tiny and light body
- Great value for money
- Limited native lens selection
If you are planning to get a Canon full-frame mirrorless camera, this has to be the one. Canon EOS RP, an improvement from EOS R, is smaller and lighter and available at affordable prices. It is packed with many great features that EOD R lacked.
Hopefully Canon fills out the lens range with some smaller and more affordable options, as most current options are not quite the most suitable partners.