Okay. I surrender. I'm using the built in HDR feature on both my Sony a77 and my Sony Nex 7. And it works.

I don't like a lot of the HDR stuff that I see on the web. In fact, I hate the flattened look and grainy, clarity overkill that I plainly see in so much of the work. But my friend, ATMTX, seems to have a light touch with it and he's always pushing me to stop being such a curmudgeon and try doing things like using the concepts of HDR to improve my work as well as using the rear screen of my cameras to compose with. "Use the force!"  He says.

After a recent post I read about throwing away a lot of stuff I knew I knew I decided to shelve my prejudices about photography and just go out and respond willingly to the stuff I saw. No big agenda. Just like moth to flame or a child to colors.  I gave up some control by putting my ISO on auto.  But I gave up a lot of control when I decided to turn on the in camera HDR in my Sony Nex 7.  This will seem old hat to some of you but in the Sony Nex there is a menu in which you can select HDR and then make a second selection for how many stops difference you want between each of the three shots that the camera uses to combine into one final frame.

The camera shoots the frames really fast and then micro aligns them and processes them into pleasing HDR files. For the uncertain it's nice to know that the camera also gives you a separate untouched jpeg that is the "correct" or center frame of the the three frame bracket.

All of the images in this particular blog post were done with in camera HDR and at ranges from 3 stops to 5 stops. I think they look darling and I didn't have to buy a book or go to a workshop in order to get them. Which makes me think that Sony is making a pretty damn sophisticated camera to be able to do exactly what I want it to do without any intervention from me....

All but the last image in this series were taken at the Austin Hilton Hotel, just across from the Austin Convention Center. I was out test shooting with the Sony LAEA-1 Alpha to Nex lens adapter, the 35mm 1.8 DT lens and the Sony Nex camera.  I like the combination very much and I can see using the Nex 7 as a primary shooting camera for professional work. I think mirrorless has come, now, totally of age and it's ready to compete with traditional camera paradigms. The Nex cameras, the Olympus OMD and the upcoming Panasonic GH3 are/will be capable of delivering nearly everything a typical, regional working pro needs in order to supply clients with professional images.  There will always be exceptions to this statement. I freely admit that micro four thirds and mirrorless Sony aren't ready to tackle high end architecture photography. Not because the sensors aren't ready but because there are no tilt/shift optics available and adapting the ones out there that are made for other formats isn't a solution because they are too long...

What I found after pixel peeping my take this afternoon is a camera that out resolves everything I've used before, handles like a dream and basically-----kicks ass. The other thing I found out is that the Sony DT series of inexpensive prime lenses kicks ass, squared. You can read tests based on flat resolution target bullshit or you can go out and shoot with the optics you are interested in and make up your own mind. I'll take the latter path every time. In my experience the Sony 35mm 1.8 DT, the 85mm 2.8 DT and the 50mm 1.8 DT are some of the finest performing optics I've shot with. But I'll be the first one to tell you that I don't shoot newspapers tacked to the wall or air force resolution charts.  And neither should you.  

If you want to test a lens you put it on your camera and then shoot the stuff you enjoy shooting.  Look at the results and make up your own mind.

So, all of these images are hand held with the camera setting shutter speeds between 1/60th and 1/80th of a second. I am consistently amazed at how the camera is able to align all three of the frames and make such perfect images.  If I'd had the camera on a tripod and the ISO set to 100 I can only imagine just how great the images could have been. But would I have liked them any better?

The Nex 7 is turning out to be the camera I really wanted from Olympus and Panasonic. But it's even more eccentric which endears it to me even more.  So much performance.  So many wild features. So many lens choices.  Has there ever been a better time for the actual practice of photography?

Finally, I've spent the last two years denigrating the whole idea of HDR. Do I feel guilty? Was I wrong? NO. The stuff that became known as HDR in common parlance was atrocious stuff. And it was applied to all kinds of inappropriate subject matter. I'm changing my mind and finding that judicious use of a three frame blend adds another tool to my creative and professional tool box. And that's okay. It's only when carpeting steps over the line to lime green shag that we have an aesthetic problem.....

Final note: The more I use the Nex 7 the less I want to use anything else. 


  1. This is fantastic, Kirk. I hope that this technique will be useful, for the appropriate subjects, like any other photographic technique. The in-camera Sony HDRs look great. If done correctly, I believe HDR processing can add another dimension without looking too gimmicky.

    LOL, now I'm going to sound like an old curmudgeon. Back in the day when I started doing HDRs you had to take all the exposure brackets yourself and combine them into an HDR in post-processing. I take 3 or 5 photographs depending on the camera I use. I use 3 pieces of software to get the look that you (and I) describe as a light touch. Now in camera, automatic HDRs are getting better and better. I've seen some Nikon D800 HDR that also look pretty good too.

    So what are all the "youngsters" who jumped into HDR going to do now when the camera does the HDR for you automatically. They will be forced, like the generation of photographers before them, to adapt and use principles of good composition instead of relying just upon a newish post-processing technique. Ahh the relentless price of progress. It effects everyone, the young and the not so young.

  2. Kirk, for more manual control than the in-camera feature (if you need it), you might try the LR/Enfuse plugin. Unlike conventional HDR + tone mapping, it's very simple/straightforward and basically impossible to get unnatural looking results.

  3. You've convinced me. The rule I just made up is: "Never apologize for making the photo show what your brain saw."

    (I am still trying to get used to the mixed light shots (especially #2 and #6) ).

  4. I wonder if this is a semantic problem. The stuff around the web that'scalled HDR is not very nice to look at, no question, but this stuff is. We should stop calling it HDR, is all. We should invent a new acronym, then all the prejudices might go away.

  5. Lime green shag turns my stomach too!

  6. Very nice HDR, looks bit more like exposure fusing than regular HDR. Sony did this one right it seems. Certainly pleasant to look at.

  7. I am happy you have found a camera that makes your heart sing! Maybe this will be your digital Hassey. Between the blending..the snapseeding and the all the the rest I can tell a Kirk Tuck photograph from any other. You see things in ways most people don't. Oh and lime green shag is coming back!

  8. The first time I saw an HDR photo was at a Pro Shop. The shot was of the inside of Union Station, in Los Angeles, and was looking out through one of the arches. It looked like being there, the HDR made up for the Dynamic Range deficiencies of the sensor, and nothing more. From my motion picture experience I knew it was a BIG lighting job to balance the inside to the outside of a space that large. So I asked the shooter how he'd done it, and he explained how an HDR program combined multiple exposures. It seemed to be a great tool for architectural photographers.

    Six month later I saw the first Artistic (???) use of HDR. My mother used to say "All his taste is in his mouth,' and that applies to most of the HDR I've seen. Glad to see that you have discovered the real use of HDR, the hotel shots look like being there.

    For the last twenty years or so cameras have been very "smart." 1990s Canikon Film cameras would give you perfectly exposed Chromes and nicely balanced on-camera-fill-flash when set to P (professional). And they seem to be getting smarter with every new model. The new Fuji cameras will change saturation, etc to match Astia (for people) or Velvia (for landscapes), good stuff. With cameras moving to using Apps, maybe soon we'll be able to buy a Fujifilm App and a Kodak App to do it all in-camera 8-), no "Shop plug-ins needed 8-) 8-).


  9. HDR is like anything else. It can look real, or it can look fake. Some people were heavily into the fake look, but sometimes a camera just can't do what the eye can, and if HDR can do that, mission accomplished.

    Really, it's no more "fake" than using a grad or fill flash. Making a flash image look smooth and natural is a real skill which few amateurs master. Getting it wrong is very prevalent.

  10. Kirk, like you I normally dislike the mere concept of HDR so much it took me a couple of visits to the blog to actually go and open the post !
    And BAM, you did it again, you turned my repulsion into awe. Great job by you and the 7 ! I'm getting really familiar with the 5N, and when I decide I've graduated to decent MF abilities (getting better by the day) I'll treat myself to the 7 (or 6, depending on how reviews compare them). I NEVER (in a couple million years) though I'd say that, but Sony cameras rock (Heaven help me !).

  11. Sort of a "pop art" effect, but with that extra richness of hdr, and as others have noted, lacking the day-glow vomit look (I zeroed in on the hotel rug to check and to me it looks very nice). Wish my camera could do it.


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