What Is Dynamic Range?
Camera manufacturers constantly tout the dynamic range of their gear. What are they talking about? Here’s everything you need to know.
Top image via B&H Photo
What Is Dynamic Range?
Dynamic range is the “ratio between the largest and smallest values of a changeable quantity.” This range between the largest and smallest can be measured with light or sound. With sound, it’s the measurement between the “noise floor and the maximum sound pressure level” and what a microphone can capture. In terms of light, it revolves around the ratio between the brightest to the darkest.
Image via Aversis 3D
In terms of photo and video, this is the range in which a camera can capture the brightest and darkest areas of an image without the loss of details in the image. If the camera moves beyond this dynamic range, then that’s when you’ll see the brights being washed out or the darks becoming noisy.
So, the more dynamic range your camera has, the more leeway you have to capture your image. If you’d like to know more, check out this great video from Lynda.com. The clip comes from more of a photography angle, but the theory and principles of dynamic range are the same.
Is It Really That Important?
Camera manufacturers are constantly upgrading their technology with the goal of getting closer to the capability of the human eye. While they end up falling short, it’s not for a lack of trying. The human eye is an amazing optical receiver — and if it was a camera, it would be the most expensive camera ever.
Image via Photography-101
The dynamic range of the human eye is something that current camera technology just can’t match. However, dynamic range is vital to the filmmaking process in the digital age, especially as creators try to duplicate the look of film. Giving filmmakers wider dynamic range allows them to have so much more room to make adjustments and capture that desired look. Plus, with wider dynamic range, you won’t have to rely on artificial lighting to achieve the look you want.
Which Cameras Have the Best Dynamic Range?
Now that we have a solid understanding of dynamic range and how it works, let’s take a look at what options we have when it comes to camera technology. The interesting part about the table below: The varying dynamic range capabilities of prosumer cameras versus big-budget production cameras.
|RED WEAPON||16.5 Stops*|
|URSA Mini 4.6K||15 Stops|
|ARRI ALEXA||14.5 Stops|
|Sony F55||14 Stops*|
|Sony a7S II||14 Stops|
|Panasonic VariCam LT||14 Stops*|
|Canon C500||12 Stops|
|BM Production Camera||12 Stops|
|Canon 5D Mark III||11 Stops|
|Panasonic GH4||11 Stops|
*Measurement of dynamic range when using log or raw.
Was this breakdown helpful to you? Is dynamic range something that is important to you? Give us your thoughts in the comments below!