by ʇolɐǝz ǝɥʇ qoq

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Could someone please explain the difference between the two?

Are there cases where the one technique is more preferable over the other or a general rule of thumb?

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Active D-Lighting or its equivalent in other brands can only make an image a little worse, HDR can makes thing much much worse :) – Itai Aug 22 '12 at 14:54
up vote 6 down vote accepted

HDR is a multi-image technique that takes a sequence of images of different exposures to produce one that shows a greater dynamic range than a camera can capture.

HDR is used for scenes of excessive dynamic-range. It extremely difficult to do without a tripod and moving subjects cause serious problems because pixels have to be perfectly aligned to be merged correctly.

Adaptive D-Lighting works from a single capture and serves to reduce contrast so that details are more visible, particularly in shadow areas.

From a RAW file you can do this yourself by using tone-curves and otherwise changing contrast non-uniformly. You can also partly do this from a JPEG but will see banding in shadows. Regardless, this tends to increase noise in dark parts and make images duller.

There are very few cases when I have seen good results from Adaptive D-Lighting and enabling the feature makes results less predictable.

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