I hope this isn't a stupid question. Smartphones have a HDR option, where you can take 1 shot and the smartphone then applies HDR. With a camera, you can't do (to the best of my knowledge) HDR with a single shot. You take successive shots with different EVs obtained by changing the aperture, but other than that, the shots are the same. So time, ISO and frame are untouched: a tripod is used to guarantee that all shots are aligned. The process is fairly mechanical: I only decide if I want to use 1 or 2 stop intervals, which corresponds to 3 or 5 shots.

Why can't this be done automatically by the camera itself? It requires 2 ingredients:

  1. to be able to take multiple shots in rapid succession: most cameras can do that (Burst mode)
  2. to be able to modify the aperture automatically. All cameras can do this: exposure time, ISO and aperture are all set by the camera if one uses Auto mode.

In practice, I would set time and ISO, choose the number of shots (or equivalently the interval in stops between successive shots) and the camera would take the shots in rapid succession. It seems both convienient and easy to do. What am I missing?

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    "Smartphones have a HDR option, where you can take 1 shot" - what makes you think that the smartphone only takes a single shot? It might as well do what you are proposing. – null Aug 6 '18 at 18:11
  • @null nothing. As a matter of fact, if you read carefully, I said I take one shot. I have no idea if the smartphone actually takes more than one, in rapid succession. But definitely I don't have to click the "shot" button more than once, and modify the setting of the camera app in between a shot and the other. – DeltaIV Aug 6 '18 at 18:14
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    The smartphone is most likely taking three shots, it's just not made known to the user (especially since there is no shutter noise). Part of it may come down to the amount of processing power that comes built in with smartphones as well. Smartphones ship with dedicated GPUs that allow for strikingly fast image processing operations. – Ivan Lesko Aug 6 '18 at 18:16
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    what you are asking for, has already existed for many years across a multitude of different brands. Many DSLR's and Mirrorless Cameras have an HDR mode where the camera takes a burst of 3 images and merges them into a single HDR jpeg. – Abdul N Quraishi Aug 6 '18 at 22:51
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    @MichaelClark maybe. Or maybe the search tool on Stack Exchange is not that great, and some people are just not able to understand how much of a difference it makes to have subject matter expertise and years of membership in a community? So many maybes in life... – DeltaIV Aug 7 '18 at 8:13

Some cameras already do this. For example, some of the Sony A7 series (e.g., A7R III for certain, but I think probably all the others as well) have an HDR mode where it takes three shots in a burst, then automatically combines them into a single HDR result.

Of course, some people want the extra control they can get by taking three separate shots, then combining, tone-mapping (etc.) manually.

  • Another data point: my D800E has an HDR mode, that takes 2 images bracketed at either 1, 2, or 3 EV. It doesn't save the original images, and cannot create RAWs in this mode, only JPEG or TIFF. – scottbb Aug 6 '18 at 18:16
  • I didn't know that. It sounds kind of expensive! Is it a fullframe, professional camera? About the extra control: sure, but some people (not professional photographers, probably, but even people with a semi-pro such as a Fuji XT-20) may like to be able to choose. – DeltaIV Aug 6 '18 at 18:18
  • @scottbb: Yeah--actually, that seems like an odd decision. It seems like it'd be pretty easy to create a raw file by simply scaling the data from each shot, so you got a few extra significant bits per sample. – Jerry Coffin Aug 6 '18 at 18:19
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    @DeltaIV: I mean once they find that it works well, they'll start to accept it. Or, in some cases, those who refuse to use it will be shuffled into the background, while those who do the same job more efficiently come to the foreground. – Jerry Coffin Aug 6 '18 at 18:28
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    @scottbb For what it's worth, the Canon 5D3 allows saving the individual frames in RAW, JPEG, or RAW+JPEG as well as the combined frame in 'JPEG only' when using the camera's built-in HDR feature. Needless to say, the number of files can stack up quickly. – Michael C Aug 7 '18 at 0:56

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