With adequate processing power it seems like in-camera HDR and panorama images would always be better than what could be composited in post, because:

  1. The camera can use inertial sensors to align the images, instead of having to stitch them based on image content.
  2. The camera can lock exposure, white balance, and other settings that can make post-production compositing more tricky if not explicitly controlled.
  3. For HDR the camera can bracket intelligently, instead of depending on the photographer to cover an adequate range.

I.e., in theory it seems like the best you could hope for is to manually shoot for post-production what an intelligent camera could do on the fly.

But in practice is this (yet) true? I.e., are there are cameras that do HDR and panoramas so well that a good photographer would opt for the in-camera processing instead of shooting a series and post-processing for the effect?


4 Answers 4


Whenever you compare in-camera to post processing you end up with exactly the same advantages to post processing:

  1. Control

    Lightroom for photos or photomatics for HDR has lots and lots of options and sliders, there's no way you can get all of them into a camera-size interface - and even if you could they are things you want to change and experiment with after taking the picture not set and hope for the best.

  2. Processing Power

    I'm typing this on my i7 laptop with 16GB of memory, I don't care how good the camera chip manufacturers are there's no way they can match the raw processing power of this computer.

    Also, on this computer I don't care if stitching takes a long time, on the camera things better finish quickly so I can take the next shot.

  3. Software

    The software available for your computer is way better than what's in the camera - and even if it wasn't so when the camera was made Lightroom released two major versions since the last firmware update for my camera.

    With smartphone cameras the software does get updated but the actual camera isn't as good and still the mobile software is nowhere as good as Lightroom, Photoshop and Photomatics.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good points. But any comment on the inertial referencing available in camera (and not yet fully embedded in metadata for the benefit of post)? The only clear advantage of that I can see is for stitching. Is stitching so easy to do based on the image content that inertial reference data are irrelevant? \$\endgroup\$
    – feetwet
    Sep 7, 2014 at 15:07
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @feetwet - the current generation of inertia-sensor-based stitching is pretty mediocre (at least based on everything I downloaded to my phone) while the current generation of content-based stitching is amazingly good - I don't see any reason to care about the missing inertia data for at least a few years. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nir
    Sep 7, 2014 at 20:47

I can think of a few reasons why an intelligent camera still wouldn't be as good as a competent photographer:

  1. Where would the camera lock exposure and focus? It would have to be at the beginning of the panorama, which presumably doesn't contain the most interesting/important part of the final image so it's quite likely that focus and exposure would not be ideal. This wouldn't apply to HDRs though. Perhaps you could lock focus, then move and start the sweep, but that's getting more complicated, and what if you wanted the main subject slightly over/under exposed to save something else in the image?
  2. An in camera panorama/HDR can't be a RAW file. It would probably be a JPG which would make post processing less than ideal.
  3. I haven't done many HDRs but I believe that the tone mapping is pretty key and whilst it could probably be automated to be OK I doubt it will always do what you would want and given point 2 you'll then have issues manipulating the image.
  1. How precise are the inertial sensors? Programs may have to align images based on content, but that is very accurate, plus programs offer different blending algorithms and many projections to choose from as needed. Not to mention that existing algorithms improve and new ones are introduced.

  2. That's what manual mode is for.

  3. Please explain how a camera can bracket more "intelligently" that the brain of an experienced photographer. A photographer knows to make the shot with the least exposure to give only what's needed to capture the highlight details in that shot. How do you propose a camera doing this? Plus, in software you have many choices for how to tone map.

I'd say that in practice the best camera will be able to beat the worst photographer, but that's it.


All but the most trivial panoramas or HDR's will benefit from manual post processing, eg. removing ghosts or twiddling with the tone mapping. If you let the camera do it, you're stuck with the JPEG it produced, with no chance to correct anything.

Baiscally, the argument for manual panorama and HDR production is the same as for RAW vs. JPEG, only more so.


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