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Yes, there are cameras with built-in HDR but the operator still has to set it up properly. The cameras have plenty of brains, they could do it themselves. Put your camera on the tripod, select HDR and push the button. The camera examines the resulting image--if there's any white in it (beyond simply noise) it fires again at +1 EV (via shutter speed only). If there's any black in it it fires again at -1 EV (again, only via shutter speed.) It keeps doing this until there is no white in the highest image and no black in the lowest. That way you are ensured the bracketing is wide enough without wasting shots it turns out you don't need.

Edit: Why is everyone thinking I'm suggesting doing the HDR in the camera? That's a post-processing step that needs a human judgment call to get right. I'm only suggesting the bracketing as the camera has the ability to figure this out easily while the photographer keeps having to mess with the camera which risks moving it a bit.

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    I think you mean no white in the lowest exposure (which will be darker than a higher exposure), and vice versa. – Michael C Feb 9 '16 at 22:18
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    Usually when features are missing it's because nobody has implemented them. Don't get me wrong, I would like to have this feature and I think it's a good idea, but sometimes there is no good reason for the absence of a feature. Of course, none of this would be an issue if manufacturers took a more liberal approach and let us run free and open source firmware on our cameras. – Jules Feb 9 '16 at 22:57
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    In answer to your edit: because everything in your question and explanation implied that you're doing HDR in camera. If you're not doing HDR in camera and are doing the HDR afterwards, then the camera already has exposure bracketing (depending on what camera you're using) so I'm not really sure which feature you think is missing – laurencemadill Feb 10 '16 at 10:19
  • @laurencemadill Cameras can bracket but they can't bracket intelligently--checking the images to ensure enough shots are taken to cover the range. – Loren Pechtel Feb 11 '16 at 0:59
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If you shoot Canon, and can use Magic Lantern, there actually is an ML feature that does exactly what you're describing: HDR Bracketing with Autodetect set. Similarly, if you want to ETTR, Magic Lantern offers an Auto-ETTR feature, based on analysis of RAW histograms. And there's the dual-ISO mode for single-shot HDR. So, obviously, it's not that this kind of feature can't be implemented.

It's probably just because the camera manufacturers don't feel it to be important/cost effective enough to implement themselves. Or that having to explain to users what these features are for and how to use them may be more trouble than it's worth. But we can only speculate.

  • I'm glad to learn that I'm not the only one that sees the value in something like this. – Loren Pechtel Mar 11 '16 at 4:43
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Because photography is about a lot more than just proper exposure. The camera can't read your mind to see how you wish the final image to turn out.

Imagine a scene that would be properly exposed at ISO400, 1/125 second, and f/5.6. You could also expose the same scene at the same level using ISO 400, 1/1000 second, and f/2. Or ISO 400, 1/15 second, and f/16. Or ISO 100, 1/250 second, and f/16. ISO 1600, 1/8000 second, and f/1.4. Etc...

If anything in the scene is moving, or of there are elements in the scene that are closer and farther from the camera than other elements, each of these sets of settings are all going to look very different in the final result even though they are all exposed at the same level.

How does your camera know the result at which you are aiming?

  • Still, a mode where you set exposure for shadows, then it brackets downward until no clipping happens is an interesting idea... – junkyardsparkle Feb 9 '16 at 22:36
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    @junkyardsparkle there are scenarios where you practically will always clip, no matter the exposure settings. Almost any time the unobstructed sun is in an image, it will clip at any exposure setting your camera has. – scottbb Feb 9 '16 at 23:30
  • @scottbb - I wasn't suggesting it was an all-purpose shooting mode. :P – junkyardsparkle Feb 10 '16 at 0:59
  • @junkyardsparkle I didn't infer that you did. I specifically had HDR in mind when I mentioned sun-in-the-picture shots. – scottbb Feb 10 '16 at 1:08
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If my camera had such an automatic HDR bracketing mode, I'd probably wind up not using it very much. It already has an HDR mode that I never use, because I don't want it deciding how to mix or emphasize the HDR – that's my job and my vision. Automatic HDR bracketing would be a "sophomore"-level feature – it's a step or two past novice photography, but once one gets into HDR bracketing a bit more, the less one needs the auto bracketing mode.

In essence, the mode is a crutch or training wheel that is only useful until the photographer's skills exceeds the camera's. In lower priced consumer cameras, the mode would likely cost too much to do implement "correctly", or it wouldn't get enough use to justify its cost. In higher end consumer and prosumer cameras, the mode wouldn't get any use – pros typically just want the camera to get out the way of their creative vision.

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