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Learn More About Dynamic Range

By lunamik / July 21, 2016

You’ve no-doubt noticed how camera manufacturers nowadays are featuring the dynamic range of a new camera model as a forefront selling point. It has been one of the most talked about features for new cameras, especially in the digital recording scene. But what really is this thing called dynamic range, and how much does it impact your video quality? Well, here’s a quick overview from Lunamik, regarding dynamic range and how it helps improve the image performance of your camera.

By definition, dynamic range is the ratio of the largest and smallest quantity that can be achieved by your image. Since parameters such as light and sound are changeable quantities, then you can have a dynamic range of these parameters. Specifically for sound, the dynamic range is defined as the ratio of the noise floor and the maximum sound pressure level that can be measured by the microphone. For light parameters, the ratio is between the brightest and darkest part.

In cameras, the dynamic range of light is the range within the brightest and darkest parts of the image without any loss in detail. Once detail is lost, then this spectrum is beyond the dynamic range of the camera.  Beyond this range, you will notice some spots that are washed away or become noisy due to darkness. The greater dynamic range your camera has, the more you can capture detailed and high-quality images/videos regardless of the amount of light present in the environment. To illustrate this a little clearer, we all know that a standard colour wheel looks like this:


This colour wheel is made up of millions of tiny individual colours, millions of blues, endless reds, and fifty shades of grey – you name it. To put it bluntly, the greater your dynamic range, the more ability your camera has to pick up as many of the individual colours/shades as possible, making for a much more colour/light rich image. The more variation your camera can capture, the more room you’ll have when it comes to colour editing and balancing the image.

Now, back in the day, the dynamic range of your image was determined on what film stock you shot on. But since the integration of digital recording, camera manufacturers are finding more ways to synthesise and increase dynamic range as a whole. But is it really important? Does it really make a difference to have a greater dynamic range to the everyday viewer’s eye? One recurring challenge of camera makers is to be able to match the dynamic range of human 20/20 vision, which is a damn hard feat, considering our retina has had thousands of years to advance. However, due to continual technological innovations, camera companies are now becoming closer to attaining the goal of rendering images as decent as the human eye.

So in answer to the earlier question; does it really matter? Well, the answer is a flat yes – especially when it comes to filmmaking projects, the variance in light and colour that you can acheivecan mean the difference between a pleasing image, and an unbearable shot – so yes it can potentially be a huge factor. You will be able to shoot footage with more room for creativity because you can adjust the videos while still retaining the details and image quality. Whether you are shooting in a low-light environment you can still be able to capture the details and make everything clear to the viewers. In a sense, it gives the viewers the real experience of immersing themselves within the video. A camera with a great dynamic range will also lessen various light requirements because all you need to see can be reflected in the footage with minimal help from artificial lighting.

There are various cameras for recording that boasts a solid dynamic range. The different degrees of dynamic range depends whether you want to use the camera for big budget production or as a prosumer camera for mostly everyday life.

The Red Epic camera is the top camera with the largest dynamic range at 16.5 stops. Following this is URSA Mini 4.6K at 15 stops. Arri Alexa has a dynamic range of 14.5 stops. Sony F55, Sony a7S II and Panasonic VariCam LT has 14 stops. Canon C500 and BM Production Camera has 12 stops. Canon 5D Mark III and Panasonic GH4 has 11 stops. These cameras are on the top of the list in terms of dynamic range. Whilst it’s great fun to get your gear hat on and compare stats all day. It’s important to remember that whilst some cameras trump each other in terms of dynamic range, this doesn;t necessarily make them better cameras. There are still other factors that you should consider when purchasing a camera. What’s really important is that you know the purpose of what you’ll be using it for – and furthermore, what’s most important to you.

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