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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Auto HDR and Zero Sharpness

Auto HDR and Zero Sharpness
December 2012, Carl Garrard
Even though I think that Sony can improve the Jpeg engine in the A57, there remains a scenario where I still will allow out of camera Jpegs to be used. As the title of this article implies, I like to set my A57 for zero sharpness when using the Jpeg engine, and, use BASE ISO (as much as possible) along with HDR. In a way the Jpegs are three times better than a standard Jpeg considering there is a stack of 3 together into one. Sharpening out of camera, means you control that process almost completely yourself (as the OOC Jpegs at -3 sharpness are very soft indeed and look nearly untouched as seen below).

B & H Photo Excellent A57 Deal

No sharpness out of camera f/8

After sharpening in Elements 10 conservatively ( .7 pixels, 125%) the detail pops to life without any artefacts or sharpening halo's. The images have lots of depth, and a surprising amount of latitude for post processing for a Jpeg. Here the above image has been sharpened as noted, and shown below. The leaves look wonderfully detailed. HDR has helped bring up the mids/shadows while maintaining highlights without any clipping (check the histogram) in any color channel.

Sharpened, looking fantastic at ISO 100

Now of course you have to get your color right out of camera since the Jpegs don't take much PP without introducing artefacts, but a white card takes care of that trick (or clouds). Although the total measured range of DR in the final image is around 9 full stops, you can with Auto HDR "compress" a scene with much greater DR into that 9 stops, and do so naturally. Here is a shot at ISO 400 below. Note zero noise or processing fingerprint at all (and perfect color) in the first image, and the second has been sharpened at .7 pixels and 65%, and only a trace amount of noise shows in the shadow areas.

ISO 400, no noise, no artefacts out of camera (a clean Jpeg)

Same shot sharpened in Elements 10, only a trace amount of noise shows

So for scenes that would require bracketing and stacking later, I do like to see what I can get out of the A57 and do so as natural to the scene as possible. This is where I will indeed rely on a Jpeg from the A57 because I'm basically doing a bunch of post processing in advance/during exposure (the A57 helps too of course by stacking and auto aligning the Jpegs).

The triple stack Jpeg just looks super clean and untouched, almost as if you opened up a raw file and turned all the sharpening completely off. And since Sony does color so darn well, that's just one less thing to have to worry about (as long as you are good at doing a manual white balance reading and not over saturating your images in camera).

No sharpening, very clean image

A touch of sharpening, and walla- incredible detail preserved

Even though there is a negligible crop in the final image vs. not using Auto HDR, I'm fine with that because it's very minimal. Sharpening later makes all the difference, and a lot more fine detail is preserved in the final image as well. Even images shot up to ISO 1600 look very nice as long as you turn the NR down to low and sharpness to -3 and sharpen later. I find those settings the most ideal if you want to preserve the most detail from one stacked HDR Jpeg from the A57 and control the noise removal process yourself.

B & H Photo Excellent A57 Deal

K5 and A580 DSLRS
This is one area that I think only a few DSLRS make beautiful OOC Jpegs using this technique. The A580, A57, A77, A99 and Pentax K5 (and II/s) are but the few that I can think of. They have all others beat because they can stack and auto align in camera and, leave a lot of choices for final output up to the user/photographer.



If you are in the market for one of the cameras mentioned in this article please have a look.
B & H A77 Body Only Deal
B & H Photo Excellent A57 Deal

B & H K5 Body Only Deal


  1. Very nice article. HDR is one of the most useful JPG-Functions in Sony cameras. The provide very natural looking pictures. I just wish the had an option to take 3 RAWs and a processed JPG-HDR in one take.

  2. I see a lot more potential for HDR. Just remember that you can't auto align if you use raws. To me the auto aligning is just as valuable as the auto stacking. What Sony should do next is allow for NR off so you can get the most detail out of Jpegs with the HDR and MFNR modes.

  3. Thanks for posting this great article. I am going to try it with my A37... I appreciate your posting these "how to" tips so much! Thanks, Paul.

  4. Excellent Carl. I do not enjoy the time necessary for manual bracketing and HDR software. I've had high hopes for your same technique with a99, and your illustration is precisely what could bring a great time savings to my work.

    Can't even attempt such a thing with softy a900 jpgs. It's posts like these that give me hope to stick with Sony a while longer.


  5. All Sony need to do is get their OOC Jpegs to the Olympus standard which are recognised as the best Jpeg colours in the business, so good infact that virtually no PP is needed. I think Sony now hold that title [but require some PP] but Fuji are in my view, as good.
    Olympus must now come a close third.

    I am going to try HDR on my A37. I read some where that the A37 has a different 'engine' to the A57 and its designed for better Jpegs for the entry level market.