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What is HDR? Hands-on with the Sony Xperia Z’s camera

Anyone who kept an eye on CES 2013 will have heard about Sony’s new smartphone: the Xperia Z. The flagship, which is on track to arrive in the next month features a number of firsts for the company and debuts some of the big new features we should expect to see arrive on many of the handsets through 2013.

Xperia Z camera

One of the big talking points alongside its 5-inch Full HD display and its IP55/57 water/shock/dust resistance is its 13-megapixel camera; not solely because Sony are known for putting top notch cameras on their flagship handsets, but thanks to the powerful hardware at work in the Xperia Z, its ability to carry off HDR stills and even more impressively HDR video.

What does HDR mean?

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and is a term used in imaging relating to the particular way in which exposure control is leveraged to make compile a short with a more dynamic range of contrast between dark and light areas. These images can be compiled from two or three images and result in a single image with a unique aesthetic.

How does it work?

Flipping the HDR toggle into the ‘on’ position from within the Xperia Z’s camera menu means that every time you take a shot, the Exmor RS sensor which accounts for part of the camera is actually capturing two images in extremely quick succession: one intentionally underexposed and one intentionally overexposed. The Xperia Z then compiles the two photos into one complete photograph, lightening the dark areas, darkening the light areas, but increasing the contrast of the resultant image too, creating an HDR photo which doesn’t lose detail in dark areas and offers a more appealing composition overall.


Sony Xperia Z
Stills taken on the Sony Xperia Z with HDR off and on

Stills taken on the Sony Xperia Z with HDR off and on



Apple  iPhone 5
Stills taken on the Apple iPhone 5 with HDR off and on

Stills taken on the Apple iPhone 5 with HDR off and on


The powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core processor, along with the 2GB of RAM at work within the Xperia Z also mean that it’s one of the first smartphones with enough grunt to offer up HD HDR video as well. The process is much the same as with HDR still photography however the Xperia Z is effectively filming two video simultaneously. By combining the under and overexposed video streams, it can output an HDR video clip with a far more balanced level of contrast than a typical video.

Which devices support HDR photos and video?

The Sony Xperia Z is one of the first smartphones to offer up HDR video recording, but there are a number of other handsets capable of HDR still photography already; the last three iPhones for example (4, 4S, 5) as well as a number of HTC’s 2012 Android handsets including the HTC One X, One S and Desire X. The Samsung Galaxy S3 too, offers HDR still imaging. Strangely HDR capabilities were omitted from the Xperia Z’s predecessor; the Sony Xperia T, perhaps as a means of differentiation.


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