Shot on iPhone 6 : High Dynamic Range (HDR)

Inspired by the new Apple ad campaign around “Shot on iPhone 6”, we look at where an iPhone (or an Android) breaks down in image quality or capability, and when and why a DSLR really matters. If there are apps or gizmos that can be used with the iPhone to compensate for this breakdown in image quality or capability, we will try and mention those as well.

There is no question that the convenience, and always-with-you availability of a smartphone is crucial to capturing a photographic moment, but for a large variety of photographic situations, a bigger sensor and better capabilities (e.g., a DSLR) does matter. We had looked at Long Exposure Photography in our first post on this topic.

Today, let’s pay close attention to dynamic range in a regular or HDR version of a photograph from the iPhone. To clarify, we did use an iPhone 5s for all these images, and the camera of iPhone 6 has been advertised as superior – so please make your own extrapolations. We suggest clicking on each image to enlarge them and see the impact of the sensors on dynamic range.


These two images capture the Puente Romano, or the Roman Bridge built in the first century AD, against the backdrop of the famous Mezquita (Cathedral-Mosque). These are both regular (non-HDR) images shot from the same location at roughly the same time. The field of view is unfortunately a little different for both, but does not distract from a discussion on image quality. Both have been identically processed in Lightroom 5 – settings have been copied and pasted from one to another. The image on the left is from a Canon 6D and the one on the right is from an iPhone 5s.


As another example, the two images above capture El Transparente, the skylight in the Cathedral of Toledo in Spain, at mid-day when there is incredible contrast between the sunlight streaming in and the dark interiors. The image on the left is from a Canon 6D, while the one on the right is from the iPhone 5S. Both images are normal – no HDR processing has been applied on either, and identical post processing has been applied to both.

As you can see, in both these examples, the dynamic range present in the 6D image far outweighs the dynamic range present in the iPhone sensor. Maybe the iPhone will do better in HDR mode.

The photographs below compare a regular Canon 6D image on the left to an HDR version of the same view from an iPhone 5s. This is the town of Toledo in Spain, taken from across the river Tagus at sunset on a winter evening in December. As with the other images, the same post processing has been applied to both images in Lightroom.


As you can see, even the HDR version of the iPhone image has less dynamic range than the normal 6D shot. Can we make things better? Will a merged HDR shot of multiple iPhone exposures using (say) Photomatix help improve dynamic range? Stay tuned.


Posted in how-to, photography, spain.

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