iOS 4.1 features: HDR photos

iOS 4.1 adds HDR photo capability to the iPhone -- and now iPod touch -- Camera app. HDR stands for high dynamic range and usually involves a photo with one or more identical photos that are over and under exposed and then combined together so that far more light and shadow information is available than a single exposure would allow. These high dynamic range images can then be tone mapped to provide a far greater amount of detail, far more like what the human eye can see. (That's my lay person, non-photo geek understanding of it anyway -- feel free to tear me apart in the comments, but only if you can explain it better).

So basically, you can see detail in the sky and in the shadow under the tree, rather than having one blown out or the other lost to black.

To enable HDR you simply tap the HDR button, much like the LED Flash button under iOS 4. Then, when you take the picture, iOS takes not only the regular shot but one overexposed and one underexposed. Shooting the picture seems to take roughly the same amount of time, but saving it takes noticeably longer.

So far, based on the results we've seen online, iOS HDR does a good job pulling color and detail back into what were previously blown out skies, but an only okay job revealing detail in shadowy areas.

For non photo geeks, however, all they'll notice is better pictures with bluer skies and brighter people, which is probably why Apple added the feature in the first place.

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

iOS 4.1 features: HDR photos


I really hope this takes the yellow out of photos when taking pictures indoors at night with the lights on. Either way camera improvement is much welcomed.

I will NEVER use that function. The photos I've taken are quite spectacular alone. If anything else needs tweaking, Photoshop usually does the trick.

And honestly the regular photo on the left looks better than the one with HDR active on the right to me. :|

@Born2vape it does seems to sort that problem as I tried it out and the tone was normal and that was without HDR turned on. Didn't do an extensive test in different lights but it does seemed improved overall.

I've been using an HDR app for awhile now, and though it's a bit of a pain to use, the results are definitely worth it it in some situations. The third-party apps will still do a better job, but it's great to see Apple integrate this. Many more people will be exposed (sorry about the pun) to it, and I foresee even better photos coming off iPhones in the future. I only pack around a separate digital camera on vacations. Next, they need to add built-in panorama capability.

Anyone else experience a lot of blurry photos with iPhone 4? Much more than 3GS I had, so has to be megapixel related?

So they make a new iPod Touch, and do not at least give it the same camera as the new iPhone. Makes no sense. Good work design manager. Do you recall what happened to the last one?

That really sucks about the iPod Touch's camera not being 5MP. I was going to get one for my girlfriend so that we could FaceTime/SexTime (lol), but the fact that the main back camera only takes 1280x720 photos is a total dealbreaker for me, regardless of the 720p video. If I'm going to spend $300 bucks on the 32 gig version, a full 5MP camera is an absolute MUST.
I'm definitely looking forward to HDR functions on my iPhone 4 though. From what I've seen so far, it looks like it works pretty well for a phone camera, so any improvement is better.
I too, however, am hoping that they take out that yellow warming filter that makes most indoor photos look like crap. That really pisses me off!!! Outdoor pictures typically look fine, but indoor photos are terrible. I wish they'd update the camera app in general to give us photophiles more control over the camera.

Looks like the end of the recently reviewed ClearCam app that I bought 3 days ago. Glad it was only $1.99 since HDR seems to do the same thing or more.

"lay person"????
Wow, talk about going out of your way for dump political correctness. You sacrificed writing for pc... Too bad.

Is there any logical explanation as to why they didn't incorporate the use of a volume button for picture taking? It's absurd that I have to still use the screen to snap a photo! Why wont they do this?

Its not on 3g either this sucks tbh, i was even gonna buy and ipod touch for the new features now there seeing to be half as good as it was made out to be, hating apple right now

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