EOS 6D In-Camera HDR test

The Canon EOS 6D that I’ve had for just over a month has a feature that my EOS 7D (which it replaced) did not have.  First of all, I switched to the 6D because my favorite types of photography benefit more from a full-frame sensor than high speed, toughness, and a focal length multiplier, all of which are advantages the 7D has over the 6D.

The 6D is slower, has less magnesium and more plastic in it’s body, and my 200mm lens is no longer a 35mm equivalent of 320mm for angle of view.  But the 6D is absolutely incredible in low light settings, and my 17mm lens is now actually 17mm instead of 27mm, which makes for spectacular wide shots, like the one below. Though you probably can’t tell from looking at pictures in my posts, the increase in image quality when editing the files is significantly higher with the 6D.

WA State Capitol - 6D In-camera HDR

WA State Capitol – 6D In-camera HDR

So in a situation like this, where the sun is going down and there are deep shadows, HDR should be more useful, right?  I do like how this shot turned out.  Amazingly, this photo is from 3 separate exposures, combined by the 6D to create a JPEG image.  And just like a any multi-exposure HDR, the camera needs to be held still.  Some of the softness in this image may be due to me hand-holding the 3-shot sequence. The 6D’s big brother, the EOS 5D MkIII can create a RAW file from multiple exposures, but I have to shoot 3 separate RAW photos and combine in software if I want to go that route.

So how well does this in-camera HDR mode work? It does help maintain shadow detail. The images appear to be lower contrast. Since they are JPEG files, there has been some in-camera sharpening and contrast, in addition to the HDR process.  This means the file needs less work in post processing, and that’s a good thing, because I was not able to push this photo very far at all to recover color in the sky without a pixelated texture breaking out in the sky.  That’s the disadvantage of JPEG files: whatever the camera did to it, you can adjust it some, but not nearly as much as you can with a RAW file.  Take a look at the two photos below.

Capitol Lake - EOS 6D In-camera HDR (JPEG)

Capitol Lake – EOS 6D In-camera HDR (JPEG)

Capitol Lake - EOS 6D single RAW (processed & exported to JPEG)

Capitol Lake – EOS 6D single RAW (processed & exported to JPEG)

The first thing to note is the depth of color and detail in the lower image, which the upper image simply can’t compete with, even though it’s technically an HDR.  Also, notice the odd streaks or striations running through the sky of the upper photo – and I did not push the JPEG nearly as far as the RAW, yet the RAW retains very smooth gradations from blue to orange.  I also think that despite being HDR, the JPEG has lost some shadow detail that the lower RAW file still retains.

I may play around with this in-camera HDR mode a bit more before a final judgement, but my initial conclusion is that a properly exposed RAW file can yield better results than the in-camera HDR mode, which spits out a JPEG that’s more limited in editing possibilities.

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