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In short, Fujifilm’s Dynamic Range optimization processes a photo in-camera to decrease the amount of contrast in the photo. Instead of your bright areas appearing pure white, now you can actually see some detail and color there!
The in-camera process can be equated to bringing an underexposed photo into Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One, or any other photo processing program. You then take that underexposed photo and push up the Shadows Slider or pull up the shadow area of the Tone Curve. The brightness of the mid-tones and shadows increases to how you wanted it to look, but the brightness of the highlights barely increases at all, if any.
It’s not, however, as powerful as those sliders. It’s an immediate solution to dealing with a high-contrast scene, and it does work well in many situations.
Every camera manufacturer has a way to deal with high contrast – it’s known as DRO in Sony cameras, ALO (Auto Lighting Optimizer) in Canon cameras, Active D-Lighting in Nikon, and simply Dynamic Range (D-Rng) in Fujifilm cameras.
The Dynamic Range setting is not the same as Dynamic Range Priority found in newer Fujifilm cameras. Read this post for the differences between Dynamic Range and Dynamic Range Priority.
How is D-Rng different from HDR?
HDR – High Dynamic Range – blends multiple photos of different exposures. It is a much more complex process to merge dark, bright, and middle exposures to come up with one final photo with low contrast and increased tonal range.
Fujifilm Dynamic Range uses only one single photo and is a much simpler process.
Newer Fujifilm cameras do have an in-camera HDR processing setting now, which will be the subject of a future article.
How does Fuji’s Dynamic Range work?
It’s important to have a basic, simple understanding of how D-Rng works in order to use it properly.
D-Rng reduces the brightness of the highlight (bright) areas of your composition. Meaning, if parts of the scene are super-bright and washed out, it will reduce the brightness of those areas to keep them from appearing pure white. This is a good way to get some blue back in an otherwise bright sky, for example, or details in bright clouds.
- The pixels on your sensor capture the light that comes through your lens.
- Instead of amplifying every pixel by the same amount, which happens when you don’t use Dynamic Range, it amplifies all but the brightest pixels. This gives most of your image the brightness you want but without the bright areas being too bright.
- The camera then makes further contrast adjustments to the final image based on your film simulation & tone settings.
- DR100% is the same as OFF; there are no adjustments to dynamic range.
- DR200% reduces the exposure by one stop. You’ll need a minimum ISO of 320 (newer models) or 400 (older model) for this.
- DR400% reduces the exposure by two stops. You’ll need a minimum ISO of 640 (newer models) or 800 (older models) for this.
- AUTO D-Rng will assess the situation and use either DR100% (OFF) or DR200%. You’ll need a minimum ISO of 320 (newer models) or 400 (older models) to use AUTO D-Rng. You can still set AUTO with an ISO of 200 but only DR100% will be utilized.
It’s easiest to see how Fujifilm Dynamic Range works by looking at photos. The differences are subtle, so I’ve included the histograms.
Please note that these photos use Lightroom to simulate DR400 processing, to illustrate the steps that the camera processor takes.
Dynamic Range processing example
1 – This is the image that you’re exposing for, with your aperture, shutter, and ISO settings.
2 – This is what’s recorded by the pixels on the sensor, an overall underexposure.
3 – The darker areas of the image are then amplified to bring the image back to what you expected, without “blowing out” the bright areas.
DR400 can look a little flat for me at times, so experiment with it to see if it matches your taste.
I’m perfectly happy using DR AUTO, letting the camera decide between Off and DR200.
In an extremely high-contrast scene like this, I would prefer to process it in a RAW converter to have more control.
But if you don’t mess around with RAW files, or if you need a photo straight out of camera now, D-Rng is great for high-contrast scenes.
You can use the Highlight and Shadow tones options for further curve adjustments.
Dynamic Range Bracket
You can also bracket the D-Rng settings. If you go into the main menu and select “BKT/Adv. SETTING”, then “BKT SELECT”, choose “DYNAMIC RANGE BKT”. Switch the drive mode into BKT and hold down the shutter.
As long as you have a minimum ISO of 640 or 800 (camera-dependent), the camera will make three exposures at all D-Rng levels.
Does Dynamic Range affect the RAW file?
Yes, D-Rng certainly does affect the RAW file, which has been a major update to this article thanks to Bengt for bringing this to my attention.
The image contrast (tone curve) is adjusted both before and after the RAW file is processed for saving to your memory card.
As mentioned earlier, different parts of the image are amplified by different amounts when using D-Rng. Shadows and mid-tones are amplified more than the highlights. This happens before the RAW file is saved.
Then your in-camera JPEG settings further affect your RAW preview image.
The comparison below is from Capture One with a Linear Response curve applied to the RAW files, meaning there are no adjustments applied. DR100 is on the left and DR400 is on the right.
I was always misled to think that Capture One (and Lightroom et al) just read the D-Rng metadata and automatically applied a DR equivalent setting within the RAW processor. But no, the RAW files are indeed different, with the highlights showing better detail in the DR400 image (right).
Knowing this, you could just always go out with DR400 set in high contrast scenes to maximize the dynamic range in your RAW file. But this will come with the cost of added noise in your shadows and mid-tones.
Your call on which one of these (preserved highlights or decreased noise) is more important to you.
How to use Fujifilm Dynamic Range
Do you expose for the highlights or expose for the shadows?
In most cases, you should expose for the shadows (“to the right”) when using D-Rng. And this is why I love mirrorless cameras with a histogram in the viewfinder.
The first step in optimizing D-Rng is knowing which setting you should use. Start with DR100%, which turns the dynamic range optimizations off.
Then adjust your exposure until the bulk of the shadows are in the left 1/3 to 1/4 of the histogram, not stacked up on the left wall. The highlights will probably be stacked up to the right. This histogram has some dark shadows but still contains plenty of data.
Now adjust your exposure until the highlights come off of the right wall. Count the clicks – no matter which method you’re using to adjust exposure (shutter, ISO, aperture, or EV dial), each click is 1/3 stop with standard Fujifilm settings. So, three clicks is one stop.
One stop (three clicks) – use DR200%. Two stops (six clicks) – use DR400%.
Finally, go back to your original exposure (do the clicky thing in the opposite direction), and then set DR200% or DR400%.
If you’re counting nine clicks – which is three stops – the scene has too much contrast to properly expose both highlights and shadows. Just choose which one is more important to you (shadows or highlights) and expose for that.
Processing RAW photos with the Q button
You can kind of change the D-Rng setting using the Q button in playback mode.
If DR200 appeared too flat for you (unlikely), you can pull it down to DR100 in the Q menu. Unfortunately, you cannot bump the dynamic range up, only down.
D-Rng isn’t intended to fix all contrasty scenes, but you should be familiar with this great tool when shooting Fujifilm X cameras!