Dynamic range - Film VS Digital


hmm I recognise this place! And some of you!
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Yes yes yes provocative title and all that :p Behave you lot ;)

Anway - I've always been under the impression that the DSLR sensor was inferior to the use of film when it came to the dynamic range possible with each and that whilst Digital was advancing fast it was still a little behind the dynamic range possible with film. However I've recently been shown this wiki article which appears to suggest that digital has already advanced beyond that of film and has been as such for quite some time already (at least since the 1DMII)

High dynamic range imaging - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

So simply put is this right or wrong and why - it could very well be that my attention toward lower tier camera bodies has blinded me to advances at the higher levels or that I've mistakenly picked something up that is touted around but factually wrong.
My experience is that digital is more contrasty than film as shot by the camera. Properly exposed film can produce detail in the brightest area but you cannot bring up detail that is not there in digital. A white area becomes grey in post digital and that is no solution.

If you underexpose the brightest area in digital, then it is possible to brighten it in post and still maintain detail, but maintaining both the colour white and detail can be a real challenge. Tone mapping and selective adjustment of exposure and contrast to particular areas certainly helps but it can still be a challenge to match even a good quality slide film, let alone the range of a quality colour print film.

You should re-read that site and understand just what has the dynamic range. Print film has low dynamic range, but actual negatives have around 12 stops (further down on the page). That still surpassed the 1DMkII (11 stops).

The problem of dynamic range is not so much how to increase it, but it's what to do with that information. For the most part due to the fact that sensor data is linear and yet our eyes see brightness logarithmically, during the conversion from RAW a lot more data is dedicated to the bright areas than the dark areas. So yes a camera like the D700 easily surpasses the dyanmic range of a negative on paper, however when you actually try and make use of the data you'll find pulling the shadows out of the D700 yields a worse result.

Really the biggest problem should be visible right there on that page. Computer LCD has a limited dynamic range, and the print has a limited dynamic range. Our cameras and negatives already outperform both of them. The result is some form of dynamic range compression needs to be applied. Tonemapping (something the HDR crowd likes to get their extreme dynamic range under displayable control) is useful for this, but mostly it's just a case of carefully playing with a tone curve.

The modern camera is pretty damn good, it's just that the default picture it spits out is contrasty psycho image.

What skieur mentioned is one of the biggest problems with digital but it's there in film too. The biggest difference is film tends to blow out gracefully with a smooth shift towards white, whereas digital suffers some nasty colour shifts when colours start getting clipped.

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