The iPhone’s built-in HDR is basically useless
Above: Yes, these were taken with the iPhone, but not with the iPhone’s HDR mode.
HDR photography is certainly cool, and the idea of Apple adding it to the iPhone’s camera app sounded great on paper, but in practice, it really doesn’t hold a candle to stand alone HDR apps. I’ve recently been playing with the PRO HDR app (iTunes, $1.99), and as you can see from the following samples, there really is no comparison.
As you can see, the original iPhone picture, for the most part, is almost always better than the iPhone supplied HDR shot, but still vastly inferior the PRO HDR app results. In fact, it almost appears Apple’s version of HDR is to flatten the images, with a layer of gray, whereas traditional HDR is designed to make the colors pop and more accurately resemble how your eye sees things.
Above: The iPhone can hardly capture the explosive colors of fall without a little help.
Of course, as with all good things, there are some definite drawbacks to the Pro HDR app. First, it takes about 20 seconds to take a picture (well, 2 pictures, really, plus the analyzing and merging). Apple’s HDR doesn’t take all that much longer than its standard shots. Of course, that’s because it really isn’t doing much. Also, with PRO HDR, you REALLY need to hold your iPhone perfectly still for those 20 seconds, and your subjects need to also remain perfectly still. This more or less rules out shots of kids and pets, and even a windy day can cause your image to come out a bit blurry. I would also imagine shots of the ocean are out as well.
Above: The first shot (the non-HDR iPhone shot) actually doesn’t look all that bad until you see the PRO HDR shot. THAT is much closer to how the light in the forest actually looked. The iPhone’s HDR shot int he middle just grays it all out.
I’m sure Apple had the best of intentions in introducing the HDR feature to their camera app, and I don’t want to bash it too harshly, but I would hardly call what it does “HDR”. Sure, you can see clouds in an overcast sky a bit better with the HDR setting on, but the results are just so drab and uninspiring when compared with other 3rd party HDR apps that I’ve yet to keep one over the default iPhone camera shot. Hopefully in the future as the speed of the processor and camera improve, we will see better results.
If you really want to take cool nature shots that come close to what your eye is actually seeing, for the moment you’ll need to invest in a 3rd party HDR app. Actually, ideally you’d invest in an actual camera, but if you’re too cheap to do that, dropping $1.99 on an app like PRO HDR isn’t a bad second choice.