iOS 4.1 iPhone 4 HDR Should Have Been Called EDR (Enhanced). Here's Why

Normal iPhone 4 photo
HDR iPhone 4 photo

One of the new iPhone 4 features that came with the iOS 4.1 update was the HDR (High Dynamic Range) photo option. HDR photos usually require 3 or more photographs taken with different exposure settings to create a “more real” or even “super real” looking photograph. I don’t know how many exposure levels are used to create the iPhone 4’s HDR photos. However, they do not have the “super real” look created by various HDR processes including the Pro HDR app that I like and use on the iPhone.

The iPhone’s HDR option, however, is not designed to create “super real” images. It is designed to enhance or fix the look of photos we take with bad lighting. In the first photo above, you can see what a normal photo recorded using an iPhone 4 looks like with a typical backlit scene. In this case, I was sitting at an airport gate waiting for my flight. The second photo is the result of Apple’s HDR processing. In this photo, you can see some blue-ness in the sky (much more evident in the full 5 megapixel image) and the large cloud over the airport. This is completely washed out in the first photo. You can also see more visible detail of the people and other objects in the foreground of the HDR photo.

Apple should have called their HDR option Enhanced Dynamic Range to more accurately reflect its purpose and to set expectations appropriately. This also helps separate its purpose from manually created HDR photos or HDR apps like Pro HDR.

Apple’s HDR option for the iPhone 4 doesn’t always improve a photo. However, it can be very useful in producing a photo that looks more like what you remember seeing in real life.