Last updated: August 9, 2021

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Anyone who owns an Android, iPhone or other smartphone certainly knows about the well-known HDR function in the photo app. But what does HDR actually mean? HDR means "High Dynamic Range" and captures all the bright and dark details in your photos and videos - making them look more realistic and contrasty.

There are now HDR cameras that don't just exist as a feature on your smartphone. We have looked at the different types of HDR cameras and cameras with HDR function and tried to determine which camera is suitable for whom. We hope that our HDR camera test 2021 will help you choose your perfect HDR camera.




Summary

  • The HDR function on smartphones, digital cameras or system cameras allows you to create high-contrast and realistic photos and videos.
  • There is a perfect HDR camera for every type of person. It doesn't matter if you like to travel and don't like to carry heavy objects with you, or if you always want to pull out your smartphone at the perfect moment.
  • The size, weight, image quality and expandability are all crucial to finding the perfect camera - each type of camera has different factors.

The Best HDR Camera: Our Choices

Buying and evaluation criteria for HDR cameras

Before you buy a new HDR camera, you will quickly notice that there are several different types of cameras with HDR function.

These are the criteria you should consider before buying a (usually more expensive) HDR camera:

Size and weight

The size of the camera with HDR function is something you should consider before buying. Are you the type of person who can't stand carrying around large and heavy objects that don't fit in your pocket?

A large HDR camera is harder to carry.

Therefore, you should really think carefully beforehand about the purpose for which you want to buy an HDR camera. Do you want to shoot cool videos in motion, or are you working on new vlogs at home?

Shooting your next snowboard trip with a big and heavy camera will most likely be very impractical. So be sure to choose your new camera with HDR function according to your needs!

If you do decide to go for a larger HDR camera, you also have to consider the transport of the camera. Most system cameras are very large and need to be protected accordingly.

If you buy an expensive system camera with HDR function, you should also buy a camera bag (these are usually not included in the price).

Image quality

An important criterion when buying a new camera with HDR function is the image quality. This can vary from smartphone to digital camera and to system camera.

The image quality on a smartphone with HDR function depends very much on the software, whereas on a digital camera or system camera it depends on the lens.

Try out your desired HDR camera in a shop before you buy it.

In most cases, you cannot change the lens of a conventional HDR digital camera, so it is highly advisable to test the desired digital camera thoroughly before buying it.

System cameras with HDR function, on the other hand, are usually more expensive, but you can buy one of them with several lenses.

Expandability

For professionals (or even beginners), the expandability of a camera is another criterion. Digital cameras with HDR function are usually much cheaper than HDR system cameras.

However, digital cameras are mostly not upgradeable. Here it really depends on whether you decide between a digital camera and a system camera.

The second option is a lot more expensive, but it is much more expandable. For a system camera with HDR function, for example, there are different lenses, clip-on flashes or flash units,

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying an HDR camera

An HDR camera is usually not an inconvenience. That's why we've answered a few important questions for you to consider before you buy. You can find the answers right here:

What is special about an HDR camera and what advantages does it offer?

An HDR camera is, so to speak, even better than a camera with "only" 4K or Full HD resolution. Compared to the predecessors (HD, Full-HD, 4K), the images in HDR are even richer in contrast and closer to reality. Recorded colours on the camera are much richer and more expressive.

What types of HDR cameras are there?

As you have probably already found out, HDR is something very special. Although the HDR setting on smartphones and conventional cameras has been around for a while, new HDR cameras are becoming much higher quality and more realistic over time.

Type Advantages Disadvantages
Smartphone always ready for use, light, practical, always with you usually lower image quality, additional settings only possible with additional apps
Digital camera perfectly suitable for travelling, light and small, easy to use, good image quality not always enough additional functions
System camera very good image quality, lenses can be exchanged, very robust high prices, rather unsuitable for beginners

You can find out about the different types of HDR cameras here:

HDR camera integrated in smartphone

The HDR camera integrated in the smartphone is the fastest and easiest solution to create expressive pictures and videos.

hdr-kamera-test

With the HDR function on your smartphone, you can take the best photos within seconds. (Image source: unsplash / Eaterscollective )

You can take your smartphone everywhere and don't have to remember to bring a camera. At the perfect moment, just take your smartphone out of your pocket and you can take the best pictures in seconds.

Advantages
  • can be taken anywhere
  • easy to use
  • quick to operate
Disadvantages
  • fewer functions
  • no expandability

The functions are limited here, however, because the smartphone is not primarily intended as a camera.

HDR digital camera

HDR digital cameras are usually small and very light. This means you can take them everywhere. In addition, digital cameras are usually cheaper than system cameras, or even smartphones.

Advantages
  • high image quality
  • very light in weight
  • easy to use
  • (usually) WLAN function
Disadvantages
  • takes up extra space in the bag
  • battery always has to be charged

New digital cameras with HDR function can also be easily connected to your smartphone via WLAN, allowing you to upload your new videos and photos to your smartphone in seconds.

HDR system camera (SLR & mirrorless)

HDR system cameras are no longer just for professionals. The settings on the system camera are usually easy to understand and you can create incredible images and videos with them.

With HDR system cameras, the image quality is often better and the colours more expressive than with digital cameras.

Advantages
  • very high image quality
  • (usually) with WLAN function
  • more functions than just HDR
  • very expandable
Disadvantages
  • usually not unfavourable
  • usually impractical because of weight and size

Although we have provided you with some advantages and disadvantages of the HDR camera types, it would be advisable to adapt your choice to your needs.

Who is an HDR camera suitable for?

A camera with HDR function is suitable for anyone who places high value on the quality of their pictures (or videos). Whether you like to take pictures of nature in your free time or need to shoot high-quality videos for work, you can create a lot with an HDR camera.

hdr-kamera-test

A system camera offers even more functions than just HDR. (Image source: unsplash / Builtbymath )

However, you should be careful what kind of HDR camera you get, because the majority of cameras with good HDR functionality can be a bit expensive.

Ask yourself for what purpose you need an HDR camera. Do you travel a lot and don't like to carry a lot of stuff with you? Then a digital camera with HDR function (for example a Go-Pro) would be best for you. Also make sure that the camera you buy is waterproof!

If you don't mind taking a bigger camera with you on your next city trip, choose between a digital camera with HDR function or a system camera.

How much does an HDR camera cost?

Although most smartphones now come with an HDR function, there are still newer digital and system cameras that don't have an HDR function and whose photos you have to edit specially in Photoshop (or similar).

Therefore: Prices between smartphones with HDR camera, digital camera and system camera are very different.

Type price
Smartphone from €200
Digital camera from €150
System camera from €500

Note, however, that the higher the price of your desired camera with HDR function, the higher the quality of the pictures and videos and the more functions there are. (Of course, there are also small exceptions here)

Smartphone prices can vary greatly between €500 and €1,500. It also depends on the additional functions in the smartphone and, of course, on the brand. When it comes to the purchase price of smartphones, it is usually not only the quality of the camera that matters - you should always bear this in mind.

Digital cameras with HDR functions are usually much cheaper than smartphones. A good HDR camera (for example, a Go-Pro) is available for as little as €200. When buying a digital camera with HDR function, however, you should also pay attention to the additional functions and whether the price is justified.

System cameras with HDR function are of very high quality and this usually has its price. HDR system cameras for beginners are available for as little as 500 €. Here you should also look at what extra functions the camera offers and whether it is at all expandable (for example, whether the device is able to exchange its lens).

hdr-kamera-test

You can easily change the lens on a system camera and adapt it to your needs. (Image source: unsplash / Adrian Pelletier)

If you are not sure about buying a new HDR system camera and you want to buy the most expensive and best one, search the internet for used HDR system cameras.

Before you spend €1,200 on a new model and you don't have any experience with system cameras - look for a used HDR camera - this also applies to simple digital cameras!

When do I use the HDR function on an HDR camera?

Since HDR is a function on your smartphone, or on your camera, you should be careful with HDR.

Since HDR "balances" light and dark tones in images, it is highly advisable to use the HDR function only when nothing is moving. This makes HDR on cameras perfect for nature pictures.

If you want to take pictures of people or other objects in motion, you can simply turn off the HDR setting, because the HDR function balances shadows and highlights in such a way that it can easily give an unwanted effect.

Can you film with an HDR camera?

The answer is yes, of course. However, before you buy, you should consider whether you only need your camera for filming or whether you also want to take photos with it. Certain digital cameras with HDR function are specially designed for filming (best example: Go-Pro's) and therefore have the best image quality.

With other HDR cameras with photo and video function, you can usually take beautiful and colourful photos, but videos do not look as high quality as with HDR cameras that are specifically designed for filming.

Image source: 123rf / 50536264

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