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PlayMemories SKY HDR App

Spencer Pablo takes us into the new Sony app that will have your graduated ND filters gathering dust

I use neutral density filters a lot. They are, by far, my most used filters. They help me drag my shutter speeds to get a pretty neat effect with water and clouds. They help me make the smoothest curtains of water, as well as stretched out cloud effects.

But they also serve a different purpose. When I photograph something with skies, I grab a graduated ND filter to properly expose the skies with the land or water. The dynamic range of the Sony sensor is pretty amazing, but sometimes you need to stretch it even further to bring out details in both the land-based items and the clouds in the sky. Otherwise, with less dynamic range, you stand to lose details in the highlights or shadows.

Graduated NDs have worked so far with my photography, but they come with their own set of problems. One is making sure I brought the correct one and every piece required to mount it (not only do I need the actual graduated ND filters–there’s a few of them–but I also need the slide mount and the appropriate threaded rings that the slide mounts clip onto). Then when I bring the pieces, I need to make sure I don’t drop the delicate filter. Typically the environments I photograph in are not the easiest to move in, and among the most hazardous when I drop things (dropping glass on rocks usually ends in tragedy). Then there’s always the cost. Some of the ND filters are extremely expensive. You could always purchase the cheaper, non-multicoated ones, but then you run the risk of glare and internal reflections. Adding to the challenges, the filter is really another element to keep clean. You have to make sure your lens is clean–sure, but now you also have a filter with two sides that can pick up dirt.

In short, you have to really be dedicated to put up with all the filter juggling.

Sky HDR PlayMemories Camera App

Now I would like to think that Sony actually made this Sky HDR application for me. This app ticks so many of my checkboxes.

It includes three types of presets (Blue Sky, Sunset, and Graduated ND), with two additional custom “save points.” I only had time to really play with two of them and I’ll share my experience here.

Here is the comparison–with the only corrections being the removal of dirt on the lens and sensor.

I got really comfortable with the Sunset and the Graduated ND filters. The sunset preset provides a warm tone that “expresses the redness of dusk scenes impressively.” The Graduated ND filter “shoots images with only different exposures.”


This app is remarkable to me for the reason that it does a composite of the land and the sky–each with it’s own exposure settings. You can independently control the white balance, shutter and aperture of each element. You set the boundary between the sky area and the land area and rotate it appropriately to match your horizon. When you get your settings dialed in, you push the shutter button and your camera takes an image with the land settings first, then it takes the second exposure with your sky settings. It presents it to you then asks if you would like to tweak your boundary settings (position of boundary, as well as the defocus area–the strength of the effect near the horizon). When you accept the changes, you can then save the image. Oh yeah, it can also do this on the RAW file.


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