If I had to make a list of the top ten features I thought would be included in the iOS 4.1 update, HDR photography would not have been on it. HDR really came out of the blue, and one developer told me he was 'shocked' to hear that the feature was included in the next iPhone update.
Let's back up a minute. HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography is a method where pictures are taken at different exposures and combined into one image. Since the iPhone and most monitors can't really display the full light to dark range of the image, the HDR software tone maps the picture, so you see details in the shadows and don't blow out the highlights, such as a bright sky. HDR images are controversial. Some people hate them, and think it produces garish pictures. Others love the flexibility to shoot pictures in challenging lighting conditions.
I like to use HDR at times when shooting landscapes, and recently documented a photo trek where I was able to use HDR apps on the iPhone.
Yuanzhen Li and Michael Parker have been offering TrueHDR for the iPhone for many months. It works well, and I have found the results impressive when it's used properly. The developers say they wrote to Steve Jobs last year requesting more control over the camera, and they submitted a detailed work-flow that pretty much matches what Jobs announced yesterday. Oh well.
They're not sure how the built in feature will impact sales of TrueHDR, but they believe that there is no single 'best' way to achieve HDR and there is room for other apps in the market. They have just submitted a new update to TrueHDR with automated exposure and rapid auto-capture.
I've seen a few samples of the iPhone HDR and so far, I'm not mightily impressed . However, the images haven't always been taken in conditions that show what HDR can do, so I'll reserve judgment until I play with the app next week. I'll compare it to Pro HDR and TrueHDR, which I consider the 2 best HDR apps available now.
No one ever knows when something will strike Apple's fancy and become a built-in feature. The HDR capability was a surprise to me, and something more than a surprise to the developers who brought HDR to the iPhone as independent apps.