HLG Photo review: Professional photographer explores Panasonic Lumix S1 feature
The Panasonic Lumix S1, S1R and S1H – the company’s first full-frame mirrorless cameras – offer an interesting new feature: HLG Photo. But what is it, why would you want to use it, and how can it be beneficial?
- What is HLG Photo? Panasonic S1 feature explained in full
Beyond our separate explainer (link above), we enlisted the help of professional photographer and Panasonic ambassador, Jacob James, to show-off just what this mode can do and why it could represent the stepping stones into the future.
What is HLG Photo?
But first, a little bit of background. If you’ve been keeping up with the world of cinema and broadcast TV then ‘HLG’ may sound familiar. It’s the format being used to broadcast high dynamic range (HDR) content by broadcasters such as the BBC over to compatible TVs in people’s homes.
HLG Photo, meanwhile, is a HDR format for still images, which can display on HDR-enabled screens, to show the full dynamic range of an image – which in the case of the Lumix S1 is a lot more than a processed image, such as a JPEG, can display.
That means wider colour range, a higher peak exposure, and more levels of distinction between black and white. HLG Photo therefore cannot be displayed in print, it’s for compatible screen-based display only. Therefore every image comparison you’ll see in this review is depicting the HLG Photo image as closely as you would see it on an HDR display, to help aid this visualisation.
How do you activate HLG Photo in the Lumix S1?
First thing’s first, you’ve got your Lumix S1 camera and want HLG Photo to be active. Is it easy? Over to you, Jacob.
“It’s super simple. You can turn on HLG Photo from the camera menu, while still recording both Raw and JPEG. This way you aren’t sacrificing any file formats by having to make a decision on delivery before shooting.”
Within the menu it’s possible to set HLG Photo to either full resolution – that’s 24.2 million pixels in the S1 and S1H; 47.3 million pixels in the S1R – or 4K resolution as an accompaniment to the main image.
Currently 4K is perfect for an Ultra-HD screen, such as a TV at home, matching the top resolution you’ll see almost anywhere. But you might want to future-proof for higher-resolution displays, with 8K already becoming a reality, and select the full-resolution option.
What does HLG Photo enable you to do that ‘normal photography’ can’t?
“HLG photo is a unique delivery format that allows you to go straight from camera to a HDR display and make the most of the benefits such displays can bring. There’s increased colour space and more detail in the brightest areas of the images.”
So think of it as the full palette of capability that the Lumix S1 can shoot, rolled into the one image. Normal laptop screens, older TVs and print formats can’t display nearly as many colours as many more up-to-date examples, so HLG Photo is one way to unlock this potential, revealing more accuracy in the process.
You have some examples from your Romanian project, can you talk us through these?
“All of these images from Romania were taken during a photography tour I was running through Intrepid Exposures. They form part of a wider body of work I’ve been shooting since 2014 on the rural communities in Romania.
“This was the first time I’d had chance to head back to the country with the Lumix S1 and so most of these images were shot during my testing of the camera’s features.
“I wanted to see what benefits HLG could bring in high dynamic range environments such as churches, but also in more natural settings in landscape use too.”
As you can see by scrolling through the images in gallery slider above – click left to right for comparisons – the HLG Photo shots open out more detail in the highlight areas, revealing details not otherwise visible.
Would you describe HLG Photo as like a ‘live raw’ image?
“HLG Photo could be seen as somewhat a middle point between a Raw and a JPEG file in terms of its look. It’s a file format that allows you to use the technological advantages of HDR displays to show the full potential of the Raw file – like I say, the colour gamut and dynamic range – in a format that is ready for display, without requiring any post production.”
This, James tells us, could be useful for studio work where a camera is tethered to a display or images are wirelessly transmitted to one. Being able to see the full expanse of detail in the typically over-exposed areas of a JPEG will show in an instant whether there’s enough data being captured for work in post-production later.
“If you’re using HLG Photo and Raw in combination, HLG monitoring can definitely aid in you seeing exactly how much extra info you can capture,” says James, describing a series of captures he made with purposeful over-exposure to demonstrate how much is captured and displayed within an HLG Photo.
As you can see from the images in the gallery slider above – click left to right for comparisons – the exposure balance in the HLG Photo shots caters for shadows and highlights, while detail lost in a JPEG exposure is rendered in the HLG Photo. That shows just how wide the Lumix S1’s dynamic range is, but also how you, as a photographer, can benefit from the visualisation of HLG Photo when in the right shooting situation.
And what of the future? How can the HLG Photo format progress?
“I think HLG photo as a technology is something that’s in its infancy right now, with the S1 being the first camera to market that supports it.
“But that shows real forward thinking, as I think the potential for future applications is great – especially for those photographers who are often shooting JPEG images for press or sports events.
“Imagine the potential if those images were going straight to HDR-enabled out-of-home displays in stadiums, and such like, for real-time content generation? That’s one area where it could have benefits.”
So there you have it. HLG Photo, which has been championed by Panasonic in the Lumix S1, S1R and S1H, in a sense is the first steps of traditional stills photography stepping into the world of HDR displays and unwrapping all the future potential that holds.