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Digital filters are coming — here's how Sony's latest software (might) replace grads

Why it matters to you

While digital photography has eliminated a number of filters, graduated neutral density filters are still considered irreplaceable -- but Sony is attempting a solution with software.

Sony’s latest software add-on is making HDR and graduated neutral density filters look a little old school. Launched today, Digital Filter is an app for Sony cameras designed to mimic the effect of grads with a more advanced variation on the HDR technique, done automatically in-camera. Sony says the app creates more accurate exposures by allowing the user to customize just what areas of the photograph to expose for.

Automated HDR, or High Dynamic Range, is typically shot using auto exposure bracketing, which takes a series of photos all at different exposure levels, with an equal change between each of the shots. With PlayMemories Digital Filter, the camera instead allows the user to choose up to three areas in the image. Those areas are then measured by the camera’s light meter separately.

More: Want to eliminate odd color casts from an ND filter? There’s (another) filter for that

Instead of getting bracketed shots all at .3 EV apart, the custom setting means the camera will use the light meter and those custom areas to determine more accurately how much the exposure needs to be adjusted between each shot. For example, instead of equal adjustments between each shot, the camera may shoot at -1.0 EV for the sky, -1.7 EV for the setting sun and +3 EV for the land.

But along with adjusting the exposure for the custom-set area, the camera will also adjust the white balance separately, helping to recreate the scene a bit closer to the way you remembered it in person with individual exposure and white balance adjustment.

Sony says the app allows photographers to shoot high-contrast scenes without a graduated neutral density filter, and works particularly well for sunsets and back-lit landscapes. Since the application is also compatible with compact cameras that are difficult to use filters with, the feature could be a handy one for shooting landscapes with minimal gear — and without the complexity of metering each area separately yourself and merging the images later in post. It’s unclear, however, how much more time the photos need for processing by using a software solution instead of a hardware one, or how well the software works compared to a traditional filter.

The Digital Filter is compatible with several Sony cameras, including the RX100 (Mark III, IV and V), the RX10 (Mark II and III), the a6000 and the a7 and A7R (both original and Mark II versions). Unfortunately, it’s not part of a free firmware upgrade but is being sold as a separate app for $30 (or $20 for those who already have the Sky HDR app) through the PlayMemories store.