Sony’s Sky HDR App Review

posted in Photo Gear Reviews

Sony’s Sky HDR App Review

It took me some time to fully absorb the idea that firmware updates and apps are the modern reality of the future. In the past you needed to get better hardware to see improvements. Computers needed new components, phones needed new batteries, new accessories, and so on. Today a simple firmware update or an app can make you very happy and get you the tools you were looking for. I got my hands on the new in-camera app by Sony. It’s called Sky HDR and I took it for a shoot in an early afternoon to see if the future is already here.

I am pretty new when it comes to purchasing apps in camera. This one is $9.99. I was curious to see how it all works, especially since the concept is pretty cool. It’s the tool that let’s you to blend two photos together, even in RAW format, with different exposure settings (and some other controls) and a defocus zone where the two blend.

There are a few essential uses for this app. First of all you don’t need to carry the whole filter kit and worry about dust and glare. You also don’t need to worry about combining anything in post production. You get as much data in one image as you can get. And for all of us Instagram lovers and social people, you can export this shot right to your phone and post it right away on the spot. You also save money by not buying extra gear that typically is needed to get similar results. Filter kits can go from $50 to $500 if you’re really into it. I know many landscape shooters spend a lot of time in post production, but this is the quicker way to get at least a portion of the job done. This app is not designed to be everything for everyone, so keep an open mind and see if this $10 investment is right for you.


So I tried a bit of this new app at home and packed my bags to get to the beach. I wish I had more time to plan out a trip and do some proper breathtaking landscapes, but time was tight and I needed to get creative. So there are a few essential components to how the app works.

  • The camera, in my case it was Sony a7, needs to be stabilized
  • You need to think through the shot because it takes about 10-12 seconds for the whole process
  • Having a remote is a good idea
  • Several modes will guide you at first (blue sky, sunset sky, ND mode, and 2 custom options you can create on your own)
  • Any of your lenses that have stabilization need to have that turned off, I got an alert about that and couldn’t move forward without taking care of that
  • There are proper ways to use the app and there are creative ones
  • Moving subjects ideally should be out of the defocus zone

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If any of this sounds complicated, let me break down the process:

  1. Set up essential settings (like RAW format, etc)
  2. Set up shot/area #1 (exposure, white balance, defocus zone direction and how wide it will be)
  3. Set up shot/area #2 (same controls)
  4. Take the shot
  5. Review and make corrections before saving
  6. Save the file



At first I thought this is quite lengthy and a bit too much for me to set up. I like reusing the same setting a lot and here I have all these options to define.. That was a bit intimidating. I was also not sure what I want to shoot creatively. Some basic shots, kind of the typical proper use, needed to be done and out of my system. Here are some examples of using graduated ND setting and darkening the sky.



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I enjoy the idea of the double exposure effect, especially controlling in what area of the shot that will happen and so I got to play with that a bit. Defocus zone is where the two shots will ultimately blend together and I, being a bit of a rebel, had to place the moving objects over there. Here is what happens.


Personally, I use light a lot in my shots. It’s one of those defining things that add the mood and texture to what you’re shooting. I don’t use bracketing. I don’t shoot 25 shots of the same thing anymore and really keep a tight selection right when I shoot. I used to be buried in thousands of images to choose from, all looking almost the same. I wasted hours on that. Now I try to shoot no more than 5-10 images in a small batch and move to the next scene. Focusing on light helps me control my visual messaging. I did a bit of that in the shots below to add a little more focus or attention points in the photos.

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After I got enough of graduated ND mode it was time to try the sunset and the blue sky presets. Both have very distinct looks and I recommend trying everything out before you find you perfect combo for the occasion. I liked this burned sun look and so I found this flag on top of a lifeguard house on the pier and placed it into the defocus zone to get the movement of the flag in there. I like the effect. It’s not your proper ideal landscape shot, but that was not the goal.


The ocean was my last subject matter and I tried to bring up attention to the crazy weather conditions that we had that day. Here is my favorite shot. And a few more examples as well.

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When it comes to software in the cameras, the possibilities eventually will be endless. When you enter this app, you’re in a world of its own. You have a different set of settings. You’re really focused on a single idea. I think a lot of people will find this app useful. I personally see it as creativity driver. It’s a challenge for me to create something unexpected with it. I know I need more time with it. I had one camera that I only shot BW mode and 16:9 with it and it was a very effective time creatively. I got some very nice results and ideas that set the tone to the next two years of my work. That was a while ago, but the key is to either enjoy the benefits that this app was meant for and also challenge yourself with it to get new cool shots. For more info, visit


  1. Thank you. The ND filter work was unique to your site..I will probably pick it up. I like the idea layering two exposures for sunsets and/or ND filters, but both require more planning (i.e proper computer time) or buying and lugging more equipment. The software allows real-time experimentation.

  2. When in M mode-you cannot adjust the +/- to the sky portion . There is message that you have to set the ISO to auto, I only find that only in A mode, then u can adjust the +/-

    pse advise/ thanks

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