Fujifilm introduced a feature called D-Range Priority (abbreviated DR-P) on the Fujifilm X-T3 in late-2018. Except that’s not entirely true, as the history of DR-P goes back much further than that. You see, Fujifilm EXR cameras, which were before X-Trans and utilized pixel-binning, also had something called D-Range Priority. Oh, and on their Frontier scanners, Fujifilm had something nearly identical to DR-P called Hypertone. The origins of DR-P seem to be found somewhere in the 1990’s.
My first camera that had D-Range Priority—a Fujifilm X-T30—arrived at my doorstep in early-2019, but I haven’t utilized the feature all that much, only sparingly. I get questions about it fairly regularly, particularly after I publish a Film Simulation Recipe that uses it, so I thought I’d take a moment and explain what DR-P is, plus how, when, and why to use it.
Let’s go back to Fujifilm’s Frontier scanners, which were common in photo labs in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Fujifilm modeled their film simulations—at least in part—after scans of films with corrections applied. Those scans were likely from Frontier scanners, and one of the corrections that Fujifilm recommended was Hypertone set to Auto. One limitation of digital camera sensors compared to color negative film is dynamic range. Negative film often has a larger dynamic range than digital cameras (especially in the early days of digital). Film tends to be more forgiving to overexposure (highlights), where digital tends to be more forgiving to underexposure (shadows). Hypertone was a software trick to maximize dynamic range so that it would digitally render more similarly to printed film on Fujicolor paper. D-Range Priority is a trick to achieve a dynamic range more similar to Frontier film scans that had Hypertone enabled.
Which answers the question of why to use it. D-Range Priority maximizes dynamic range, so as to keep highlights and shadows in check, but especially highlights. It’s more difficult to blow out highlights when you use DR-P. If you want to have the greatest dynamic range so as to avoid clipped highlights and blocked-up shadows, this is your best tool.
A few notes. First, like the regular Dynamic Range options (you know, DR100, DR200, DR400, and DR-Auto), D-Range Priority is ISO dependent. In this regard, DR-P Weak is like using DR200, and DR-P Strong is like using DR400. D-Range Priority is used in lieu of the Dynamic Range settings, so you cannot choose (for example) both DR200 and DR-P Weak simultaneously, only one or the other. Also, D-Range Priority disables the Tone Curve, so you cannot select a Highlight and Shadow setting. When enabled, DR-P is the Tone Curve. Interestingly, DR400 with both Highlight and Shadow set to -2 produces similar results to DR-P Weak. DR-P Auto chooses DR-P Weak almost always, and only selects DR-P Strong when there is a very bright light source, like shooting directly at the sun. D-Range Priority Strong produces a very low-contrast image, while DR-P Weak is a little less flat, but is still low-contrast.
To choose D-Range Priority, within the IQ section of the camera’s main Menu find D-Range Priority and select Auto, Strong, or Weak. Normally, D-Range Priority is set to Off. You only enable it when you want to use it. You can also choose D-Range Priority within Edit/Save Custom Presets, and have it enabled on any of your C1-C7 (or C1-C4, depending on your model) options.
There aren’t very many Recipes that utilize D-Range Priority, but there are some, included a couple that are popular right now. Vibrant Arizona uses DR-P Strong, as does Pulled Fujicolor Superia. Kodak Portra 160 v2 uses DR-P Auto, as do Expired Kodak Vision2 250D, Portra-Style, and Scanned Superia. There aren’t any that expressly use DR-P Weak, although you could enable DR-P Weak for the following Recipes and it will still render similarly: Fujicolor NPS 160 Pulled, Reala Ace, Bright Summer, Bright Kodak, and Indoor Angouleme.
To answer the when to use D-Range Priority question, it’s important to remember what DR-P does: produce a low-contrast picture that maximizes dynamic range to protect shadows and especially highlights. If you want punchy pictures, DR-P is not what you want to use (although in high contrast situations, you might still get dramatic results). If you want light pictures that might more closely resemble film scans (particularly from Frontier scanners), then DR-P is an option that you’ll want to consider.
While D-Range Priority is a fairly recent addition to X-Trans cameras—first introduced on X-Trans IV models—it turns out to have a much longer history. For years I assumed that D-Range Priority was for emergency use in extreme situations only, so I pretty much ignored it. I have since warmed up to DR-P, and I use it much more often than I used to. I still feel it’s probably not an option to utilize all of the time, but in the right situations or for a certain look, it works really well.