What is DRO in Sony cameras? (Explained!)

Ever been paging through the menus on your Sony camera and found something labeled “DRO”? What the heck does it even do?

In this quick article, I’ll run through what DRO actually means and the situations in which you should (and, more importantly, shouldn’t) use it.

Let’s dive in.

The Basics

What does DRO even mean?

DRO stands for “dynamic range optimizer”.

The camera does some sort of magical computer algorithm to essentially “boost” the shadows and “even out” exposures. This is, functionally, identical to raising the shadows/blacks in post-processing software.

This might sound great in theory, but there are some situations where you should and shouldn’t use it.

a sunset photo of a european city
DRO pushes up the dark parts of an image, but sometimes it can look a little unnatural.

When should you use DRO?

First up, why would you want to use this setting? A couple of reasons, actually.

When Shooting Video (Only Sometimes!)

As I mentioned before, all DRO does is push up the exposure of the shadows of your image.

If you’re shooting video (where editing is a bit more of a hassle), you might want to use DRO in order to get an automatically more evenly exposed image. It’s an easy shortcut to getting “better” video quality without having to put any effort into post-processing.

However, there are plenty of situations, when shooting cinematic video for example, where you want strong contrast in your shots. Thus, you’d want to turn DRO off.

Shooting Exclusively JPEG

The other reason you might want to use DRO is if you’re shooting exclusively JPEG images that you don’t intend to run through any sort of post-processing software.

As mentioned prior, DRO is functionally the same as raising the shadow slider in Lightroom, so it can be a quick shortcut to use when shooting if you want to skip editing.

When shouldn’t you use DRO?

While DRO is useful in certain niche situations, it can cause problems as well.

When Shooting RAW

When shooting RAW, most Sony cameras will actually show you a JPEG version of your RAW image on the rear LCD.

As we all know, camera’s always do a bit of automatic processing to JPEG images, meaning sometimes the JPEG preview of your RAW images is a little bit inaccurate on the camera’s screen.

Since DRO pushes up the shadows in images, it’ll show inaccurate results when you preview your images on the camera. Upon importing the RAW files to a post-processing software, they’ll be underexposed.

If you want to learn a bit more about the subject, Nick Page on YouTube explains it really well. I’ll embed his video below.

Conclusion

Shoot Bracketed Exposures Instead

To be frank, I’ve had DRO turned off in my camera pretty much since I bought it. It can be good in certain situations, but it really causes more harm than good.

If you absolutely need more dynamic range out of your images, consider shooting in a bracketed exposure mode. As mentioned before, DRO just applies in-camera post-processing to a single image.

Shooting in bracket mode (also commonly known as HDR), forces the camera to take multiple images at different settings, thus allowing you to merge them in post-processing for a true high dynamic range image.

To learn more about bracketed exposures, check out my drive mode guides (for APS-C and for full frame) that go into much more detail.

Thanks for reading.