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Dynamic Range (JPEG tone curves)

Our Dynamic Range measurement system involves shooting a calibrated Stouffer Step Wedge (13 stops total range) which is backlit using a daylight balanced lamp (98 CRI). A single shot of this produces a gray scale wedge from the camera's clipped white point down to black (example below). Each step of the scale is equivalent to 1/3 EV (a third of a stop), we select one step as 'middle gray' (defined as 50% luminance) and measure outwards to define the dynamic range. Hence there are 'two sides' to our results, the amount of shadow range (below middle gray) and the amount of highlight range (above middle gray).

To most people highlight range is the first thing they think about when talking about dynamic range, that is the amount of highlight detail above middle gray the camera can capture before it clips to white. Shadow range is more complicated; in our test the line on the graph stops as soon as the luminance value drops below our defined 'black point' (about 2% luminance) or the signal-to-noise ratio drops below a predefined value (where shadow detail would be swamped by noise), whichever comes first.

Note: this page features our new interactive dynamic range comparison widget. The wedges below the graph are created by our measurement system from the values read from the step wedge, the red lines indicate approximate shadow and highlight range (the dotted line indicating middle gray).

The D3100 behaves in a very similar fashion to the D3000 before it, with a range of Picture Styles that vary somewhat in contrast. In Standard mode it offers a decent highlight range of about 3 2/3 stops, although it clips to white a little bit more abruptly than higher-end cameras such as the the D7000. The Neutral mode has slightly lower contrast and more 'open' shadows, while the Vivid setting is higher in contrast and therefore blocks up the shadows in comparison.

It's worth noting that, just like the D3000, the D3100's default tone curve is fairly typical for this class of camera, offering very similar results to the likes of the various Canon Rebels and entry-level Sonys.

Active D-Lighting is Nikon's dynamic range expansion option, designed for use when faced with high contrast scenes to maintain shadow detail without blowing the highlights. It's a feature shared by all of Nikon's current DSLRs, but unlike models higher up the product line, the D3100 only has two settings - on or off. The effect of Active D-Lighting differs depending on the scene, so this test, performed using our 13-stop wedge, isn't necessarily an accurate indication of 'typical' performance. It does clearly show, however, the way in which ADL is designed to work, extending the visible dynamic range by lifting shadow areas and darkening highlights, to get the most detail out of these areas in a single exposure.

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Total comments: 3
sarath cp
By sarath cp (3 weeks ago)

nikon d3100 is an intermediate dslr? right? i saw a post about guides for buying a dslr on www.know4u.com
actually they says that there is too much to investigate before buying one... is that true always..? the link is http://know4u.com/dslr%20photography/How%20to%20Choose%20a%20DSLR%20Camera/How%20to%20Choose%20a%20DSLR%20Camera.html

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whodat101
By whodat101 (4 months ago)

Looking at the comparison, it appears to my novice mind that the d3100 has in most areas slightly better specs than the d5000. Since I am looking at both of these cameras, would appreciate comments. The 3100 is on sale at the local camera shop; the 5000 is available on Craiglist at a considerably lower price, but is of course used.

Also; packed away I have two nikon entry level cameras from the early 1980's with quite a few E series lenses. The E series lens was standard on the two cameras. Will these work on the 3100 and 5000, and if so, are there problems in compatibility such as auto-focus, etc.

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Flight815
By Flight815 (2 months ago)

D3100 is a great camera. i bought another one recently new from Target..dont need anything newer or more $$$ this thing is just perfect.I think it only auto focuses with Nikon AF-S..you'll have to read up on 3rd party lenses for af.

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Total comments: 3