JPEG Tone Curves / dynamic range

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).

Cameras Compared

At its default settings, the EOS 70D has a fairly conservative tone curve - clipping highlights sooner (and rather more abruptly) than Nikon's D7100 or the Olympus OM-D E-M1 does. In some circumstances, the Auto Lighting Optimiser feature will help give a more balanced tonal response, but it's a feature that the camera applies depending on the scene being shot (and our test doesn't trigger it).

Turn 'Highlight Tone Priorty' (explained below) on and you'll get an extra stop of highlight capture (If you set the Pentax to Highlight Correction On, you'll find you see a similar boost, since it works in essentially the same way). With HTP 'On' you'll see the Canon falls directly into line with the behavior of the Nikon and the Olympus - which might (correctly) lead you to think that their default behavior is more similar to Canon's HTP 'On' state than its default.

Highlight tone priority mode

The Highlight Tone Priority option offers a method for capturing more information in the brightest parts of the scene. It does this by applying less amplification to the signal coming from the sensor, then compensating for it by using a different tone curve to ensure the correct brightness in the final image. Turn this on and the 70D captures an extra stop in the highlights, resulting in a dynamic range that is at least the equal of Sony and Nikon DSLRs.

Because it uses a lower signal amplification setting to give each ISO, HTP's base ISO is higher than the camera's default mode - the minimum value that can be used is ISO 200. When used at ISO 200, the effect is the same as underexposing an ISO 100 shot by one stop, then pulling up the midtones and shadows to compensate. The result is an image at a 'normal' exposure but that retains the extra highlights you've captured. This approach - common to many other manufacturers - comes at the potential cost of increased noise in shadow regions. We discussed the real world benefits and consequences of activating HTP in our earlier review of the Canon EOS 600D.