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Dynamic Range

We have previously had a couple of attempts at measuring dynamic range. One of the biggest issues is coming up with a test which can reliably give a good approximation of the available dynamic range from a single shot. Our new test 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 cameras) black to clipped white (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' and measure outwards to define the dynamic range.

UPDATE: 18 February 2006

Here at dpreview we are constantly refining our testing procedures, we now have a fully automated method for measuring Dynamic Range, this now gives us a far more accurate measurement of the 'best case' dynamic range based on the clip point and the point at which there is no more useful shadow information (either below a luminance threshold or because of noise). The following two pages have now been updated using our new DR measurement system.

How to talk about and measure Dynamic Range

Throughout the production of this part of the review we worked hard on developing a logical way to measure, represent and explain dynamic range. Because we chose to use middle gray as our starting point we were left with 'two sides' to our results, the amount of shadow range (below middle gray) and the amount of highlight range (above middle gray). Note that we only show shadow range to -6.00 EV on our graphs but we can actually measure to approximately -7.73 EV.

To most people highlight range is the first thing they think about when talking about dynamic range, that is the amount of highlight detail the camera can capture before it clips to white. Shadow range is more complicated, in our test we stop measuring values below middle gray 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).

Image Parameters and Dynamic Range

As we have already discussed the EOS 5D uses different tone curves depending on the Picture Style selected. The first is slightly more contrasty ('punchy') and appears to be used in Standard, Portrait, Landscape and Monochrome Picture Styles, the second more neutral and essentially identical to the 'all zeros' option on previous Canon digital SLR's is used by Neutral and Faithful Picture Styles.

The graph below shows the difference between these two tone curves as well as the option which should provide you the most dynamic range ('best case') in a JPEG shot (Neutral Picture Style with Contrast -4). As you can see the primary difference between the two Picture Style tone curves is in handling of highlights (anything above middle gray). The 'best case' option of the Contrast -4 setting will help to lift shadow detail and produce a flatter (less compressed) highlight response, it extends highlight range just slightly (the difference is minute).

  • Image format: JPEG

ISO Sensitivity and Dynamic Range

As noted in previous Canon digital SLR reviews the 'ISO 50' (L) option is a special 'out of range' feature for very low noise shooting, its downside is limited highlight range as demonstrated here. ISO 50 clips highlights about 1.0 EV (one stop) earlier than ISO 100. At higher sensitivity of course noise becomes the issue, at ISO 1600 noise nudges the our measurement of shadow range down by 0.3 EV (a third of a stop), this difference would seldom be noticeable unless you 'lifted the shadows' in post-processing.

Sensitivity Shadow range Highlight range Usable range
ISO 50 -4.8 EV 2.5 EV 7.3 EV
ISO 100 -4.7 EV 3.5 EV 8.2 EV
ISO 1600 -4.3 EV 3.5 EV 7.8 EV

  • Image format: JPEG
  • Picture Style: Standard

Dynamic Range compared (JPEG)

Having now re-run our tests using our new measurement system we have a better representation of the usable DR for each camera. All four cameras here deliver around 8.2 EV of dynamic range, the primary difference between the Canon cameras and the Nikon D2X tone curve delivers less highlight range (above middle gray) but slightly more shadow range. The D2X also has a harder edge to highlights with a virtually linear 'curve' from middle gray onwards.

Note that we used the 'Auto Tone' setting on the D2X as this is the camera default. Use of the 'Normal Tone' produced exactly the same highlight range but less shadow range; see this graph.

Camera (ISO 100)
Shadow range
Highlight range
Usable range
Canon EOS 5D -4.7 EV 3.5 EV 8.2 EV
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II -4.6 EV 3.5 EV 8.1 EV
Canon EOS 20D -5.1 EV 3.4 EV 8.4 EV
Nikon D2X -5.5 EV 2.7 EV 8.2 EV

  • Nikon D2X: Auto Tone
  • Canon EOS 20D: Parameter 1
  • Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II: Standard
  • Canon EOS 5D: Standard Picture Style

The wedges below are created by our measurement system from the values read from the step wedge, the solid red lines indicate measured shadow and highlight range (dotted line is middle gray).

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Total comments: 16

Still worthy 10 years on because you can shoot it at any selectable ISO in RAW and it`ll be excellent, doesn`t ever get noisy (about half a stop or less noisier than the D700 or D3S in Capture one at ISO3200) , even the DR is good - JPG engine is both dated and limited but as a RAW only camera, it stands up .. Pixel level sharpness (therefore resolution of fine details) is better the D700 or D3 due to a weaker AA filter .

Focus is fast enough , though really best seen as a centre focus only system due to the lack of cross sensors anywhere else , excellent on batteries too.


Totally agree, except for the focus part, it can be improved for that value.

Hai Ching Lee


I bought one last month for Usd500 in super good and working condition but without any lens......
I bought an L Lens 24-105mm f4 for another Usd 500...... a 50mm f1.4 for Usd350.......
After much testings around, I noticed 5D is not good at Indoor unless with the help of a Flash......However , at Outdoor I must say it is a Super duper Good Full Frame machine even though it is around 8 years old........!!!

I still feel it is a Good Investment as far as dollars and cents counts......
An FX cameras from Nikon like the D700 body will cost Usd1.3k in Malaysia......

I also own a Nikon D90 with standard kit lens 18-105mm, 70-300mm Tel lens, a Fx 24-50mm f3.5-4 and 20mm f2.8 and others...
Recently I bought an Adapter for Nikon lens to Eos FX body like 5D..........It WORKS very well but have to Manually focus......So now I can have Nikon lens on 5D body which safe me a lot for a start....!!
Used 5D MK-II is selling here at around Usd1.6k which I am looking forward to...!!


I am using a nikkon D 5100. Have the opportunity to purchase a cannon eos 5d in excellent condition for $500 with 50mm f1.8 lens. Any advantages to this camera vs what I currently have besides FF? Good investment? I currently do not own any pro lenses from nikkon.

Pascal Parvex

Well, that is a great deal. I would do it.


The 5D was and is my first digital camera. It has served me with spectacular results. It's main minus for me has been its inability to use the higher ISO's, as anything higher than 200 produces visible grain in images that I print very large on my epson 24" printer. I almost always shoot with a monopod to assure the results.
Technology has changed and improved and I am searching for a replacement. I am invested in excellent Canon lenses and want to stay with Canon. I also want a camera that is not as heavy as my 5D (I am old and am fatigued by the weight of the 5D which I affectionately call "my brick".) Price is an issue too.
Still casting about trying to find a replacement.

frosty 7

hi i jus bot a canon eos 5d from a friend am i able to record video with the camera ?


No, unfortunately you are not able to shot video, neither by installing Magic Lantern (because the camera is not equipped with live view).


Easy answer: Buy a Sony A7 mirrorless and a metabones adapter to use all Canon AF lenses.


Since you have invested in Canon lenses, I think the Canon 6D is what you are looking for, if you are still looking.


I wish you guys would do a new comparison with the 5D, would love to see it vs the newer dslr's


Agreed! In all cameras announced around that time, only EOS 5D still attracts many discussions in DPR forums. How many are still talking Nikon D200 that announced just three months later these days? If you don't print/view in very big size, EOS 5D actually withstands most today's FF cameras very well till ISO 800/1600 in IQ, no mention crop cameras.


I love my 5D.
Using the 5D with quality Canon L lenses produces images that I do not see a difference between them and those taken by a newer camera (5D II, 5D III).

If video is not needed or required, then finding a clean 5D would be prudent.
Some very well kept, used lightly by some hobbyists can be found at around a $1,000 or less.

I have no immediate plans to shell out $3,000 or more for a newer model that is not going to give me much over the 5D, in terms of image quality.

But for commercial photographers, that's a different situation.


Ditto. I could not be happier with my 5D. I'm also disappointed that the set up for image comparison keeps changing. It makes it difficult to compare any older digital camera with anything contemporary.


I just sold my trusty old 5D. I love the camera but I will not miss cleaning the sensor every other week and fixing dust spots in lightroom! That was always a royal pain in the neck. Still a great camera.

Pascal Parvex

I don't know what you mean. I own the 5D since 2006 and have cleaned the sensor only once.

1 upvote
Total comments: 16