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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

The D5200 produces a tone curve that is all-but identical similar to what we've seen on previous low-end Nikon models, and falls neatly between the curves of Canon's Rebel T4i, which clips highlights somewhat more suddenly, and the Sony A57, which has a slightly gentler 'roll off'. At standard settings the D5200 gives a total JPEG dynamic range of approximately 9 EV, about 3.5EV of which is in highlights.

Picture Controls

All of the D5200's different Picture Control settings offer the same highlight range of approximately 3.5 EV but vary in contrast. The Neutral setting applies the least contrasty tone curve while the vivid and landscape settings produce a 'punchier' tonality.

ADL modes

Active D-Lighting is Nikon's method for capturing more information in the brightest parts of the scene and conveying a wider range of tones in the final image. When the system is activated the camera uses a darker exposure to capture more highlight tones, then analyses the scene and selectively brightens parts of the image to give a well exposed image without losing local contrast.

The D5200 offers four discrete settings for Active D-Lighting (ADL) in addition to an 'Auto' option. Comparing the effects of ADL at its extremes - Off and Extra High - you can see that in our studio test scene the highlights are extended by as much as 1 EV, albeit with a pretty abrupt transition between clipped whites and highlight detail.

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Total comments: 20

I currently have a Panasonic point and shoot camera and find that the kids are often blurry especially in low light, and also find that my outside shots are often either to bright or to dark. I've been thinking of getting a SLR for a few years now but want one that's automatic as Im usually taking pics of the kids and they generally move pretty quick, what would your recommendation be? D5200??

1 upvote
Michael 59

I love my 5200 and recommend it. The 3200 and 5100 are also very good cameras. Any one of the three would be a good one to get.


The 3xxx series cameras have fixed displays, the 5xxx cameras have pivoting displays, and more toys, bells and whistles. 3/51xx are 16MP, while the 3/52xx are 24MP. I have a 5200, and I love it...

1 upvote
Michael 59

I recently upgraded from a D5100 to the D5200. Even though I've only taken snapshots here and there, I think the cameras image quality is great. I also have a D3200 which I bought for the higher MP. The 3200 takes beautiful pictures in my opinion, but lacks the bells & whistles I've got used to with the 5100. Even though the image quality in the 5100 was great, I liked the higher MP's, better auto-focus system, faster processor, and misc. other tweaks in the 5200. I still have the 3200 as a backup. The way I see it, The D5200 is like having all the great features "plus some others" of the 3200 and 5100 rolled into one camera. If you can afford the D5200, I recommend you purchase one. Something worth checking into is refurbs. Nikon as well as others sell those at a nice discount and they are inspected and practically like a new one. That how I got the one I have.


This is one of the best cameras in the world!

1 upvote
mumbai architect

Hi I am an architect and need to shoot interiors and buildings. I have been seeing D800E as a choice for the camera on the net. I don't have the budget to buy D800...Will D5200 suffice if I go for additional wide angle.? Please advise.


it will be suffice. just buy a wide-lens and there you go


One question on wide angle lens. The Tokina DX 11-16 is a DX lens. Reading about its specs on DPR the same say 17-24 equivalent. Why ? I though this "factor" of 1.5 applied when you mounted a FX a lens on DX ?


Is this better than D5100? I have D3100 and am planning to upgrade... but I am confused between D5100, D3200 and D5200...

sophi loren

I was confused in between nikon D5200 and Nikon D3200 and at last I go with Nikon D5200 for its ultimate power and obviously the ability of great videoing. DPreview really helps me a lot in this case. Recently I read a review aabout Nikon D5200 best buy and the writer really explain lots of intersting facts about D5200 ad alos offer a great price deal there. I think that will help you guys.

Review Link:

Enjoy with your Nikon and I really proud for my D5200

Comment edited 22 seconds after posting
sophi loren

I hope you will get help from that review :)

Comment edited 36 seconds after posting
1 upvote
Zac boy

Sophi loren How are you....?? I wanna ask you something...?


I don't get it, what is the actual dynamic range of this camera? Without the ADL it seems to be a pretty mediocre 10EV, with ADL extra high it's 13 EV. Is ADL actually extending the dynamic range of the captured information, or is it just some "clever" post-processing?

1 upvote

I have the same question!


Was torn between the extra physical controls of the D7100 and the tilting screen of the D5200 along with its lighter more ergonomic feel in hand. Image quality between the two seems similar. I opted for the D5200 and so far happy I went for it rather than the slighlty larger D7100. Thought I'd spend the cost difference in better lens quality. The D7100 screw drive would have focused by old film Nikkor lenses, but I thought it better to move to newer DX lenses with the amazing VR which didn't exist when I used film.

Only grip is I would prefer a second dial, but the tilt screen was worth the compromise. I don't bother using the ridiculously high 24mp image size, instead opting for 'medium' which is about 16mp which is more than enough. A very happy camper so far. After defecting from Nikon film SLRs to Fuji compact bridges a decade ago, now very pleased with the compact feel of the D5200 and the images it produces with ergonomic ease.


I am trying to decide between the Nikon D5200 and the Canon T5i (700D).
I am *totally* confused by the JPG/Noise/ISO data on this page.

DPReview gives higher ratings to the Nikon, both for image quality and for noise. But, when I see the data above, I see the exact opposite. I must be mis-reading the data. I am only interested in the JPEG data. I don't like to use RAW - just takes up way too much space on my harddisk....

From what I see above, the Canon image seems much crisper - much much less noise. Can someone explain why DPReview gives the nod to the Nikon??

When I downloaded the sample image for both cameras, I also think the Canon seems so much crisper and sharper. Why would someone think the Nikon picture is better? They must be seeing something I am missing.

Any insight would be appreciated....

1 upvote
Duncan Dimanche

big cloister of dead pixels visible in that last visible video sample…. in the center…argh


"particularly if you're prepared to move beyond either of the kit lenses to higher quality optics"

Which lens would provide better image quality providing a similar range like the 18-105?

Recommendations are welcome.


considering that You have plenty of pixels to crop from 24M, and pretty average performance of mentioned lenses on long end, I would rather use tamron's or sigma's 17-50s with 2.8 light. Both in proce range of about $300-$400. They will actually allow You to take benefit of such big number of pixels.



why is the D5200 better for sports than the D5300?

Total comments: 20