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).
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.
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.
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.