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Nikon D5100 Dynamic Range (JPEG)

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).

Compared to...

The D5100 produces a tone curve that is very similar to what we've seen on previous low-end Nikon models. At standard settings it measures a total dynamic range of approximately 9 EV which compares well to its direct competitors. The measured dynamic range remains unchanged along the ISO scale.

Picture Controls

All the 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

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 and then analyses the scene and selectively brightens parts of the image to give correct brightness without losing local contrast. ADL offers five settings - Low, Normal, High, Extra High and Auto - or can be totally switched off.

Because the noise floor of the D5100's sensor is so far below the point from which the JPEG's darkest tones are taken, there is essentially no noise penalty to pulling additional detail out of the shadow regions.

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BobFoster

Curious. I’ve noticed before that Pentax, not being one of your sponsors, gets consistently downgraded reviews compared to comparable Nikon products. So, the 5100 has ‘outstanding’ image quality, while that of the superlative Pentax K5 is merely ‘excellent’. Are you really claiming that the image quality of the Nikon is superior to a camera that uses the same sensor as (and even gets slightly more out of it than) the D7000?

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