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

With its Active D-Lighting feature switched off the Nikon D3200 gets just over 3.5EV of dynamic range in the highlights which puts it slightly ahead of its direct competitors in the entry-level segment such as the Canon EOS 600D or Pentax K-r. Switching on Active D-Lighting gives you marginally more highlight range and also lifts the shadow areas, creating an overall more balanced exposure in high-contrast scenes.

This feature is shared by all of Nikon's DSLRs models, but unlike models higher up the product line, the D3200 only has two settings - On or Off. The effect of Active D-Lighting differs depending on the scene, so this test, performed using our 13-stop wedge, isn't necessarily an accurate indication of 'typical' performance. It does clearly show, however, the way in which ADL is designed to work, extending the visible dynamic range by lifting shadow areas and darkening highlights, to get the most detail out of these areas in a single exposure. To get an idea of the function's impact on real-life images check out the Features-page of this review.

Color Modes

Like most recent Nikon DSLRs the D3200 offers six different 'Picture Controls', which are essentially color response presets applied to in-camera JPEGs. While some of these slightly adjust the shadow range of the image they all clip highlights at essentially the same point, approximately 3.5 EV from middle gray. See the Features page of this review for a demonstration of these presets on a real-world image.

The default mode is 'Standard'. The 'Vivid' and 'Landscape' options boost image contrast by slightly reducing dynamic range in the shadow areas of the image and rendering 'deeper' black. 'Portrait' mode, on the other hand, protects shadows by maintaining detail at the darker end of the camera's dynamic range, but still clips highlights at almost the same point as the 'Standard' option.