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).

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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 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 D3300's standard JPEG tone curve looks very similar to its peers'. It's ever-so-slightly more steep on the highlight end than the other cameras compared here, but the difference in real world shooting would be hard to spot.

DR Modes

The D3300 presents two ADL modes - On and Off - unlike its bigger siblings, which provide Low, Normal, High, and Extra High settings as well as an Auto mode. In these cameras manually setting a Low ADL mode provides an appropriately subtle series of tone adjustments but doesn't adjust exposure, whereas the higher settings do. After testing and using the D3300's ADL configuration we feel pretty sure that 'On' really means 'Auto,' and that the camera is choosing a level of ADL to apply - sometimes changing exposure in what would be a higher mode on another Nikon DSLR, and more often than not, leaving exposure alone.

The system is supposed to analyze and adjust the image tones differently in different areas of the image so, while its response to our test chart is fairly dramatic (the exposure shift it's chosen suggests it's used the equivalent of the 'High' or 'Extra High' setting from other Nikons) the real-world results are often more subtle. As seen in the real world sample below and the comparison of the two modes above. In our studio test, it would appear that the D3300 has chosen a 'Low' setting, as there's a shift in shadow tones but none in the exposure.

Active D-Lighting Off
Active D-Lighting On

We'd feel comfortable leaving ADL turned On all of the time, given its reluctance to apply a heavier, less natural-looking adjustment. It's a shame that the settings for D-Lighting are buried in the menu, and in turn, that the user can't specify the level of dynamic range adjustment at the time of capture as just about all of the D3300's peers will allow, since Active D-Lighting is one of the most sophisticated dynamic range management features on the market.