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 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 Active D-Lighting turned off, which it is by default, the D5300 gives a nice S-shaped tone curve, with a gentle roll-off to both highlight and shadows. The comparison chart below shows its results against the competition - the Canon EOS Rebel T5i (700D), and two mirrorless APS-C cameras, the Fujifilm X-M1 and Sony NEX-6.

The D5300 reproduces more highlight tones at default settings than the Canon T5i, but turning on HTP mode puts the T5i ahead. Turning all of the default cameras compared here to their highest settings shows the D5300 with a wider tone curve than the T5i and NEX-6. It reproduces more shadow detail than the XM-1 but that camera goes straight off the chart on the highlight side.

DR Modes

Active D-Lighting is available in four levels - Low, Normal, High and Extra High, as well as Auto. Unlike HDR modes, ADL modes can be used in Raw + JPEG shooting modes. Because the camera will make slight adjustments to the exposure parameters (reducing the amount of light captured to prevent highlight detail clipping), there is a slight impact on the Raw files. However, only using Nikon's 'Capture' software will allow you to apply the adaptive tonal response that the camera's JPEG engine offers.

Comparing 'Off' to the next step up, 'Low' shows that only shadow tone is affected at this setting and highlights are left relatively untouched. 'Normal' uses an exposure change to boost highlights about a third of a stop and 'High' pushes them another third of a stop, leaving shadows at the same level. 'Extra high' pushes shadows and highlights and approaches an HDR-type treatment in the scene below, offering about a stop gain in highlights and almost two stops in shadow tone. In our studio test 'Auto' applied a correction identical to 'High,' but in our real-world demonstration the 'Auto' mode has selected the 'Normal' mode.

ADL Normal
ADL High
ADL Extra High
ADL Auto