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 cameras) black to clipped white (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' 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 the camera can capture before it clips to white. Shadow range is more complicated; in our test we stop measuring values below middle gray 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.

Picture Style options

The D3000, in common with the whole Nikon DSLR range, makes use of Picture Styles - image parameter presets that can be saved, tweaked and swapped between cameras. As you can see (and as detailed in the 'Grid' view in the Picture Styles menu screen), the contrast - and hence the tone curves - differ between each of the settings, with 'vivid' and 'landscape' offering the most contrast, and the steepest tone curves. It is difficult to see in this graph, but the 'portrait' preset offers the smoothest 'roll off' at the top of the curve, which indicates lower contrast for more flattering portrait images.

Active D-lighting

Active D-Lighting is a feature shared by all of Nikon's current DSLRs, but unlike models higher up the product line, the D3000 only has two settings - on or off. The effect of Active D-Lighting differs depending on the scene, so this test, performed using our 18 step 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 amount of mid tones by lifting shadow areas and darkening highlights, to get the most detail out of these areas in a single exposure.

ISO Sensitivity and Dynamic Range

The D3000 is unusual amongst other current Nikon DSLRs by offering a base ISO of 100. There is no extension 'lo' setting, although a 'Hi 1' setting does allow the D3000 to shoot at ISO 3200 (equivalent). Dynamic range remains a fairly stable 8.8/8.9 across the most commonly used ISO settings of 100-400, but the figure begins to drop at ISO 800 (thanks to shadow noise getting above our cut-off threshold). More importantly, highlight dynamic range is stable across the entire ISO sensitivity range at roughly 3.7EV, which is fairly impressive, especially for a relatively old CCD sensor.

Sensitivity Shadow range Highlight range Usable range
ISO 100 -5.2 EV 3.7 EV 8.9 EV
ISO 200 -5.1 EV 3.6 EV 8.8 EV
ISO 800 -4.3 EV 3.7 EV 8.0 EV
Hi (ISO 3200) -3.0 EV 3.7 EV 6.7 EV

Dynamic Range compared

The D3000 compares very well to its nearest competitors, and offers the highest total dynamic range, if only by a tiny amount. Realistically, the dynamic range characteristics of the D3000, the Canon EOS 1000D and Sony Alpha 230 are as near to equal as makes no practical difference, and all give excellent performance for their class. That said, it is clear from the graph that the Canon EOS 1000D and Sony Alpha 230 do give a smoother roll-off at the highlight end of their curves, whereas the D3000's graph is steeper, indicating higher contrast (remember though, this graph only represents performance at the cameras' default color/contrast settings).

Camera (base ISO)
Shadow range
Highlight range
Usable range
Nikon D3000 -5.2 EV 3.7 EV 8.9 EV
Canon EOS 1000D -5.2 EV 3.5 EV 8.7 EV
Sony Alpha 230 -5.1 EV 3.7 EV 8.8 EV
Nikon D5000 -4.8 EV 4.0 EV 8.8 EV

The wedges below 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).