Dynamic Range cont.

Picture Control presets

The graph below shows the dynamic range response from each of the D700's four Picture Control presets. Each has a slightly different tone curve with the Standard setting providing the best shadow and highlight range (although by a small margin). The D700's default tone curve is already quite contrasty which results in 'punchier' out-of-camera JPGs but somehow disguises the sensor's true capabilities. They become more obvious when shooting in RAW (see below).

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Contrast settings

The graph below shows how the camera's tone curve and dynamic range is affected by the (admittedly small) range of contrast settings. Whilst the highlight range remains largely unaffected you can squeeze about a stop more out of the shadows by opting for the flatter -3 setting.

ISO Sensitivity and Dynamic Range

Like the D3, the D700 has an indicated base sensitivity of ISO 200, sensitivities below this (ISO 160, 125 and 100) are indicated as L0.3, L0.7 and L1.0 respectively. In the High ISO range the D700 offers even more settings than its bigger brother. Hi0.3, Hi0.7, Hi1.0 and HI2.0 give you sensitivities of ISO 8000, ISO 10000, ISO 12800 and ISO 25600 respectively. As you can see from the graph below the compromise at ISO 100 is highlight range which falls nearly a stop (1.0 EV) short of the highlight range seen from ISO 200 upwards.

Using the default settings the D3 delivers somewhere in the region of 7.8 stops of dynamic range from ISO 200 to 1600. This is by no means an outstanding value and the sensor is capable of much more as you can see in the RAW section below. At sensitivities of ISO 3200 and higher dynamic range decreases fairly steadily.

Sensitivity Shadow range Highlight range Usable range
ISO 100* -4.5 EV 2.5 EV 7.0 EV
ISO 200 -4.4 EV 3.4 EV 7.8 EV
ISO 400 -4.4 EV 3.4 EV 7.8 EV
ISO 800 -4.5 EV 3.4 EV 7.9 EV
ISO 1600 -4.5 EV 3.4 EV 7.9 EV
ISO 3200 -4.0 EV 3.3 EV 7.3 EV
ISO 6400 -4.0 EV 3.5 EV 7.5 EV
ISO 8000* -3.7 EV 3.3 EV 7.0 EV
ISO 10000* -3.4 EV 3.3 EV 6.7 EV
ISO 12,800* -3.4 EV 3.2 EV 6.6 EV
ISO 25,600* -3.4 EV 2.7 EV 6.1 EV

* Non-standard sensitivities

Dynamic Range compared

The D700's measured dynamic range is up to a stop lower than that of other cameras near the top of the market (and more than 1.5 stops lower than what we measured on the Sony A900). The application of a steeper tone curve means you are getting more consumer-friendly, 'punchier' out-of-cam images but also highlights are clipping a little earlier. It is a little surprising that Nikon chose to apply such a steep tone curve but as you'll find out in the RAW section below, shooting RAW and some processing will get you a much more impressive result.

Shadow range
Highlight range
Usable range
Nikon D700 (ISO 200) -4.4 EV 3.4 EV 7.8 EV
Sony DSLR-A900 (ISO 200) -5.1 EV 4.2 EV 9.4 EV
Canon EOS 5D (ISO 100) -4.7 EV 3.5 EV 8.2 EV
Nikon D300 (ISO 200) -4.7 EV 4.1 EV 8.8 EV
Nikon D3 (ISO 200) -4.7 EV 3.9 EV 8.6 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).

RAW headroom

Experience has told us that there is typically around 1 EV (one stop) of extra information available at the highlight end in RAW files and that a negative digital exposure compensation when converting such files can recover detail lost to over-exposure. As with previous reviews we settled on Adobe Camera RAW for conversion to retrieve the maximum dynamic range from our test shots.

As usual the default Adobe Camera RAW conversion delivers less dynamic range than JPEG from the camera (a more contrasty tone curve and very little noise reduction in shadows). But only when you make an effort and play with ACR's conversion parameters the sensor reveals its true capabilities. The best result we could achieve was 11.6 EV which is almost 5 (!) stops more than the default JPG output. It's no surprise then that in our real world tests we managed to recover highlights that had been hopelessly blown out (see below).

It's also worth noting that we are only plotting the 14-bit RAW mode on the graph below. Theoretically a 14bit RAW should give you a 2 EV advantage over a 12bit one. Although in reality we only measured a difference of just under one stop in extreme lighting situations it's well worth using the 14bit option.

  • ACR Default: Exp. 0.0 EV, Blacks 5, Contrast +25, Curve Medium
  • ACR Best: Exp. -3.2 EV, Blacks 0, Brightness 150, Contrast -50, Curve Linear

As we've mentioned above the D700 offers significantly more than the usual stop of RAW headroom. When you flatten the tone curve and make proper use of the large pixels' light gathering capabilities you get just under 2 extra stops. Just as on the D3 the ability to pull back both shadow and highlight detail is incredibly impressive, as demonstrated by the examples below. No doubt the D700's performance is in the same ballpark as the D3's and with some careful processing you can get an impressive amount of additional highlight and shadow detail in your images.

There is surprisingly little channel clipping here and as a result you're not being troubled by color casts in recovered highlight areas. At the dark end of the tone scale (lifting shadows to deal with under exposure) you'll also get pretty good results at lower ISO settings. Having said that though, underexposing very high ISO shots will introduce a lot of noise and possibly banding if you apply too much positive digital exposure compensation.

Adobe Camera RAW default conversion Adobe Camera RAW with -2.35 EV digital comp.

Adobe Camera RAW default conversion Adobe Camera RAW with -2.65 EV digital comp.