Monday, October 15, 2012

Nikon D600 vs. Fuji S5 Pro Dynamic Range Retested

Last week I tested the highlight dynamic range of the Nikon D600 against that of the Fuji S5 Pro.  That test had flaws, among which was that official raw support for the D600 had not yet been released.  Now that there is Adobe raw support for the D600, albeit in beta, I ran the test again.

The test is simple -- I arranged a test scene that included:
  • a white card
  • a gray card
  • a black card
  • a subject with approximately midtoned red, green and blue
  • a mannequin head
  • specular red, green, blue, white, and silver subjects.

The correct exposure was 100 ISO, f/5.6, 1/100.  I shot the test scene from 5 stops underexposure to 5 stops overexposure, then I checked if any of the subjects showed clipping by normalizing the exposure and checking for lost detail or color.  In addition, for the S5 I shot up to 10 stops overexposure, and for the D600 I shot up to 10 stops underexposure.  The tests were taken with the subjects facing north during an afternoon with uniform cloud coverage.

In the case of the D600 I tested without Active D-Lighting and with ADL set to Extra High.  For the S5, I tested both the standard 100% dynamic range mode and the 400% dynamic range mode.  Here are the results.

1. The maximum image size allowed by Picasa is 20mb per photo.  At that limit, I had to reduce the quality of the JPEGs to 80 and the long edge to 3200 pixels.
2. I only tested at 100 ISO.  The dynamic range will decrease as you increase ISO.  In the case of the S5, the extra photosites that allow 400% DR mode don't function above 800 ISO.

With respect to the highlight range, the standard mode of the S5 has lost color accuracy at 3 stops above middle gray.  Although the gray card is somewhat acceptable, the red, green and blue blocks have shifted colors:

Note that this limit needs to be adjusted for the tone of the subject.  Lighter toned subjects obviously lose detail at a lower threshold.  At 2 stops overexposure, the light-toned objects (card, ribbon, bear) are effectively around 4 stops above middle gray therefore you can see that they have lost detail.

With respect to shadow recovery, I was surprised that the S5 could get a usable image out of even 6 stops underexposure, at least at web-viewing sizes.  However, on my S5, you can see there is a long vertical line near the middle.

The vertical line shows up starting 3 stops underexposure.

Here is the web album with the Fuji S5 Pro at standard (100%) dynamic range.

We've seen this before so I thought it would be a useful control for the comparison.  With respect to highlight range, the S5 at 400% DR mode starts to lose color and detail at 5 stops above middle gray.  See the shot below where the colors of the blocks are starting to lose accuracy.  (Again, lighter-toned subjects will start to lose detail at proportionately lower thresholds.)

As you can see, one problem with the S5 is that when highlights get overloaded, they look magenta, which requires more editing to correct than a normal highlight blowout which can sometimes be cloned.

As with the 100% DR mode, the S5 was able to recover tones that were underexposed by 6.3 stops (!).  I didn't test beyond that. Of course the threshold of acceptability is very subjective, and depends on your intended audience and usage.

Here is the web album with the Fuji S5 Pro at full (400%) dynamic range.

The Nikon D600 loses color accuracy and detail at around 3.3 stops above middle gray.

In terms of shadow range, the D600 retains full color accuracy and detail at up to 6 stops below middle gray, with controlled amount of noise (better than the S5 at ISO 800 let's say).

Between 6 and 7 stops below middle gray, it keeps good amount of detail but there is a greenish tint to shadows.  Here is what it looks like at 6.7 stops:

The greenish tint is quite heavy at 8 stops below middle gray, although there is still plenty of detail.

Here is the web album for the D600 shots without Active D-Lighting

I also tried the D600 with Active D-Lighting set to Extra High.  I could not see a difference in dynamic range with or without Active D-Lighting.

Highlight range
+3.3 stops without Active D-Lighting
+3.3 stops with Active D-Lighting
Shadow range
-7 stops without Active D-Lighting
-7 stops with Active D-Lighting
Here is the web album for the test shots with Active D-Lighting.

Despite having a full frame sensor and being three camera generations newer, the Nikon D600's highlight range is not as good as that of the Fuji S5 Pro.  However, the D600's shadow range covers an even wider range than the S5 Pro's legendary highlight range, with noise that is controlled after recovery even from as low as 7 stops below middle gray.  In my next post, I'll show how I used that to achieve images similar to that of the S5.


  1. Hey Thanks for that one, I am using a S5 Pro and I am eyeing on the D600, I am very interested into your investigation. :) Thanks for doing it.

    1. Thanks Valentin. Pls. check back again soon. I'll be posting the followup to this article in the next day or so.

      Best regards,

  2. Hello Mic,
    thank you for this comparison - I am in the same situation as Valentin and you looking for a replacement of S5 which will have the same or higher dynamic range at a higher resolution, and similar colors. I would like to ask you two things:

    Do you think, that the overall dynamic range of D600 is greater than that of S5, even if the way of achieving it is the opposite - underexposing and opening the shadows vs. exposing to the right?

    The second question is: how do you find the colors of D600 compared to those of S5, which are really superb?

    1. Hi Krist. Thanks for checking out the blog!

      The D600's total dynamic range appears to be greater than the S5. However, there are a few differences between them. The D600 has a wider shadow range while the S5 has a wider highlight range, hence as you pointed out the way you expose is different. The other difference in terms of dynamic range is the tone curve. The S5 as you know has a very long shoulder, whereas the D600's tone curve is more similar to other digital sensors, therefore the SOOC image of the S5 looks to me like it has a more subtle differentiation of highlights, but I think with careful postprocessing the D600 can look similar.

      Not sure if you've seen this post but here are real-world shots:

      As for the colors, the D600 is somewhat typical of other Nikons that I've used in that it has a slightly orange color with skin tones. The other thing I've noticed is that it seems that pinks tend to get exaggerated.

      Hope this helps!

      Best regards,

  3. Hello Mic,

    Thank you for the very quick reply! Your observations on D600's color exactly match mine, and it is very clear in you family photos - still a little bit of a orange-yellow-ish skin tint, and strong pinks, and I would say strong magentas as well. But otherwise a very good camera..

    The other thing with the tone curve is mentioned in DP's review too, but I hope it wouldn't be as much of a problem, as long as the total DR is bigger than S5's one, as I am usually doing a lot of post-processing..

    1. Thanks krist. Just a quick note - many of the D600 shots on this blog to date used the beta raw profile for Lightroom. The final version of the raw profile tamed the pinks/magentas a bit. See this post:

      The other thing I forgot to mention is whether you might be interested in the D7000 or D7100 so you won't have to change the lenses you used with your S5.

      Best regards,

  4. Thanks Mic! I am really looking into D7000 and D7100 as well - D7000 has very nice tonality in B/W, although it is a little behind as far as dynamic range is regarded. I am very curious about the upcoming D7100 - whether it will retain the same tonality, and what will happen with the DR.

    1. Hi krist. I will be testing the dr and comparing it with the s5 when the d7100 is released in a week. So we'll have your answer soon!

      Best regards,

  5. That would be great! Thanks!


Thanks for your comment. It will be published as soon as we get a chance to review it, sorry for that, but we get lots of spam with malicious links.