Monday, October 1, 2012

Nikon D600 vs. Fuji S5 Pro highlight dynamic range

Many recent DSLRs from Nikon have been tested to show a very wide highlight range.  For example, DPReview reports that the Nikon D800 has as much as 5 stops highlight range with Active D-Lighting at Extra High.

The D600 looks to have promising highlight range.  The D600 has been tested by DXO to have a dynamic range similar to that of the D800.  In my own testing, the D600 also appears to have a fairly wide highlight range, based on the latitude I have seen for recovering highlights.

In this post, I compare the highlight dynamic range of the Nikon D600 with that of the Fuji S5 Pro, a unique DSLR that has unparalleled highlight range.  I wanted to see whether the Nikon D600 has met or even surpassed the S5's highlight dynamic range.

I setup several objects of varying degrees of specularity (reflectiveness) indoors.  I prepared three hotshoe flashes - one SB-800 on-camera acting as a master, another SB-800 as a slave, and a YN-565 as a second slave.  All flashes were firing at the same manual power level, bounced toward the ceiling.  I then took shots of the objects at these settings:
- flash only at 1/4 power
- flash only at 1/2 power
- flash only at full power
- full power flash + ambient normally exposed
- full power flash + ambient +1 exposure
All shots were taken at base ISO (100 for both the D600 and the S5) in raw, converted to DNG for processing in Lightroom 4.

NOTE:  In the case of the D600, there is no raw support yet from Adobe so I used the workaround of tricking Lightroom into thinking that the D600 files were from a Nikon D4.  Blogged here.  The resulting files are cropped.  Not only that, the crop is from the top left corner therefore the cameras' perspectives are slightly different.  Moreover, no one knows whether the D600 files with true raw support will be the same or better than these "fake" D600 DNG files.

First, I took a baseline shot that was deliberately underexposed so that it would fall within the dynamic range of both cameras.  I removed the ambient (100 ISO, 1/200, f/5.6), and fired all three flashes at 1/4 power.

As you can see, detail is visible everywhere.  For example, even the specular highlights of the ribbons are not clipped - they have color.  The metal disc held by the bear has visible detail even with the specular highlight.

Having established a baseline, I then took the progressively brighter shots.  I first examined the brightest shot:

I applied a correction of -3EV to make it easier to observe whether the detail was retained:

It appears that the S5 was able to retain detail everywhere.  I was not able to exceed the S5's highlight range with this test.

As with the S5, I took 5 test shots.  In the first two shots, the D600 clearly was able to retain all detail.

I took a look at the middle shot (flash only at full power):

I applied a -3EV correction to make the details in the specular highlights more observable:

It appears all detail was retained, though the specular highlight of the red ribbon seems almost ready to lose color.

I took a look a the fourth shot.

With a -4EV correction:

It looks like a little detail was lost in the metal disc, in the red ribbon's specular highlights, and above the bear's nose and left paw (camera right):

I also looked at the fifth shot.  As expected, a little more detail was lost:

I also tested whether Active D-Lighting would improve the D600's result.  Note: the slave flash positions got moved slightly by accident.  Anyway, here is the 5th shot with Active D-Lighting set to Extra High:

With the same correction applied above:

It appears to have more detail than the 5th shot above.  Though not as good as the 3rd shot, the ADL might even be better than the 4th shot, though there is a lot of lost detail above the bear's nose.  Because the flash positions got moved I can't be absolutely certain.  My son was pulling me away to play with me before I could re-run the tests for ADL.

Clearly, the aging Fuji S5 Pro still has substantially more highlight range than the Nikon D600.  Because I was not able to reach the S5's limits, I can't say exactly how much better the S5 Pro's highlight range is compared to the D600.  Without Active D-Lighting, the S5's highlight range advantage over the D600 appears to be well over 1 stop.  With Active D-Lighting at Extra-High, the S5's highlight advantage is reduced but I couldn't say for sure by how much.

Please recall the flaws I mentioned at the beginning.  I plan to retest this when the D600 gains real raw support, and this time I will try harder to find the S5's limit, and will test ADL more rigorously.


  1. I am still currently using an Fuji S5 pro as a workhorse.. and I must say it is still a cracking camera for its age=) overexposed shots.. easily corrected..=)

    1. Yes I totally agree. And now that the D600 raw support has come out, and I've shot a little bit more with the D600, I'm becoming convinced that it's not a substitute for the S5, in my opinion. I'd like to hold on to mine as long as I can :)

      Best regards,

  2. I am into landscape/nature shooting and use S5 pro excusively. I think dynamic range and colors are the most important aspect of outdoor shooting. The only thing lacking in S5 is megapixel count (by comparison), but if you use tripod and turn off VR etc, the picture is plenty sharp. I really want the latest fuji sensor in D600 body. Anybody listening!!!! Fuji guys please makeup with Nikon and make another legendary camera!

    1. I'm with you 100%. I really wish Fuji would update the S5. It doesn't even have to be full frame. Sigh. BTW Fuji, if you do work on something like that pls. keep the Nikon controls. :)

      BTW pls. stick around -- in the next few days I will post my retest of the D600 vs. S5.

      Best regards,

  3. Keep up the great work Mic. What I would really like to see is systematic comparison of DR in real life outdoor situation like a sunset scene. I have seen some D600 user's group photos in Flicker with blown out clouds. It was a simple sunlit scene and his exposure of foreground was perfect but the clouds had no texture. It does not happen with S5 pro, so my red flags are going up with familiar nikon sensor shortcoming in real life situations. Outdoor scenes are still very challenging for digital sensors. It seems from specs that canon 6D will be able to take +/- 3EV pictures in one shot and combine them in-camera for true HDR. Hmmmmmm. Jury is still deliberating....

    1. I have exactly such a sample, to be posted in a couple of days :)

      I hear you my friend about the blown out highlights. The Nikon D600's matrix exposure sometimes can't be trusted to preserve those highlights, even with active D-lighting at extra high.

      But if you were to look for a substitute for the S5, I think a camera like the D600 would be it, because the shadow range is just as impressive as the S5's highlight range. You'll see what I mean from the retest.

      Best regards,

  4. Perhaps a late comment, but I am interested in this topic.

    A question, since you have made some tests. If we assume that the S5 Pro and the D600 have somewhat similar dynamic range, and assuming shooting RAW, would there be any downside to consistently underexposing the D600 to capitalize on its better shadow range, thus freeing up the highlight range more? It would be simple enough to correct, say, a -1 and 1/3 underexposure in Lightroom or the postprocessing program. You would be boosting the noise but since the D600 and newer FX sensors have such clean files, in situations where highlight range is priority, would the only downside be underexposed JPEGs in the camera?

    Thanks for the article!

    1. Hi Victor. For scenes with a wide dynamic range that is exactly what I do with the D600 - intentionally underexpose and then recover. See these related posts on that topic (with sample shots):

      For some reason the shots on that first article aren't working. I'll fix them when I get home.

      Best regards,

    2. I like light,ethereal photos at times....... subtle mcreamy highlights are great!!!

      That is why film is great vs DSLRS

      IS FUJI S5 the closest thing to getting that creamy,sliky,subtle in the highlight ...look.

      How about Foevon sensors..

      Maybe HDR with new D4???

      I dont have S5,but love film and try and fake with DSLR that look.

      CAN S5 fake that look,how is B+W on S5??

      I suspect better than cmos sensors,which look milky+lack depth.


    3. Hi Jay! Check out our review of the S5

      Look at the section where I discuss highlight rolloff. I think you may find what you're looking for.

      I don't use B&W much... I suggest you check out the Flickr Fuji S5 group to see good b&w samples. Mine would not do it justice.

      Best regards,


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