Is Active D-Lighting useful?

edited January 2015 Posted in » Nikon D3100 Forum
As a new D3100 owner I have been trying to read all I can about my new camera.

I'm wondering if the D3100 Active D-Lighting is really useful?

To date, the reviews I have read have not really answered this question.

For example "Active D-Lighting is Nikon's dynamic range expansion option, designed for use when faced with high contrast scenes to maintain shadow detail without blowing the highlights. It's a feature shared by all of Nikon's current DSLRs, but unlike models higher up the product line, the D3100 only has two settings - on or off. The effect of Active D-Lighting differs depending on the scene, so this test, performed using our 13-stop 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 visible dynamic range by lifting shadow areas and darkening highlights, to get the most detail out of these areas in a single exposure."

I hope someone has done some real world tests!

Thanks, Ken


  • edited January 2015
    The quote from Dpreview is correct in that it is very difficult to decide which scenes need ADL. The problem is that our eyes have the best ADL in the world and because of this we have difficulty sorting out highlights and shadows.
    However, in the real world, ADL can be useful if one imagines where highlights and shadows are likely to occur. For example, shooting a person towards a curtained window will produce pronounced highlights and shadows.
    I am a Canon user and the way I decide whether to use ADL in certain scenes is to take a test shot and review it on the LCD when one can see the highlighted areas blinking, or I use the histogram. Understanding the histogram is a subject well worth learning but often ignored by camera tutorials.
    Best regards, PBked
    edited December 2014
    Very good answer, and yes understanding the histogram is paramount on any digital camera.
  • edited January 2015
    Using the D3200, which is essentially the same except for having more megapixels, I generally prefer to have ADL off. This is a matter of taste to some extent, and depends a bit on circumstances. What I have found is that generally I would prefer to have my shadows darker, as one learned to expect on film, and opening them up often washes out the shadows, decreasing graphic impact. I still occasionally turn it on when I know I am in a difficult lighting situation where the information is more important than the contrast.

    If you shoot RAW, you can use the View NX2 program to open up highlights (essentially non-active DL). There are actually two options here, post processing DL and shadow recovery, whose functions overlap some. If you find yourself wanting to do that often, then that's probably an indication that you should turn active DL on. If you don't, then I'd leave it off.

    For certain situations such as a creature on a light background or a backlit portrait, I prefer the option of spot metering and letting the highlights blow, but alternatively turning on ADL certainly is also an option.

    It's possible that the D3200 has a wee bit more dynamic range than the D3100, so your mileage may vary. As I say, I cut my photographic teeth on slides, and prefer it off. Since you can afford to throw away shots on a digital camera, of course one thing you can do is simply to try it both ways and see which one you like best. The difference is not always dramatic, but it can be seen.
  • edited January 2015
    If you’re on an older camera body like the D3100, here’s something to consider regarding ADL: depending on your shooting habits, it may slow your workflow.

    If you’re shooting in continuous release, you will notice that having ADL on will slow you down. Your camera will start off fast at its max FPS, but it will slow down faster compared to if it was off. So if you’re going to machine gun it, then it may be a good idea to turn ADL off.

    Even if you shoot a single shot at a time, you’ll notice that it will slow you down if you tend to review every shot. To see what I mean, turn on “Image review” so that the rear LCD will display the last shot you took after every shutter press. Take a shot and look at the LCD. If ADL is off, it will appear almost instantly. If ADL is on, it’ll need just a moment to process.

    If you shoot in RAW, keep it off. There’s no need for it. As @bruto mentioned, you can just adjust the shadows/highlights in post.

    On newer camera bodies, the CPU is faster so the processing time that ADL requires is greatly reduced. It’s still noticeable if you look for it, but I feel its insignificant. So on newer bodies, if you shoot JPG, I would just leave it on (unless of course, you’re trying to use shadows and highlights creatively).
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