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I understand (ref) that I can do my own post processing to get the same effect that Active D-Lighting gives.

But does the in-camera ADL get applied to the raw image data or is it only done to the accompanying jpeg (when shooting RAW+JPEG) It might be nice to see the preview image with that effect, knowing that the Raw image is still unmodifed.

If it only affects the jpeg, what does ADL do when shooting RAW only?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

No and yes, mostly no though :)

ADL does not affect RAW data directly. However it sometimes affects exposure, which therefore gives you a different RAW file under the same circumstance with ADL turned Off.

Trying this on a Nikon Coolpix A, with ADL off, on a given scene I get 1/320s F/2.8 @ ISO 800 but as I increase a ADL from Low to Extra-High, the shutter-speed goes up incrementally, seemingly by 1/3 stop on each step: 1/400s, 1/500s, 1/640s, 1/800s. This says that ADL is trying to preserve more details in highlights, this always happens at the expense of shadow noise.

However, this depends on the scene and results in a less predictable camera experience. It may give you a better exposure but I strongly suggest you get to know the metering system and use Exposure-Compensation (EC) as needed which puts things in your control.

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when you set your image format to raw, each of them will have a jpeg thumbnail embedded in it. so any setting you use (pic control, adl, etc) is applied to that jpeg. thats how the camera display the picture on the lcd, with all settings applied.

other than that, the exif data will contain the settings too. when you open the raw file with nikon capture nx, the settings will be applied to the raw. then you can adjust the settings again from there if you want.

lightroom and may be other software do not recognize these settings unfortunately.

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ADL doesn't cause any processing to happen to your RAW, but it does affect metering. If you want to replicate the effect then you can set the EC to underexpose.

But rather than just relying on metering and having the camera intentionally underexposure to prevent accidental clipping of highlights, a better approach is to use the histogram to judge the exposure and make adjustments as necessary. Or better still (since there is still no manufacturer that offers RAW histograms) bracket your shots.

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I generally use the histogram and highlight mode. I just had an epiphany about what ADL might do for the user. It appears that it might (try to) make the exposure correction that I would do after looking at the histogram and highlights. You make a good point that is easy to miss that the histogram doesn't show the raw being saturated or unexposed. That explains why there is still detail that can be pulled out in raw processing. – Jim Apr 12 '13 at 16:12

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