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Brief history: About 15 years ago, I got a Nikon D40, and I took it everywhere I went for a few years. Eventually I wanted to get into video, so I "graduated" to a D5300. Soon after that, I stopped bringing my "big" camera everywhere I went. But over the past couple years, I've been getting back into it, and I've been encountering an issue that I'm not sure how to solve.

My problem: The pictures I take with my D5300 are often blown out, especially compared to my D40. I've tried shooting with the automatic settings, as well as adjusting my shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

I thought I was going crazy, but today I took them both out for a spin to compare their pictures. Here are some examples:

(D40 on left, D5300 on right)

automatic, 1/320, f/9, iso 200, focal length 18mm

These were all shot in automatic mode, and all of the settings ended up the same. I also put my D5300 in manual mode to make sure the settings matched (shutter speed 1/320, aperture f/9, iso 200, focal length 18mm) but I got similarly washed-out results.

The effect isn't super obvious, but it's enough that I'm feeling pretty discouraged from taking my D5300 out. I feel like I could "trust" my D40 more back in the day.

Is there another setting I should be adjusting? Or am I just bad at cameras?


Update

I read through all of the answers, tried applying the advice, and took my cameras out for another spin.

First, I don't think my aperture stop down lever is bent. Here is my aperture diaphragm at f/3.5, f/4, f/4.5, and f/5:

It's a little hard to tell, but I can definitely see the aperture diaphragm changing, especially between f3.5 and f5.

Next, I made sure that "Active D-lighting" was disabled and that my exposure compensation was set to 0, and I took my cameras out for another test run. The photos from the D5300 are still blown out compared to the D40:

(Again, D40 on left, D5300 on right)

Automatic, 1/400, f/10, iso 200, focal length 18mm

d40 d5300

d40 d5300

d40 d5300

d40 d5300

Automatic, 1/250, f/8, iso 200, focal length 18mm

d40 d5300

If nothing else, I've definitely convinced myself that I'm not just imagining the difference.

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  • 1
    This means you need to apply exposure compensation to your D5300, perhaps -0.3 to -0.7. My D40 required a -0.3 exposure compensation for most shots.
    – qrk
    Sep 6 at 19:19
  • @qrk Thanks for the reply, and for your answer below. One thing I should mention is that I actually can't change my exposure compensation in automatic mode. I can set it in manual mode, but it seems really surprising that automatic mode is just broken on my D5300. And Michael C mentioned that exposure compensation shouldn't make a difference if all the other settings are the same, so I'm not sure what's happening. Sep 6 at 20:00
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    A word of wisdom, never use Automatic mode. Use Program mode. Program mode has the benefit of Auto mode with the ability to override certain settings for creative control and prevents the flash from popping up at inopportune times (you pop up the flash when you want it to). Nikon's advanced model (D500 and above) cameras don't have Auto mode, but do have Program mode.
    – qrk
    Sep 6 at 21:07
  • Every digital camera's exposure system meters slightly different, even within the same model group. When I first fire up a new camera, the exposure and focus with my different lenses are the first things I check out.
    – qrk
    Sep 6 at 21:18
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Have you checked the aperture stop down lever on the D5300 to see if it looks bent?

If it is, your lens may not be stopping down as much as the camera thinks it is. This is a fairly well known and common problem. If a lens is not properly aligned when twisted on to mount, it can damage the lever. This almost always results in overexposure.

Most current camera systems use an electronic connection between the camera and lens to control the aperture diaphragm. Nikon has only recently started making a few lenses with what they call electromagnetic diaphragms and only fairly recent Nikon bodies can control them. The vast majority of lenses produced since the 1950s in the Nikon F-mount system use the less elegant mechanical linkage to control the aperture.

enter image description here
The blue arrow points to the camera's aperture control lever.

You can test it by using your lens with the widest maximum aperture (lowest f-number). Start with the aperture set manually to wide open, look into the front of the lens, and either press the depth of field preview button or set the camera to "Bulb" exposure and hold the shutter button all the way down. You might need to turn off auto focus to get the camera to activate the shutter without achieving focus first.

Notice the position of the aperture diaphragm. Then progressively stop down the lens one click at a time (1/3 stops, 1/2 stops, or whole stops depending on your lens and also your camera settings with some newer types of Nikon F-mount lenses).

Does the aperture stop down a little more for every increase in the f-number setting? If it doesn't start moving any more than when it is wide open when set to the first few settings that are slightly narrower than wide open, that indicates your aperture lever is in need of adjustment.

Another possibility: If you have "Active D-lighting" enabled, turn it off and see if that solves your issue.

If the actual ISO, exposure time, and aperture value are the same, one camera should not produce significantly brighter pictures than the other.

Exposure compensation should make no difference if the actual ISO, Tv, and Av used for both cameras are the same. Neither should differences in metering.

Beyond the above:

Though it may seem significant to you, there's really not that much difference between the two cameras.

Back in the heyday of film, it was not unusual to get two batches of the same film that varied by that much. That's why the perfectionists would buy a whole brick of film at a time and run a density test on one roll to establish how much it varied from the rated box speed.

The mechanical linkage that is used to control most F-mount lenses is notorious for minor inconsistency from shot to shot. But it doesn't end there. Like all mechanical devices with moving parts and wear surfaces, continued usage will cause minor changes in how far the aperture is stopped down. They need to be periodically checked and adjusted back to factory specs.

It may well be that when your D40 was new it stopped down each lens slightly less and exposed brighter than it does now after it has been used for several years. It may also well be that when you've used the D5300 for that many clicks, it will also stop down the lens slightly more than it does now.

It also may well be that Nikon just decided to make the processed images from the same exposure levels slightly brighter for the D5300 than the D40.

There's no absolute "perfection" when it comes to exposure, f-stops, shutter times, and ISO/film sensitivity. In the purely mechanical camera era with film, anywhere within one-sixth stop was considered "spot on".

For more, please see:

Is there a sane reason why ¹⁄₁₂₅ is not, instead, exactly half of ¹⁄₆₀?

Why are these film photos brighter than digital photos taken at the same time with the same settings? (Each of the answers looks at different aspects that contribute to the difference in final result of images taken with the same settings with two different cameras, one film and one digital.)

This answer to Am I wrong to judge my exposure using my smartphone?

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  • Thank you for this reply. I'm pretty sure my aperture stop down lever is not bent, and I've made sure that "Active D-lighting" was disabled". Unfortunately, the photos from my D5300 still look overexposed. I've edited my answer with more details if you feel like taking another look, but in the meantime +1 for your efforts, I appreciate it. Sep 6 at 17:46
  • @KevinWorkman Please see additions to the above answer.
    – Michael C
    Sep 8 at 19:46
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Exposure metering varies between cameras, even the same model. You need to suss out the intricacies of each camera.

What is your exposure compensation set to on both cameras? If the D5300 exposure compensation is set to zero, try setting it to -0.3 or -0.6 to darken up the images (page 92 in your manual). I usually shot my D40 with exposure compensation set to -0.3 since it tended to overexpose.

Make sure your exposure metering is set to matrix (page 90 in your manual) unless you have a good reason to use center or spot metering.

Try playing (enable or disable) with D-lighting on the D5300 (page 94 in your manual). When D-Lighting is enabled the raw exposure is slightly underexposed, but after D-Lighting correction it may be back to over or correctly exposed on the processed JPEG (you need to experiment). Personally, I turn D-Lighting off since I shoot raw format.

Learn to use histogram and highlight (zebra stripe) image review modes (pages 136 & 176 in your manual). This is helpful in ascertaining proper exposure. I always show highlights and often RGB histogram, especially when shooting outdoors in bright light.

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  • Don't confuse "D-Lighting" which is a post-process with "Active D-Lighting" which actually changes the information sent to the RAW. Active D-Lighting is on by default [& needs to die in a fire], though it can be switched off after the fact in CaptureNX-D. See photo.stackexchange.com/q/93500/57929
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 1 at 11:24
  • Exposure compensation should make no difference if the actual ISO, Tv, and Av used for both cameras are the same. Neither should differences in metering. If the actual ISO, Tv, and Av are the same, one camera should not produce significantly brighter pictures than the other.
    – Michael C
    Aug 1 at 22:43
  • Thanks for this reply. My exposure compensation on both cameras is set to 0. I've made sure that active d-lighting is disabled. I'm shooting in automatic mode and the cameras are choosing the same settings: how do you suggest I use histogram and highlight to improve that? (I know shooting in manual mode is another option, but like Michael C says, I'd expect the same settings to produce the same image instead of needing different settings for different cameras.) Sep 6 at 17:48
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As qrk said, the difference in between pictures could have been Exposure compensation or Differences in the metering sensor if you had taken them using Automatic or any of the semi-automatic modes.

However, even if you are using MANUAL mode with same settings, some discrepancy will be visible(using the same lens, at the same time of day, under same weather conditions), since the D40 uses a CCD sensor, while the D5300 uses a CMOS sensor.

-1

The two camera's versions of 18 mm show different fields of view. The automatic exposures will meter the different fields of view differently, particularly using Matrix metering.

The D5300 has picture controls to adjust color saturation, among other things. You can try setting to Vivid instead of Standard or bump up saturation levels for more color.

If you feel the 5300 is consistently blown out, dial-in a compensation.

You may also find that using a different metering mode like center weighted or spot works better for you.

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    The two camera's versions of 18 mm show different fields of view. Considering both the D40 and D5300 have the same sensor size, the difference in field of view is entirely due to slight difference in perspective (that is, the position from which the camera took the picture). The slight difference in where the camera was held (presumably kept the same as possible, considering switching cameras between shots, and even possibly keeping the same lens on different bodies) wouldn't likely account for the degree of exposure difference between the two bodies (all other things being equal).
    – scottbb
    Aug 4 at 2:08
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    @scottbb - The metering mode differences in the cameras will evaluate complex lighting differently. Different fields of view, regardless of the reason, will provide even more metering mode complexity. These are not incident light meterings, they are complex matrix calculations performed by the camera, so of course field of view will effect it. Aug 4 at 17:23
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    @user10216038 If the image is actually exposed using the same ISO, Tv, and Av settings (as all but one of the example images are - and that one actually uses settings 1/3 stop darker than the other camera and still comes out brighter) metering has absolutely nothing to do with differences in exposure in the resulting images.
    – Michael C
    Aug 5 at 18:28
  • I didn't say FoV wouldn't effect the metering. But realistically, there's no way the very minor difference in FoV between pairs of images in OQ could account for the degree of exposure difference. Yes, matrix metering performs "complex matrix calculations". But that sounds sort of... handwavy ... similar to invoking the butterfly argument ("a butterfly flapping its wings on the other side of the world will affect the weather here..."). We're not talking about chaos theory. We're talking about evaluating zones and averaging them together, with some heuristics. If the argument is that...
    – scottbb
    Aug 5 at 18:38
  • ... heuristics of the D40 are different than the D5300, fine, that's a valid point to base a theory on. But ever-so-slight differences in FoV? I'm not buying it. Especially when the slight difference doesn't introduce wildly different lighting, color, or something else that might wildly throw off the matrix evaluator.
    – scottbb
    Aug 5 at 18:40

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