I am trying to choose between buying a Canon 5D Mark III or a Nikon D600, In the advantages posted in Snapsort it appears that the Nikon wins over the Canon because of the dynamic range. Then follows two comparative values: 14.4 EV for Nikon and 11.7 EV for Canon. Can some one explain the meaning of this value, and how much difference does 2.7 EV really represent?

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    \$\begingroup\$ The more direct comparison here between Canon & Nikon would be either the 6D vs. D600 or the 5D mark III vs. the D800. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Feb 1, 2014 at 7:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't gloss over the oil/dust issues reported with some examples of the D600. This will likely impact your experience to a far greater degree than the difference in Dynamic range at base sensitivity. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Feb 1, 2014 at 7:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ As a D600 owner I've not seen the dust issues, but since the D600 design was changed and replaced for the D610, that would be a better comparison. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 1, 2014 at 12:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Snapsort is just bad site in my opinion, I would not use Snapsort to compare two cameras, or at least I would not decide anything based on Snapsort comparisons. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 1, 2014 at 12:37

4 Answers 4



I addition to some of the excellent answers that have already been provided, I'd like to add a small word of caution about DXO's dynamic range numbers. First off, Dynamic Range as defined by DXO is officially the ratio between the saturation point and the RMS of read noise. That is a little different than the ratio between the brightest pixels and the darkest pixels that contain image data...it is actually possible for useful image data and read noise to be interleaved, especially with a Canon sensor (which does not clip negative signal info like Nikon does.)

Dynamic Range for Photographers

Dynamic range, as far as a photographer is concerned, has to do with two things:

  1. The amount of noise in the image (particularly the read noise in the shadows).
  2. The post-process exposure editing latitude.

Both of these factors are important, however both do not necessarily mean the same thing as far as what you get in the end. This is why DXO actually offers TWO measures of dynamic range. Both need to be read in the proper context to fully understand what they mean, and how they might affect your workflow and/or results.

Dynamic Range is NOT the whole story!!

First, before I start, I have to offer my most valuable piece of advice I can: Dynamic Range is NOT the whole story!! Dynamic range is ONE aspect of image quality. Overall, image quality is produced by multiple factors. The image sensor is one of those factors, and dynamic range is only one factor of an image sensor...resolution, quantum efficiency, signal to noise ratio, etc. are other important factors of image sensors. In addition to image sensors, cameras also have AF systems (and within AF systems, you have total AF points, point layout, point spread, point selection modes, etc.), metering sensors, frame rates and buffer depths, body ergonomics, etc.

Photographers buy CAMERAS. We don't buy sensors. ;) If you are in the market to buy a camera, make sure you buy the camera that best suits your overall needs. Don't base your decision on one single factor out of a myriad of factors. Depending on the kind of things you photograph, you may need a high performance AF system and a fast frame rate more than you need anything else, including DR!

Research cameras, don't research sensors.

Dynamic Range: Noise

The first factor we can derive from dynamic range is how much noise is in an image signal on a normalized basis. That last term there is important: on a normalized basis. When you are comparing cameras, it helps to have a level playing field. To achieve a level playing field when producing camera ratings from POST-camera information (i.e. a RAW image), one must scale the image being measured to a standard "output size." This allows different cameras with different hardware specifications to be compared "normally", or in other words, directly. Without normalization, you usually might as well compare apples to oranges.

Normalizing image size has an interesting effect. It reduces ALL noise in an image. Not just read noise, but the intrinsic noise present in the image signal itself (you may have heard this called "photon shot noise.") Read noise only exists in the shadows, and without any additional processing, is usually invisible. For the most part, for direct camera comparisons, the amount of read noise is a lesser factor (although still an important one). The more important factor is photon shot noise, or the noise intrinsic to the signal.

In the context of DXOs measurements, Print DR is the measure of normalized results. When it comes to normalized results, pixel count and quantum efficiency reign supreme. If we take the classic 5D III and D800 comparison on DXO, you have ~11.7 stops of ISO 100 Print DR vs. ~14.4 stops of ISO 100 Print DR. That seems like a massive difference. As far as Print DR goes, it is. In part, the 5D III suffers because of high read noise at ISO 100, but the other and possibly more significant factor is the fact that the D800 has significantly more pixels, and a considerably higher Q.E. per pixel.

The D800's smaller pixels are already more sensitive to light, so the total light gathering efficiency of the sensor, which is the same physical dimensions, is higher than the 5D III. It is important to note that even though each of the 5D III pixels themselves have a higher FWC (full well capacity) each, overall they are each less efficient (49% vs. 56%) at converting photons to usable charge. When you factor in the total sensor area, the 5D III has a 49% efficiency over 864mm^2, where as the D800 has 56% efficiency over the same exact area. It is also important to note that if one were to directly compare the 5D III pixels to the D800 pixels, you would actually need to compare 1 5D III pixel to 1.63 D800 pixels, since only then would you be comparing the same absolute area of each sensor. Because of the D800's higher Q.E., on an area-normal basis, "maximum saturation" is higher than for the 5D III: The D800 "saturation per area" at ISO 100 (1.62 pixels worth of charge saturation) is ~73200e-, where as for the 5D III "saturation per area" at ISO 100 (1.0 pixels worth of charge saturation) is 67531e-. The D800 clearly has the stronger signal.

Image for image, the total signal strength will always be higher with the D800, so intrinsic noise will always be less. Read noise, which is usually the culprit as far as DR is concerned in most photographers minds, is actually the smaller factor here...however it does further eat away at the lesser total signal of the 5D III by a small amount, further hurting its signal to noise ratio when you actually measure it.

Now comes in the normalization part. To compare the D800 directly to the 5D III, you have to normalize. That means, scaling both images to the same dimensions. In the case of DXO, their normalized comparison target is 3600x2400, which matches the standard 3:2 ratio of modern DSLR sensors. The D800 started out with an advantage in total signal strength. It also has the advantage in pixel count. When you downsample a D800 image, you downsample a slightly better image (~8% better, from a signal strength standpoint) and with 63% more pixels than the 5D III.

All those extra pixels the D800 has allow a greater degree of averaging (the blending of multiple source pixels to produce a single destination pixel via some kind of average/mean/median) during the downsampling, which results in significantly less noise overall. Not just in the deep black shadows, where read noise exists, but at all tonal levels. You have less noise in the blacks, shadows, the midtones, the highlights and the whites. The 5D III has fewer pixels to contribute to that averaging process, so it has slightly more noise across the entire tonal range. In addition, the 5D III started out with that higher read noise, which while also reduced by downsampling, is reduced less than the D800's because there was less averaging involved, and it was more than the D800's read noise to start.

So when Print DR is actually measured from these two "normalized" 3200x2400 pixel comparison images, the D800 has a significant edge. Hence the reason it gets "2.7 stops" more Print DR than the 5D III, 14.4 vs. 11.7.

Hopefully all of that made sense. When it comes to Print DR, read noise plays a roll, but the maximum signal strength of the entire sensor (not just each individual pixel) plays a more important role. Print DR, however, because it is based on MODIFIED images, is NOT directly representative of the capabilities of camera hardware. It is useful primarily, and perhaps only, as a comparative tool...to match camera statistics and use the differences to determine which camera is "better" (better statistically on the image sensor front only...but that doesn't necessarily tell you whether one camera is really better than another).

Dynamic Range: Exposure Editing Latitude

Ok, so now that an explanation of Print DR is out of the way, it's time to hone in on Screen DR. As I mentioned before, Print DR is a measure of modified images, in order to use normalized camera output to produce comparisons that are useful when compared directly. Because the images generated by each camera are usually different sizes, normalization results in a different degree of processing for each camera in order to produce comparable results. The 5D III images needs to be downsampled to a lesser degree than the D800 images. There is a greater degree of change with the D800 image.

As such, Print DR does not necessarily tell you explicit details about camera hardware. It tells you relative details about camera images, and it tells you about the effectiveness of a computer algorithm at processing one camera brand's images vs. another. It does not, however, actually tell you anything concrete about the actual real-world performance of a camera sensor.

DXO offers Screen DR measurements as well. Screen DR is more of a hardware measure. Screen DR is taken directly from each camera's RAW image files, without any interim processing. When it comes to Screen DR, because there is no averaging that mitigates the impact of read noise, read noise plays a more significant role. Quantum efficiency and particularly pixel counts take a lesser role. Screen DR is the ratio between true maximum saturation and the RMS of read noise as measured directly from the RAW pixel values in the actual camera RAW files. Therefor, Screen DR is about as directly related to real-world hardware performance as you can get.

In the case of the D800 vs. the 5D III, the D800 has 13.2 stops of Screen DR, while the 5D III has 10.97 stops of Screen DR. In terms of the D800's advantage, it's dropped from 2.7 stops to 2.2 stops, almost 2/3rds of a stop less. This indicates the real-world advantage of the D800 over the 5D III for RAW editing, specifically for exposure editing latitude...the amount of additional recovery range you have when working with a RAW in post with a tool like Adobe Lightroom. We'll get back to this in a moment.

The D800 still maintains the advantage, however. Why? In this case, pixel count doesn't play much of a role. The only real role pixel count plays here is that in order to pack more pixels into the same space, you must reduce pixel size. Quantum efficiency plays the lesser role here, as while the D800 pixels are smaller, they are still more efficient than the 5D III pixels, allowing a stronger signal than if their Q.E. were to be the same (~45ke- @ 56% Q.E. vs. ~41ke- @ 49% Q.E., a signal strength difference of almost 9%). The key factor that plays the biggest role here is read noise...and in the case of the D800, it has exceptionally low ISO 100 read noise, at ~3e-. The 5D III, on the other hand, has a very high ISO 100 read noise of over 33e-! That is a factor of ten difference relative to the D800. Even though the D800 has a lower saturation point, its significantly lower read noise still gives it the advantage in Screen DR. The 5D III's very high read noise is killing it, despite having a higher saturation point of ~68ke-.

So, what does this mean? How does Screen DR compare to Print DR? Well, to put it simply: The D800 does not have 14.4 stops of dynamic range in any meaningful sense, as far as photographers should be concerned. When most photographers think of "dynamic range", they think of the ability to lift shadows. Shadow lifting is almost synonymous with dynamic range, because it is dynamic range that allows shadow lifting.

But wait, why can't you lift the shadows of a 3200x2400 pixel image? Well, there is no reason you can't...however pushing exposure around a downsampled image is not the same as pushing exposure around a RAW image. There are several reasons why you can't really count a downsampled 3200x2400 D800 image as having 14.4 stops of DR. First, if the image is a JPEG, you have at most 8 stops of DR, because JPEG images are 8-bit. If you are using a TIFF image, you have 16 bits of numeric space to store up to 16 stops of dynamic range, however regardless of image format, by downsampling, you destroyed a considerable amount of detail in your image anyway. Additionally, anything other than a RAW image is going to be saved as some kind RGB image (or maybe HSL, but generally the same difference). RGB images do not offer the same kind of low-level non-destructive editing latitude as a RAW image. You have some editing latitude, but to some degree, the five major tonal ranges...blacks, shadows, midtones, highlights, and whites, are largely fixed. You can try to lift shadows, but you can only lift them so far before editing artifacts begin to exhibit. Same goes for moving midtones or highlights around...you can push them to a certain degree, however push them too far, and editing artifacts will start to appear.

True editing latitude can only be achieved with RAW image editing. Now here is the kicker: We all edit RAW images at NATIVE SIZE. There is no scaling when editing RAW. It's RAW! It's an exact replica of the digital signal as represented by the camera when the exposure was made. Scaling doesn't come into the picture. When you zoom in and out in Lightroom, you're not actually changing the RAW...you're simply changing what is rendered to the viewport. Every time you change a setting, push exposure up or down, recover highlights or lift shadows, tweak white balance, etc. you are reprocessing the ORIGINAL RAW data and re-rendering it to the viewport. RAW is RAW, it's ALWAYS full size.

Therefor, the D800 has 13.2 stops of dynamic range. The 5D III has 10.97 stops of dynamic range. The relative difference between the two is ~2.2 stops, not 2.7. The D800 is therefor incapable of capturing 100% of the tonality of a 14.4 stop sunset in a single shot...you still need HDR to do that. You would barely be able to capture a 13.2 stop sunset in a single shot...but that would be the ultimate real-world limit with a D800. You wouldn't be able to capture more than 11 stops with a 5D III in a single shot.

Picking DR

When it comes to dynamic range measurements, especially when comparing cameras for purchase, you really need to decide on what your primary workflow will be. Are you a JPEG Junkie, firing off thousands of shots per hour at that sporting event that are ultimately going to be downsampled significantly and published on the web, or maybe downsampled to a degree and printed small? Or are you a RAW Fiend, and want the most editing latitude you can get your hands on, because you need to be able to capture as much highlight detail in the sun at the core of that sunset as you can without losing any deep shadow detail?

If you are just going to be downsampling and publishing tiny 900 pixel wide images on the web, then pretty much ANY camera on the market today will do. If you still want the best, then a 5D III or a D800 will both do the job superbly. Technically speaking the D800 would have more DR, however because you're a JPEG junky, you're not going to be able to benefit from it, since JPEG images are 8-bit, you only have 8 stops of usable DR anyway.

If you are a RAW Fiend, especially if you regularly photograph scenes with lots of dynamic range anyway, then the additional exposure editing latitude provided by cameras with more quantum efficiency and less read noise is going to be valuable. In these cases, you should be ignoring Print DR entirely. It is a worthless measure, even for comparing cameras. You should be looking at the Screen DR number on DXO, to find the real-world hardware dynamic range, as preserved by your RAW images.

The D800, and the D600, still both offer more real-world dynamic range than the 5D III, no question about that. The difference isn't quite as great as DXO's Print DR "scores" make it seem...the D800 and D600 are about 2/3rds of a stop less DR capable than DXO says they are in reality, but still more than two stops more DR capable than a 5D III. To put the difference in more practical terms...if you accidentally under-exposed an image by six stops, and wanted to recover it with Lightroom. If you had a 5D III, you could recover four stops...the other two stops would be lost to read noise. With a D800 or D600, you could recover all six stops.

One last bit, and I'll finally be done. The D800 and D600 lead in dynamic range is only relevant at "low ISO". Dynamic range is ultimately limited by signal to noise ratio, and with each increase in ISO, maximum dynamic range drops by one stop. By ISO 800, the difference in DR between a 5D III and a D800 is minimal, by ISO 1600 the differences are negligible, and SNR becomes the most important factor. SNR, or signal-to-noise ratio, becomes a vastly more significant factor at high ISO. The greater your SNR, the less intrinsic signal noise (photon shot noise) at high ISO. When it comes to high ISO performance, Canon cameras have the edge, and usually perform a bit better than Nikon cameras. If you factor in recent enhancements offered by Magic Lantern, Canon cameras then have a fairly significant advantage at high ISO over pretty much any other camera...offering 1/2 to 2/3 stops more dynamic range at all high ISO settings than any other camera in the same class. Magic Lantern improves high ISO performance on Canon cameras so much, that the 5D III and 6D both end up with as much or more dynamic range than the 1D X and D4 at ISOs above 400, which are cameras thousands of dollars more expensive.

Dynamic Range is NOT the whole story!!

Finally, before I wrap up this ludicrously long answer, I have to reiterate the most valuable piece of advice I can: Dynamic Range is NOT the whole story!! Dynamic range is ONE aspect of image quality. Overall, image quality is produced by multiple factors. The image sensor is one of those factors, and dynamic range is only one factor of an image sensor...resolution, quantum efficiency, signal to noise ratio, etc. are other important factors of image sensors. In addition to image sensors, cameras also have AF systems (and within AF systems, you have total AF points, point layout, point spread, point selection modes, etc.), metering sensors, frame rates and buffer depths, body ergonomics, etc.

Photographers buy CAMERAS. We don't buy sensors. ;) If you are in the market to buy a camera, make sure you buy the camera that best suits your overall needs. Don't base your decision on one single factor out of a myriad of factors. Depending on the kind of things you photograph, you may need a high performance AF system and a fast frame rate more than you need anything else, including DR!

Research cameras, don't research sensors.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Wasn't the original question about the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D600? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Feb 1, 2014 at 15:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ D800, D600. Roughly the same difference in DR. I have the 5D III and D800 DXO DR numbers memorized, though...so it was just easier to use the D800. :P \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Feb 1, 2014 at 17:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, DXO's Print DR is even worse than I said. It isn't even measured, it is extrapolated. Print DR, according to DXO, is derived as so: DR<norm> = DR + log<2> sqrt(N/N<0>). Print DR is a logarithmic extrapolation of native resolution over normalized resolution, from the base DR (Screen DR). DXO doesn't even MEASURE their own primary DR that they use to "score" their cameras. It's just a simple extrapolation...so the notion of 14.2 or 14.4 stops of DR isn't even real. In an 8-bit downsampled JPEG image, DXO literally COULDN'T 'measure' 14 stops of DR. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Feb 2, 2014 at 20:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Which is why I say in the opening sentence of my answer, "In the real world there aren't a lot of differences between the two..." \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Feb 2, 2014 at 22:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is one of the best answers I've read anywhere on stack exchange. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 21, 2015 at 10:25

In the real world there aren't a lot of differences between the two in terms of Dynamic Range (DR), which is a measure of the brightest to darkest values in the scene in which the camera can render details. There are several reasons why this is so:

  • In a studio setting, the total DR of any scene can be precisely controlled and is generally much lower than the range of which either camera is capable.

  • Regardless of how much DR the camera can capture, the de facto standard for viewing images is JPEG, which is limited to 8-bits per color channel and around 7 stops DR. Most printers can't even reproduce the full DR of which JPEG is capable. Any dynamic range past that captured by the camera will need to be compressed into the DR of the output medium. This would include the vast majority of computer monitors, which are also limited to 8-bits per color channel.

  • The difference is measured at the base sensitivity of each camera. As the ISO setting is increased, the difference decreases fairly quickly. From ISO 1600 and higher the two cameras have pretty much the same DR. There isn't much difference at ISO 800. And if you are planning to shoot in very low light, the Canon can shoot at two stops higher ISO: 102,400 vs 25,600. How usable either of those ISOs will be on either camera is debatable (I do know a couple of photojournalists who routinely use ISO 25,600 with the Canon 1D X, but prefer to stop at ISO 12,800 with the Nikon D4).

DR comparison

In terms of images that do attempt to capture scenes with wide dynamic range, there are some other considerations to be made as well.

Many photographers will choose to shoot scenes that include a very wide dynamic range in a series of bracketed exposures. They will then either use the single frame that places the exposure value in the best place to render the scene the way they wish in post processing, or they will combine the results of the bracketed exposures in some way. This might entail one of many High Dynamic Range Imaging methods that use the lowest exposures to render the brightest elements of the scene and the highest exposures to render the darkest elements in the scene. HDR (in the more narrow definition of creating a 32-bit floating point image file from multiple exposures that must then be tone-mapped into 8-bits), Exposure Fusion, combining different areas of the image from each exposure in different layers, or just using highly modified tone curves in the RAW conversion process are some of the most common methods.

For doing automated exposure bracketing the Canon is more flexible than the Nikon:

  • The D600 allows you to shoot 2 or 3 frames in steps of 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 1 or 2 EV.
  • The 5D Mark III allows you to shoot 2, 3, 5 or 7 frames at up to +/-3 EV in 1/3 or 1/2 stop increments.

Then there are comparisons between the two cameras that go far beyond their relative Dynamic Range performance. For example, the Canon 5D Mark III has a true pro level auto-focusing system as good as any DSLR camera in the world. The D600 has an AF system that is a step or two behind. The Canon has a full magnesium alloy body and is probably also a little better in terms of weather sealing, the Nikon uses magnesium alloy for the top and rear, but a polycarbonate plate on the front. Although both are excellent cameras good for just about any use, the Canon is probably a little better for action and shooting in tough environmental conditions while the Nikon is probably a little better landscape or 'fine art' type camera. The other HUGE part of the equation are the lens systems available for each. Both Canon and Nikon offer a very broad range of lenses suitable for many different uses, but both also have a few things the other doesn't. Nikon's 14-24mm zoom stands alone in that segment. Canon's TS-E 17mm and 24mm tilt/shift lenses and their Super Telephoto Series have capabilities like no others.

  • \$\begingroup\$ With Canon's recent release of the EF 11-24mm f/4, Nikon's 14-24mm f/2.8 now has some serious competition from the other side. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Mar 22, 2015 at 1:35

The dynamic range is the range of brightness that a camera can cover from the darkest to the brightest. Each EV is a doubling of intensity, so the brightest white point will be 2 to the 12th power brighter than the darkest for the 5D and will be roughly 6 times brighter than that for the Nikon.

It is a significant difference in terms of that particular stat, but isn't really the end of the world either. Unless you are shooting what would normally be considered an HDR shot on most entry level DSLRs, you aren't going to hit the limit on either. It will mostly make a difference on black and white images with really high dynamic range, but you won't really notice it all that much all that often. When you do, it will just mean more detail in bright highlights and dark shadows.

It is, however, worth pointing out that there are far, far more important measures to a camera. I never particularly liked the Snapsort scoring on that particular comparison because it completely glosses over the fact that while both cameras are pretty close in many regards, the 5D Mark iii absolutely wipes the floor with the D600 when it comes to Autofocus. 41 cross type AF vs 9 is just embarrassing. The D600 doesn't even have 41 focus points period, while the 5D Mark iii has 61. The shutter lag (time it takes for a photo to take) is also less than half the time of the D600.

The D600 isn't a bad camera either and at half the price, it may well be worth it, but don't make your decision on 2.5 EVs of dynamic range under ideal conditions, particularly since MagicLantern can boost the 5D's performance in that regard. Base it on the camera system you like better, which lenses you like better and which device meets your needs better. If you have relatively simple AF needs and cost is an issue, the D600 is likely the way to go. If you want the best AF available for the money and really solid build quality, then the 5D is a better choice.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I would also recommend this reading if you want a slightly more balanced, real world look at the differences. For some reason the lab boys for DXo and SnapSort have been favoring Nikon lately, but it doesn't always match up with real world experiences, particularly for low light. Full disclaimer, I was where you are now between the D800 (rather than the 600) and the 5D Mark iii a little over a year and a half ago and went with the 5D. I've been very pleased with it. \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Henderson
    Feb 1, 2014 at 7:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ The difference between Canon & Nikon at DxO Mark is two fold: 1) Nikon gives DxO access to their encoding/demosaicing algorithms while Canon doesn't and 2) The Nikon cameras with Sony sensors do some noise reduction on the chip before the data is read out, while Canon holds all NR until after the data from the sensor is read out. Thus the algorithms DxO uses for Canon sensors are reverse engineered educated guesses while the comparative benefit of NR done to the respective output of the sensors after readout is ignored. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Feb 1, 2014 at 8:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, Nikon sensors don't so much as do any more noise reduction on chip than Canon sensor's do. Both do CDS, or correlated double sampling. The difference is where and how CDS is performed. Sony Exmor sensors use a digital readout and digital CDS, vs. Canon's analog CDS. The other major difference with Nikon cameras is they clip negative signal information, and therefor have no bias offset. Clipping could be considered a form of noise reduction, but it is also throwing away potentially good image info that could be recovered if you had the ability to remove read noise. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Feb 1, 2014 at 10:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Michael is correct, however, about DxO, and how they have full details about Nikon demosaicing. At least, Nikon and DxO have a partnership, Canon and DxO do not. Canon publishes their demosaicing algorithms, however there is no evidence that DxO utilizes them. If you ever use DxO's software, you'll quickly learn that they deal with Canon CR2 files TERRIBLY compared to other products, like DPP, LR, C1, RT, etc. That said, Canon cameras DO have more read noise, and that is their fundamental problem. With debanding, you can recover a lot of DR lost with Canon cameras, but until Canon... \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Feb 1, 2014 at 10:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ ...reduces it at the hardware level (via any number of fabrication techniques to produce less noise from high frequency components, lower frequency readout, greater parallelism, etc.) they will continue to have less DR than the competition. On a side note, because of the fact that Canon does NOT clip negative signal values, they are much better suited to astrophotography. With astro, you usually generate dark and bias offset frames, which are then subtracted from the light frames (image signal) to nearly eliminate read noise. Because Nikon clips, they aren't as good for astro work. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Feb 1, 2014 at 10:15

Dynamic range is the difference between the darkest dark areas and the brightest bright areas. A larger dynamic range means that you'll retain more detail in high contrast scenes.

Consider a landscape shot featuring a sunset. You expose for the lake/trees/house/etc, but the sky is super bright and blows out. Where lesser cameras may do multiple exposures for some method of HDR to get both the sky and ground to be exposed at the same time this camera may retain enough detail for both.

This may be more useful in shots that don't lend themselves to multiple exposures, such as portraits. You may be able to pull the sky back in rather than having to settle for a white mess or balance with fill flash.

Also consider that as ISO increases dynamic range decreases. The listed EV rating is going to be under ideal conditions (usually around 100-200 ISO) and how DR is affected by increasing ISO changes from sensor to sensor. In general, the DR of current cameras is very good and you're not likely to notice the difference when operating at low ISOs. However, as you push your ISO higher, and total DR drops off, the little bit of extra DR is more likely to make a difference. Be aware that just because one sensor has a wider measured dynamic range at base ISO does not mean the same camera will carry that advantage over to higher ISO settings, and it almost certainly won't carry over the same advantage in terms of absolute stops of EV. In many cases the opposite is true because of the different ways different sensors deal with the two major types of noise (read noise and shot noise).

This is general information that can vary widely depending on the specifics of the cameras you are using/comparing and your shooting habits.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ At ISO 25,600 the Canon 5D3 has slightly more DR than the Nikon D600. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Feb 1, 2014 at 9:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelClark I wasn't comparing those cameras specifically, but trying to describe dynamic range generally. As illustrated by the graph in your answer, the camera with inferior dynamic range at low ISO bests the other at high ISO, marking the importance of digging up the details when examining this stat. \$\endgroup\$
    – tenmiles
    Feb 1, 2014 at 13:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ But I think the point is I've never seen any two cameras that have the same difference in DR at ISO 100 that they have at ISO1600. Your last paragraph seems to be saying one could presume that the DR difference at ISO100 would be expected to last throughout the entire range of ISO settings and that is grossly misleading. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Feb 1, 2014 at 15:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ I can see how that would be misleading. What I mean is that in a scene that lends itself to low ISO, additional EV probably won't make a lot of difference because cameras already have a lot of DR. But in a scene that requires high ISO, DR is so reduced that additional DR may be more impactful, even if it's not a lot of additional DR. \$\endgroup\$
    – tenmiles
    Feb 1, 2014 at 16:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ But you are still misleading the reader into thinking the camera with 3 EV more DR at ISO 100 will also have 3 EV more DR at High ISO, and that isn't true. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Feb 1, 2014 at 16:47

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