Nikon D5200 Exposure
Nikon D5200 Image Quality
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Good saturation levels and average hue accuracy.
|In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center. Mouse over the links to compare ISOs and click for larger versions.|
Saturation. The Nikon D5200 pushes dark greens and blues by a moderate amount, but slightly undersaturates bright yellow, light green, and some cyans. Reds are also pushed a bit, but not as much as by most cameras. Overall saturation levels are good and remain fairly stable, climbing slightly as ISO increases. Mean saturation is 107.9% at base ISO, or 7.9% oversaturated. The average for consumer DSLRs is about 10% oversaturated, but 7.9% is closer to accurate, and it's easy to customize saturation to match your personal preference. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.
Skin tones. The Nikon D5200's Caucasian skin tones looked just about right when using manual white balance in simulated daylight. A very good job here. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.
Hue. The Nikon D5200 did shift cyan toward blue, red toward orange, and light green toward yellow, but shifts were relatively minor. (The cyan to blue shift is very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors.) With an average "delta-C" color error at base ISO of 5.2 after correction for saturation, overall hue accuracy was about average. Hue is "what color" the
The Nikon D5200 has a total of seven saturation levels available, three above and three below the default saturation, plus an Auto setting. This covers a pretty wide range of saturation levels, about as wide a range as you're likely to find photographically relevant, apart from special effects that are arguably better achieved in software. The fine steps between settings mean it's easy to program the camera to just the level of saturation you prefer. Saturation also doesn't impact contrast, which is ideal but not always the case.
|Saturation Adjustment Examples|
The table above shows results with several saturation settings, see the Thumbnails index page for more (look for the files named D5200OUTBSATx.JPG). Click on any thumbnail above to see the full-sized image.
| See full set of test images
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Good color with the Manual white balance setting, but overly-warm results with Auto and Incandescent. About average positive exposure compensation required.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance was very warm and reddish with the Auto white balance setting. (We'd say unacceptably so, though unfortunately this is common.) The Incandescent setting was also too warm, this time with a yellowish cast. The Manual setting by far produced the most accurate results, if just a touch cool. The Nikon D5200 required an average amount of positive exposure compensation here, at +0.3 EV. Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.
Excellent results under harsh lighting, with very good handling of color and contrast, but the D5200 severely underexposed our "Sunlit" Portrait shots.
|Manual White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoors, the Nikon D5200 performed well in terms of color and contrast, but it underexposed our "Sunlit" Portrait a lot more than most cameras do. The D5200 required +1.3 EV of exposure compensation to keep the mannequin's face fairly bright, while most cameras need about +0.7 EV. That's significantly below average performance. On the plus side, the camera did a very good job of holding onto detail in the highlights and deep shadows. We preferred skintones from the Manual white balance setting as they were a touch pinker than Auto, but both were pretty good. The Nikon D5200 slightly underexposed our far-field scene but in doing so avoided blowing almost all highlights, though it produced some dark shadows. Color outdoors was quite pleasing.
Very high resolution, about 2,600 to 2,700 lines of strong detail from JPEGs, about 2,700 from ACR processed RAW files.
|Strong detail to
~2,600 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
~2,700 lines vertical
|Strong detail to
~2,700 lines horizontal
ACR processed RAW
|Strong detail to
~2,700 lines vertical
ACR processed RAW
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,600 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and to about 2,700 lines in the vertical direction. Extinction of the pattern didn't occur until around 3,400 to 3,500 lines in both directions. We were able to do a bit better with NEF files processed through Adobe Camera Raw, with the horizontal direction showing about 2,700 lines, the vertical about 2,700 lines, while complete extinction of the pattern was extended up to the 4,000 line limit of our chart. As usual, color moire was much more evident in the converted RAW files. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Sharpness & Detail
Slightly soft images but with very good detail. Minor edge-enhancement artifacts visible on high-contrast subjects. Moderate noise suppression visible at base ISO.
Sharpness. The Nikon D5200 produced very good detail overall when coupled with a sharp lens such as the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G prime used in the above left crop, though images are still slightly soft overall. Some very minor edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the halos around the branches in the crop above left, but overall results are quite good. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.
Detail. The crop above right shows some mild to moderate noise suppression, as the darker and lower-contrast areas of the model's hair show significant smudging where individual strands of hair merge. Still, a pretty good performance here considering the resolution and target market. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.
Raw vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Nikon D5200 delivers very detailed JPEGs that are a little soft overall even with a sharp prime lens. Better detail can often be obtained from carefully processing RAW files, without additional sharpening artifacts. Take a look below, to see what we mean:
In the table above, mousing over a link at the bottom will load the corresponding crop in the area above. Examples include in-camera Fine JPEG, and a raw file processed through Nikon's ViewNX 2 software using default settings, and the same raw file processed with Adobe Camera Raw 6.7, then sharpened in Photoshop. We found that sharpening with 300% unsharp mask and a radius of 0.3 pixels worked well for the Nikon D5200's NEF files.
As you can see, results from a raw file converted with Nikon's ViewNX 2 software are very similar to the in-camera JPEG, and the software wasn't really able to extract more detail. Adobe Camera Raw was able to extract quite a bit more fine detail in the pine needles, but as expected, it also shows slightly higher noise levels as well as some chromatic aberration that the camera suppresses in its JPEGs. Bottom line: When coupled with a good raw converter, the Nikon D5200 rewards raw shooters with amazing detail, especially considering the price.
ISO & Noise Performance
Good detail versus noise handling up to ISO 1,600.
|High ISO Noise Reduction = Normal (Default)|
|ISO 100||ISO 200||ISO 400|
|ISO 800||ISO 1,600||ISO 3,200|
|ISO 6,400||ISO 12,800||ISO 25,600|
Noise levels are fairly low at ISOs 100 through 800, though some detail is lost to noise reduction and an increase in a very fine noise "grain" can be seen as ISO increases. Some minor chroma noise is also visible in the darker shadows, even at base ISO, though it's not objectionable. At ISO 1,600 noise levels increase with a touch more blurring in the fine details and more visible grain, but detail is still pretty good. ISO 3,200 shows a larger step in both luma and chroma noise and shadows begin to take on a yellow tint with noticeable color blotching. As you'd expect, image quality continues to degrade as ISO increases, to the point were very little find detail is left with strong luma and chroma at ISO 25,600. Overall color balance shifts toward green as well.
Still, very good noise performance considering the 24-megapixel resolution, but it's no surprise that noise is higher at the pixel level than its 16-megapixel siblings. See our Print Quality analysis section below for recommended print sizes at each ISO.
A note about focus for this shot: We shoot this image at f/4, usually using one of three very sharp reference lenses (70mm Sigma f/2.8 macro for most cameras, 60mm f/2.8 Nikkor macro for Nikon bodies without a drive motor, and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/2.0 for Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds bodies). To insure that the hair detail we use for making critical judgements about camera noise processing and detail rendering is in sharp focus at the relatively wide aperture we're shooting at, the focus target at the center of the scene is on a movable stand. This lets us compensate for front- or back-focus by different camera bodies, even those that lack micro-focus adjustments. This does mean, though, that the focus target itself may appear soft or slightly out of focus for bodies that front- or back-focused with the reference lens. We know this; if you click to view the full-size image for one of these shots and notice that the focus target is fuzzy, you don't need to email and tell us. :-) The focus target position will have been adjusted to insure that the rest of the scene is focused properly.
Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range, and low light tests
Very good detail in both highlights and shadows, very high resolution. Good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.
|+1.0 EV||+1.3 EV||+1.7 EV|
Apart from the underexposure issue, the Nikon D5200 handled the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above very well. Though contrast is a little high, shadow and highlight detail are both very good. The +1.3 EV exposure was best here, producing a bright face without blowing out many highlights. Despite the bright appearance, there are actually very few clipped highlights in the mannequins's white shirt. Some shadows are pretty dark, but remained fairly clean except for a yellow cast in very deep tones. The camera's contrast adjustment also did a good job of decreasing overall contrast without also affecting color saturation. (See below.) Still, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)
Dynamic Range Analysis
A key parameter in a digital camera is its Dynamic Range, the range of brightness that can be faithfully recorded. At the upper end of the tonal scale, dynamic range is dictated by the point at which the RGB data "saturates" at values of 255, 255, 255. At the lower end of the tonal scale, dynamic range is determined by the point at which there ceases to be any useful difference between adjacent tonal steps. Note the use of the qualifier "useful" in there: While it's tempting to evaluate dynamic range as the maximum number of tonal steps that can be discerned at all, that measure of dynamic range has very little relevance to real-world photography. What we care about as photographers is how much detail we can pull out of the shadows before image noise becomes too objectionable. This, of course, is a very subjective matter, and will vary with the application and even the subject matter in question. (Noise will be much more visible in subjects with large areas of flat tints and subtle shading than it would in subjects with strong, highly contrasting surface texture.)
What makes most sense then, is to specify useful dynamic range in terms of the point at which image noise reaches some agreed-upon threshold. To this end, Imatest computes a number of different dynamic range measurements, based on a variety of image noise thresholds. The noise thresholds are specified in terms of f-stops of equivalent luminance variation in the final image file, and dynamic range is computed for noise thresholds of 1.0 (low image quality), 0.5 (medium image quality), 0.25 (medium-high image quality) and 0.1 (high image quality). For most photographers and most applications, the noise thresholds of 0.5 and 0.25 f-stops are probably the most relevant to the production of acceptable-quality finished images, but many noise-sensitive shooters will insist on the 0.1 f-stop limit for their most critical work.
We really like it when a camera gives us the ability to adjust contrast and saturation to our liking. It's even better when those adjustments cover a useful range, in steps small enough to allow for precise tweaks. Just as with its saturation adjustment, the Nikon D5200's contrast setting offers seven levels, plus an Auto setting.
|Contrast set to lowest,
|Contrast set to lowest,
At its lowest contrast setting, the D5200 did a very good job of preserving highlight detail and bringing out shadow detail. Highlight retention was improved, but the contrast setting had a larger impact on opening up the shadows, though the yellow push we've seen in the shadows of these shot is more apparent. The lower contrast setting opened-up shadows in our far-field shot as well, without making the image too flat looking. Overall, very good results here.
|Contrast Adjustment Examples|
The series of shots above shows results with several different contrast adjustment settings, showing the minimum step size around the default, as well as both extremes. While you can see the extremes, it's hard to really evaluate contrast on small thumbnails like these, click on any thumbnail to go to the full-size image.
Nikon's contrast adjustment is that it has very little effect on saturation. Contrast and saturation are actually fairly closely coupled, it's a good trick to be able to vary one with out the other changing as well. As usual, Nikon did a very good job here.
Active D-Lighting attempts to preserve detail in both highlights and shadows in high-contrast situations, while maintaining moderate levels of contrast. The series of shots below show the effect of the various Active D-Lighting settings available on the Nikon D5200 on our high-contrast "Sunlit" Portrait scene. Note that Active D-Lighting is different from the touch-up menu's D-Lighting, as it is performed during image capture instead of after. (It does affect only JPEG images though, Nikon very properly doesn't apply tonal adjustments like this to RAW file data. NEF files, however, are tagged so that Nikon software can automatically apply the effect when converted.)
"Sunlit" Portrait Active D-Lighting (0 EV)
Mouse over the links to see how the various levels of Active D-Lighting affects our "Sunlit" Portrait shot at default exposure. Click on a link to get to the full-res image. (Active D-Lighting's effect can be a little subtle in shots like those above, so we decided to use a mouse-over to better show how each setting compares to Off.)
When Active D-Lighting is enabled (Auto is the default), the camera usually exposes for the highlights in an attempt to preserve them, then adjusts the tone curve to bring the midtones and shadows back up to produce an image that doesn't look underexposed. In this case, the default exposure without Active D-Lighting didn't have any blown highlights to preserve, so this is not the best example. To see how Active D-Lighting works without underexposure in this shot, see the examples from our Nikon D7000 review.
See below for how Active D-Lighting worked on our Far-field shot.
|Far-field Active D-Lighting (0 EV)|
Here are the results with our Far-field shot. The D5200's Active D-Lighting worked better here, as the default exposure wasn't underexposed like it was for its "Sunlit" Portrait scene. As you can see, Active D-Lighting brought up shadow detail while holding on to more of the highlights. The Auto setting did a pretty good job here.
The D5200 is only the second Nikon DSLR offering an in-camera high-dynamic-range imaging function (the D5100 was the first), something we've seen in several DSLRs from competing manufacturers. When enabled, the D5200 captures two images with one push of the shutter button, one underexposed and one overexposed and combines them in-camera to produce a high-dynamic-range JPEG. (RAW format is not supported). We don't believe the Nikon D5200 performs any micro-alignment of the two images even though the user manual warns of possible cropping. If it is, it can only correct for very small amounts of camera movement between shots, and so Nikon recommends the use of a tripod. Obviously moving subjects should also be avoided.
"Sunlit" Portrait HDR (0 EV)
Unlike the Nikon D5100 which allowed you to set the exposure differential between the two images from 1, 2 or 3 EV, and also adjust the amount of "smoothing" that is applied to the boundaries between the two images with selections of Low, Medium and High, the D5200 takes a simpler approach offering just four strengths in addition to Auto. Mouse over the links above to see how various levels of HDR affects our "Sunlit" Portrait shot and click on a link to get to the full-res image. Again, because of the underexposure issue, these aren't very good examples, but you can still see higher levels make quite a difference to the overall exposure by opening up shadow detail but they can lead to artificial looking shadows around bright objects or halos and glowing around dark ones. Colors can also be adversely affected in HDR mode, such as a drop in saturation. Still, it's a useful feature for capturing static scenes with dynamic range that exceeds the sensor for those not willing to use manual HDR techniques (bracketing exposure and then combining images while post-processing).
|Far-field HDR (0 EV)|
Here are the same HDR settings with our Far-field shot. Again, some settings do a good job of taming hot highlights while bringing up some of the shadows and deeper midtones. You can also see ghosting in the tree branches and leaves from movement between the exposures caused by wind, as well the uneven and artificial-looking exposure when using higher settings.
with Face-priority AF
Here, we can see the effect of the Nikon D5200's full Auto mode which selected Portrait Scene mode, as well as face detection enabled in Live View mode. As you can see from the shots above, the Portrait Scene mode made an improvement to exposure versus Aperture-priority at f/8, reducing overall contrast and lightening shadows, though noise is a bit higher as it boosted ISO sensitivity to 360. Portrait mode also selected a wider aperture of f/5.6 for better subject isolation, and a faster shutter speed of 1/500s to avoid subject motion blur. In Live View using Aperture-priority, Face-priority AF mode made a huge difference, actually overexposing the subject slightly by using a slower shutter speed of only 1/30s. (It would have likely done better if it had more control over exposure in Program mode.)
Low Light. The Nikon D5200 performed fairly well on the low-light test, capturing usable images at the lowest light level (1/16 foot-candle) with the lowest sensitivity setting (ISO 100). As you'd expect, noise increases as ISO goes up and light levels go down, but remains well controlled and fine-grained to ISOs as high as 3,200. We did not detect any significant issues with hot pixels other than a few of them when long exposure NR is turned off, but that's to be expected. Some minor banding could be seen at ISOs 12,800 and 25,600, as well as some heat blooming emanating from the bottom edge for longer exposures, but that's not unusual at such high ISOs.
Color balance was good with the Auto white balance setting, just slightly cool, though there's a strong shift towards magenta at lower light levels, particularly at lower ISOs.
The camera's phase-detection autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down to just above the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted with an f/2.8 lens. That's not quite as good as most DSLRs. The Nikon D5200 was however able to autofocus in complete darkness with the AF assist enabled. Surprisingly, in Live View mode the camera's contrast-detect autofocus did a bit better, as it was able to focus down to just below 1/8 foot-candle.
Keep in mind that the longer shutter speeds here demand the use of a tripod to prevent any blurring from camera movement. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Digital SLRs like the Nikon D5200 do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.
Very nice 30 x 40 inch prints at ISO 100; makes a good 16 x 20 inch print at ISO 800 and a usable 4 x 6 at ISO 12,800.
ISO 200 prints are very similar to ISO 100, but just a bit lower in fine detail and showing a minor amount of noise, thus making great prints at 24 x 36 inches. 30 x 40 inch prints here are great for wall display.
ISO 400 images start to show some noise in the shadows. Prints look great up to 20 x 30 inches, while 24 x 36 inch prints are suitable for wall display.
ISO 800 images look good at 16 x 20 inches. There is some noise, but you only really see it in the shadow areas, and even then, the grain is reminiscent of film grain and not present over the entire image.
ISO 1600 makes a pretty good 11 x 14 inch print. At 13 x 19, the image is a little too soft in finely detailed areas. Noise levels in the the highlights and midrange areas are excellent, but it's quite noticeable in the shadows (although still appearing more like film grain). If the image was of a brightly-lit scene, noise would be virtually unnoticeable.
ISO 3200 prints start to show a fair amount of noise, but it still produces a nice 8 x 10 inch print. As before, shadow noise is apparent, but otherwise the image looks great.
ISO 6400 makes a decent 5 x 7, but noise and a reduction in fine detail is taking its toll on the image quality, preventing us from calling anything larger acceptable.
ISO 12,800 images are fairly heavy on noise at larger sizes, but can still produce a decent 4 x 6 inch print. Colors still look good, but fine detail, such as in the red fabric and mosaic area, is almost nonexistent.
ISO 25,600 does not produce good prints at 4 x 6, and is best avoided if possible.
The Nikon D5200's 24.1-megapixel APS-C sensor produces excellent results for very large prints at the low ISO levels. Additionally, this camera is capable of images that retain fantastic colors and fine details even as the ISO rises. In fact, this was a somewhat difficult camera to grade because its results in some areas exceeded expectation. At the higher ISO levels between 1600 and 12,800, we were on the fence many times for which way to go in calling an acceptable size. The D5200 retained a great amount of fine detail at high ISOs, but we saw noticeable noise in the shadow areas at higher ISOs. Even still, the noise on these high ISO prints reminded us of film grain and users might like the way noise looks on higher ISO prints for certain instances. Overall, this DSLR packs a ton of pixels in a consumer-grade camera and produces stellar low-ISO prints at very large sizes, while still doing a fantastic job with prints at higher ISO levels.
Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 Mark II studio printer, and on the Canon Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon D5200 Photo Gallery .
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Nikon D5200 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!