PhotoLab 4 and Nikon Active D-Lighting

Every time I think I understand something, I learn there is a “but”. Oh well. The following has already been discussed as part of a different discussion, but to eliminate too much confusion in my brain, I’m posting it here in PhotoLab4, and the Mac section as that is what I use.

Ancient history - I used to think that a raw file was a “copy” of the the data, from the effect of light hitting the camera sensor, and all the manipulations and tricks that people do to play around with ‘jpg’ images will have zero effect on that raw image. Apparently one of the tools that breaks this rule is Nikon’s Active D-Lighting.

I’ll post a link to the article I’ve just read, and if I accept that article as valid, there are only two instances when someone might want use Active D-Lighting. I’ll let the article speak for itself, so I don’t mangle anything any more than necessary.

Also, based on what I’ve read in this article, there are only two settings that I might want to use for my camera’s Active D-Lighting - either OFF or AUTO. Never mind that my Nikon has lots of other choices.

Here is the article in question:

…and here is the text I was referring to:
Auto Adaptive D-Lighting will additionally reduce exposure by up to one stop as needed to protect the highlights as required by measuring the range of values between black and white. Remember the exposure needs be reduced to either compensate for the overly contrasty subject or the camera’s addition of contrast by a flat subject. Applying anything other than Auto ADL leaves you at risk of making a fatal result. Off or Auto is the only choice for me.

I don’t know enough to understand this properly, but I think this may be one of Nikon’s ways to compensate for something Joanna was teaching me a couple of weeks ago, where I needed to adjust my exposure to take advantage of more “wiggle room” in the highlights. Back then I was using my Leica, which doesn’t understand “active d-lighting”. Since my Nikon Df has been stuffed with every software option Nikon could think of, active d-lighting is included as one of my choices.

My own conclusion so far is that I should leave Active D-Lighting turned on, and set to AUTO. It won’t do anything unless it needs to, and when the image does require it, my other option is to change my exposure to compensate (which will also affect the raw image). If I allow Active D-Lighting to do its thing when needed, it will accomplish that by modifying the raw image. Either way, the raw image is being changed by these settings. (I didn’t realize that activating active d-lighting could do that.). Silly me.

I may be bonkers on all this stuff… Gregor is trying to stuff my head with things he feels I need to know, even if I never knew they existed before, and my brain has grudgingly started to accept that he is right, and even though for my entire life so far, I was ignorant of them; they really are important, and therefore I better get used to learning and understanding. Active D-Lighting is just the tip of the iceberg for me.

Just remember that this reduction of exposure will not be compensated for automatically in PL. So pictures may look underexposed seemingly randomly in PL and this may cause confusion if you forget about it.


The RAW image is changed because Active D-Lighting will change exposure parameters, depending on the mode you are in. See for example this answer:

The JPEG (also embedded in the RAW) will be treated by the camera to compensate for the exposure change, probably by applying some curve to raise shadows and midtown’s while protecting the highlights.

Indeed off or auto the only two settings if you shoot raw.
When you have the oppertunity test the behaviour of ADL in auto mode when you manual do the “Joanna exposure mode”. See if it’s counter react on your adjustment.
Example you do +1EV and ADL decides to go -2/3EV.
So a +2EV will then effectively a +2-1=+1EV.(-1 is max correctionin ADL.)

Second if your Nikoncamera have custom camera settings, memory slots, create one as bare as possible for your manual creative exercities.

It’s just a grid average meatering which reacts on DR isues and apply a negative EV correction on top of the by you selected EV-meatering. That’s why it effects your rawfile.

Just because a camera possesses a “feature”, doesn’t mean that you should ever “set it and forget it”. It will depend on what, where and when you are shooting as to whether your images will benefit from that feature or not.

Back when film was expensive to waste, photographers used to get to know how to modify their exposures to suit various lighting. Nowadays, they tend to look for the “magic mode” that will let them shoot whatever, whenever and wherever without thinking about what is best, hoping that they can “fix it up” in post-processing.

ADL is just one of those situations, as is evidenced by advice that, if you are going to use it, leave it in automatic.

As far as I can tell, ADL is designed to work best with Matrix metering mode, since that takes account of the whole scene. It then attempts to ETTR but, from my experience, doesn’t necessarily get it right.

ADL claims to take highlights into account and under-expose by up to 1 stop to help prevent highlights blowing but, in reality, the types of shot that can benefit from that are limited.

On the other hand, newer nikons sport something called Highlight-weighted metering, which is something I do use for shooting concerts, where there are spotlights in the frame.

Here are two crude test shots I just did to demonstrate what it can do…

  1. Matrix metering and ADL on automatic (1/20 sec @ f/10)

The exposure wasn’t any different from without ADL.

  1. Nikon’s Highlight-weighted metering (1/250 sec @ f/10)

Unfortunately, Highlight-weighted mode is only available on Nikon’s newer models but, as you can see, it really does control highlight exposure very well, albeit at the expense of lowering the exposure by some 3⅔ stops.

And I had to manipulate the image in PL to get the shadow detail out.

But, do I leave my camera set to Highlighted-weighted mode all the time? No, I only use it when the situation calls for it. And the same should apply for ADL - it might have its uses but it is not an automagic panacea that should be set and forgotten.

And, as others have also said, the claimed dynamic range compression is only really useful if you either shoot jpeg and let the camera process the result or use Nikon’s own software.

The most “automatic” setting I have often used when out and about “snapping” in higher contrast lighting is Centre-weighted metering with an exposure compensation of -1 EV - ADL in all but name.

Then, if I want more control, move to manual mode, spot-metering the highlights and “over-exposing”.

Take away fact

There is no magic setting that will get it right all the time :nerd_face:

To make an anology,
You can see idyn, ADL as a electronic screwdriver.
I use it every day. Its fast, keeps rsi out my arm, has a torxlimiter for fasten screws the same strenght., speeds up my workflow.
But every time i need delacesy, finesse, fine tuning something i grab my trusty handscrewdriver.

Same as my average use in camera, most is quick, take a shot, walk.
But when i want to make more effort i can turn it off or take notice of it’s action.

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Actually, I always use manual screwdrivers, so I’m in “control”. As for this function, it won’t do anything unless the situation comes up where it’s needed. 99.999% of my photos is spent on composition, timing, and capturing what I “want”. Long ago, I had to worry about exposure, but most of the time nowadays, I know things will come out the way I want, giving me the detail to work with later in processing.

From what I’ve read, if it really works that way, active d-lighting will never do anything, until when/if an image has a problem where it wold be helpful - and chances are, I never would have caught it in time.

Based on what you wrote, maybe I should just leave my camera in manual, and try to figure out the exposure as best I can, in what might be a very limited amount of time. Or, maybe I’m just getting lazy. I dunno…

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Active D-Lighting do affect the NEF, it also affects the buffer depth and add time before capture is done.
It serves a purpose but only in very special situations.

I sometime use it in those extreme situations such as a dark lit room with extremely bright surroundings etc. But I only activate it manually. Never run it active all the time and never on Auto.

I agree with what both of you said. I think I will solve my problem from now on by using Nikon’s Custom Settings Bank, and will give each one a name for “when to use it” in case I forget and I’m in a hurry.

" Custom Settings are stored in one of four banks. Changes to
settings in one bank have no effect on the others. To store a
particular combination of frequently-used settings, select one of
the four banks and set the camera to these settings. The new
settings will be stored in the bank even when the camera is turned
off, and will be restored the next time the bank is selected.

Different combinations of settings can be stored in the other
banks, allowing the user to switch instantly from one combination
to another by selecting the appropriate bank from the bank menu.
The default names for the four Custom Settings banks are A, B, C,
and D. A descriptive caption up to 20 characters long can be
added as described on page 107 by highlighting the menu bank…"

As Joanna wrote, I shouldn’t “set it and forget it”, but to be truthful, if I set the Nikon down for a while, then move on to my Leica, then later return to the Nikon, there is no was I will remember how I had it set. Long ago, I just restored the camera to all factory settings, to clear out anything I was experimenting with. Based on what I just read, of my choices of A, B, C, and D, I will leave one of the as “standard”, and give the other ones names such that I will remember what they were for.

Makes me appreciate the Leica and the very limited number of menu choices, or better yet my Leica M3 with no menu and no choices. Nikon provides software for everything except how to cook my meals…

I seriously ought to get out my M3, get some of whatever film people buy nowadays, and scan the negatives after development.

Please provide a reference about the effect on NEF, buffer depth and time to capture.

According to the article below, " Again, Active D-Lighting does nothing to the RAW data itself. It only affects your camera’s meter. However, the effect is so significant that you need to be very careful to avoid ever setting Active D-Lighting if you shoot in RAW."

In Nikon manuals for example D3, D3s, D3x, D4, D5 etc. You can read how ADL affect buffers in older generations of D-series like D3s/x but also that it create a delay as it does pre calculations before exposure. It disables and revert some settings in a configured picture control like contrast to default values.

It do alter the raw as it applies signal processing during capture and before its saved to memory card.

> Active D-Lighting takes place in the camera at the moment the photo is taken and applies digital processing only to the necessary portion(s) of the image. Even when shooting a subject with a wide dynamic range, Active D-Lighting is able to reproduce a realistic image that retains natural contrast—in other words, the picture we saw and set out to capture.

Thank you for the references.

I understand it works like this:

Active D Lighting setting is recorded along the raw image in the NEF file, and also impacts exposure. It is effective in the raw preview vignette and in any jpeg output along the NEF file. It can even be applied after the snapshot. Most likely D Lighting can be ignored (turned off) during raw processing.

The article from Nikon doesn’t say that. The wording was:
"*With Active D-Lighting chosen on my Nikon D-SLR, the camera’s Matrix meter will identify the amount of contrast in the scene and process the final picture with the appropriate amount of compensation to lighten—open up—the scene’s shadows. At the same time, Active D-Lighting maintains the highlight detail—detail that other systems often ignore. It’s this balance—compensating for shadows while maintaining highlights—that makes Active D-Lighting so valuable. *

But there’s more: an exclusive feature of Active D-Lighting is its ability to automatically readjust midtone contrast to make the overall image look more natural. It’s a tremendous combination: shadows opened up (without the use of flash), highlights maintained and mid-tones adjusted for a totally natural look to the image."

From what I was lead to believe, active d-lighting results in a different exposure setting being used, meaning the raw file that gets created was effectively taken at different settings than had active d-lighting not been used.

As I wrote : “it impacts exposure”, I should have added in P S A but not M.

Can anyone shooting NEF clarify for me if there is a way to set PL5 to recognise and honour the Active D Lighting and the Picture Control settings?

FYI my files are NEF only, using a pair of D4’s, and while I agree ADL is redundant in most situations, I have been using it for several years with an industrial client that offered me the contract based on images shot with ADL set to High! This is mostly deep in industrial structures. As they say “if it ain’t broke, and earns you a living, don’t fix it”.

Apologies for bumping an old thread, but DXO still haven’t responded to my ticket.

PL5 does not recognize ADL or Picture Control settings. Currently there is nothing, contained within PL5, to force it to do so. This could possibly change in the future, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.


Thank you.

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With Nikon, ADL is the setting that can affect the raw file’s exposure without being recognized (balanced out automatically) by PL. But you see the result and will correct it yourself if necessary.

The picture control settings only affect the JPG (also the embedded one), but not the raw-file.

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Okay… so when presented with a NEF which has ADL applied in camera, PL will extract an ADL affected RAW from that NEF?
Or, do I have to shoot in RAW (with ADL) so PL can work with that?

Good idea. I can set the cameras to shoot (NEF+)JPG as insurance for when all else fails.

Yes, ADL affects the exposure and is not automatically compensated by PL. – I had used ADL at low setting for concert photography, but switched it off when I got to know, so that it will not interfere anymore.

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