Active D-Lighting turned to high, meaning it does everything it can to compensate for the darkness of the image.
Active D-Lighting turned off, meaning there is no compensation made by the camera to increase the dark areas in the image. I purposely shot a dark image to show the difference that Active D-Lighting can make.
I was asked recently to comment on the difference that Active D-Lighting can make with your images. Active D-Lighting is a term used by Nikon, the equivalent for Canon is called Highlight Tone Priority. Nikon describes Active D-Lighting as follows:
"Active D-Lighting optimizes high contrast images to restore the shadow and highlight details that are often lost when strong lighting increases the contrast between bright and dark areas of an image. It can be set to operate automatically or manually, and it's also possible to bracket pictures to get one with Active D-Lighting and one without."
In easier terms it means that the camera will help you adjust the exposure levels when you take a picture where you have a big difference between the dark areas and the light areas in the image. This is done automatically by the camera if you turn on the Active D function. The camera is defaulted with it, "off" so if you want it on you have to turn it on through the menu in the back of the camera under shooting.
So I left my D3 and D700 at home and took out my D7000 around the local lake to take some shots to show you what it does. I chose to use the D7000 because I wanted to use a camera that is more likely to be used by many more people as it's in the $1,000 range. Below is a rundown of the images and the different settings I used to get the shots. All of the images were shot in manual mode and all of them have been completely unedited. I had to use Screenshots from my Lightroom tab because the pictures will actually change once they are imported into Lightroom. Why? Because Active D-Lighting only applies to jpegs because the information must be baked in by the camera. So in essence this is the camera's way of editing the shot in the camera rather than afterwards. And the only way the camera can edit and save the image is if it's shot as a jpeg. So, if you are the kind of person that wants immediate gratification without having to edit afterwards, Active D-Lighting is great for you, otherwise stick to Raw and enjoy yourself!
The only possible workaround to this issue is if you use your Camera's software to import the images, otherwise it won't work with Adobe.