Winter sunset

Using Lightroom camera profiles (and why Adobe Standard is a liability)

Bonus points for spotting that Adobe Standard not only loses warmth, but also does a steller job enhancing chromatic aberration. The fun never stops.

One of the more tucked away features of Lightroom is the Camera Profile dropdown. It is right at the bottom of the develop module, under Camera Calibration.

The Adobe Standard setting (which you will see if you have not made any changes to camera calibration) gives you ‘untouched RAW’; that is, without the effects of any camera post processing (colour correction, sharpening, etc).

Lightroom Camera Calibration
Lightroom Camera Calibration

This is usually an accurate rendition of the raw data that came from your camera’s sensor and amplifier stage, but there are three potential problems;

  • The final RAW will not look like the image you saw in your LCD in-camera. That may be fine for many people (especially for those who use the optical viewfinder and have no time for that lying, overly vivid LCD!), but if you’ve ever watched as Lightroom imports your RAW images and seen how the initial colourful and contrasty thumbnails end up less contrasty and colourless then read on.
  • The initial RAW image appearance is rarely where you want to end up. Sure, it is more versatile than a JPEG for post processing, but the default RAW can be a little neutral and lacking in contrast and colour. This may lead to much more work in post processing, or worse, imply ‘this is how the scene looked, don’t dare change me’! It would sometimes be useful to get Lightroom to start with something close to one of your camera styles (portrait, landscape, etc), or the colour rendition of your camera LCD (I can hear the purists muttering darkly about LCD accuracy again, but bear with me!).
  • Adobe Standard can be incorrect. For some cameras (especially for non-Canon/Nikon), Adobe don’t always get it right. I’m a Sony user, and whenever I see Sony vs. Nikon vs. Canon review head-to-heads, I wince when I read conclusions of the form ‘Sony lacked colour accuracy’. It may well be closer to the truth that the reviewer had Camera Raw/Lightroom set to that pesky and somewhat inaccurate Adobe Standard for the Sony! Yes, I know Adobe create their profiles under strictly controlled lighting, and using much larger colour-range swatch cards than most other third parties use, but all that doesn’t appear to fit with the results I get.

Even if you are happy with Adobe Standard for your camera (and many are), there are a couple of workflows you might miss unless you know about camera calibration;

  • You want to concentrate on just taking good compositions in the field, and worry about styles later. For example, you might be taking pictures of the kids in the park. You don’t want to worry about whether you should be using the portrait style or the landscape style when taking a particular shot. By shooting RAW and using the camera calibration dropdown in Lightroom, you can change styles after the event. Neat!
  • You want to use your camera’s styles, but also want to use camera RAW. When you come to import your RAW images into Lightroom, you will see your styles applied in the Import window thumbnails, but when Lightroom actually begins importing the RAWs, the styles disappear! RAW images do not include the styles (they are just as their name implies; raw, and with minimal in-camera processing). If you actually want to keep the styles, you have to reapply them by changing the camera profile from Adobe Standard to one that corresponds to your style.

Here’s an image that I imported with the Camera Calibration set to Adobe Standard, following minimum editing. It lacks the warmth in the sky I saw on the shoot (which kinda kills the composition, as the ‘cold snow to warm sun’ transition is the main deal in the shot). Of course, I could have corrected for this in Lightroom, but the issue is that when I looked at the LCD after taking the shot, colour looked fine. That plus the fact that I’d hung around on the day waiting for the sky to go that particular colour. Colour is important, or put another way, it was the only reason I’d been waiting in that damn cold for the sky to change!

RAW file (Sony ARW) using Adobe Standard in Camera calibration
RAW file (Sony ARW) using Adobe Standard in Camera calibration

For the second image, the first thing I did was to change the Camera profile from Adobe Standard to a free third party Sony camera profile (NB – Nikon and Canon users may have such profiles in the default Lightroom installation as long as you are using Lightroom 2.2/CameraRAW 5.2 or better, but you will of course still have to select away from ‘Adobe Standard’  to use them).

Update August 2013: Maurizio Piraccini Photography has posted an updated list of all Sony camera profiles (including everything from the Maxxum 5D right through to the RX100,  and including NEX). See http://www.piraccini.net/2011/02/profili-colore-sony-a900-per-adobe-lr.html

Setting Camera profile away from Adobe Standard
Setting Camera profile away from Adobe Standard

Here’s the second image;

Camera Raw using nidata's free Sony Alpha profiles
Camera Raw using nidata’s free Sony Alpha profiles

This is not the final image; there’s that odd white cloud to the top left that is drawing too much attention to itself for a start, but it is certainly a better starting point. Adobe Standard for Sony Alphas always gives a colder rendition. Check out the sunset oranges between the two images for a good example.

As the oranges are quite subtle at the reduced image size of this blog, you may also want to look at the close-up of a 100 pixel wide sky area (taken from just below the sun).

The area left of the arrows that uses my chosen profile (‘a500 faithful’) does not just have a warmer orange than the rather insipid version offered by Adobe Standard (right of the arrows), but is a different colour completely!

zoomed 100 pixel wide area of the image
zoomed 100 pixel wide area of the image

Yes, it really is that different and that obvious for the full size image!

Bonus points for spotting that Adobe Standard not only loses warmth, but also does a steller job enhancing chromatic aberration. The fun never stops.

The main point here though is that the second image (or the colour left of the arrows) is closer to what I expected the image file to look like when I took the photo, because it is closer to the image my camera LCD showed me on the day; this is the version I was working to and is the image I was trying to make look like the actual view I saw in the viewfinder.

Conclusion

The Adobe Standard camera profile is accurate for most mainstream cameras (typically Canon and Nikon), but for other cameras (particularly Sony), it may be incorrect.

Irrespective of accuracy, the Adobe Standard profile can lack contrast, warmth or colour when used as a starting point, and you may be better off starting with one of the other profiles, depending on your composition.

Adobe Standard will not correctly reflect the image in your camera’s LCD. Although the LCD is innacurate, it is the image that many photographers check against in the field, and is also at least consistently inaccurate (and therefore easy to correct once you have experience with a particular camera). It is therefore often desirable to select a profile that more fully reflect the LCD at least as a starting point in your post processing.

If you have set camera styles in-camera and also selected RAW, your profiles will be lost during import to Lightroom. The only way to get them back may be via the camera calibration dropdown. Alternatively, if you did not set styles in the field, you can experiment with them after the event using the camera calibration dropdown to add styles.

Update April 2011: Since writing this post, I have found a more accurate way of using camera profiles; you create your own profilestailored to a each particular shoot. See my post titled Colour Accuracy.

Notes

  1. The Camera calibration profile I use with my Sony Alpha a500 can be found at http://www.nibdata.com/Sony_DSLR-A500_profiles.zip. Other Sony Alpha profiles (A100, A200, A230, A300, A330, A350, A380, A550, A700, A850, A900) can be found at http://www.nibdata.com/imprescindibles.html.
  2. Canon and Nikon users already have the profiles for their camera available in the default installation of Lightroom 2.2 or later (or Camera RAW 5.2 and later) and typically won’t need to use third party profiles.
  3. You can see another shot in the same series as the image used as an example here.
  4. Camera RAW is not as some people assume, the raw output from your sensor, but the output of an amplifier stage (and associated analogue to digital converter) that immediately follows the sensor. The amplifier stage’s gain is set via your cameras ISO. As the RAW data is taken after the amplifier (mainly because the signal prior to this point is analogue), this explains why ISO is not something you can change later in Camera RAW/Lightroom even though you can change exposure. It also explains why some cameras give different colour and noise rendition (especially at high ISO, where the effect of the amplifier is greatest) even though they use the same sensor; some Sony and Nikon cameras share same sensors but have proprietary amplifier and A/D stages.
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23 thoughts on “Using Lightroom camera profiles (and why Adobe Standard is a liability)”

  1. Thanks for sharing. I have always noticed that jump from the nice saturated and contrasty image to the damp flat RAW file, while viewing after import. I hadn’t take the time until now to try and find out how to correct it. This article definitely got me on the right track, and I’m sure will save me a lot of post work in the future.

  2. This isn´t my experience for Canon S95. All my images had a hint of purple color cast, and when I selected Camera Neutral as process, it was all significantly better. When selecting Camera Neutral, I had to increase the contrast a bit further to get the right “look”.

  3. Hi Jens.

    From memory, this sounds similar to a bug in previous versions of Lightroom (e.g. there was a Canon magenta color cast in LR versions before 2.4 for some cameras).

    It may be that you need to update to the latest (or upcoming) revision of Lightroom to fix the issue, but you certainly shouldn’t have to go to the default camera profile as you do – that sounds like a bug.

    FWIW, new camera models often suffer from some sort of cast in LR until Adobe catch up and add specific camera support.

    ** Update ** After a little digging, the link below suggests you need LR 3.3 or later for the S95.
    http://forums.adobe.com/thread/745030

    Latest version of LR (windows)is here http://www.adobe.com/support/downloads/product.jsp?product=113&platform=Windows
    Latest version for LR (Mac) is here http://www.adobe.com/support/downloads/product.jsp?product=113&platform=mac

  4. I’ve noticed the same thing some time ago … It’s really frustrating … :/ You take picture (standard, without any corrections), You’re happy with results via LCD (I’m a350 user), a then You import Your Raw files via Lightroom … and it’s flat, colours are just incorrect, it’s different picture ! :/

  5. Thank you so much for this post. I am a fellow Sony user (a350). I have downloaded the correct profiles for my camera from the site you listed, but how do I actually get them into Lightroom? I have Lr3 and have been teaching myself for the last week.
    Thanks so much- Pamela 🙂

    1. Hi Pamela
      On my computer (Windows 7), they are in C:\Users\All Users\Adobe\CameraRaw\CameraProfiles\Camera.

      If you have configured Lighroom only for a single user, then you may have to subsitute ‘All Users’ for the users username. Also, Windows 7 hides the All users folder. To get past this, just copy the full path an enter it as the file path in an explorer window.

      For any other operating system, I suggest you search for files of type .dcp, and that should get you to the location

      When you unzip the download, you will end up with a folder called (from memory) ‘Sony DSLR-A350’. Copy this entire folder into the location above.

      Hope that helps!

  6. These are very interesting and helpful posts. Does anyone know if profiles exist for use users of the Sony SLT-A55? Alternatively, can I use one of the existing profiles (e.g., the A-550)?

    1. Hi David

      Try http://www.florian-knorn.com/2010/10/sony-alpha-55-and-alpha-900-color-profiles.html
      These profiles are for specific A55/lens combinations though (rather than to mimic the in-camera styles), but give them a try.

      Failing that, you may want to try x-rite colorChecker to create your own profiles.

      Finally, if you want a free-and-sneaky option, you could always just shoot the same scene as a JPEG and then as a RAW, import them both into Lightroom and then see what you have to do in LR’s camera calibration sliders to make the RAW look like the JPEG (iusing the three sets of colour hue/saturation sliders), and then save these changes as a preset (or just manually apply the change to all images that look odd).

  7. Thanks much. Interestingly, the much less sophisticated Lightbox software that comes with the Alpha 55 does have controls that mimic the in-camera styles, but I have no idea how to identify where they are located in the software or whether they can be exported to LR 3.

  8. Thanks for this post. I’m a Sony A500 user and it’s so hard to find information tailored to Sony. I’m definitely going to come back to this and try changing my profile in LR.
    I came across this while searching for problems with color profiles when uploading photos to the web. I lose pinks and gain too much yellow. So if I use the internet for prints, they come out with a different color than what I started with. I’ve looked and haven’t found a fix, and have started wondering if it has something to do with Sony. Have you experienced anything like that?
    I usually shoot in RAW, but discovered that I have the same problem if I start with JPEGs.

  9. Hi Jennifer

    I have a Sony A200, A500 and A77 and don’t have that issue with any of them. This sounds to me like an issue with post processing skin to a high key in LR/Photoshop (skip to ‘Are you overexposing skin tone in LR?’ in the list below). This would occur with any camera and is not specific to Sony. I’ve gone through all other possible causes below, because some of the others may also help you or someone else.

    Is your camera white balance correct?

    I’m assuming you have your white balance set correctly: on your A500, make sure your white balance (Fn button > White Balance) is set to AWB (auto white balance) as a starting point. Do your images look ok when you import them into LR with this setting? If so, it is not your camera or screen that is causing the cast.

    Do you need a more accurate white balance than Sony AWB?

    AWB always looks a little out to the more discerning shooter, and this may be your issue. To make sure it isn’t the issue, let’s go through the long way around: using a grey card. I use an X-Rite, but find that cutting a square from the inside of a cheap, un-waxed cereal box (the ones that are grey recycled card rather than the more expensive white/ivory card) is just as good: the 18% reflectivity thing you often see on the web is irrelevant for digital (it actually applies only to film), and I get exactly the same results with a cereal box as I do with my $100 calibrated grey card. Go figure!

    Anyway, before taking some shots, go fn > white balance > custom >right arrow until you see ‘set’. Press Exit. The camera screen will say ‘Use spot focus area data. Press shutter to load.’. What that means in English is ‘point me at your gray card/cereal box/anything that is grey (don’t use white), take a shot, and I’ll use that to set the white balance’. After setting your WB in this way, do the shots look ok on the camera screen afterwards? If so your camera is ok, and we can eliminate that. Setting a proper white balance should also fix any minor coloring caused by lenses. Note that a couple of Sigma and Tamron lenses are well known for giving a muddy yellow tint. Search the reviews on http://www.dyxum.com/lenses/index.asp if you suspect this may be the case (although I doubt this is your problem, as it would be obvious).

    Is your computer screen giving you a cast?

    Next up, we need to eliminate your computer screen. Take an image of the grey card/cereal box card (RAW is best). Load it in LR. Press W to select the White balance selector. Click on the grey card in your image. Does the grey card still look grey on your screen. If not, your monitor is introducing the color cast. Use the monitor color controls until the color card looks grey on your screen.

    Are you overexposing skin tone in LR?

    Finally, we need to see whether you are overexposing in LR. By pinks I assume you mean skin tone? Nearly blown skin (exposed up so that it tends towards a high key) looks good on a screen, but when you see it in print, it will always look more yellow. I have had this happen a few times and now know not to push skin tone too far (or to also desaturate or add a very slight amount of cyan to it as I expose up). I actually think this last issue is your problem: it gets everyone because exposing skin up in LR always makes portraits look really good on the screen.
    This can especially be an issue with LR4, because LR4 allows you to overexpose right up to almost overblown, keeping it all looking super on the screen… but print is a different matter: the lovely brightly lit blue eyed baby you see on the screen ends up looking like it has scurvy-highlights when reproduced in print. Wedding dress blue-whites will look fine, but the subtle high key skin tone pinks you see on screen become banded with slight yellows in print… and especially in the areas the eye is most drawn to: highlights. I think this is what you are experiencing.

    You may also get the same issue if you are shooting hard right (i.e using the histogram) to lighten skin tone. Again, the histogram doesn’t refer to print, so you need to keep this in mind if you are keying skin tones up by shooting hard right.

    If you feel this is the issue, my advise would be (a) don’t stop exposing up – it is a valuable technique. (b) get an image so it looks right on screen, then (c) create several versions where you desaturate the skin slightly, or pull the exposure down a touch, or even add a bit of blue/cyan. Send them all to be printed online (small prints are only a few cents each so you’re not wasting anything by ordering a few more 6x4s than usual), comparing them to the onscreen versions so you get a feel for what something on screen will look like when printed on photographic paper. That should then enable you to get a feel for what looks ok on screen, but will look overexposed-yellow in print.

    I find that the secret for print is to never have skin tone go from color to pure white, because in print, skintones go to white via yellow: you must always leave color in the highlight and never let it get to large areas of pure white. IF you absolutely must expose skin up by (say) 20%, insead of creating an adjustment brush on the skin and setting exposure up 20%, consider selecting the skin and exposing up by 10%, then making another adustment brush selection of everything *except* the skin, and exposing that *down* by 10%. This gives you 20% brighter skin overall (recall that the eye measures relative to its surrounding, not in absolutes, so -10% to +10% looks pretty much the same as 0% to 20%).

    If you want to set up an online portfolio and have a lot of high key skintones (likely as it is a very popular technique) consider creating two versions in LR: one for screen (as you probably do already) and a virtual copy edited down a little for print. That way, you maintain quality in both mediums.

    Lightroom 4 also now has softproofing, which may fix print issues before they happen – http://tv.adobe.com/watch/whats-new-in-lightroom-4/soft-proofing-images/ …I haven’t used this (and it might not help much with the subtle shades we see in skin) but worth consideration.

    Another option: go to iStockPhoto and look up some of the high key photos there (they have loads as lifestyle magazines love high-key). Get a few of those in Lightroom (they give out occasional full size freebies on some months if you sign up to their newsletter) and see how far the highlights go in them – IStockPhoto rejects ones that are overexposed for print so the ones up there will be a good eardstick to look at.

    In terms of Sony Alpha forums, you might find dynax very helpful http://www.dynaxdigital.com/ This is a dedicated Sony/Minolta users forum, and a very friendly bunch.

    Hope that helps.

  10. Thank you so much for your response! I’ve been looking and looking for information about this and that’s more than anything I’ve gotten before all combined. I really appreciated you taking the time to write that out for me, that was great!

    I’ve been using AWB mostly, and I often end up adjusting it, but I’ve never used a gray card. I even had a little one out and ready to use at one point – I’m glad you brought it up, I need to do it! I don’t always feel like I’m getting the white balance right and that would help.

    My problem is that my color changes – sometimes slightly, but sometimes very noticeably – when I upload to the web. So, if I were to upload a pic right now, and it had trees in it, they may look more like a deep green, with blue tones on my monitor, but once it’s online, they become a yellow-green. So if I’m looking at it side by side on my same monitor, they look pretty different. And with skintone, yeah, it’s the pinks in skin that fade. And sometimes there’s a yellow cast that wasn’t there before – and it definitely seems to be worse sometimes more than others. So maybe at those times they were too light to begin with. So I’ll definitely look out for that from now on.
    I’ve been told that all color compresses and changes to some degree when put online, but that the profile should be saved, and if I’m sending it to print somewhere, that my original color should still be there when printed. But I’ve found that that’s not happening, the print looks the same as it does online. So at first I was frustrated by the way the photos were looking at my website, and now I’m also worried about prints.

    But I do have LR 4 and never even noticed the soft proofing, so that’s a great find! The greens in the trees I was talking about show out of gamut when I try the soft proof, so maybe I just need to realize that not everything is going to translate to web or print space.

    I also just tried downloading your Sony profiles and was going to put them in Lightroom, and when I did a search to install found I had no other files of that type. When I go to the profile drop down menu in Lighroom it shows “embedded”, with no other choices. I’m not really sure yet what that means… so I’ll be trying to look up some information on that now. 🙂

    Thanks again!

  11. Ah! … if color changes when you upload to the web then Its not a print issue (or at least, that isn’t your only issue). I think its the File settings in LR, specifically the color space.

    When you export, look under File settings for Color Space.

    For web (and most online printers) set that to sRGB. I think you may have set it to AdobeRGB or ProPhoto, possibly because someone has told you these color spaces contain more detail. Well, yes they do, except your monitor can’t display them properly, hence the shift in colors.

    You should only use AdobeRGB or ProPhoto if you are exporting to another editing program that understands the color space, Adobe Photoshop being the most obvious destination. You should not select these if you are producing final output for the web, as most computers are set up to understand sRGB.

    Hope thats the problem!

  12. hi again! I actually do have it set to sRGB in Lightroom. I usually import to Lightroom, open in Photoshop from Lightroom, save back to Lightroom (which saves as a gif file) and then export out of Lightroom in sRGB.
    I don’t know if any of those in between steps in PS could be messing me up or not…
    Just when I think I’m going to accept it and live with it, I compare the color of some new photos on my site to others, and I get frustrated all over again!
    I appreciate the suggestions, though. 🙂

  13. Its the gif file. !00% sure – that only supports 256 colors and your color change is being caused by trying to squeeze the millions of colours in the original shot down into the 256 that gif supports.. Use any other filetype instead of the gif… if you are exporting from PS > LR as a gif, make it a tif instead, and if you are saving from LR for the web as a gif, make it a jpeg or PNG.

  14. Thanks, You have a very detailed article. I’m in search for camera profile of alpha 77. Would appreciate your help here.

  15. Hi Amit.
    I too have an A77, and although I can create profiles for it using my colorChecker passport, I actually don’t need to.

    All I do is take a shot of a grey card as the first image in any shoot. If you don’t have a grey card, cut a square out from a cereal box made with grey, unwaxed cardboard (and not the yellowish bleached card you sometimes get), and use that as your grey reference by clicking it with the white balance selector in Lightroom.

    If you then use that as your white balance for the rest of the shoot by exporting it to the other photos in the series, you are good to go.

    Looks like Adobe have got it right with the more recent Sonys 🙂

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