Do you shoot Nikon RAW? Use a Mac? Want better color? Look here...

J

josephjason

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First, I completely apologize for using such an incendiary thread title to get attention, and for most certainly posting in the wrong forum. But I am a passionate person and I truly think I have stumbled upon something that affects a great number of Nikon users, and the "solution" to this issue can help people achieve better pictures.

My day job is as the sole portrait shooter at a local "value" portrait shop (families, biz guy shots, bunnies at easter, 1st birthdays etc.) At night, I work on my high-end boutique-y portrait photography. I care very much about image quality, I have all the major RAW convertors and opinions about which I am willing to fight to the death for. (kidding;)

At my day job, they used certain camera settings with their D200's that they've used for years. Color mode: sRGB, Portrait mode, Normal Contrast, Enhanced Saturation. Shooting sRGB Jpegs. The lab in the same building is all sRGB based, so this seemed to make sense. Their "studio" software is Express Digital Darkroom over a network, so that you can upload pictures from a shoot in one room, view with a client in a another room, and send final prints to the printer all within Express Darkroom.

ok...so one day I change the color space setting on the D200 to Adobe RGB (instead of sRGB), and when I upload to Darkroom, I notice they look REALLY good...like no exaggerated pinky skin tones, but very smooth and "golden" skin color. It was more pronounced with people with darker skin, but everybody's skin tone seem to improve drastically. (Remember these are shots taken in controlled lighting, hi-key, 1-light etc. standard stuff)

So I thought "hey, make that change to your camera settings and enjoy better skin color!" I changed my setting to Adobe RGB and never looked back. At home I use an iMac. My preferred raw converter is Capture One, also use Lightroom and DxO less, and I often use Nikon's NX as well "when I want the in-camera settings applied to my .NEF"* That's what we've always been told, right? And I believed it. But apparently I wasn't looking closely enough.

I've noticed for some time that my edits are 80% of the time trying to achieve this great golden skin color. (I seriously hate the color magenta.) And I've spent a great deal of time learning about how White Balance affects color. I've learned various techniques for getting the color in the ranges I like. I do at least 70% of the work in the raw software, and use Photoshop for the rest. I'm pretty good at fixing bad photos.

But...a shoot I had the other day confirmed to me that something is wrong in .NEF Color Profile on a Mac Land. (It's an actual place.)

I did an impromptu home "studio" shot for a friend and his wife and daughter. I set my D200 to Adobe RGB shooting RAW. I use Color Mode III, Normal Contrast, High Saturation - only because I want to see a pleasing JPG preview on the LCD, I'm fully aware that my raw convertors, except for Capture NX*, will not render like this.

My friend, his wife and their daughter each have totally different skin types and color. As I'm shooting, I'm getting really great skin tones on the LCD. I do some test shots with my son Miles (redhead), then move to the daughter, then the mom, then mom outside. (my friend gets pictures of his ugly mug too much anyway, so I kept him out as much as possible.)

I upload to the computer, and view in my favorite RAW convertor. YUCK! The golden yellows have turned to burnt magenta and red.

I go to Capture NX, and get the SAME THING! Seriously, try it yourself you will see. Now...this is Capture NX not being able to replicate the settings that made the preview JPG within the .NEF. You can even see it when you first open the picture...it's briefly the same color as the Preview icon within the Apple finder, but when it renders it takes on huge amounts of magenta and pink. This is definitely NOT was is showing on the LCD.

Researching online, I found a program that would extract the Preview JPG from within the RAW file. It turns out, this JPG is NOT tagged with any color profile. In the Apple finder, and in the Apple Preview application, these untagged JPGs "looked" correct. But when I opened them in Photoshop, it wanted to know what profile to convert these rogue untagged JPG to. I was surprised to see that when I applied either the sRGB or Adobe RGB 1998 profiles to the untagged file, it suddenly introduced all these unwanted magentas and pinks, just like when the RAW convertors open a RAW file.

After experimenting, I found that if I assigned the untagged JPG to "Generic RGB" profile first, then later converted to sRGB or Adobe RGB 1998 - it would hold the good coloring that I liked from the preview.

I later discovered that I could get Nikon NX to process an .NEF file with this same coloring if I changed the Color Management settings to "Use Generic RGB instead of the embedded profile".

- All of the following pictures were made by taking the extracted untagged JPG from the .NEF file, and then observing the affects of applying different profiles to it.
- All of the images here are in sRGB format for the web.
- All of these conversions could be done with Nikon NX on a RAW file, instead of with an extracted jpeg, but the coloring changes would be the same, and we're not interested in pixel quality here, we're talking about general color issues, so these comps using the extracted jpegs show it just as clearly.


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This is how I want it to look, and matches closely the skin tones I was seeing in my LCD previews...
generic_to_sRGB_webcomp.gif
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)



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Pretty much the same thing, except this time my "Generic RGB" JPG gets converted to an Adobe RGB 1998 working space (before a final convert to sRGB for the web)...we're still good.
View attachment 938591




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However, this is what happens to an untagged Nikon image if you use sRGB Color Management defaults in either Capture or View NX...
View attachment 938592



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And this is what happens to an untagged Nikon image if you use Adobe RGB 1998 Color Management defaults in either Capture or View NX...
View attachment 938593



Finally, I have deliberately stayed away from certain technicalities of color management because I don't think they matter to my issue. 1.) I am not claiming any coloring is better than the other. I am just seeking the choice to use what is best for the picture. 2.) The additional "pinky" Nikon stuff may indeed benefit certain pictures. These particular shots IMHO do not. But I am not claiming any color is better than the others. 3.) I don't really believe in absolutes or things being "correct" when it comes to art and color. If something is correct but worse looking, then I use the incorrect thing that looks better. I suspect that everyone "believing in the rules" has led to the current situation where thousands and thousands of Nikon users have learned to simply ignore what they see right in front of them. 6.) I am NOT assigning "blame" to anyone, and this is not a "problem" that I expect someone else (Nikon, Apple) should fix. It is simply a DISCOVERY of how the tool works that has really huge implications on the final product.

Thanks all for listening. I get absolutely NO pleasure from having to spend my time researching color management, but this I feel is so very critical to delivering the best quality to my clients that it just literally keeps me up at night. I mean, if it was something as simple as a setting change that could drastically improve the quality of your pictures, wouldn't you want to know?! We all debate over far smaller aspects of quality than this one. This is a big deal IMHO (for Nikon users).

(..and sorry for the long post. I'm not a good writer and I struggled to keep it as concise as possible but still be useful.)
 
Joined
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Do you calibrate your monitor at all? that is the starting point for accurate colour. The LCD screen on your camera will be displaying sRGB by the way.

I did get lost half way through your post btw.
 
J

josephjason

Guest
Do you calibrate your monitor at all?

Yes. And No. I spent 2 years using iDisplay2. I don't have $$ for expensive calibrators, but I believe low-end calibrators are mostly hype. They can help, sure. But I don't trust their calibrations as "accurate" color (logically, the fact that running several calibrations can yield different results tend to argue against that claim IMHO.) I've since returned to simple calibration using the expert mode in the Apple Monitor control panel. Besides, the monitor affects all images equally, whereas I'm talking about different renditions of the same picture created by applying different profiles - but all viewed within the same viewing conditions (your monitor).

The LCD screen on your camera will be displaying sRGB by the way.

I no longer believe this to be the case. Especially when shooting RAW with Adobe RGB mode selected. The embedded JPG has NO color profile attahced, and I don't believe the physical LCD can determine sRGB color space.

I did get lost half way through your post btw.

I'm so sorry :frown: Thanks for trying anyway. I was afraid that might happen. The benefit and the results are simple to understand. WHY it's happening is complicated to explain though.
 
Joined
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New Castle, PA
Well, I hate to say it, but what you're running into is likely more due to wonky color management set up on your end then anything attributed to Nikon. Without a hardware calibrated monitor you're shooting in the dark from the get go, and I have to disagree about lower end calibrators too. I use a Colormunki and it's spot on everytime - no variation whatsoever and the calibration results are repeatable and rock solid consistent every time. Plus, relying on the LCD is a mistake because they are not calibrated and do vary from the correct color more often then not (my D3 tends to be slightly cooler for example).

I shoot a D200 and and D3 and I've never run into the issues you're seeing. I shoot both RAW only, sRGB (though it doesn't matter really, only affects the preview) and upload into LR3, which uses ProPhoto RGB as it's native space. I export out to sRGB for everything and the color stays consistent and exact through the whole process. The only time I ran into a shift was when I first installed PS and it was because the default RGB colorspace was set to sRGB and not ProPhoto to match LR. Once that was adjusted I've had no issues whatsoever with anything.

And if you're wondering how I can verify the colors are accurate, they match exactly to both my calibrated inkjet and prints from the pro lab I use.

I really would go back and trace through your workflow to make sure your color management is where it should be, because what you're seeing isn't the norm and you shouldn't have to go through all that muck just to get an accurate print/image.
 
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I think you need to learn the difference between converting and assigning a color profile.
 

Growltiger

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It is hard to tell but I think your color management has a major problem.

Back when you stuck to sRGB you were OK. Changing to Adobe RGB would have been fine if you had stuck with that throughout processing and then exported to sRGB for printing.

But you decided to make the system treat Adobe RGB images as if they were sRGB, which gave you colours you liked. But that was cheating - it was the wrong way to do it. You should stick to using a correct colour management workflow, but then you can apply changes to the colours to give you the results you want.

You used what seemed like a clever shortcut to good colours, but in the end it has come back to give you trouble.
 
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Well if it works for you and are getting pleasing images then I suppose there is not much anyone can say, but you did post so I assume you are looking for comment.

You seem to be chasing something that may not be relevant and certainly leading down the wrong path as far as your conclusions go

I have to say I agree with the other comments and I feel there is something wrong with your colour management.

....But I don't trust their calibrations as "accurate" color (logically, the fact that running several calibrations can yield different results tend to argue against that claim IMHO.)
The cheaper calibrators Spyder and ColorMunki are IMO quite good and in my experience pretty consistent. The fact that running several calibrations can yield different results does not necessarily indicate that these units are not accurate. There are many different factors including your monitor actually altering, ambient light changes etc etc.

Besides, the monitor affects all images equally, whereas I'm talking about different renditions of the same picture created by applying different profiles - but all viewed within the same viewing conditions (your monitor).
[FONT=&quot]I really do not understand what is meant by different renditions of the same picture created by applying different profiles - this is what should happen!. If you assign a profile other than tagged to an image it will change quite dramatically in colour rendering. On the other hand Convert to profile should not make an appreciable change to the image

The LCD screen on your camera will be displaying sRGB by the way.
[/FONT]

I no longer believe this to be the case. Especially when shooting RAW with Adobe RGB mode selected. The embedded JPG has NO color profile attahced, and I don't believe the physical LCD can determine sRGB color space.

Nikon along with many others do use sRGB LCD display - it may be slightly quirky though and relate to Nikons own standards

Researching online, I found a program that would extract the Preview JPG from within the RAW file. It turns out, this JPG is NOT tagged with any color profile
Why would you want to extract a preview jpg from within the RAW file? Nikon RAW files use
TIFF/EP as the basis for the raw image - although their own flavour. The jpg you are seeing may not have to be tagged with any colour profile as it is meant to be used internally for display on the LCD only

I suspect that everyone "believing in the rules" has led to the current situation where thousands and thousands of Nikon users have learned to simply ignore what they see right in front of them. 6.) I am NOT assigning "blame" to anyone, and this is not a "problem" that I expect someone else (Nikon, Apple) should fix. It is simply a DISCOVERY of how the tool works that has really huge implications on the final product.
While I can understand that you feel you have made a big discovery and want to share it I believe that if you follow the recommendations by thousands of Nikon users and hundreds of colour experts you will come to the realisation that the world is actually round(ish) :smile:
 
Joined
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I go to Capture NX, and get the SAME THING! Seriously, try it yourself you will see. Now...this is Capture NX not being able to replicate the settings that made the preview JPG within the .NEF. You can even see it when you first open the picture...it's briefly the same color as the Preview icon within the Apple finder, but when it renders it takes on huge amounts of magenta and pink. This is definitely NOT was is showing on the LCD.


I'm not an Apple user but I can tell you quite frankly that with my D200 and D300, NX2 (on a PC) does carry the in-camera settings to the .NEF. It might not be perfectly the same as an in-camera processed .jpg, but it's darned close. In other words, if you force the camera to create a .jpg alongside the .nef the two (using NX2) are pretty close. Whether the embedded "preview" .jpg (as you call it) in the .nef is similar or not I don't know - nor do I care - because it's irrelevant.
 
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If I remember right - jpg is not able to use something else than sRGB!

Tom,

I'm not sure about this?

I use Pictures to EXE Software which requires that the JPEG Colour Space should be sRGB otherwise the correct (colour) rendering is not seen.

If your statement above were correct then ALL JPEGs would be sRGB and I would see no difference between an RGB JPEG and an sRGB JPEG.

However these differences are plain to see and I know instantly if I haven't converted to sRGB before saving (as a JPEG)....... and I'm not alone in this - it's not my computer setup that causes it.

DG
 
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jpg's can be something besides sRGB.

Consider doing a test by shooting a strong colored object like a red rose. Shoot once with the camera set to sRGB and again with aRGB. Compare the histograms to see the difference. Does not matter if its set to RAW of jpg output. If you are shooting RAW the camera creates a jpg preview with the current camera settings. The histogram is calculated on the fly from the preview image which makes it easier to see the differences.

The jpg, preview or full size sample has the chosen color profile applied. The RAW file is simply tagged with this setting so that the RAW developers who actually use the information can try to duplicate your preview. Usually only the camera makers software will do this.

One thing to remember is that LCD display on the camera is not calibrated. Its the one unknown in a calibrated system.
 
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