Camera Calibration – Camera Raw and Lightroom’s Secret Weapon for Better Looking Images

Okay, it’s not really a secret but you might think it is because so few people seem to use it when processing RAW files.  In fact I was talking to someone the other day and I asked if they use Camera Calibration and they said their camera didn’t need calibrating.  I don’t really blame them for this because it really is a stupid name for such a great feature.  What Adobe really needs to do is change the name from Camera Calibration to something like Camera Profiles or Better Looking Photos.  I’m sure if you saw a tab or panel with that name, it would probably be the first thing that you turned to when processing your files.

The reality is that Camera Calibration is a quick way to apply the camera profiles that are built into your camera and are used when you shoot JPEGs.  First, let me preface this by saying that the camera profiles only apply to RAW images shot with a Nikon or Canon camera.  I’m not sure why they don’t support other manufacturers but that’s just the reality for now. But if you do own a Canon and Nikon, you have probably noticed that the images that you see on your camera LCD screen look so much better than they do when they are imported in Lightroom or opened in Camera Raw.  That’s in large part because the RAW image file has very little processing applied to it.  I say little because Lightroom and Camera Raw always apply some adjustments as a default as soon as your image is pulled into the program.

The problem is that the default profile that Adobe uses is something called Adobe Standard.  How often have you seen anything worthwhile come from something called “standard”?  Yeah, not very often.  So here’s where you can make a huge improvement to your images by changing one little drop-down setting.  Just change Adobe Standard to any one of the other choices in the Camera Calibration section and see how your image becomes instantly better.

Now here’s the trick, you don’t want to necessarily use the same camera profile for every image.  Each profile is different and will have a different impact on your image.  If you are shooting landscapes with bright colors and lots of greens and blues, you might want to start with the Landscape profile.  If you have some lackluster colors you can instantly bump the color saturation and contrast by selecting the Vivid profile.  The thing is that you just have to click each one and pick the one that gives you the best result.  By the way, Canon and Nikon profiles have different names.  Canon uses the Faithful, Landscape Neutral, Portrait, and Camera Standard profiles.  Nikon has the D2X Mode 1, D2X Mode 2, D2X Mode 3, Landscape, Neutral, Portrait, Camera Standard, and Vivid profiles.

Now if you are a JPEG shooter, don’t bother looking for these different profiles because when you click the drop-down, you will find that the only choice you have is Embedded.  That’s because the camera profile was already embedded into your JPEG file by your camera.  If you want to change the look of your image, you can do so by changing the Camera Style in your camera menu. I actually talk a lot about this in my books.  But if you are a RAW shooter, you will definitely want to give the camera calibration panel/tab a look to see how much better your images can be with very little effort on your part.  To get started in Lightroom, go to the Develop Module and the click on the Camera Calibration panel at the bottom of the stack.

If you are using Camera Raw, open your image and then click the Camera Calibration tab, which is the third one over from the right.

Here’s a look at how you can get different results from the same image by just changing the Camera Calibration profile. Click on the first thumbnail to get a larger view of the image and then notice how the color, contrast, and even shadow detail changes as the camera calibration profile changes.

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  • Sean

    I always use the camera profiles in Lightroom. My only complaint is they omit the monochrome setting from the 50D. I realize there’s better ways to create black and whites, but it would just be nice if they included it.

  • Michael Preston

    Great post, Jeff. If I may share one tip I learned from a member on a forum I frequent…a great starting point for acheiving accurate skin tones can be obtained with the Camera Neutral setting. Check it out, it makes further fine-tuning incredibly less worrisome.

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  • Jason Miller

    I think you CAN use the Camera Profiles on JPEGs if you save them as a preset, I haven’t tried it yet, but I have RAW WhiteBal presets that I saved and they work very nice on my JPEGs…now I think I’m gonna have to try it now

  • Jason Miller

    Nevermind previous comment, I tried it, but it didn’t work

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  • Malcolm

    Hi Sean,
    I have an EOS50D camera and wish to load the EOS50D specific profile into PS CS4 Camera Raw and so far I have not succeeded.
    I have located the folder that contains the camera specific profiles but have not suceeded in making in making it visible in the Camera Calibration window.
    I am using WIN XP Pro and CS4.
    Can you help please?
    Thank you,
    Malcolm McIntosh

  • http://blog.rochestercityphoto.com Paul Miller

    Hey Jeff – Great article. Maybe some day soon you could take this article one step further and talk about custom profiles. How to create them and why.

    Thanks,
    ~Paul Miller

  • Julie Pease

    This could be the very reason that when I open my raw files in LR3 they are extremely dark. Going to go home today and change that profile… I’m sure it will make a big change for me. Thanks!

  • DD

    Thanks for the above –
    I have a question relating to processing Raw images – should I optimize the image on the camera or set all the image optimization settings to ’0′ or normal and then once I have them in lightroom or PS I apply the profile and any other image optimization plugins?
    e.g. I have been using a D200 and I usually have the following settings
    Optimize Image = Vivid
    I then import the raw image into PS/LRand perform additional adjustments does it matter?

    • http://www.revellphotography.com jeff

      Here’s the thing DD, it doesn’t really matter as long as you are shooting RAW. Those in-camera settings will only be applied to a JPEG image (or TIFF if the D200 has that option). The RAW image will not carry over any of the settings like picture styles. I would leave them set up like you are shooting JPEGs just so you get that nice looking preview on the back of the camera and then use the Camera Calibration when you process the RAW image.

      • DD

        Thanks Jeff for the advice appreciate it –
        how about the Color Space settings should I set it to ‘AdobeRgb’ and then depending on the output device I set it to Srgb once i have exported it to LR?
        Understand that sRGB is the worldwide standard though AdobeRgb captures a lot more colours

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