With all of today's popular RAW converters
we get a lot of discussions
about color quality. Unfortunately the problem seems not to be
Let's go back a few years and look at film. If we would photograph
the same scene with the same light with Fuji Velvia, Fuji Provia,
Kodak Kodachrome and Kodak Ektachrome we would get very (and
I mean very(!)) different colors. Let's assume we would have
then we would read "Kodak/Fuji has no idea about correct
colors". And did we mention skin tones?
In all probability, both companies have employed the best
color scientists in their field. Now let's assume the engineers
to heart and create a very truthful film (these films even exist)
then others would cry "boring colors" or "where
is my saturation".
These engineers tried to develop films that pleased as many photographers
What did photographers
do in those old
their choice (and
on their scene). In the end there were as many color preferences
as photographers but only a few different films to choose from.
These photographers knew that just complaining would not get
film they liked.
So they used filters and light to create what they wanted.
These were the old days. Today with digital all is perfect :-).
The truth is that your digital camera is now kind of camera
and film at the same time. At least when you photograph JPEG.
may think that we fortunately have RAW to get closer to the truth.
If you look at RAW you get kind of a latent color slide. But
the camera doesn't even capture real RGB colors because
the colors get interpreted by the RAW converter. This means all
RAW converters do this slightly different. To get reasonable colors
(what ever that may be) the RAW converter needs to profile the
cameras and transform the colors into something that photographers
like. Again all RAW converters have a different way to do this
and this means they also they have a different bias as to what
those colors look like.
Most photographers don't even want correct colors (Kodak
and Fuji would not sell any film if that were true) but colors
they like. To make things worse there are the following issues
to consider (list certainly not complete):
- Mixed light sources
- Viewing light (of original scene and photograph)
- White balance settings
No profile can be judged without reflecting all these factors
(mainly WB, contrast, saturation and brightness). We want it
simple but unfortunately colors are not as simple as it seems.
With film we were shielded from this problem because we had
no control. Now we have the control and have to solve this issue
Note: We're not even talking about the different
ways we are able to see colors (many of us are to some extent
Some may say why not just trust your eyes? That can get very
complicated. Oour eyes/brain fool us quite a bit because they
auto white balance
a scene. Let us look at a very extreme situation:
Lower Antelope Canyon
When you are down in the Canyon you don't really
see the blue light because the eyes white balance for us. But
if you look at a photograph the white border would be the reference
and the blue shows up. In this case we are happy about the bluish
tone but in other cases we may not like what we see (remember we
often have mixed light, e.g. sun and sky).
This means that today's RAW converters with their
generic profiling will never please all users. What to do?
- Experiment with alternative RCs (try before you buy). For
some pictures RC 1 may work and for others RC 2.
- Tune the colors in Photoshop,
- Some RCs like Capture One have powerful selective color corrections
- Create your own profiles for a certain lighting situation
(unfortunately not really that trivial).
- Buy alternative profiles.
Does this mean that we would not like to see improvements in
terms of colors in today's RCs? Not at all. But we also know that
this is not a trivial task. You can either wait for a perfect world
or make the best out of it. Especially tricky are skin tones.
They are even more difficult to talk about since they are also:
- Highly subjective
- Need a lot of personal experience how you want them
- Depends on cultural elements
With every new RC we get the same discussions about the colors
(especially skin tones). The best way to improve the situation
is to find ways improving the RC
profiling. This will allow to find a good starting point for your
photos. But assuming the developers are ignorant
Note: You also might find it interesting that
profiling experts will come up with quite different profiles
for the same camera and RC (look at the profiles or calibrations
offered for some of the RCs). More often than not they even offer
profiles with different
of saturation. We tried to create own profiles. The main problem
is even lighting of the target without any reflections. We have
often improved some colors to our taste while other colors suffered
(in different lighting situations).
We find there are two schools of photographers today:
- Those who think measuring gets them closer to the truth.
The problem can be that the real world colors are not the same
as photographing test charts. Outdoor light is
challenging. In the end this maybe a good way to improve your
work. However be careful that you don't only take photographs
of test charts :-).
- Those that are happy with a highly subjective color balance
(we are part of this camp).
For all of these reasons we never do color tests with any RAW
converter. On the other side we have gotten results that in the
end pleased us with most of them.
What is important is to try a new software and only to buy if
you like it. On the other side having more than one RC helps
as there is probably no single RC that works best for all images.
If you have interesting comments post them in our news