How to Get Accurate Sony Colors in Lightroom

Our readers often ask us if it is possible to get Lightroom to provide the same colors as one would see from camera-rendered JPEG files when shooting in RAW format. Many photographers often choose specific color profiles in their cameras and they get surprised when images are imported into Lightroom and all those changes are lost. You might have noticed when importing files that Lightroom changes the colors immediately after import, when the embedded JPEG files are re-rendered using Adobe’s standard color profiles and settings. As a result, images might appear dull, lack contrast and have completely different colors. I have heard plenty of complaints on this issue for a while now, so I decided to post series of articles for each major manufacturer on how to obtain more accurate colors in Lightroom that resemble the image preview seen on the camera LCD and in camera-rendered JPEG images. In this article, I will talk about getting accurate colors from Sony DSLRs, SLTs and mirrorless cameras in Lightroom. Please see our other articles on getting accurate colors for Nikon, Canon and Fuji cameras.

Camera JPEG vs Adobe RAW

Due to the fact that Adobe’s RAW converters are unable to read proprietary RAW header data, some settings have to be either applied manually or applied upon import. My personal preference is to apply a preset while importing images, which saves me time later. Before we get into Lightroom, let me first go over camera settings and explain a few important things.

1) RAW File Nuances and Metadata

When shooting in RAW format, most camera settings like White Balance, Sharpness, Saturation, Lens Corrections and Color Profiles do not matter. Unless you use Sony-provided software like Image Data Converter, those custom settings are mostly discarded by third party applications, including Lightroom and Photoshop. Unfortunately, camera manufacturers rarely ever publish full specifications for their RAW files and do not work closely with third party application development companies like Adobe in order to take a full advantage of their cameras. Because of this, color profiles, along with all other camera settings are lost upon import of images. Although Adobe has been working hard on providing manufacturer and camera-specific color profiles, only the most popular cameras are typically covered. In addition, those color profiles are generated in Adobe’s own lab environment, which can result in slightly different color rendering when compared to the manufacturer’s.

Let’s go over data that is actually read by Lightroom / Photoshop Camera RAW:

  1. White Balance, as set by the camera. Instead of your chosen value such as Auto, Incandescent, Fluorescent, etc, only the actual color temperature and tint are read from the RAW file.
  2. Common image metadata such as Capture Date/Time, Exposure, Focal Length, Flash, Camera Make and Model, Lens information and GPS coordinates.
  3. Copyright information such as Author’s Name, etc. (if it exists)

That’s basically it. Now here is the information that is completely discarded:

  1. Creative Style
  2. Color Space (only relevant for JPEG images and JPEG images embedded into RAW files)
  3. Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO)
  4. High ISO NR
  5. Face Detection
  6. Focus Area and focus point location in the frame
  7. AF Micro Adjustment and Lens Compensation (Shading, Chromatic Aberrations, Distortion)
  8. All other settings in the camera menus

All of the above settings do not affect RAW files in any way. Whatever you choose in your camera simply gets written as header information to Sony’s ARW files. Please note that “Long exposure NR” (Noise Reduction) is the only setting that affects RAW files. However, Adobe will still not know if Long exposure noise reduction was turned on or off in your camera.

2) Camera Settings

Because the above settings do not affect your RAW files, they are essentially of no use, so I would recommend to keep them turned off by default. You might be wondering why JPEG images or the image on the back of the LCD change when you pick different Creative Styles or other settings while shooting in RAW. That’s because RAW files actually contain full size JPEG previews, which is what your camera shows on the back of the LCD. Hence, any change you make in your camera will simply be reflected in the embedded JPEG file only. When RAW files are imported into Lightroom / Camera RAW, the embedded JPEG file is discarded and a new one is generated, based on Adobe’s default settings, or a chosen import preset. That’s why when I talk about getting more accurate Sony colors in Lightroom, we are simply trying to match Sony’s default rendering of colors in JPEG images to those rendered by Lightroom or Camera RAW. Remember, a RAW file is just like unprocessed film – you can interpret and process colors any way you like.

However, changing camera settings can indirectly affect your RAW files. For example, if you have Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) turned on (which simply applies a tone curve to the embedded JPEG image), you might think that you have enough shadow details in your image and you might end up underexposing the image. High ISO Speed NR might make it seem like you do not have much noise in your images, so you might not notice that your ISO value is unnecessarily high. That’s why it is best to turn all custom settings off completely.

Sony has a set of color profiles known as “Creative Style” available in its cameras. By default, a camera profile called “Standard” gets applied to images. That’s the profile I typically use when shooting with Sony cameras. Whichever Creative Style you pick, I would suggest to stick to it if you want to see consistent colors in Lightroom (or it will be too much of a headache). And do not worry about modifying custom adjustments within picture controls, since those might indirectly affect your RAW images as well (for example, setting high values for Contrast, Saturation and Sharpness).

3) Lightroom and Camera RAW: Camera Calibration

Since photographers want to see colors as rendered by their cameras, Adobe ended up creating different camera profiles based on the colors they saw from the rendered JPEG images. The process of creating such camera profiles is fairly complex and it involves shooting different color charts in JPEG format, then trying to match those colors while rendering RAW files. Adobe did an OK job with Sony’s color profiles (although as demonstrated below, some colors do appear different) and re-created many of the most commonly used ones. For example, here is the full list of created profiles for the Sony A6000:

  1. Camera Clear
  2. Camera Deep
  3. Camera Landscape
  4. Camera Light
  5. Camera Neutral
  6. Camera Portrait
  7. Camera Standard
  8. Camera Vivid

The ones that are missing for the A6000 are: Sunset, Night Scene, Autumn Leaves, Black & White and Sepia. Since these profiles are rarely used and vary from camera to camera, I don’t blame Adobe for excluding them.

You can find the above-mentioned profiles under the “Camera Calibration” sub-module in Lightroom, or the “Camera Calibration” tab in Camera RAW, as seen below:

Lightroom vs Camera RAW Camera Calibration

Basically, these try match the Creative Styles in your camera one to one. If you set your camera Creative Style to “Standard”, picking “Camera Standard” from the Camera Calibration sub-module of Lightroom / Camera RAW will imitate those colors (assuming that additional tweaking of Contrast and Saturation was not performed in the camera).

That’s why it is a good idea to stick to one Creative Style in your camera, because you can set that same Camera Calibration profile to all images every time you import them.

Adobe also provides the ability to tweak individual colors for hue and saturation after applying a profile, but if you choose to do that, it might deviate from Sony’s original colors.

4) Applying a Camera Profile During Import

If you want to always have Sony’s native colors in your images and not the default “Adobe Standard” camera profile (which is often pretty dull), you might want to set up an import preset that gets applied to your images when they are imported into Lightroom. This is a very simple and straightforward process, so let me show you the best way to do it.

  1. First, open any Sony RAW / ARW file in Lightroom’s Develop Module.
  2. Keep White Balance under the “Basic” sub-module “As Shot”, if you want Lightroom to read what your camera set WB and Tint to.
  3. Scroll down to the Camera Calibration sub-module.
  4. Pick the same color profile as what you have set in your camera (for example, Camera Standard).
  5. On the left panel, scroll down to the “Presets” sub-module and press the “+” sign next to it, which is used for creating a new preset.
  6. A new window will pop-up. Give the preset a name, for example “Sony Import Preset”. The default folder “User Presets” is fine, but you can create a different folder if you want to.
  7. Only select “White Balance”, “Process Version” and “Calibration”, then click “Create”, as shown below:
    Import Preset

Once you do this, a new preset will appear in the Preset menu, under the specified folder. Now all you need to do is specify this preset when importing images. Bring up the Import Window, then look at the right side of the window and expand “Apply During Import”. Click the “Develop Settings” drop-down and pick the newly created import preset, as shown below:

Lightroom Apply During Import

Once you import the photos, every one of them will be automatically changed to the previously selected camera profile, which will match whatever you picked in your camera.

5) Adobe Camera Profiles vs Sony Creative Style

Now let’s take a look at a photo and see how closely Adobe’s Camera Profiles match Sony’s Creative Styles. I did a quick experiment, setting the Sony A6000 to “Vivid” Creative Style, then taking a picture of flowers. I set the camera’s file format to RAW + JPEG, so that I could use the JPEG file as a reference. Here is the JPEG file that the camera captured:

Sony A6000 Vivid Creative Style

And here is what the image looked like after I applied the “Camera Vivid” profile in Lightroom:

Adobe Lightroom Vivid Camera Profile

As you can see, the images are quite different. While there are some noticeable differences in rendered colors, it is pretty clear that Adobe does not apply enough contrast to its Vivid camera profile. As a result, the two images appear rather different.

When I manually applied “Medium” contrast on the curve in Lightroom, the image started to look quite similar in the shadow area:

Adobe Lightroom Vivid Camera Profile with Medium Contrast

I cannot say that I was able to reproduce the colors exactly, but it is fairly close and is a good start.

Hence, if I were to use the “Vivid” creative style in the Sony A6000, I would include Medium Contrast along with the Camera Vivid camera profile in my import profile to be able to match the two. I guess the title of the article does not reflect the reality, as the colors and tones are still noticeably off. However, it is not as far off as the Adobe Standard profile either…

Comments

  1. 1
    ) michael from vienna
    July 8, 2014 at 1:54 am

    hello nasim, nice article. thank you for your effort.
    you ever considered using the sony image data converter -> batch converting the raw files. ?

    i tried it a couple of times and my conclusion is: the output is pretty clean and good looking!!!
    The downside: the software itself is rather tedious (slow and crashes all the time).

    greetings michael

    • July 8, 2014 at 2:03 am

      Michael, I think you answered the question yourself – the software was indeed pretty buggy when I tried to use it last. In addition, I would hate to move away from my standard workflow process, which heavily relies on Lightroom. For that reason, I try to stay away from these manufacturer-provided software packages.

      Nikon, for example, recently got a lot of people mad by discontinuing its Nikon Capture NX2 software and asking everyone to switch to the buggy Capture NX-D software. The most useful feature in NX2 for applying selective color was yanked out of NX-D, due to licensing issues with Google (which bought out Nik Software that originally licensed this feature to Nikon). Why would I want to rely on the manufacturer for software, if they cannot keep up with proper development? And the worst part is, if you shoot with multiple cameras from different manufacturers, you have to have different software packages installed on your computer. With Lightroom, I have one software that I use for it all!

  2. 3
    ) michael from vienna
    July 8, 2014 at 2:10 am

    nasim i am 100% percent with you!
    Thats why i also try to avoid non-native plugins in lightroom.

    greetings michael

  3. July 8, 2014 at 4:44 am

    The Camera profiles never really work that well for me (as you mention, it still wasn’t a match), so I’ve just learned to edit mostly from the base Adobe profile. If I do try other profiles, I’ve had good luck with these:

    http://www.piraccini.net/2011/02/profili-colore-sony-a900-per-adobe-lr.html

    • July 8, 2014 at 4:46 am

      Thank you for sharing! Those created profiles look promising. I am thinking of potentially doing a similar thing in the future for a number of cameras that do not match in Lightroom!

  4. 6
    ) shamb
    July 8, 2014 at 5:19 am

    I have written a couple of posts that are on the same theme, and specific to Sony.

    This talks about Lightroom and Sony Cameras (a bit out of date, LR profiles are no longer as bad as this post notes… but the post does provide links to camera profiles for most Sony cameras)
    http://howgreenisyourgarden.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/using-lightroom-camera-profiles-and-why-adobe-standard-is-a-liability/

    Camera profiles only get you so far though, as they do not account for your lens and lighting. You can account for those issues by using a color target, as described in this post:
    http://howgreenisyourgarden.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/colour-accuracy/
    If you don’t have a color target, a piece of cardboard from an unwaxed, unbleached cereal box works wonders: use the grey side, and if you expect to be shooting in bright light, sand the cardboard lightly for a couple of minutes (this will lighten the card a bit, but more importantly makes its surface totally matt and a diffuse reflector)…. then use a photo of the card as your white balance target per shoot. Used along with color profiles, that gets you pretty close to accurate color rendition for zero money.

    Using a color target is preferable to relying just on camera profiles, as it makes your color hardware independent: it no longer even matters whether you are shooting Sony, Nikon or Canon: you get the same color (but this is not so good if you are using a lens noted for its fantastic color reproduction, or if you are shooting sunsets, so you should of course know when you should be going for color accuracy, and when you need to let the artistic side have priority over accuracy!).

    I of course assume other things are equal and you have a well calibrated monitor and print process. I have some thoughts on that if you do not have them (but haven’t put them in a post yet…), but essentially, you can do worse than get a recent colorimeter (I use Spyder Pro Eilte) and try to choose online printers that look as if they care about color.

    • July 8, 2014 at 5:46 am

      Shamb, thank you for your comment and the info!

      You brought up something that I want to write about in detail (I have two types of color checkers from X-Rite and I wanted to write about color calibration and custom profiles). I did not want to touch that topic in this article, because the above written for beginners that just want to imitate “the look”. I guess the word “accurate” is a bit misleading in the title, especially once I discovered that Adobe’s Sony profiles did not quite match the reality. Most people won’t have the time and money to create custom profiles through color targets, so this is kind of a shortcut for them…

      I wonder what Adobe uses in their labs for profiling. Nikon and Canon are often fairly good, but Sony was pretty bad in comparison. Fuji is also fairly good, except for the reds. Will be posting info on Fuji shortly.

  5. 8
    ) Arka Mukherjee
    July 8, 2014 at 6:00 am

    Hi Nasim,

    I want to know that is it better to keep ADOBE RGB as in camera setting ( for NIKON) and later convert to sRGB while exporting a JPEG using Ligthroom ?

    because visually in JPEG sRGB files looks more contrasty and saturated than ADOBE RGB. Technically some are saying that ADOBE RGB retains more colour than sRGB.
    What is the logic behind all of these please help me out, i am totally confused.

    • July 8, 2014 at 6:41 am

      Arka, if you shoot in JPEG, then save in Adobe RGB and later export in sRGB, as Adobe RGB contains more colors. If you shoot RAW, it does not matter what the camera is set to, since you will have way more information than JPEG files…

      • 12
        ) Arka Mukherjee
        July 9, 2014 at 6:06 am

        Thanks a lot. I will shoot RAW so i will keep ADOBE RAW in camera and convert to sRGB JPEG later in Lightroom for printing purposes.

  6. 10
    ) David B
    July 8, 2014 at 7:27 am

    Nasim. Thank you for at least trying to cover this issue that I have been dealing with a lot. I even bought a 700 page book from Sony guru Friedman and had several communications with him. The problem I’ve had with most Sony mirrorless cameras, is that skin colors are just awful. And there is not much that you can do about it. I’ve shot A7r for about 10,000 times and still people would always comment on my photos, “People look dead,” The skin colors look too dead. Or, David, your Fuji X photos from any Fuji camera are infinitely better. People also often commented on various forums, that when you go to Sony threads where people post Sony examples, it is like you are moving to a boring lifeless place.

    The problem with Sony A7r and my Sony RX10, is that Jpegs from these cameras suck as there are too much noise reduction and colors bleeding etc, if you pixel peep. Shooting Raw eliminates most of these issues, but you get dead people instead. I’ve shot A7r in every possible condition day night outside inside etc… Colors of people skin outside are the worst. I’ve spend hours in Lightroom trying to fix it. trying to apply Fuji presets etc. and nothing could help.

    Interestingly, I noticed that once you apply Sony flash, the skin colors come back and that always happens. I’ve shot many cameras for many years and I am not a beginner, but this is just weird. Same with Sony RX10 (same generation of Jpeg/Raw engine I guess).

    In frustration I sold Sony A7r. And then I got Sony A6000. 2014 camera. And I am much happier now. Why? Because Sony A6000 is the first Sony camera I’ve owned which actually fixed its Jpeg engine. Jpegs now ARE useable, and Jpegs give you better skin colors. You can preset DR+5 and get plenty of shadow/highlights saved in your Jpegs. Raw still the same problem as 2013 A7r and RX10, but I dont use RAw on A6000 now.

    This is only a Sony problem that I’ve found. I’ve owned countless Canons, Nikons, Olympuses, Panasonics, Fujis, and this has never been a problem. You cannot even compare it with Fuji colors including skin colors and Fuji’s ability to recover highlights/shadows in both raw and jpeg, but A6000 to me superior to my previous Fuji XT1. Autofocus is clearly better and I am getting many more keepers of my active 2 year old with A6000 than with any previous Fuji. Further I prefer to work with 24MP files than 16MP files, and A6000 is just much more comfortable to hand hold for me (beefier and fat grip) than Fuji XT1 and other previous Fujis.

  7. 11
    ) mike winslow
    July 8, 2014 at 7:40 am

    FYI – sony lens shading is applied to RAW. There is no reason why other comps may not be applied to RAW. as this is Sony’s discretion.

    It’s very easy to prove this. I also confirmed this via Sony support..

    Take a rather dark exposure, and pull up the shadows.. It’s easily notible in the PZ1650 lens. Also – please also consider that Sony compresses the RAW files as well. This should be fairly obvious just from the size of the RAW file.. with the RAW file size being roughly the same as the pixel count – we would expect 8 bits of luminance information per pixel. Instead, it is 12 (the last time I checked – a year ago), with a pedestal or bias value

  8. 13
    ) NicoD
    July 14, 2014 at 4:14 am

    This site has sony camera profiles for lightroom which are just great. I use it for my a57 and the skins have the colors of the camera jpegs.
    http://www.piraccini.net/2011/02/profili-colore-sony-a900-per-adobe-lr.html

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