Is it worthwhile struggling with input profiles?

I shot the photo you see below in the Marche region of Italy this summer. It’s a little underexposed like I always do and this is not corrected to avoid complicating things.

I got the ICC profile from Nikons Capture NX-D software that builds a profile to emulate the jpg contained in the raw-file as described in rawpedia. I just opened the photo, so the profile must be “auto”.

I upload the raw-file and the ICC profile.DSC_0986.NEF (29.2 MB) Marche Italy.icm (235.2 KB)

Below you will find the following photos:

Capture NX-D - default

RT- neutral processing profile and the Auto-Matched Tone Curve turned on

RT - neutral processing profile and the ICC as custom input profile

DT - default (base curve Nikon like)

DT - base curve turned off, ICC selected as input profile, unbreak input profile with default settings.

Clearly you need to fine tune the unbreak input profile in the logarithmic or gamma mode to get a good result. The easiest is to use the gamma mode (only two sliders) and with a little fine tuning you get the last image.

Is all this input profile business really worth the effort? I think not. At least not in this situation. What do you think?

Capture NX-D - default

RT- neutral processing profile and the Auto-Matched Tone Curve turned on

RT - neutral processing profile and the ICC as custom input profile

DT - default (base curve Nikon like)

DT - base curve turned off, ICC selected as input profile, unbreak input profile with default settings.

DT - base curve turned off, ICC selected as input profile, unbreak input profile with some gamma mode adjustments.

The input profile’s job is to map colors into a reference space. The colors can be made to look accurate, or they can be made to give a subjective look. The input profiles shipped with RawTherapee are designed to produce accurate colors, not to give a subjectively pretty look. I don’t like the approach of using input profiles for subjective looks - RawTherapee and darktable’s tools are more suited for that, and make the job easier. In other words, if I custom-tweaked a sidecar file for one of my photos and sent it to you, what are the chances that it would produce good results on one of your photos? Very slim. And editing a tool with curves and knobs in these raw editors is easier than editing an input profile.

To summarize, an input profile should not be a struggle when used for accurate colors as a good starting point, and if you’re using an input profile for producing a subjective look and it’s causing you to struggle, well there’s your answer.


Good question. I messed with this a little while ago, evaluating the worth of using a target-shot camera profile that also included an uncorrected white point in order to do both colorspace reference and white balance correction in the chromatic transform. The results were satisfying, particularly with preserving color saturation, but the process is rather onerous “per-session”

Generally, I’m a fan of minimizing the number of operations on raw data in total. I can’t help but think that all of the whipsaw transforms we do on the channels cumulatively adversely affect color representation, but I don’t have specific data to support.


Hi’ @Morgan_Hardwood

Thank you for your answer.

I tested the input profile option to see if I got better results using the profile instead of using the RT or DT defaults. It is not obvious to me that the results are better or in any way superior to what you get by going default. Actually, I’m really impressed by the RT and DT defaults.

Based on this experiment I would advise any unexperienced user to go default, forget all about input profiles and get great results! It does not seem worthwhile to do otherwise.

Rawpedia is a great source of information but you could be misled to think that you have to understand and master many complicated new concepts to get ok results, and this is luckily not the case.

Maybe “struggling” is not the most precise word. But you have to figure out how to get the ICC profiles and how to apply them (simple in RT not so simple in DT). Once you have learned it, it’s of course piece of cake…….:blush::blush:

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Anders Torger has some interesting things to say about subjective looks in input profiles.

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Hi’ @sankos

Thank you for the link to an interesting article.

I think I’m operating on a more basic level than some of you guys. I see it this way:

Consider the following situation: You go on a holiday to Italy and shoot a lot of pictures to show family and friends. Your audience will expect something in the ballgame of jpg’s out of your wife’s iphone. You can of course do much better editing your raws but you need a good starting point for editing. Do you need input profiles? No, go default, it’s excellent.

That was not always the case. Before the auto-matched tone curve option in RT you needed an input profile otherwise a new user would be challenged with the task of transforming the neutral raw.

If you go for another end result you may want to use an input profile.

If you put a number of custom input profiles in the appropriate folder in DT. Then the input profile drop down list will show the following.

Hard to say which one is the landscape profile……:unamused:? I would be better if the file names were displayed.

As an FYI, have you tried the “Standard Film Curve” profiles?

I had assumed these were derived from the camera tone curve, but they actually appear to be a compromise that someone on the RT team came up with - but for me, I’m as happy with them as I am with the Sony tone curve in most cases. Sometimes more so than the Sony curves, as it seems to have a gentler highlight rolloff.

They won’t get an exact reproduction of the camera JPEG as a starting point, but they do usually provide a very good starting point.

Do you refer to these film curves:

Only few icc profiles in here and no D7100 profile

Go with what gives you the results you are happy with. I have a Nikon camera (Coolpix A, same sensor as D7000) but I don’t especially like the OOC jpeg colours or what NX-D outputs. I’ve found that I prefer starting from either the default input profile in dt (and a Filmic base curve) or my own custom profiles made with DCamProf. I tried the NX-D profiles in dt (here’s a thread with my Unbreak Input Profile settings) but I always ended up rejecting the output when doing a head-to-head comparison. You could also try C1 profiles, but they require different Unbreak settings and a Filmic base curve (the base curve module curves will give you saturation issues you’ll have to compensate for with another module).

In RT, Lr and DxO PhotoLab I like starting from Adobe Standard dual illuminant profiles with a slight HSL tweak for skin tones and the blues. If there are tricky lighting situations or very saturated colours in the scene, custom-made profiles (DNG Profile Editor/DCamProf/Lumariver) can come to rescue.


“Is it worthwhile struggling with input profiles?”

For color considerations, yes. For tone, probably not, IMHO…

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@ggbutcher Right on! Compare the sky color in RT without and with profile. Purplish vs correct blue. I use Adobe .dcp profiles to get great colors in RT from Nikon cameras.

No, the profiles selectable in the upper right of the UI, from the dropdown which includes “Last Saved” and “Neutral” - above “Neutral” is a “Bundled Profiles” menu, I’ve often found that “Standard Film Curve” meets my needs the majority of the time.

Yes you are right. There is a difference in the sky.

I think that the dcp profiles from Adobe are fine. The problem is that DT doesn’t accept dcp profiles and that working with user profiles in DT is a bit complicated since you also have to make adjustments to the unbreak input profile module which in the new version is just like filmic. Filmic is not simple!

But let’s have a closer look on the sky and the Sibillini Mountains using RT in default mode. icm landscape and dcp landscape with the neutral processing profile.

What do you think?

It looks to me to be a color difference between the first image and the other two, but between the second and third images it well could be a tone difference. I’m in and out of a few home projects right now, otherwise I’d load each in software to look at the histograms.

Please note that, within the confines of profiles, you have two distinct operations possibly going on, a color conversion and/or a tone conversion. Those two need to be teased apart to understand the real difference between the effect of each profile. And then, we mess with tone again in places like filmic or basecurve, or automatch. And then, aggressive tone manipulations start to work their way into affecting color. @Morgan_Hardwood’s advice is good; using input profiles to mess with the ‘look’ is challenging, think twice about using them if you’re not going to dig into their weeds…

I like the default one all right, except for the sky, which looks a bit bland to me (too much magenta and not saturated enough). But the faraway mountain haze (esp. in the shadows) is the most neutral of three, which I like. The second one has a typical Nikon blue sky – looks a bit fake to me (too much green and too saturated), but that’s really personal aesthetics – many people like their skies like that. The shadowy haze is the coldest of the three. I’d pick the dcp version of the sky (maybe back off the saturation slightly), and maybe open up the shadows in the foreground bush/trees (it looks the most contrasty of the three in that area).

This is darktable 2.6.2 with minimal processing:

  • turn Base Curve off
  • set Exposure to +1.2 stops (guessed at by assuming the hill in the centre should be about a mid-tone)
  • no ICC profile, just using the built in matrix
  • keep the white balance on “Camera”

You get the same (I think) results in RawTherapee using the Neutral processing profile and a +1.2 exposure adjustment.

Hi’ Everyone

Thank you for your feedback on “A closer look on the sky and the Sibillini Mountains”.

@ggbutcher I’m always looking forward to read your input and I would love to study the result of your examination of the histograms if and when you get the possibility to have a closer look.

Based on yours and others input I think that we can conclude the discussion as follows:
“No, it is not worthwhile struggling with input profiles. Go default and take it from there!”

The above statement seems to be very close to:

“No, it is not worthwhile struggling with input profiles. Go neutral and take it from there!”
By neutral I mean: RT – neutral processing profile, DT – base curve turned off.

If you go neutral then your starting point is further away from the dcp-result, which would you be my ambition for the editing result. This is a disadvantage, is it not?

@sankos Awesome comment: “this is a typical Nikon blue sky” and yes, I like the sky but I prefer the dcp sky.
In fact I liked the default result very much until I had a closer look on the sky. I agree that the mountain haze looks natural in the default version. How to transform the default sky without changing the mountain haze using RT? I would apply a mask using DT.

@paulmiller I like your simplistic approach. I have a tendency to think that I must be missing something not using the advanced tools. This thread has shown that this is not always the case.

No wonder that you have to increase the exposure when you turn off the base curve. The photo was deliberately under-exposed and the base curve (or the profiles) lightens the whole image and boosts the highlights.
It’s even more simplistic not to turn the base curve off, then you just have to open the photo in DT. I like the result even better. What do you think?

I’ve always been a “nuts and bolts” sort of person, wanting to understand the specifics of whatever mechanism is placed in front of me. In their efforts to make the rather ungainly mechanism of digital photography accessible to most folk, a variety of insulating layers have been developed to facilitate such. I think sometimes these layers work at cross purposes, and as a result confound our understanding.

To attempt to lay-flat the mechanisms we’ve been discussing, here’s what I’d call the baseline processing needed to get to what is probably neutral in most of our understanding:

Of note is that this is a 14-bit raw, a somewhat technical tidbit we’ll talk about later.

So, if you look at the commands pane at the top left, the first thing in the chain is a group that contains all of the processing needed to get to a RGB image:

colorspace:camera,assign The first thing I do to any raw is to assign its color profile. One would think, oh no tone manipulation going on here, but indeed, what this assignment will be used for later is to convert the image to a gamut and tone suitable for display or output. Note the “CMS:display” at the bottom right, in the status bar; in my software this means that whatever tool you select for display will be converted to the display gamut AND tone, which is approximately a gamma curve of 2.2. More on this in a bit.
subtract:camera This is the simple subtraction of the camera-supplied value from each and every R, G, and B value of each pixel. Not all cameras have such a value in their metadata, this one’s is 1008.
whitebalance:camera Here’s the first place we really mess with the original measurements of light, each R, G, and B value in each pixel is multiplied by a camera-provided number, for this image those multipliers are 1.203125, 1.000000, and 2.121094 respectively. These numbers are what some previous mechanism determined it would take to make all three channels of a neutral pixel “neutral”, that is, R=G=B. Not strictly germane to the current tone discussion, but now the original measurements (well R and B, G was not really changed with 1.0) have lost their relationship to the presented energy.
demosaic:half This is my default demosaic for proofing. Normally I’ll change it to something better, but for this I’m leaving it as this particular demosaic does not change the R, G, and B values, it just uses them as-is in adjacent pixels.

Okay, now to the crux of the illustration. We’ve talked extensively about tone curves here, but not about the fundamental reason for doing them. That would be to put the camera’s notion of white at the value where the display or output will render it as such. The raw data, as 14-bit values, doesn’t align to any of these boundaries in current technology (most displays until recently have been 8-bit, as is the prevalent JPEG encoding), so, some kind of “normalization” is required. I usually do this here in the chain with a blackwhitepoint operator built for this purpose, but in this case I replaced it with a curve to graphically show the transform:


Not “curvy” at all, this straight-line transform simply scales the data from its camera-defined limit to the upper end of internal data container in the software, which is used to anchor “display white”. The exposure tool in other softwares would do a similar thing, but you’d have to play with it a bit to get the highlights to just push up against “display white”. Interestingly, this operation doesn’t change what i think most consider the data’s “linearity”, as the relationships of the numbers are still such that one is “twice the size” or “half the size” of another, reflecting their original relationship with respect to the light energy.

So, to what we see here, how many manipulations of tone have happened? Well, in the toolchain, really none, ignoring the abomination that is white balance. At the conclusion of the curve, the data is scaled but still “linear” But, there’s one non-linear tone manipulation applied to get the displayed image, that being the camera -> display profile transform. Here’s a graphic of such a tone curve:


This is not a “correct” gamma curve, I normalize it to top-off at white, but you should get this idea - the lower values of the image are lifted, and that lift tapers off for the upper values. After such a curve is applied to “linear” data, it’s no longer “linear”.

Okay, now to the crux of the matter, “Is it worthwhile struggling with input profiles?” Well, first off, they’re needed in order to assign the proper color characteristics to the camera’s raw data. But a profile has two sets of data, one for color, and one for tone. In the above illustration, the assigned camera profile says the data is “linear”. effectively has an “identity” tone transform, that is, one that doesn’t change the data. So all it does is provide the color information for later mapping gamut to the display or output. Later, that “linear” assertion is used to do the display transform. So, if you’re going to use such a camera input profile to change tone, you’re actually telling that later display/output transform that the data is something other than what it really is, which is “linear”. Not a very intuitive way to work with the data.

So, I think, most “camera look profiles” are actually meant to be applied after the original color/tone assignment. But, if you were to use a camera profile to also change the tone of the resulting image, you need to do so considering whatever other tone curves you might decide to apply later, such as automatch, filmic, or even a manual curve. To my mind, I’d rather do only one such tone curve, one that I can control through its entire range. And, I really only want to do one because the data analyst in me doesn’t like whipsawing data back and forth with multiple such operations.

The other thing to point out is that profile-based tone curves can also be LUTs, which don’t have to express a “nice” transform. That is, a LUT can do dis-continuous things between adjacent values. Heaven help us there…

Soooo, @obe, I haven’t done the histogram inspection of your images yet, will get to those later. I have been thinking of such an illustration of the raw processing chain for some time now, and it just seemed like this thread was ready for me to inflict it upon… :smile:

Edit: sometimes we write things before we finish our coffee, note the strikeout…


I am, too, but I need to spend most of my time on non-photographic problems; I learn so much from your comments. I hope you write a book someday to go along with version 1.0 of your program…

Just to add one more data point: I like to process my raws from a “neutral” starting point, but I want the colors to be accurate. So, I use the “muted” or “natural” versions of my camera’s DCP from Adobe, but I only use the base and look tables, not the tone curve. This gives me something close to RT’s “neutral” profile, but with more accurate colors.

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I often use this Firefox extension to quickly check an image’s histogram:

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