The DNG Profile Editor: What's it all about?

When we look back at how things changed with the arrival of Lightroom 2, I think the new DNG Profile Editor (presently kind of a sleeper technology) will stand out as transformative.  The technology was largely developed by Eric Chan, a bright young guy on the Camera Raw team (and aspiring photographer).  I’ve always found his explanations lucid and highly readable, so I’m delighted that he’s written a guest blog post on the subject.  Enjoy.  –J.


Hi everyone. My name is Eric Chan and I’ve been a Computer Scientist at Adobe since February, which doesn’t exactly explain how I ended up on John Nack’s blog. [People often wonder how they ended up here…  –J.] Well, John kindly invited me to share some thoughts on the new color profiles for Lightroom 2 and Camera Raw 4.5… "Whoa, hold on there!" you say, "New profiles? What new profiles? I didn’t see any new profiles!" Ahh, that’s because the new profiles are currently undergoing a public beta and aren’t shipping directly with LR 2 and CR 4.5. Instead, they’re available as a separate download from the Adobe Labs web site. Why a public beta? Simply because there have been many changes under the hood, and we want to give folks a chance to try the new profiles and provide feedback before we bake them for final release.


But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let me backtrack and give you the big picture first. As it turns out, there’s quite a bit more going on here than just a new set of color profiles.

Many photographers have been asking us for better color from Camera Raw and Lightroom. Do you find deep reds becoming orange-ish and undersaturated? Is it challenging to nail colors under specific lighting conditions, like when doing a product shoot? Do you love our tools but prefer the colors from another raw converter (or from the in-camera JPEG preview)? Have you tried fiddling with the Calibration sliders (or cursed them because they don’t provide enough control)?


The good news is that we’ve produced a comprehensive and highly versatile solution that addresses all of these issues. First, there’s the updated DNG 1.2 specification, which expands and formalizes the concept of a camera profile for digital raw images. Next, we have two new sets of camera profiles based on this extended profile format. Then there’s the DNG Profile Editor, a free utility which can be used to roll your own profiles (or tweak existing ones). And finally, we’ve written up extensive documentation and tutorials to help you get the most out of these new tools.


Now let’s take a look at each one of these items in more detail, starting with some tech stuff. Back in April, we updated the DNG specification to version 1.2. The update includes a more complete and versatile camera profile format, optimized for raw image processing. In other words, these profiles apply to the linear, scene-referred data from a raw digital capture.


Profiles using the new format have several benefits. They produce better color, thanks to some new technical features. They can optionally be embedded in DNG files, making the color appearance of these images self-contained. And they will work in any raw converter that supports DNG 1.2. Yes, I know, for now this only applies to CR 4.5 and LR 2.0, but it’s still worth elaborating on this last point. The concept here, you see, is that DNG 1.2 camera profiles are designed for portability. If you’ve every fiddled with camera profiles in other raw converters, you may have noticed that they aren’t portable. For instance, trying to use one raw converter’s camera profile with another raw converter often leads to disastrous (though sometimes entertaining) results. We’re hoping that DNG 1.2 will change that in the long run.


Of course, a new profile format alone isn’t going to do much good in the real world, is it? Not unless you have some actual profiles to work with.


We have a new set of camera profiles called the Adobe Standard profiles. Our goal in designing these profiles is to give photographers a better default color: that is, a better starting point for making image adjustments. With the new profiles, the main improvement is in the warm colors: reds, oranges, and yellows. Deep saturated reds should indeed appear red, without messing up skin tones. Saturation is better maintained in warm highlights, and warm colors are easier to distinguish. There are also improvements in other colors, but the changes in warm colors are the most noticeable.


Some photographers have told us that while they like the workflow and the power of the tools provided by Camera Raw and Lightroom, they still prefer the color rendition provided by the camera manufacturer’s own software (which is usually equivalent to the in-camera JPEG). For these photographers, we have designed a second set of profiles called the Camera Matching profiles (currently only available for Canon and Nikon DSLRs). The only purpose of these profiles is to match the camera maker’s color. For example, applying the "Camera Neutral beta 1" profile to a Canon EOS 5D image in LR 2 should produce very similar results to what you would get from Canon’s Digital Photo Professional when using the Neutral Picture Style.


What about the DNG Profile Editor? What is this tool, and who is it for? Color, simply put, is highly subjective. Not only do we have individual color preferences (much like choosing a favorite film), but these preferences often depend on what we’re shooting. A single profile, even a highly accurate one, is unlikely to be suitable or even desirable for all of your images. We recognize that some photographers may want to create their own profiles or tweak existing ones.


To support this effort, we’re providing a free utility to the photographic community called the DNG Profile Editor. Please keep in mind that this tool is intended for advanced users. That said, it’s easy to use and we welcome everyone to try it. Basically, the way it works is that you specify an existing profile (called a "base profile") as a starting point, then use the editor interface to adjust a profile’s lookup tables, matrices, tone curve, or metadata. Once you’re happy with your profile, you can save it to disk and load it into CR 4.5, LR 2.0, or any DNG 1.2-compatible raw converter.


The DNG Profile Editor has many applications. You can build a profile that nails specific colors under a known, fixed lighting condition (such as when doing a product shoot). You can get matching colors across multiple cameras, within technical limits imposed by sensor differences; this is very handy for pros who often work with multiple camera bodies. (Yes, this means you can do funky things like make an Olympus camera look like a Nikon, and vice versa …) You can build special profiles for infrared-modified cameras, so that you won’t bump into CR and LR’s bottom limit of 2000 K on the white balance temperature scale. And for those of you familiar with CR calibration scripts, there is a Chart Wizard feature that automatically builds a profile with the help of a photographed 24-patch ColorChecker chart.


The Chart Wizard is particularly handy when shooting regularly under strange lighting conditions. For example, compact fluorescent light bulbs often have spiky spectra, leading to strong magenta or green casts in images even when a proper white balance is set. Yes, you can use the HSL adjustments in CR and LR to reduce these casts, but it takes a fair amount of experience to do so effectively without impacting other colors. The Chart Wizard takes the guesswork out of the process and is also much more precise, since it’s able to target and fix very specific colors (such as whacked-out greens, an unfortunate property of my kitchen lights…) while leaving others alone.


I’d better wrap this up before I end up with a book. In summary, for the past several months, we’ve been working hard on delivering better color when shooting raw. Our solution includes an extended camera profile format, new profiles, and a tool called the DNG Profile Editor. Since the profiles and DNG Profile Editor are still in public beta, we don’t provide official Adobe support for them. Even so, I think our unofficial support is pretty decent: there’s an online FAQ, tutorials, and documentation to help you get started with both the profiles and DNG Profile Editor. Please post feedback and questions in the User-To-User forums (see links below).



* Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

* DNG Profile Editor Tutorials and Documentation

* Camera Raw User-To-User Forums

* Lightroom User-To-User Forums

0 thoughts on “The DNG Profile Editor: What's it all about?

  1. Thanks, Eric and John. The color rendition of the new camera neutral beta 1 profile provides significantly more accurate color rendition than does the default profile that came with Camera Raw 4.5. I also appreciate the ability to choose other profiles such as vivid.

  2. Hello John, first thanks for your blog–it’s a great resource and I really enjoy your links to the creative work of others. I just wanted to mention that Eric Chan also maintains a fantastic (!) website for the Epson 3800 printer. It’s extremely comprehensive and full of tips and advice for the Epson 3800. He really deserves praise for his generosity.
    [Definitely a good dude to have on hand. Maybe a year ago I got a note from him saying in essence, “Hey, I’m a random smart guy who wants to work on Camera Raw.” I forwarded it to engineering management, and–what do you know–it worked out. See, I knew this blog might actually end up being worth a damn. 😉 –J.]

  3. Thanks, Eric, for your indeed lucid explanations in this tricky field! I’ve downloaded “all the new stuff” and it looks both promising and fascinating. So I’m glad to have you on my team. 🙂

  4. very very nice work, this is what finally gets me to switch from capture one and make my life easier. when i find the time i’ll create a profile that matches the c1 color rendition – love those skin tones and the tonecurve of their “film high contrast”-look. this should finally be doable using the dng profile editor. thanks eric! now i just need to find a way to order lr2 from the us store, it’s twice the price over here in germany. makes absolutly no sense to me :/

  5. Hello Jack,
    I enjoyed the post.
    Something strange and wonderful happened with the raw update the other day.
    When I load photo into raw, via bridge, they render out with the clarity preset in the middle. When I pull the slider to the left, it takes the photo and takes all imperfections in skin tones, its like using a blurring tool in PS.
    Never had that happen before.
    Is this a new feature in RAW?
    Ken in KY

  6. Thanks to your blog we kinda get to meet some of these “random smart guys” and get a sense of what interesting & amazing things they do for imaging & PS.

  7. OK, so the standard profiles are a big improvement, but the profile editor?
    It is hardly new. Even the interface is very familiar to anyone who has used the Color editor in C1 (that has been there for the last 5 years…)
    Nothing new under the sun is there?

  8. Eric, thanks for this tool. I immediately used it — along with dng’s from each of my cameras of the gmb 24 color chart to create my own camera profiles …. way faster than the old script and easy to tweak if I really wanted to…. thanks again…..

  9. Nick, you are referring to basic editing features of the DNG Profile Editor. If you look a bit further, you’ll find some new abilities unique to PE. For example, with PE you can create a general profile based on 2 different illuminants simultaneously (typically A and D65) and have the color adjustments be computed automatically based on an image’s white balance. Or, as another example you can optimize a profile for infrared-modified cameras, where a standard profile would normally have an incorrect white balance interpretation. PE allows one to calibrate a camera’s white balance interpretation so that camera neutral values map to the appropriate temperature & tint range.

  10. The DNG Profile Editor will make matching color between different cameras a reality. So I will be able to have all my images have a common starting point from a color perspective no matter which camera they where taken with. You talk about having the community providing new custom profiles via PE. This will be useful for creating profiles for specific cameras, but it would be really intersting if you now added the color tables control to Camera Raw/Lightroom in a non-camera specific form. So once I brought all my images to a common starting point with custom PE camera profiles, I could then be able to modify the colors in camera raw to give me a specific look. These non-camera specific color tables, applied after the camera profiles would then be useful to people no matter which camera they were using. We already have the other controls from PE in camera raw (minus the white balance adjustment), I would like to see the addition of the color table control as well.

  11. does this mean that i will be able to use joseph holmes’ dcam icc profiles & chroma variants as a working color space when i convert from RAW?

  12. Eric,
    Many thanks for the heads up – Sounds like some interesting features. Apologies for being too quick off the mark – I will do some more investigations.

  13. Hi Eric and John..You talk about having the community providing new custom profiles via PE. Is it useful for creating profiles for cameras, it would be really isteresting..

  14. As far as I am concerned this is the best new feature in Lr2 & it’s still in beta.
    I created some camera profiles for copying paintings.With one click I have almost a perfect reproduction in Lr2.
    I have used vastly more expensive camera profiling software for years & have never got as close as this or as easily

  15. Hi:
    This all is excellent news. I am a diehard user of older Kodak cameras (DCS-ProBack, DCS-760) and have watched my excellent Kodak workflow become obsolete. I have tried four major manufactures of source profiling software over the last two years and have been unable to reproduce through ACR the outstanding shin tones of the Kodak workflow. I am upgrading now and look forward to extensive experimentation with the new dng profile editor (and my ongoing search for skin tone target patch materials that respond appropriately). Thank you all for the new contributions.
    Jim Reswick

  16. Correction: Typo in previous post…I’ve photographed a few shins, but let’s make that “skin tones”.
    [I didn’t want to be presumptuous and edit your earlier post. 😉 –J.]

  17. The advent of the profile editor is the obvious watershed in ACR development but the canned ‘Camera Neutral’ profile (for Canon 5D) is a nice surprise – there seems to be an actual extension of dynamic range at the white end over the previous canned profiles, with more natural and balanced color and a concomitant refinement of detail. Thanks for that! The other camera profiles all (except the new Adobe Standard) seem super saturated and vary wildly in reporting reds as seen on my monitor, fire-engine reds from the Portrait, Landscape and Camera Standard profiles to magenta from Faithful and Neutral, and a bluer rose from Adobe Standard. Amazing!

  18. Okay so I have been browsing around searching through your blog and for a .ARW Sony a700 RAW converter.
    I have CS1 (yeah I know upgrade already) but I love it and confortable with it. It’s perfect for what I do. However, I can’t convert any of the Sony RAW files. The only update I found is the Convert RAW 2.4 but it doesn’t support my camera.
    Please John help. Is there something I am overlooking or simply there is nothing for me.
    [I believe the free DNG Converter (download links at right) will make your images compatible with CS. –J.]

  19. What do you think of the dcpTool? It’s supposed to remove the twists of tint of the profiles under changes of exposure (or V in HSV).
    Do DNG profiles have tint twists in them?
    Juan Dent

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