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Assuming that you are using a good lens profile, say one that Adobe has predefined in Lightroom, are there any downsides to automatically applying the appropriate lens correction profile when the photos are imported?

The lenses I am shooting with appear to be correctly identified by Lightroom so there is no risk of the wrong profile being applied.

It seems to me that applying it would give you the most acurate representation of what ever it is you are photographing.

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Personally, I often prefer the original lens distortion, vignetting, and what have you... Also, I had Canon lenses that LR did not identify and substituted a completely incorrect profile. But since LR effects are non destructive it does not really matter. If you prefer the correction then you should use it. –  Jakub Feb 15 '12 at 4:13

4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Most post-process lens corrections will cause a loss of detail, as they are not just modifying how the raw pixels are interpolated and what mathematical curves and adjustments may be applied...they change the position of pixels throughout the whole image. At the very least, you'll lose some amount of sharpness, and fine detail may be lost in some areas of the photo. Unless you have some very specific need, such as a photograph of a brick wall that is clearly demonstrating barrel or pincushion distortion, or pronounced CA, generally speaking I would avoid applying any lens profile.

If you want a simple rule of thumb...if your photo is clearly unacceptable without lens profile correction, and acceptable with it, then use a lens profile.

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what does "CA" stand for in "or pronounced CA"? –  Joe Solano Feb 15 '12 at 3:56
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In theory, shouldn't correcting CA increase sharpness? –  mattdm Feb 15 '12 at 4:32
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@mattdm: It reduces false color fringing, but it doesn't really actually change the loss in sharpness...at least, not that I've seen so far from Lightroom. It just adjusts the coloration where CA occurs to remove cyan/yellow or green/magenta, but you can still see the fringe most of the time...its just fairly faint. You should always keep in mind though, applying lens corrections fixes ALL lens defects, and that pretty much always impacts the entire image, even if all you cared about was fixing CA. Its better to correct CA manually if its a problem. –  jrista Feb 15 '12 at 6:05
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"...are not just modifying how the raw pixels are interpolated and what mathematical curves and adjustments may be applied..." I believe this is true when working on jpegs, but I believe when working with raw files the adjustments are modifying the raw pixels. –  Dan Wolfgang Feb 15 '12 at 15:03
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@Dan: What I mean is, when you apply a lens profile, that applies distortion correction along with CA removal and vignette correction. The distortion correction will usually REPOSITION parts of the image, which usually incurs some degree of interpolation/filtering of neighboring pixels...so there is a cost to IQ beyond the "standard" kinds of RAW edits that only adjust how the initial bayer pixel information is interpolated and processed. –  jrista Feb 15 '12 at 19:26

I've done comparisons using my Canon EF-S 17-55mm F/2.8 IS USM lens turning the profile on and off, and I can't actually notice any drop in sharpness as @jrista stated. I guess it would depend on the lens being used, but for that lens I automatically apply the lens profile on import. It gets rid of noticeable vignetting as well.

I expected some slight reduction in sharpness but was pleasantly surprised that it did almost nothing, despite warping the image noticeably.

It is probably a good idea to zoom to 100% and turn the profile on and off to observe the change. If it works well, go for it.

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The benefit that a lens profile correction offers is going to vary based on subject and the amount of correction required. If minor correction is needed to straighten a curve at the edge of the frame, it's probably a good thing. On the other hand if you've got somebody's head in the edge of the frame the minor correction may well stretch them into an unnatural shape. Major corrections are almost always going to cause a loss of detail.

In the end, the right choice is to simply toggle the option on and off to decide if you like what it's done.

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When you correct lens distortion, the rectangular image is warped into a non-rectangular shape. Since we generally want our finished images to be rectangular, the image is then cropped to a rectangle that fits inside the warped shape. This means that objects near the edge of the original image may be cropped out of the finished image. That's a trade-off that you might not always want to make. You might be willing to tolerate some distortion to avoid losing part of the scene.

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