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There's a Set Picture Control menu item on my Nikon that lets me choose between standard, neutral, vivid, etc. and I can also tweek each one.

I got interested in this because of videography: I've read a lot that you should shoot with a flat picture style and then grade in post.

  1. How does this picture style work? I've read here that when shooting raw it doesn't affect you photos. So if I shoot raw I can choose what ever style I want and I can still get the same results after post? But if I would shoot jpeg (which I don't) it would matter - the compressor will choose for me, based on the picture style, the contrast and other things and it will be more difficult for me to e.g. get the details in the shadows out. Am I correct?
  2. How does changing picture style affect the workflow? If I shoot raw and import my photos into an editor (e.g. Lightroom), will it make a difference, what style I chose? And sometimes I just open raw photos with a picture viewer (IrfanView) —- will it see a difference?
  3. Why not shoot with vivid? If it's true that you can do to a raw photo whatever you want, no matter what style you chose, then why not shoot with vivid, since if somehow you hand the raws to an amater, he'll get contrasty images that he is used to from his pocket camera.
  4. Do presets have hidden data? Canons have Cinestyle and Nikons now have TassinFlat. Is using a preset the same as setting the correct parameters in the camera (on my D7000 I have sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation and hue) or do they have a trick up their sleeve?
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2 Answers 2

First a brief explanation...

A picture style/profile is simply a recipe; it is a means of interpreting the raw data of the sensor. It dictates the tone, contrast, sharpness, brightness, and other ways of interpreting the raw data. When shooting jpeg then these recipes are used in the conversion of the raw to jpeg in camera.

So to answer your questions...

  1. How does it work? Like a recipe. For programs that read the recipe totally (View NX/Capture NX in the case of Nikon) the raw data will be presented with a particular view. This view will look identical to what you would have seen if the camera captured files in jpeg instead of raw (the raw processing of the recipes is the same in camera as in the NX programs). The difference is that if you capture in a raw format you can change your recipe. If you capture in jpeg you can't change your recipe but start altering pixels right away. Other programs, like Adobe Camera Raw/Lightroom have profiles that mimic the camera maker's profiles but they are simply recipes that work on raw files as well.

  2. The only difference it will make is if you use a manufacturer's products versus an alternative. Nikon's NX products read the built in recipe and start there but you can change it to whatever you want (for raw). Other products will not start with the same image but you can usually recreate it if you want to -- or go in a completely different direction. Each program has the potential to display the raw data differently so using different programs can give you different looks for the same raw file. I would recommend only using programs that interpret the raw data identically so you can consistently evaluate your pictures.

  3. Some people do shoot only with vivid. But the high contrast curve isn't necessarily suitable to all subjects. Also the higher saturation isn't usually flattering in portraits. It is similar to shooting with Velvia. But that choice, like others, is in the photographer's vision. But no reason not to use it as a standard picture setting for raw if you like it. Some people use the Landscape profile because it has the saturation of vivid and the contrast of standard.

  4. My understanding is that there is no hidden data. Simply encrypted settings. And those are usually available via a manufacturer-provided SDK. The thing is that other raw converters, for varying reasons, opt not to use the manufacturer SDK in interpreting the raw data.

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  1. You're right. The picture style only affects JPEG development. The main exception is detailed here — cameras usually use these settings for review (which may affect the exposure decisions you make) and for metering (which may affect the exposure decisions the camera makes).
  2. Some RAW converters may use it to set defaults; others will ignore it. Many viewers use the embedded JPEG preview when showing RAW files, and that's generated with the JPEG settings.
  3. Because vivid is usually way too strong and "overcooked". Camera makers have invested a lot of time and money into optimizing the in-camera JPEG engines. If you have a moderately advanced camera, there will be many "knobs" you can tweak in in-camera conversion, and if you take the time to learn your camera's options, you can usually get something which fits your own style and aesthetic better than "vivid" would.
  4. Not exactly any hidden tricks, but usually there's a curves adjustment not represented by those other parameters. In fact, the selection of picture style (or "tone curve") is in some ways the biggest adjustment, with sharpening, contrast, saturation, and the rest being tweaks to that.

And, unfortunately, the exact action of a given tone curve / picture style setting is hidden. I think that the encrypted EXIF info doesn't even describe it completely — that just provides information to the manufacturer's official RAW software so it can know which functions to use, and probably doesn't encode the functions themselves. The exact details are "secret sauce", and provide the "look" that you often hear people going on about, like "Olympus blue-skies!" or "Fujifilm skin tones" (actual examples). That's a sales thing, and therefore jealously guarded, which is sad from a photographer's point of view because it's often difficult to work out exactly what's going on.

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Just one thing to add: the setting will usually affect the embedded thumbnail in the NEF file, so it can have an effect on your library view in, say, Lightroom, where you're likely to do your major triage. If the setting is consistent across the board, no problem, but if you change settings within a shoot, it can adversely affect your candidate choices. –  user2719 Jul 6 '12 at 12:10
    
Actually, by default Lightroom does not use the embedded jpeg. A program like PhotoMechanic does. That's one reason why PM is a popular package for users of NX tools. Also consider that it's VERY easy to specify a default raw conversion profile while importing in Lightroom rendering the whole issue moot. –  nwcs Jul 6 '12 at 12:12

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