Before the rush

Before the rush
by evan-pak

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Everybody who is using Lightroom probably has seen this:

You have imported RAW files. Lightroom shows a preview, but contrast and color of the preview change after a few short seconds to a slightly different view.

For some users the change is small, for others the change is huge: colors are different (read: wrong), contrast is off.

Rumor says this is happening only (more?) for Nikon users.

What is Lightroom doing here?

I'd guess as first preview LR is showing the JPG preview file, which is embedded in the RAW file, then LR renders the RAW file itself and is showing it's own interpretation.

But why is this interpretation so different to the embedded JPG?

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I have always wondered this too. It's so frustrating to see Lightroom seemingly change an otherwise 'good' photo to be all wrong! I then have to spend time trying to work out what changed to get it back to looking how it did whilst previewing! :) – Mike Dec 13 '11 at 10:59
up vote 20 down vote accepted

You're right in your conclusion that Lightroom is initially showing you the embedded jpeg. However, Adobe isn't privy to how the camera manufacturers process their jpegs in-camera, so Lightroom is never going to be able to produce thumbnails/previews/images that match the jpegs SOOC.

I'd suggest that the main issue is whether you are happy with your ability to use Lightroom to produce images in post-processing that you are happy with. If you are, then I (along with countless others) don't think it really matters whether Lightroom's interpretation is the same as the jpegs that came out of the camera.

In other words, there is no "right" or "correct" image from your camera, just whether or not you find the results visually pleasing.

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Is there a way to make LR not show the embedded jpg, so the result would not be this surprising? – Sam Oct 1 '10 at 8:20
you can use PreviewExtractor which extracts the embedded jpg's out of the NEF, and store it next to NEF. The embedded jpg's lack exif so I'm not sure if Lightroom will see them next to each other, but in theory it should. – Davy Landman Oct 2 '10 at 10:10
Davy, I want to get rid of the embedded jpg, to not show it, how would extracting a copy to an additional file would help this?? – Sam Oct 3 '10 at 10:49
@Sam, don't think you can get LR NOT to show the embedded jpeg initially. Personally, I just tell LR to start importing (and additionally generate 1:1 previews) and go and make a coffee. By the time I come back, it's usually generated it's own previews, so I never really see the embedded ones myself. – Conor Boyd Oct 3 '10 at 20:00

This often depends on how you originally import. Most RAW files include a JPEG preview image embedded in them. You have a variety of thumbnail options when importing, including 'Embedded & Sidecar'. The JPEG preview will often look different than the unprocessed RAW file, and when using 'Embedded' thumbnail processing, the embedded JPEG thumbnail will be used as the initial thumbnail image. When you select an image, a true preview is regenerated from the RAW data, and that will usually look different as it is unprocessed data.

There is also the 'Standard' thumbnail generation option (as well as 'Full'), which will basically use the embedded or sidecar thumbnail first, then as part of the import process, automatically generate new thumbnails based on the RAW data. You will see your thumbnails change as the import process progresses, as thumbnail generation is slightly lazy compared to the initial import.

The difference should be expected in most cases. Camera JPEG generation usually applies some processing based on a selected tone curve, and obviously does some compression. Between the processing and the lossy compression, the appearance of JPEG thumbnails will generally look different than unprocessed RAW images. Nikon cameras may be "more affected" by this simply because of the kind of processing and tone curves they apply to their JPEG thumbnails. Technically speaking, a JPEG is not an accurate representation of what your camera actually captured....where as RAW would be.

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Even Adobe mentions that their import options allow previews to be generated based on "the smallest previews embedded in the photos". This is the JPEG image you see on the back of your camera. Connor is correct. There is a lot more information in a RAW/NEF image than just sensor data. The preview JPEG is just one of them.

To the OP's problem though, you can prevent this by selecting the "standard" option on the render previews pull-down. The trade-off is your import time will increase.

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The image in the preview comes from an embedded JPEG inside the raw file which was generated by the camera, while the image you see when you open the raw file in Lightroom is generated by Lightroom based on the raw data itself.

The raw image data is captured from the camera at a point before the contrast and color settings are applied by the camera, so any difference in appearance will be from differences in the way the camera, and Lightroom, decided to render the color and contrast.

Every manufacturer's cameras come with embedded color profiles and contrast curves which dictate how colors and contrast should look when transferring from the raw image data into a full color image, as is done when the camera generates its own JPEG image or the embedded JPEG inside a raw file. These color profiles have subtle differences between manufacturers, for example some of them emphasising skin tones or blue colors, and others taking a more "natural" approach vs wanting their own characteristic "look". Even the "normal" contrast setting can vary between camera manufacturers.

When using third-party raw editors to generate an image from the same raw data, that third-party raw editor probably won't use exactly the same color profile and contrast curve as your camera. It also won't necessarily honor the same contrast curve (or contrast setting) that you selected in-camera. Thus, the image will look different: brighter, darker, less or more contrasty.

If you use raw editing software by the same manufacturer as your camera, you may be able to use the same color and contrast settings that are baked into your camera, ensuring a good result. However, just because something looks "the same as in camera" doesn't mean it looks better - ultimately, a raw editor will give you greater control over color and contrast than your camera's built-in settings will, resulting in greater scope to modify the final product.

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