Is there a difference between white balance adjustments with the camera (pre processing) and white balance adjustments by software in post processing?

Would I be ok assuming that I can simply use auto white balance and then adjust the white balance later with an image software?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate of Will I lose image quality by adjusting white balance in post processing? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jan 5, 2017 at 23:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you saving raw data or JPEG files? The answers are 180° apart depending on which it is. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Jan 6, 2017 at 0:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ I save both file formats jpg and raw. Thank you guys for taking time to help me out. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ely
    Jan 6, 2017 at 4:44

2 Answers 2


No. Results are not exactly the same because the camera can work at a higher bit-depth prior to doing the conversion to image color-space. It also operates on linear values rather than gamma ones. Once you have an image you have to do your WB processing using the precision of the image. Even if you could work at the same precision, you would be accumulating errors by doing the transform twice, as if you were undoing Auto WB and then applying the correct one.

Alternately, you can instruct your camera to output a RAW file which you convert into an image. In this case you can work on the same data as the camera can. Still, it is extremely difficult to come out with the same results. You can shoot JPEG+RAW and then try to produce the same output as the JPEG from the RAW to see how difficult it is to achieve exactly the same output.


I agree with Itai's first paragraph, 8 bit JPG does make it difficult to do the shifts that may be needed for White Balance. Minor corrections can work well.

And I agree with using raw too, but raw makes it easy, not hard. I would word it differently, that Raw is the better way. It is a philosophy, but that's why users shoot raw.

The problem in the camera is that with the possible exception of direct sun light (which is more constant and consistent), we never know what the lights color temperature is. We know a ballpark for incandescent or shade or flash, etc, but that can be many colors, and we never know a correct number. For example, flash color varies with flash power level, and there's no way to know that. Even if we did know, the camera has pretty crude settings, one setting for flash or incandescent or shade.

But I shoot raw, and have the benefit I can totally ignore white balance in the camera (OK, camera white balance does influence the cameras rear LCD preview, but it does not affect the raw file - and I have no reason to care about the rear LCD previews corrections). Then in raw, we have the benefit that we actually SEE the image, to KNOW what we're doing. We see what it needs, and we can see and know if our result is good or not. If not, we select settings that do make it look good (after we can see it and KNOW what we're doing). And there are easy tools (white balance cards) that we can include in a test shot at the scene, and then simply click it to correctly set proper white balance, like on all of the sessions images in that same light. Could not be better, or easier.

Visual differences (than when set in the camera) will be due to selecting a different white balance, and a different color profile (like Vivid) in the camera. That's why we do Raw, to make be be better than the camera can do it. We can select those same default settings in Raw too, and judge AFTER we can see what we're doing. That is the point of raw, to SEE WHAT WE'RE DOING. Differences are A GOOD THING, because the camera choices are unlikely to be precisely correct, which is why you are asking the question. Raw is the tool that makes it be good, and easy, and fast.

So we do have to choose the settings at some time, but the difference is:

We can set the settings in the camera, by hoping we know how and what, which we can't know and it's just wishful thinking. We can't possibly know the right answer yet, we're just guessing, and hoping. But direct sunlight is not too hard though.

Or we can wait to see the final raw image, and try the same default settings (like Incandescent or Shade) as a starting point, but still set the settings that we can SEE that makes it look best. We also have more tools there to make it be precisely correct (or as desired).

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the other answer is saying it is hard to perfectly match the WB applied to a JPEG by the camera when using raw and setting the WB in post-processing. This is especially the case if one is using a third party raw developing application, such as Lr, Aperture, Capture1, etc. rather than the manufacturer's own raw developing application such as Digital Photo Professional or Capture NX. It is easier to adjust the WB, because there is no WB in the raw data, after the fact. But it isn't easy to exactly match the camera's WB applied to the JPEG. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Jan 6, 2017 at 0:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I almost always shoot raw. But there are times I shoot raw+jpeg due to tight turnaround time issues. When I shoot sports, for instance, under the same lights in the same venue that I have shot in many times before it's pretty easy to dial in the exact same WB settings I use when developing raw from that stadium (4200k, +2B, +1G). The only thing I can't dial in easily in camera are HSL adjustments. But HSL adjustments in most applications are applied following the conversion to a raster image format, so they can be applied to jpegs as well, just not in-camera (unless you make a custom PS.) \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Jan 6, 2017 at 0:48

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