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Modified 16-May-11
Created 15-May-11
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This is a series of tests comparing the "standard" camera profiles provided by Adobe against a custom profile that I built with the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport for my Nikon D700. I used two photos: a parade scene with brightly colored costumes and a high-contrast shot of a weathered tree stump. Each photo was processed in Adobe Camera Raw with four profiles: the custom profile generated by ColorChecker Passport software, Adobe Standard, Camera Standard, and a beta version of Camera Standard from Eric Chan of Adobe. For each photo, the four variants were processed with the same settings in ACR. The only settings that changed were the selected profile (that's what I was testing), and the exposure adjustment. I made small adjustments to exposure to equalize the midtone neutrals at around 130 RGB.

Notes on viewing the tests:
The image files are saved in AdobeRGB. You will not see the same colors that I am seeing unless you are using a color-managed browser and a calibrated wide gamut monitor. I use an NEC PA271W, which displays almost all of the AdobeRGB gamut. If you have a calibrated sRGB monitor you will see most of the effects that I am seeing, but a few of the wilder colors will be missing. Even if you have the right hardware and software, some of the profile effects are quite subtle. To get the best view, dim your room lights, make your browser window as large as possible, and use the keyboard arrow keys to quickly switch between images.

My interpretation:
Most of the profile effects that I see are in the rendering of saturated reds and blues. There seems to be less difference in the way that these profiles render greens. The profile built by the ColorChecker Passport software seems to use a tone curve similar to that in Adobe Standard. When I switch between Adobe Standard and the custom profile, I see some subtle and not-so-subtle color changes, but no change in overall contrast. When I compare the custom profile to the Camera Standard profiles, I do see changes in the tone curve. That is not surprising, since Adobe optimizes the Camera Standard profiles for specific camera models. I would like to know if there is a way to modify or change the curve in the ColorChecker custom profiles. The only way I know how to do that is by including it in a preset with other adjustments in ACR.

Limitations of this test:
The custom profile was built from a photo of the Passport target in open shade on a bright sunny day. I did not shoot the target at the sites of the two test photos. The Adobe profiles are dual-illuminant. My custom profile is not. The custom profile was made at ISO 200 with my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. The parade shot was made at ISO 400 with the 24-70, and the stump was shot at ISO 200 with a 14-24mm f/2.8. Of course, the main thing to keep in mind is that these simple tests may not predict much about what results you will get from a profile built for your camera. But these results might give you a sense of what kinds of changes to expect when switching profiles. I did not include Adobe's other canned profiles in my tests, because their tone curves and color renditions are very different from the "standard" profiles.

I have not yet done much work with the custom profiles, but from what I have seen so far, it appears that the most benefit is obtained from profiles built for locations with unusual lighting or a mix of different sources. I am curious to know whether dual-illuminant profiles will continue to be useful as incandescents are phased out and replaced by sources with a wide variety of spectral shapes (fluorescent, LED, etc.).
Adobe StandardColorChecker PassportCamera StandardCamera Standard v3Adobe StandardColorChecker PassportCamera StandardCamera Standard v3