Most photographers know DNG (Digital Negative Format) as a non-proprietary camera raw file format which contains a great number of workflow and photo-archiving benefits. The latest versions of the DNG format (Versions 1.2 and 1.3) help give photographers the ability to fine-tune their workflow through DNG profiles.
DNG profiles allow you to customize the default behavior in Adobe Camera Raw, which is the only Camera Raw software currently supporting DNG Profiles. By adding DNG Profiles to your regular workflow, you can significantly improve the accuracy of the default appearance of camera raw photos of all types (DNG, CR2, NEF, ORF, etc.), minimizing the amount of manual adjustment you need to perform before delivering files to clients. Using DNG profiles is a simple, cost-effective means of boosting your post-processing efficiency.
Currently there are two applications available for creating DNG Profiles, the DNG Profile Editor from Adobe and the new Color Checker Passport from X-Rite. Both software applications are free, but require the use of a 24-patch Color Checker target from X-Rite.
The full Color Checker Passport Kit contains the Color Checker Passport software and a specialized color checker target (not tested) for use in the field.
For the purposes of this review, I tested X-Rite’s Color Checker Passport software against Adobe’s DNG Profile Editor software to build a profile from a single-illuminant target. A Web gallery comparing photos taken with the Olympus E-P1 and the E-620 with the default rendering in Lightroom 2 with the results from using the DNG Profile Editor’s Profiles and the Color Checker Passport’s profiles. The results can be found here.
Both applications are very easy to use. Simply photograph a standard 24-patch color checker target in your camera’s raw mode. Be sure the target is evenly illuminated and the target is upright (gray patches on the bottom). Using the DNG Converter, Adobe Lightroom 2 or Photoshop CS3 or CS4 (Adobe Camera Raw 4.5 or later), convert your raw file to a DNG. Both applications allow you to photograph the target a second time, under a different light source to improve the profile’s accuracy in varied lighting conditions. Adobe recommends using 5000K (daylight) and 2850 (incandescent) light sources. X-Rite recommends 5000K for the primary light source and allows you to use any light source for the second target.
Open the resulting DNG file (or files) into either software application and follow the simple directions to create the DNG Profile. Adobe’s DNG Profile Editor allows you to perform custom edits to affect the appearance of specific colors. This is most useful for photographers needing to match specific logo, clothing or product colors, or wishing to achieve a certain “look” with their skin tones, blue skies, etc.
The resulting DNG profile (with the .dcp extension) is exported from the software and becomes available in the Camera Calibration tab in both Photoshop and Lightroom after restarting the application.
After testing the custom DNG profiles on several images using four different Olympus cameras (E-3, E-520, E-620, E-P1) I’ve found the DNG profiles create significantly more accurate color from Lightroom and Photoshop. There are slight differences between the profiles created from the DNG Profile editor and X-Rite Color Checker Passport software. The Color Checker Passport’s profiles are slightly more saturated than the DNG Profile Editor’s, though both show a marked improvement over the default rendering with Olympus cameras.
Given the ease with which the DNG profiles can be created, it is worth spending the time to test the custom DNG profiles against the Adobe Standard renderings. I’ve found both applications to deliver significant improvements over the default settings in Adobe Camera Raw.
Notes About the test
The color checker targets were photographed in indirect north-facing daylight. After reviewing the samples, the original test targets are a little underexposed which may negatively impact profile quality. A second round of testing will be necessary to see whether a change in exposure or illumination yields significantly different results.