Santa was good to me this year, y’all. I have a brand new Canon 5D Mrk IV! 61 focus points, 30 (!) megapixels, and 4K video! So, like any good photographer, I pulled out a tripod as soon as I could and set up a test to compare the new camera to my trusty 6D.
Imagine my surprise when the first photo from the 5DIV that I loaded into Lightroom looked like this when I zoomed in:
Uhhhhh. Look how soft the words on the books are. Look how dingy the colors are.
I took the same photo with the same exact settings (f/3.2, 1/60, ISO 2000) on my 6D. The only edit I made to the photos below was to equalize the white balance. The 6D photo is brighter, but what really concerned me was the soft detail and dull colors in the 5D IV as compared to the 6D.
And I panicked. The last thing I wanted to do was return my beautiful new camera and lose out on valuable time playing with it. So I set up a more scientific experiment.
Sure enough, I saw the same results. My settings were the same between cameras again (f/4, 1/200, ISO 2000). I focused on the same point in the color checker in each photo. The 5D Mark IV colors are washed out and its details are noticeably softer. (Look at the hatch marks going down the side of the color checker!)
(By the way, the 5DIV’s photos are about 33% larger than the 6D’s. To compare them both in the same file, I used free transform in Photoshop (Cmd or Control T) to make the 5DIV’s files the same size as the 6D’s. This means that the 5D photos have more pixels in a smaller space than the 6Ds and should be more clear!)
To continue my troubleshooting, I opened the photo in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional. This is the software that comes on that CD that most people ignore when they open their new camera boxes. One thing I like about DPP is that it has this awesome tool that shows you where on your photo the camera achieved focus. I thought this might provide good evidence about why focus was soft on these photos.
But y’all. Look at the very same stinking photos in DPP. The 5D Mark IV’s color is perfect. The photo is tack sharp. And look how much more clear the 5D Mark IV photo is compared to the 6D. THAT’S what I was expecting to see all along! (Now, the 6D is a great camera and I have loved it for the last few years. But I did want to see an improvement – why else would I have bought the new one?!)
Phew. But WTH?
Something in Lightroom was causing the 5D Mark IV photos to be soft and dull.
What Are Lightroom Profiles?
Let’s take a step back. When you shoot JPGs on camera, the camera edits your photos. It adds sharpening, color saturation, and contrast. Raw photos, on the other hand, are unprocessed. None of those edits are applied to Raw photos. So, if you look at Raw images on your computer (not in Raw processing software), you’ll see a photo that looks soft and dull. Sounds familiar, right?
When you open your photo in a Raw processor, like Digital Photo Professional or Lightroom, that software automatically applies edits to your Raw files to make them look less Raw and more JPG like.
The software that comes with your camera, DPP in my case, is arguably the best place to process your Raw photos. Each Raw file is composed in a different language, and those languages, like all digital info, is made up of nothing but 0s and 1s. Canon’s Raw files are different from Nikon’s, and the Canon 5D Mark IV’s Raws are in a different language than the 6D’s Raws.
Canon’s DPP knows exactly the language that will convert the 5DIVs files from 0s and 1s to a colorful and sharp photo. Lightroom, on the other hand, knows the language well, but not perfectly.
Lightroom does, however, give us a series of profiles to choose from so that we have some control over its Raw processing. Here’s what I learned about Lightroom profiles and the 5D Mark IV after all this troubleshooting:
Lightroom’s Adobe Standard profile does not work with Canon 5D Mark IV Raw files.
Normally, I do all my editing on my desktop. But when I got my new camera, I was restoring a hard drive on my desktop (which is a nightmare of a story that I will write about later. Thank God for a robust backup system!) The default editing profile was set to Adobe Standard on my laptop. (On my desktop, I use Camera Standard or Adobe Color).
The problems with my image were solely due to the Adobe Standard profile and its interaction with the Canon 5D Mark IV.
You can read all about Lightroom profiles in this article I wrote when Adobe released an update for Lightroom that included a serious change to their profiles. But for a quick overview of how to apply and change profiles to your image, keep reading.
First, you’ll navigate to the Profile section of the Develop panel. It’s at the top of the Basic panel.
Click on the drop-down menu to see some basic options. And then click on Browse to see ALL the options. (Note: I sometimes have to click this drop-down menu twice in order to make the Browse option appear.)
You can click on the Category name to expand it and see its profile options. Many options are clean (color saturation, contrast, and sharpening only), but others are more creative. Starting with a Clean profile (in the Adobe Standard and Camera Matching sections) is the best way to ensure your photo has accurate colors and contrast.
If you haven’t done this yet, experiment with a variety of profiles on several photos. Choose the profile that you like best and set it as your profile.
EDIT 02/19/20: At the same time I was writing this tutorial, Adobe was releasing Lightroom Classic version 9.2, which updated the way to set your default profile. How’s that for timing? The new method follows, and below that, I show you the method for older versions of Lightroom.
Let’s talk about JPG picture styles for a minute. On your camera, you can choose how you want your JPGs processed. On my Canon 5D Mark IV, this feature is called “Picture Styles” and my options are Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Fine Detail, Neutral, Faithful, Monochrome, and User Defined. (This feature name and your options will vary depending on the type of camera you have.) I can adjust Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation, and various other settings for those styles. Here is a sample selection of photos taken with various styles:
You might be thinking that you are a Raw shooter and that these JPG styles have nothing to do with you. But you would be wrong! The preview of the photo that you see on the back of your camera after you shoot is a JPG. So, when you are deciding whether you’ve taken the right photo, you are looking at an image that has sharpening, contrast, and saturation applied. But the image in Lightroom looks duller than what you saw on the back of your camera.
To make your images look more like what you see on camera by default, this update allows you to program Lightroom to assign the profile to your photo that corresponds to the picture style set on your camera when you took the photo. So, if you shot one photo with Standard selected and another with Landscape, each will reflect the corresponding profile after import into Lightroom.
Go to your Lightroom Preferences (Lightroom menu on Mac and Edit menu on PC) and select Presets. From the Master dropdown menu, you can select Adobe Default, Camera Settings, or Presets. My setting is below. The best way to make this choice is to experiment with a wide range of photos on the various settings. I’d avoid selecting a Preset, however, unless you really know what you are doing. You can always apply the preset after import.
You could also use this menu to assign different options to different cameras. You might want the Adobe default for one camera and the camera settings for another. After assigning this setting, you can always change the profile after importing your photos.
And remember – you are not converting your photo to a JPG. You will still be able to adjust highlights, white balance, and all the other settings that provide better results on a Raw photo.
For versions of Lightroom Classic prior to 9.2, apply the profile as described above to any image. Still in the Develop module, go to the Develop menu and select Set Default Settings. And then click Update to Current Settings.
Note that if you shoot JPG, you can apply some, but not all of these profiles to your JPG photos.
How to Use Lightroom’s Raw Profiles
There are a few things you should think about before choosing a default profile for your Raw photos.
First off, Lightroom profiles are not meant to be a substitute for editing. They are meant to make your Raw photo look less Raw. They should make your Raw photo look more like the JPG you see on your camera display when you take the photo. (Didn’t know that your camera shows you a JPG on its LCD even when shooting Raw? Read about it here.)
And I can hear some of you asking why you should shoot Raw in the first place if you’re just going to make that file look more like a JPG. See why in this dramatic example.
Lightroom profiles should give your photos a good starting point for your more detailed edits. Look for the profile that gives your image a crisp and clean (rather than dull and dingy) starting point. And remember that you can and probably should tweak some of the following after applying the profile: exposure, white balance, contrast, and sharpening.
Another thing you should know is that Lightroom profiles are not the same as Presets. Presets are a memorized series of edits that you can apply with one click. After you apply a preset, you can go back and tweak the individual settings that the preset applied so that it suits your photo. You can’t, on the other hand, tweak Profiles.
You can’t tweak them, that is, unless you select one of the Creative Profiles. In that case, Lightroom gives you a slider you can use to adjust its intensity:
These creative profiles are more like filters you’d apply on Instagram. They are designed for people who want quick and impactful edits with minimal control over the details.
What’s the Best Profile for the Canon 5D Mark IV?
I’ll tell you what’s NOT the best Lightroom profile for the Canon 5D Mark IV! It’s the Adobe Camera Standard profile. Adobe Color is OK, but I like the Camera Matching Standard the best. It is the closest to DPP’s Raw conversion.
So, the moral to the story is that, when you get a new camera and shoot on Raw, put some serious thought into which Lightroom profile you use as your default. I’d suggest loading a few photos into the software that came with your camera to see how they compare to Lightroom’s profiles, and then choose the one that gives you the best starting point for your images.
Also, make sure your Lightroom software is up to date. Adobe improves its Raw processing engine from time to time and you want to make sure you have the best one possible.
Which profile works best for your photos? Are you happy with it? Post its name in the comments below.