Lightroom and Camera Raw default raw import settings
Of profiles, presets and procedures
Back when I wrote about what my recommendations are for sharpening during the raw phase – in November 2016 – I included a small tutorial explaining how to disable automatic sharpening in both Lightroom and Camera Raw. In fact, this tutorial can serve as guidance to add or override any default settings at raw import. The article can be found here: https://geraldbakker.nl/PPWF/raw-sharpening.html and the explanation comes in the bottom section headed “The tutorials”.
What you just started reading here is a full new article about this subject. My motivation to write this is the fact that Adobe decided to change the procedure. Starting Lightroom 9.2 and Camera Raw 12.2 (both from Feb. 2020) the existing way of configuring custom raw defaults no longer works. Even worse, whatever effort you had spent fine-tuning your raw profiles turns out, well, useless. Upgrade to the above-mentioned versions, and your old presets simply cease to work. Adobe doesn’t do any automatic conversion, and the products themselves do not contain a button to do it for you. It’s a simple matter of learning the new way of working and starting over again.
I myself (not patient enough to read the release notes of every installed software) found out the hard way. After a full-afternoon shoot, I came back with 88 photos. Somewhere during the processing, I noticed that settings were wrong. All images sharpened at 40 (the old default was 25, which I had deliberately changed to 0). All set to Noise Reduction 0 for Luminosity and 25 for Color. And no lens profile applied.
Trying to fix the plumbing
For a moment I thought it was my camera, having failed to write the proper EXIF information. But no, it was Adobe. For a bunch of reasons, it took some weeks before I took the time to find out how to fix the problem. I considered my findings interesting and important enough to write a full new article about it.
What Adobe says
First of all, I found this blog fully dedicated to the subject: https://blogs.adobe.com/jkost/2020/02/how-to-customize-lightroom-classics-default-develop-settings-v9.html. The author is Julieanne Kost, who seems to write on behalf of Adobe. She judges the new procedure “much easier and more intuitive” (first sentence of the article). Indeed, what she describes is straightforward and clear. Go ahead, read it and follow her instructions if you want. But there is a snag, hidden away in a note, written in italics at the bottom of the page, as if it’s a minor and unimportant detail (figure 1).
Figure 1. The referred note from Julieanne Kost's blog
This note contains three very relevant remarks:
Of these, only #3 is an improvement. But to benefit from it, one first has to figure out the implications of #2. And #1 is just plain bad service of Adobe to their customers.
But no, it’s not my aim to reproach Adobe. Kost’s blog article tries to fill the gap that has emerged from issue #1. “We do not migrate your existing presets to the new system, but here we explain how to regenerate them from scratch.” Fair enough then: let’s see how.
Standard or non-standard, that’s the question
Actually, there appears to be not just one way to configure raw defaults, but two. There is a “standard” procedure, embedded in the user interface. And there is a “non-standard” procedure, doing things by means of a text editor. Whether you need one or the other turns out to be, well, a pretty crucial question.
The “standard” procedure is indeed reasonably intuitive. I will explain it later in this article. But this standard procedure does not support ISO-dependent settings. For me, that’s a showstopper. I do much photography indoor without flash or tripod, meaning I often increase ISO to 1600 or even higher. It’s very convenient to make the raw processor apply some suitable noise reduction at image import – different amounts for different ISO settings. Having to do that manually for each photo, no thanks.
But at the same time, some settings can be applied to every photo, regardless of ISO setting. I prefer to switch off sharpening during the raw phase. This is different from the default, so I need a preset for it. Figure 2 shows the deviation between Lightroom's choices and my own preferences on the Detail tab. (This is for a 1600-ISO image.)
Figure 2. Left: Lightroom's defaults for the Detail tab. Right: what I prefer them to be.
Furthermore, I want every photo to be corrected for chromatic aberration and distortion/vignetting. Taking all these things together, I need a combination of ISO-independent and ISO-dependent processing, right? How to do that? I searched the available Adobe documentation, but was unable to find an answer to this question.
So I had to find my own way, and I did. Below steps are what I consider the easiest way to get things done. The full procedure is divided in three parts.
The goal of parts 1 and 2 is to create one or more presets. Part 3 explains how to establish these presets as raw defaults. Note that in each part, there is another choice to be made, namely whether settings are camera-dependent or universal. I will mention this when needed.
Along the way, I illustrate the explanations with an example scenario where the ISO-independent settings are Remove Chromatic Aberration and Enable Profile Corrections and the ISO-dependent settings are Luminance Noise Reduction and Color Noise Reduction.
Part 1: Creating ISO-independent presets
It’s now time to start what this article is supposed to be: a tutorial. In the unlikely case that all your raw default settings are ISO-dependent, you can move directly to part 2.
On the popup that appears (figure 4), give your preset a meaningful name. If it applies to just one camera model (and you’ll be preparing other presets for different models), make sure to include that in the name somehow.
Figure 3. Lens correction defaults
Figure 4. The Create Preset popup
This finishes part 1 of the procedure.
(Note that a preset is not just useful for automatic raw imports. You can create a preset for any combination of settings and apply it on any photograph by just clicking on it from the Presets panel. Just for fun, open the Lightroom Presets group and click through what Lightroom provides for free.)
I now move to the second part, which you can skip if you don’t have any ISO-dependent settings to process.
Part 2: Creating ISO-dependent presets
This is the hardest part of the tutorial. First, if you have just created an ISO-dependent preset, you have to export it (first two steps below). Later in the process we will merge that export with an ISO-dependent block of settings later. Otherwise, you can skip the first two steps.
Figure 5. Export the newly created preset.
The following steps must be executed anyway, regardless of whether you went through part 1 or not.
What you get is a zip file (note where it is stored). Unzip it and you'll get a file called sample_iso_dependent2.xmp. Best is to copy this file and give it a personal name, like Gerald_iso_dependent.xmp or something similar. If you need different presets for your camera models, create one copy for each, and make sure to include the camera model in the file name or you’ll definitely lose overview of the process.
This file contains two major blocks. One is a list of items preceded by crs: with their respective values. The other is a set of sub-blocks, headed crs:ISODependent, each providing a small list of settings associated with a certain ISO value. The first block is supposed to contain the ISO-independent settings. The second block the ISO-dependent settings. See figure 6. We now have to merge the exported preset(s) of step 1 with the newly downloaded example file.
Figure 6. Example file first block (left) and second, ISO-dependent block (right)
If you had gone through part 1 of the procedure, now it's time to perform the merge:
In my example, the two lines that need to be copied are:
Another example would be, if you had set a different value for Sharpness amount – let’s say, 20 – there should be a string crs:Sharpness="20" in your exported XML file – in that case, you'd have to overwrite the existing default value of "40".
To finish part 2 of the tutorial, we have to configure the ISO-dependent settings in the XMP file.
<rdf:li xml:lang="x-default">Sample ISO Dependent 2</rdf:li>
Figure 7. Example ISO-dependent settings
Of course, having a file ready on your harddisk is not enough. It must be loaded as Preset into Lightroom.
Obviously, if you need different presets for your camera models, repeat the import for each.
Interlude: A quirk
While going through this part, I noticed another quirk in Lightroom that can drive you crazy if you don’t understand what’s going on.
Let’s assume you have followed the above and set your just loaded Preset as raw default (how to do that is explained in Part 3 below). Of course you want to test your work and import a few raw files – only to find out that one of the configured settings was not correctly specified. Well, no worries: just update the XMP file, re-import and all should be fine. Right?
Not quite. Re-import an XMP file where the difference with the previous version is a different value of one element, and Lightroom tells the user that it’s “Unable to import presets” because “All items were already imported.” (See figure 8.) The popup containing this information is labeled Warning but in fact it’s handled as an Error because the updated setting is not processed.
Figure 8. Unjust warning
The way to circumvent this problem is to open the list of Presets, search the one you are about to re-import, click on it with the right mouse button and select Delete. Hit Delete again to confirm. Now you can re-import your XMP file with the corrected setting.
Part 3: Setting the presets as raw defaults
What’s left is the easy part: set your newly created Preset(s) as Raw Default(s). First, the case where you don’t want camera-specific presets.
Figure 9. Established one master raw default preset.
If you do want camera-specific presets, the procedure is slightly more complex.
As soon as you’ve done this, the second frame from the top becomes available.
Click the Create Default button. (If a preset for this camera is already active, the button is called Update Default.) The new default is added to the list on the right.
Figure 10. Established one master and two camera-specific raw default presets.
So far, so good. Now have a look at the resulting Preferences pop-up (figure 10). There is one master preset, and two camera-specific presets. This is how Lightroom handles this situation:
Now wouldn’t you agree that the full procedure is cumbersome to say the least? Comparing the above with the instructions that I wrote some years ago, I’d say the new system isn't easier or more intuitive at all. However, if I am making things overly complex and simpler ways are possible to accomplish the same, please let me know.
Gerald Bakker, 13 April 2020
Tutorials and Actions