How to set Raw Defaults

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: 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: 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:

  1. Previously set defaults are not carried over to the new system
  2. There is no UI support for ISO-dependent settings
  3. Settings for ISO values for which no defaults are defined will be interpolated

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.

  • If you only need ISO-independent settings (nothing that depends on a specific ISO value), go through parts 1 and 3.
  • If you only need ISO-dependent settings (e.g. only noise reduction settings), go through parts 2 and 3.
  • If you need both, go through all 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.

  • Open Lightroom in the Develop module. Best is to work from a newly imported image, i.e. with an empty History.
  • Carefully set the sliders, checkboxes etc. in the adjustment panels to the values you want for your raw files. Don’t touch any ISO-dependent adjustment yet! See figure 3 for our lens correction settings.
  • Now on the left sidebar, click the ‘+’ next to the Presets tab. From the menu, choose the option “Create preset…”.
    • 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

    • Add it to the group “User Presets” or create a new group that you should then give a meaningful name as well.
    • Check whatever settings you want to include in the preset and press “Create”.
    • Open the tab Presets; the new preset should appear in the list, in the group that you chose.
    • If you need different presets for your camera models, repeat the steps for each.

    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.

    • Still in the Lightroom Develop module, open the Presets tab and scroll to the Preset(s) you created in part 1. On each, click the right mouse button and hit Export. See figure 5.
    • Navigate to a folder of your liking and enter a suitable File name (I strongly recommend to accept Lightroom’s suggestion). The extension of the file is “xmp”. Memorize your choices. Hit Save.

    Figure 5. Export the newly created preset.

    The following steps must be executed anyway, regardless of whether you went through part 1 or not.

    • Open the following web page:
    • Just below the middle, there is a section headed “Set raw defaults specific to ISO values”. Somewhat further, there is a numbered instruction. Item 1 contains another link called “ISO-dependent preset examples”: click that.
    • You arrive at a different section of the same page. It describes two examples, each with its own example file. You best pick #2 (called “ISO-dependent preset 2”) as it’s the most extensive. So: click the “Get file” button under the heading “Example 2”.

    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:

    • Open both the exported XMP file from part 1 and your personal copy of Adobe’s example XMP file in a text editor. (Notepad will do, but feel free to choose your own favorite.)
    • In the first file, seach the lines containing the ISO-independent settings that you had configured in part 1. Copy / paste them into the upper block of the second file.
    • Close the first file. We no longer need it.

    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.

    • Open your personal copy of Adobe’s example XMP file for editing and move to the second major block. The example file contains, apart from the predictable ISO reduction values, a number of extra settings for higher ISO values. Feel free to remove them, update their values or add your own items to your liking.
    • The good news is that ISO values are interpolated (as promised) and also extrapolated. The example file sets both color and luminance noise reduction to 0 for ISO 400. This expands to any value lower than 400. Similarly, the highest configured ISO value in the example file is 6400, so the corresponding settings will also be used for all ISO values higher.
    • A special tag is reserved for the preset name. Look for this block:

          <rdf:li xml:lang="x-default">Sample ISO Dependent 2</rdf:li>

      Update the name "Sample ISO Dependent 2" by your own name, corresponding to the chosen file name.
    • Save the file when you’re finished. Like before, if you need different presets for your camera models, repeat the steps for each. See figure 7 for my own settings.

    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.

    • Switch to the Develop module of Lightroom and click the ‘+’ next to the Presets tab in the left frame. Click “Import Presets…”.
    • In the popup that follows, navigate to the just created XMP file. Click its name and it’s loaded.

    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.

    • From the main menu, choose Edit – Preferences… and click the tab “Presets”.
    • Make sure the “Use defaults specific to camera model” box is unchecked.
    • From the Master drop-down, click Presets – User Presets and select the preset you had prepared before. See figure 9.
    • Click OK and that’s it. No need to restart Lightroom.

    Figure 9. Established one master raw default preset.

    If you do want camera-specific presets, the procedure is slightly more complex.

    • From the main menu, choose Edit – Preferences… and click the tab “Presets”.
    • Check the “Use defaults specific to camera model” box.

    As soon as you’ve done this, the second frame from the top becomes available.

    • Choose a camera model from the Camera drop-down. (You can even choose a serial number if you have multiple cameras of the same model.)
    • Choose the preset you want to apply for this camera model and/or serial number from the Default drop-down. (Presets – User Presets – and pick the right one.)

    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:

    • Import a Nikon D750 raw file, and the Nikon-specific preset is applied (not the master).
    • Import a Sony ILCA-99M2 raw file, and the Sony-specific preset is applied (not the master).
    • Import a raw file from any other camera, and the master preset is applied (not any of the others).


    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

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