D7100 skin tones

Started May 4, 2013 | Discussions thread
MiraShootsNikon Senior Member • Posts: 1,002
The culprit: bad magenta-yellow balance and soft curves

yray wrote:

I had never thought that skin tones would bother me with Nikon cameras, until I got D7000. Now, D7100 came along, and my hope was that given it is a Toshiba sensor and not Sony, perhaps I would see the same or similar tones I was used to in D300 and D700, plus I heard on this forum that D7100 has improved color over D7000. So, I decided to spend a few minutes browsing through flickr looking at D7100 samples. At this time I've concluded that sensor probably has nothing to do with the skin tones, since I really see very little difference between D7000 and D7100 in this department, and frankly, I don't like all the orange I see. To me personally this issue trumps many other complaints I heard about D7100, because I mainly shoot people, not birds, and I think D7100 does rather well with birds as far as color goes. What's more, I'm concerned that these present skin tones will make me buy and re-buy D300 and D700 for as long as the used ones could be found, because this present color palette may stay with Nikon for who knows how long. In any event, please judge for yourself, in all kinds of lighting, random flickr samples:







We see this issue all the time where I shoot.  I'm going to tell you how we handle it, but of course,  YMMV.   We don't believe it's a white balance issue per se; it's just lousy default color rendering that's fairly straightforward to correct.

Obviously, the suggestion that you can't expect decent skin tones if your subject's wearing makeup is not helpful.  Forget Nikon for fashion and glamour if that's true.  Which it's not.

What we think at my studio:

(1) This issue actually started with Nikon's current "Gen 2" Picture controls--meaning, that it's actually present on the D300 and D700 as well, but definitely more of a problem with the D7000 and beyond.   Most of the shooters with whom I work noticed it when Nikon transitioned away from the "D2X" color modes, which many of them dearly loved.  We didn't dislike D300s / D700 skin / D3 skin tones, but we didn't like them as much as the D2X "mode I" processing.  We all hated the D7000's defaults and have disliked most Nikon color defaults ever since.

(2) If you analyze D7000 etc. skin tones from "portrait" or "neutral" Gen. 2 Picture Controls with a CMYK dropper, you'll see that Nikon almost never gets what most commercial printers would consider to be a flattering magenta-yellow balance.   Sometimes, magenta's way off the charts.  Sometimes yellow.   You could desaturate, of course, but the balance is still FUBAR.

(If you're interested to learn how commercial printers often evaluate skin tones in submitted work, start here:

http://help.smugmug.com/customer/portal/articles/93363 )

(3) The "Neutral" and "Portrait" picture controls have really soft RGB contrast curves and +1 or +2 contrast picture controls only twist the very far ends of the histogram--so your midtones stay flat with increasingly muddy blacks and crunched highlights.  So in addition to the poor magenta-yellow balance, you get abnormally flat shadows and often, a hint of goulish grey if you look hard.

Sum: poor magenta-yellow balance + soft midrange tone curves = bad, bad skin tones in any white balance.

How we fix it:

(1) Just ignore Nikon in-camera color defaults and software.  Process with Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom, which will almost always--just on the on the face of it--snap your magenta-yellow balance back in line.  It's one of the big differences between the OEM RAW processing and Adobe's, and it's something you easily test for yourself with photoshop's CMYK dropper.

(2) Avoid Adobe's Nikon camera calibration profiles--they're too good at reproducing Nikon's poor color balance.  Stick with Adobe Standard calibration or, if you have occasion to set your shoot carefully, get a color passport and calibrate specifically for your scene's light with Adobe's free utility.  This isn't painless, but it guarantees the best possible color interpretation.

(3) Use Lightroom's fabulous HSL dropper adjustment tool to quickly spot-shift any tones you still don't like.

(4) OR: try VSCO's *fabulous* film-inspired color calibration profiles.   I'm not entirely sold on VSCO Film's "look," but the ACR camera calibration profiles they offer as a part of their package are *fabulous* for just getting fantastic digital color, especially skin tones.  We especially like the "Kodak Portra 2N" profiles, which gets very close to the old D2X "Mode I".

The Gotchas:

Obviously, you do still need to be sensitive to exposure and white balance.   Meaning, of course, that you need to be careful of mixed light (shady moments on a sunny day, etc).

Everyone here but me loves default Nikon color and software, so there's always the danger you're taking advice from a total know-nothing quack.  But since you've already gone on record that it's not for you, hope you find these suggestions helpful.


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