Nikon Colour Character

On Cromer Pier
Classic Nikon D300 territory: soft light, cool palette

On a recent trip to Norfolk, I forgot to take a camera battery charger and so after my trusty Nikon D300 ran down I was forced to resort to my vintage (well, 2005) Nikon D50 as backup.

Now, I’ve had the D300 for over a year and still feel I’m coming to terms with it. It’s somehow a serious camera and it turns out serious‑looking images; in particular, when it comes to colour it’s at its best with cooler, softer, almost pastel‑like scenes – which it renders with a painterly subtlety. When it comes to attempting warmth, it seems to me to to veer off course and crash into a citrus palette. As I've written before, it’s possible to do something about this. Yet somehow the original character of the sensor seems to come through.

The D50, in contrast, seems to produce punchier, vidid (and not‑so‑serious images). What you see below is straight out of the camera converted from RAW to JPEG using DxO Optics Pro and DxO user Andy_F’s default settings (check out the forums to find Andy’s excellent work on better colour accuracy from RAW conversions). And so if I’m not imagining all this, in some ways (whisper it) I might even prefer the look I can get from the earlier camera …

Colman's Mustard Traffic
Bam! The Nikon D50 delivering obvious, saturated colours

What Colour are Rose Hips?

I have been using a Nikon D300 now for six months, and one of the characteristics I have had to get to grips with is its default colour handling: out of the camera the colours can be a touch “zingy” to my eyes – in an effort to replicate the classic Fuji Velvia look, the colours processing gives very rich yellows, but this has the side effect of making reds somewhat orangey.

Here is a picture of some rose hips:

Rose Hips #1

In real life to my eye it seemed that the central rose hip had no orangeyness to its red; the upper rose hip had just a touch of orange. But, out-of-the camera, the colour rendition here differs from what I saw: the tints are much more orange.

One solution to this lies in the dark art of RAW conversion. Many photographers roll their eyes at this business – it can require a lot of time farting around with post processing software rather than taking more photos. However, I quite like farting around with software, so am quite happy to experiment.

For RAW conversion I use the fabulous DxO Optics Pro package. This offers a host of options for converting the RAW image into a JPEG, and it has to be said that some of these (such as chromatic aberration fixing) are now finding their ways into camera bodies. However, this software still offers quite a bit more flexibility and, in particular, will fix lens distortion for certain camera/lens bodies which have been analysed.

Another useful feature is the ability to control colour rendering. Want to give your Nikon D300 pictures the look of a Canon 40D? No problem – just specify it.

For Nikon users, a DxO user by the name of Andy_F has developed some RAW conversion presets specifically targeted at correcting the colour conversion of recent Nikon bodies. The result of using one of these to process the original RAW file give this result:

Rose Hips #2

Which is much closer to what I think I saw.

Even better though is Andy_F’s “landscape” preset, which attempts some detail recovery from the image:

Rose Hips #3