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Nikon Picture Control Doesn't Provide the Best Control

To hear Nikon tell it, "Picture Control allows photographers to fine-tune color, exposure, and other settings to ... better express their artistic and creative vision." But you can achieve far greater control through other means. Don't fall for the hype.

Most cameras provide at least some means to control saturation and other color settings, Many also support in-camera sharpening, and offer other settings that affect the appearance of the images you shoot. Early versions of Nikon digital bodies grouped these under the "Optimize Image" menu, much as other camera makers do with similar user settings. Move one slider to make future images more saturated, adjust another to change the tint or sharpness. You get the idea. Early digital shooters loved this as it gave them some control over the process.

Somewhere around 2007, someone in Nikon's marketing department decided to rebrand this group of settings as "Nikon Camera Control" and feature it prominently in advertising for their new generation of camera bodies. Almost simultaneously, Canon did likewise with their introduction of "Picture Styles." This should give you a good indication as to how tight the competition was and still is between these rivals. Digital SLR photography was all the rage back then, and both companies wanted to convince us that they were the best.

Put simply, Nikon Picture Control is an image processing system built into Nikon cameras. It's not quite like having a copy of Photoshop in your camera, but the comparison is possible with a touch of exaggeration and enough effort to keep a straight face. Don't laugh too hard. It is a step in that direction, albeit a tiny one. You can save named profiles, gathering together selected adjustments for contrast, brightness, saturation, hue, and so on. Then there are sharpening and effects options for monotone and sepia. Set your camera to one of these profiles, and it will apply that Picture Control to your images.

If you shoot jpeg, Camera Control may be just what you need. Once set, it's easy and automatic. On jpeg mode, the raw data seen by your camera gets converted to jpeg format on the fly, as it gets written to your memory card. Once this happens, many settings become baked in. The concept of "cooking" your raw images is actually fairly descriptive of what happens. So, having Nikon Camera Control (or Canon Picture Styles or whatever) available to control that process further would seem like a great idea.

But if you genuinely care about exercising control over your images' raw conversion, why are you shooting jpeg in the first place? You lose nearly all your control once your amazing compositions are converted to jpeg. Why give away that control to your camera, even if it did have a secret mini-Photoshop built-in? The processing power of your camera would be dwarfed by that of even the most modest desktop computer or laptop. Why not take advantage of all that capability and convert your images on your computer, where you really have control.

Full disclosure. You can use Nikon Camera Control when shooting raw if you convert with a compatible application. But unless an option escapes my attention, such applications are limited to those made by Nikon. And Nikon isn't noted for producing the best software, to be tactful. You're almost certainly better off with something else. But if you convert with Lightroom, Photoshop, or most any alternative out there, your Camera Control selections will be ignored along with many other in-camera choices.

If it makes you happy, bump up the saturation with Vivid Picture Control or select Landscape if that's what you predominantly shoot, It will affect the preview image on the camera back LCD. Sometimes, seeing a goosed-up preview might be just what you need to help get your creative juices flowing. But do your real conversion work on your computer where you truly do have control.


Date posted: February 14, 2021

 

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Related articles:
The Story of Nikon Color Modes
Nikon Color Modes on Your Computer
The Slow Passing Away of Nikon Color Modes
 

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