The Kermit Syndrome


It seems that I'm seeing another round of "my Nikon produces incorrect colors" and "my Nikon images are green" comments in my In Box. If I'm counting correctly, this is the third time this Internet meme has come around.

If these statements were absolutely true, then all you'd have to do to verify them is go to any magazine using pro work and you could spot the green Nikon images from the (assumed) non-green Canon ones. Go ahead, pick up a Sports Illustrated or Time or People or National Geographic or any other magazine using work from pros using Nikon and Canon DSLRs. See the green images? Didn't think so.

Unfortunately, the minute I try defending color rendition this way, the memers will use another Internet tactic: redirection. Obviously the magazines must be correcting the Nikon images. That's right, you heard it here first: the US publishing industry has a secret Photoshop Plug-in called Nikon Degreener. Saves a lot of work. 

Before we go too much further, let's separate the issue a bit. I see two variations on the Kermit Syndrome: (1) the color on the camera's LCD; and (2) the color in the resulting image.

About that color LCD: it very well may be out of spec. To my knowledge no camera maker certifies that the LCD on their camera is calibrated to a specific Color Space, or even accurate, for that matter. Nor do they say it will stay in spec. Nikon has revealed that they have a calibration process in manufacturing and attempt to make each color LCD match heading out of the factory. Given what I've seen from hundreds of Nikon DSLR bodies, that seems accurate. It's been rare that I've seen one LCD behave differently than another on a Nikon DSLR. But I have seen a rare variation. 

One comment: we're pretty sure that the Color Space the camera LCDs achieve is less than sRGB, so what happens when you select AdobeRGB as your in-camera Color Space? I've been recommending that you keep the camera set to sRGB if you are doing any evaluation on the LCD. But I also recommend that you don't count on such evaluation.

Nikon has recently started responding to people who claim their LCD is green or inaccurate or Andy Warholish, or whatever the color complaint is. They'll adjust the color output to the LCD (it's driven by a semiconductor that allows adjustments) if that's what you want. But they'll insert a statement saying that the camera is no longer in compliance with the factory standard. As I demonstrated in my D800 book, my D800s are slightly less pink in the LCD than my D700 and D3 models were. But they're not green. If anything, there's a slight yellow bias in mine, but it's slight. 

But you shouldn't be making color decisions based upon a VGA-sized LCD. An LCD for which we don't even know how much of the sRGB Color Space it covers nor what Nikon's manufacturing target is. If you don't like the color you see, you can have it changed, as I note, but that still won't tell you how accurate it is to actual colors you capture. You're basically flying in the dark. It's like trying to evaluate color without having tested yourself for color blindness first (and 6% of you men reading this have Deuteranomaly, a reduction in green sensitivity).

Which brings us to the images themselves. I first heard about "color issues" with Nikon DSLRs when the D1 came out ;~). I actually spent a great deal of time traveling around to various different photographers and pro shops "fixing" their color. My tool? A Macbeth ColorChecker chart, something I'd owned and been using for decades even back at the turn of the century. A ColorChecker chart is certified to be known colors. So if you take a picture of it, just follow it through the chain and you'll quickly find what's causing your color issues. 

Right up front was White Balance. If you don't get White Balance right, you'll be rotating red and blue around green and guaranteeing that colors move. Each Nikon sensor has had a tendency to have a slightly different zero balance point, meaning that the rotation starts at a different color temperature, typically just below 5000K. Differences in red, green, and blue Bayer filtering can make small differences, too. Bottom line: get the White Balance right.

Next up was camera settings. Let's just say that the Rockwell Picture Control, uh, I mean Vivid, isn't color neutral. I'm not sure why you'd expect Vivid to be color neutral when there's a Picture Control named Neutral, but apparently some of you do (and in old Nikon bodies we had a different variation of this: Color Mode). 

At this point we've got a JPEG that should be color neutral because we've captured it right, so the color monitor you're using to edit becomes the next possible culprit. Sure enough, I found a lot of folk who didn't have a calibrated monitor (or a monitor that could even display all the colors the camera could capture in sRGB; see comment about the camera LCD, above). 

It doesn't stop there, though. Who's handling color for printing, and what does the printer do? I had one client who had a high end (commercial) printer and was having D1x color issues early on. Turns out the printer driver was inserting its own definition of how things should be interpreted. I made an adjustment to that driver and we had perfect color.

The net result of following that chain correctly is that you should be able to take a picture of a ColorChecker, print the results, cut out small color patches from the print and drop them onto the original ColorChecker, and they'll disappear. Since I've been able to do that with every Nikon DSLR made to date, I fail to see how they're "green." 

Oh, but wait, what raw converter did you use? Let me guess: Adobe. Let me guess further: you used the Adobe Standard Camera Profile. Go back to the Basic tab in Adobe Raw Converter. Notice that second slider under White Balance? Tint is labeled Green at the left side, Magenta at the right. Do you have a significantly negative number there? Yep, you've got a green image. I've learned to mistrust Adobe's White Balance interpretation if I'm seeing large numbers in the Tint section. (And don't get me started on the over-abundance of Orange saturation in most Adobe conversions.)

I'm tempted to say that my Nikon DSLRs are more of a Fozzie Bear: they're always joking around with focus and my Nikkor lenses tend to make wocka wocka noises (buh-duh-bump). But my Nikon DSLRs are definitely not Kermits. Neither are yours.

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