Lightroom profile, sharpening and noise reduction set automatically by Nikon Z7 for RAW (NEF) files

Nikon Z7 camera

As a longtime Nikon DSLR shooter and user of Adobe Lightroom, I was pleasantly surprised at the new way certain Lightroom settings are automatically made for RAW (NEF) photos taken with the new Nikon Z7 mirrorless camera. Nikon Z7 RAW (NEF) files seem to contain instructions for Adobe’s Lightroom and Camera Raw that make varying choices for profile, sharpening, and noise reduction, based on the camera settings when the photo was taken.

If you have shot RAW files on a Nikon DSLR and imported them into Lightroom, you will be accustomed to a number of default Lightroom settings, some of which aren’t always optimal.

Regardless of the Picture Control setting on the camera when the photo was taken, Lightroom would apply its own profile. In current versions, it applies “Adobe Color,” while a few versions back used to apply the very flat “Adobe Standard” by default.

In version 8.0 of Lightroom Classic CC, the detail panel would default to the following settings:

  • Sharpening
    • Amount: 40
    • Radius: 1.0
    • Detail: 25
    • Masking: 0
  • Noise Reduction
    • Luminance: 0
    • Detail: 50
    • Contrast: 0
    • Color: 25
    • Detail: 50
    • Smoothness: 50
Adobe Lightroom Classic CC Detail panel

Picture Control

I have a personal preference for the Nikon picture profiles over the Adobe profiles and always found myself changing the profile to either Camera Standard or Camera Neutral prior to editing.

Importing Nikon Z7 NEF files into Lightroom will give very different results, with the camera body embedding instructions on these settings in the NEF file for Lightroom to interpret. (At least I assume that is what is happening, as this doesn’t appear to be documented by either Nikon or Adobe at the moment.)

First, Z7 RAW files will be imported into Lightroom with the Nikon picture profile as set on the camera body when the photo was taken. You can still change this in Lightroom after import.

  • Standard -> Camera Standard
  • Neutral -> Camera Neutral
  • Vivid -> Camera Vivid
  • Monochrome -> Camera Monochrome
  • Portrait -> Camera Portrait
  • Landscape -> Camera Landscape
  • Flat -> Camera Flat
  • Auto -> Camera Standard

Nikon’s “Auto” picture profile seems to revert to Camera Standard in Lightroom. The “Auto” picture profile was introduced in the D850 and according to the manual enhances the “Standard” picture profile so that portraits appear softer and foliage and sky appear more vibrant than the regular “Standard” picture profile. I am assuming that Lightroom processing does not have this nuance built-in and simply reverts to “Camera Standard” when it encounters “Auto,” though I haven’t read any documentation that confirms or denies that.

Sharpening & Noise Reduction

The sharpening and noise reduction settings in Lightroom’s Detail panel have many different settings than the default. I am assuming that Nikon built in these settings as instructions to Lightroom and Camera Raw, and likely represent their opinion for Lightroom settings that look best for RAW files generated by this particular camera body.

Here is how the sharpening and noise reduction settings deviate from Lightroom’s current defaults. Deviations from the default settings are listed in bold.

  • Sharpening
    • Radius: 2.0 (default is 1.0)
    • Detail: 25 (default is 25)
    • Masking: 0 (default is 0)
  • Noise Reduction
    • Luminance Detail: 75 (default is 50)
    • Luminance Contrast: 0 (default is 0)
    • Color Detail: 50 (default is 50)
    • Color Smoothness: 50 (default is 50)

The Luminance setting in Lightroom and Camera Raw gradually increases as ISO increases, but also increases based on whether the High ISO NR is set to “Off”, “Low”, “Normal” or “High” on the camera body. By setting High ISO NR on the camera body, the photographer can alter the instructions in the RAW file that Lightroom and Camera Raw will use to apply default amounts of luminance noise reduction. Of course this setting can be altered to taste after import.

The Color noise reduction setting in Lightroom and Camera Raw is also controlled by the High ISO NR setting on the camera body.

  • Lightroom & Camera Raw color noise reduction settings
    • High ISO NR off -> 7
    • High ISO NR Low -> 9
    • High ISO NR Normal -> 10
    • High ISO NR High -> 10

Lastly, the Sharpening Amount setting in Lightroom and Camera Raw varies according to the ISO setting of the photo. It is not affected by the High ISO NR setting on the Z7 camera body. For ISO 31-6400, sharpening amount is set to 40. This gradually decreases between ISO 8000-16000 to a setting of 32.

Intuitively this all makes sense. In my manual workflow, I apply more luminance noise reduction the higher the ISO setting, and in particularly noisy photos, a small decrease in sharpening can help as well.

When I first encountered this in Lightroom, however, I thought this was a bug, as the settings seemed to be randomly changing. Now that I understand it, I appreciate having a better starting point. The settings are somewhat different than my typical workflow, but seem visually pleasing during my first couple weeks of using the camera.

Active D-Lighting

In addition to sharpening and noise reduction settings, NEF (RAW) files generated by the Nikon Z7 can have exposure and shadows adjustments applied by default when you are using Active D-Lighting with high contrast scenes.

If you are not familiar with Active D-Lighting on Nikon cameras, the manual states “Active D-Lighting preserves details in highlights and shadows, creating photos with natural contrast.” It is feature that can be useful for outdoor scenes with bright sunlight and deep shadows, for example.

The way this feature works is that the camera will intentionally underexpose images, making sure not to blow out any of the highlights. The camera then generates a JPG file by applying a boost to exposure and shadows, effectively bringing down highlights and raising detail in shadows. If Active D-Lighting is turned on, previous Nikon DSLR cameras would output underexposed NEF (RAW) files if you were not shooting JPG, leaving post-processing adjustments up to the photographer.

With the Nikon Z7, NEF (RAW) files taken with Active D-Lighting turned on apply new default settings in Lightroom, as follows:

  • Active D-Lighting Low – Exposure 0.00, Shadows +10
  • Active D-Lighting Normal – Exposure +0.33, Shadows +10
  • Active D-Lighting High – Exposure +0.67, Shadows +10
  • Active D-Lighting Extra High – Exposure +1.00, Shadows +10
  • Active D-Lighting Auto – Exposure varies, Shadows +10

The Auto setting for Active D-Lighting responds to shooting conditions, according to the manual, and it appears that the exposure adjustments embedded in the NEF (RAW) files vary based on the dynamic range of a particular scene.

When editing in Lightroom or Camera Raw, you can still change these settings, but you’ll notice that the files from Z7 will have new “default” adjustments set.