Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Myth of Nikon (or Fuji; or Canon) Colors

In the days of film, there was a legitimate reason to speak of "Velvia colors", or "Kodachrome colors", or "Portra tonality". There were, indeed, differences and each film possessed its unique, characteristic attributes. I don't know if people still think in terms of the old days, but there is a very persistent myth propagating on the internet: that of the "Fuji colors", or "Nikon colors", or "Canon colors".

According to it, Fujifilm digital cameras possess a sensor with a characteristic, very particular way of rendering colors (supposedly producing very pleasing skin tones). Nikons are also credited with having sensors "tuned" for reds (and so, skin colors). To put it bluntly, like a fellow photographer once mentioned, this myth would like to have us believe each Fujifilm camera is sprinkled with magic, "skin tone" dust before leaving the factory :)

Well, let's put things in perspective, shall we?

The truth is, that digital cameras do have sensors that, due to their individual design, could be more sensitive toward a specific color, less noisy in, say, the blue channel, or with better dynamic range compared to an other sensor. But to claim that you will get "Olympus colors" (whatever that means) with an Olympus - and only with an Olympus - is simply not true! In fact, it is entirely misleading.

The image above (which is clearly enough manipulated with Color Balance in Photoshop) is an exaggerated and tongue-in-cheek attempt to show the fallacy of this myth. (While we're at it, I recommend you read my article on photography and reality). Digital technology allows us to manipulate colors and tonality to significant degrees (whether in post-production, that is with software, or even in-camera, using the camera settings). How on earth can one talk of "Nikon colors" or "Fuji colors", when you can change Hue, Saturation, Color Space, Brightness, and Contrast already in-camera?!

In conclusion, and in a nutshell:

  • Each digital camera, having its own sensor and processing engine, tends to have certain characteristics, such as lower latitude in dynamic range, or more vibrant red colors
  • The "Neutral" (or "Vivid"; or "Soft") image setting of a Nikon could be different than that of a Canon. It could also be different when comparing one Nikon model with another.
  • These small differences are negligible (and in the vast majority of cases, virtually imperceptible)
  • In any case, it is trivial to edit an image so that its color/tonality matches that of another.
And, the final and most important word of them all: No, your camera doesn't matter. What affects your color and tone reproduction depends on light, white balance, and your own settings. And it can be manipulated in Photoshop.


  1. Anonymous4/22/2014

    You dont always want to waste your time processing Nikon raw files ... then Fuji and Canon give generally much better JPG rendering.

    1. I think that's entirely subjective. There are plenty of Nikon users who love the output of their cameras, and older CCD sensors in particular are held in high regard for their out-of-the-camera jpeg pics.