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Pentax Q - Lightroom processing example
Posted By: BigMackCam, 10-03-2016, 03:46 AM

As part of a recent forum discussion, one of our members suggested I write a tutorial on Lightroom processing for the Pentax Q series of cameras. Some great tutorial books already exist, and they do a much better job than I can of explaining how and why Lightroom does what it does. However, I thought it might be useful to run through an example of the typical processing I perform on a Q or Q7 image.

When processing photos, my aim is to make them look good enough for full screen viewing on my 17" laptop at a distance of around 60cm (~ 24"). Pixel-peepers - those who look for every suggestion of noise, sharpening artefacts or smudged details - will likely be disappointed with my end results, and that's fine with me. We digital photographers are an unrealistic and unforgiving bunch when critiquing our own photos and especially those of others. We forget that the majority of sane individuals are more than happy with the JPEGs from their smartphones. I aim to make my photos look good enough for viewing by a regular, sane audience - not pixel-peepers

With photos taken at higher ISO settings, it's sometimes impossible to produce a good quality, screen-filling image due to noise in the source photo. Insufficient noise reduction will result in too much noise remaining, while too much noise reduction results in loss of detail and an unrealistically-smoothed appearance. If I'm unable to find a balance between noise reduction and loss of detail, I either (a) accept that a noisy photo is better than no photo at all and increase my viewing distance, or (b) reduce the final output size until the noise isn't so bothersome. Or, if all else fails, (c) ... convert to black and white

A quick word or two about my computer. I use a Hewlett Packard Envy 17" with Intel Core i7 processor and 12GB RAM, and I colour profile the screen using an X-Rite ColorMunki Display tool (if accurate colour reproduction is important to you, I recommend getting one of these or a similar product). I run Lightroom 6, the stand-alone version of Lightroom. I do use other software for specific tasks and effects, but 95% of my processing is in Lightroom only, and that's all I'll use for this example.

One final note before we begin. Image hosting on these forums imposes significant compression on uploaded files, which softens detail. Please bear this in mind when reviewing any photos and crops presented here. What I see on screen is sharper than you'll see in this article.

Now, let's review a photo I took just for this demonstration...

Here's a Praktica Super TL1000 camera and Pentacon 50/1.8 lens that I picked up at a flea-market recently. I set it up on a table along with a few other bits and pieces to add colours and texture to the scene. The blue background has quite a lot of grain; the camera skin, strap and cleaning cloth have plenty of fine detail. And there's some printed text on a box of lens wipes. The lighting was a combination of natural daylight coming through the window, and indoor kitchen lighting. So, a good, varied test subject.

I took two identical shots - one RAW, one JPEG - at ISO 3200 (I used the "Natural" Custom Image setting, with sharpening of +2, and Auto High ISO NR). The JPEG is a 3MP file (1920x1440 pixels) at the highest-quality setting, straight out of the camera with no further processing. This size is ideal for display on my laptop, which has native screen resolution of 1920 x 1080. After importing the RAW file into Lightroom, I did my post-processing then exported the developed image to a second 1920x1440 JPEG.

First, let's look at the straight-out-of-camera JPEG, resized for inclusion in this article:

It doesn't look too bad for a high ISO image. Considering the sensor size and the age of the camera, it's really quite good, although it's too smooth and some detail is lost due to in-camera noise reduction. It's a touch too dark, and there's something of an overall blue cast and/or magenta tint - probably due to the white balance getting confused by the grey lens wipe box. It should have a slightly yellow tone, but the camera's white balance has compensated to make it neutral grey instead.

Now let's see my processed version:

At this size, it's difficult to see a huge improvement, but it's definitely better. The colours are slightly different - much closer to reality (you'll have to take my word for that ) - due to my white balance adjustment, and I've fine-tuned certain individual colours (red, green and blue). There's more detail and the photo is considerably sharper, though you may not be able to see that here.

Let’s look at some side by side 1:1 crops of both images. On the left are the crops from the camera's own JPEG, and on the right, my processed version:

We can see that there's much more detail retained in my processed image than in the straight-out-of-camera JPEG. There's still some noise - a little more, in fact, as I've chosen to retain more detail and avoid an unnatural "smoothed out" look. At the intended viewing distance at full screen reproduction, this processed version looks great

My approach when processing Pentax Q-series photos is as follows:

With the RAW image, I set the camera profile and lens corrections. Then I adjust the white balance and, if necessary, exposure. If the blacks are crushed or whites blown, I try to adjust those to the limits of the histogram (if either is too far gone to recover, I set them at a level that looks right). I bring down highlights to recover details in the brighter areas, and carefully pull the shadows up to reveal a bit more detail, stopping at the point where I see either no more detail or too much noise. I also add a little clarity to give the image a bit of "pop". I apply default colour noise reduction, but set my luminance noise reduction and sharpening to zero. I then export to a TIFF file resized for the final image resolution. To that TIFF file, I apply luminance noise reduction and sharpening, then export to a final JPEG.

Each image will require different settings, but the approach is the same. Here are the settings I used for this particular photo:

Camera Calibration - Profile: Embedded (thereby using the camera's own profile stored with the image)

Lens Corrections - Remove Chromatic Aberration and Enable Profile Corrections both selected and set to Auto

Note that it's important - critical, even - to make the above profile and lens correction settings before doing anything else, as they result in fundamental changes to the base image that can't easily be addressed later in the workflow. I have these set as defaults when I import.

Basic adjustments - White Balance 5250 with a tint of -6 (using the eye-dropper to sample a neutral area), Exposure +0.3, Highlights -50, Blacks +26, Clarity +10

HSL (Hue, Saturation and Luminance) - Hue: Green +10, Blue -20; Saturation: Red -10, Blue +10; Luminance: Red -24, Green -49; this was done by trial and error until the colours in the photo matched those in the scene. In real-world photography you won't have the original scene to refer to, so you'll have to work from memory and simply do the best you can.

Detail - Sharpening and Luminance noise reduction set to 0, Color noise reduction at default of 25

Then, I exported to a 16-bit TIFF file resized to 1920x1080 and performed the remaining adjustments:

Sharpening - Amount 60, Radius 0.6, Detail 25, Masking 70
Noise Reduction - Luminance 40, Detail 50, Contrast 0; Color 0
Basic adjustments - Clarity +10 (a little boost for the final image!)

Note: I find that carrying out luminance noise reduction and sharpening on a resized TIFF yields better results with the Q's images. Note the high masking value for sharpening - this ensured that I was only sharpening the key features of the image - any remaining noise was left unsharpened. This works far better than Lightroom's output sharpening, which affects everything indiscriminately!

And finally, I exported to JPEG at the same resolution, with no additional output sharpening. That's it... Done!

Hopefully this demonstrates that shooting RAW and processing in Lightroom can yield significant improvements in IQ, especially at higher ISO settings.

For those who'd like to view the original files and perhaps try out some processing themselves, here are the links:

Straight-out-of-camera JPEG (875 KB)
Straight-out-of-camera DNG RAW (18 MB)
Intermediate TIFF (16 MB)
Final processed JPEG (2 MB)

If you've got this far, thanks for reading and I hope this is of some benefit. As I said at the beginning, we all have different expectations and tolerances in our image processing, so use this as a starting point and fine tune the adjustments as you see fit on an image-by-image basis. Oh, and feel free to ask questions; I'll do my best to help.

Good luck and happy shooting

Last edited by BigMackCam; 10-07-2016 at 12:19 AM.
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10-06-2016, 08:22 AM   #16
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Thank you for taking the time to put this together. I appreciate that you set the parameters in which you work and your criteria for an acceptable image. Stressing that the camera and lens corrections be done and verified before any other adjustment are made is something that some shooters miss. Personally I have always thought that those adjustments should be at the top of that side bar. I see that yes the noise did increase a bit but again considering your established requirements that is no big deal. Nothing about the remainder of your settings surprised me with the exception of you bringing the highlights down. Did you note that they were clipping or........ I also use stand alone Lightroom but version 5.7.

I was also amused to recognize the camera as the Praktica was my very first SLR and was purchased from J.C. Penney because I was working for them and got the employee discount. I could not afford a Pentax at that time but heard that the screw mount lenses between the Praktica and the Pentax were the same so that allowed me to start building my system.

Thanks again for putting this together. I enjoyed reading through it a few times while having my morning coffee and donut.

10-06-2016, 10:10 AM - 1 Like   #17
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Thanks for the nice feedback, Denny - I'm grateful

I brought the highlights down because parts of the lens wipe box, the Praktica logo on the prism housing, and the green microfibre cloth (the parts reflecting light from the window) looked way too bright for the scene (especially after the little exposure boost). They weren't blown, but bringing them down made the overall image blend better, and served as a starting point for getting detail out of that green cloth.

You were right - it was a satisfying experience putting this article out there. It's not the first one I've done, but probably the most useful. Anyway, thanks for the encouragement
10-06-2016, 10:43 AM   #18
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You might consider posting the original RAW files so others can download them and attempt to replicate your work. That way they will know what it takes to accomplish the results you achieved. Such efforts could result in additional questions and supplemental dialog. I think this is a good beginning of a subject that up to now has not been adequately discussed on this forum.
Thanks again for your efforts.
10-07-2016, 12:22 AM   #19
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That's a great suggestion, Denny - many thanks

I've uploaded the files to my Google Drive and made them shareable. I've added links at the end of the article, but for convenience, here they are again:

Straight-out-of-camera JPEG (875 KB)
Straight-out-of-camera DNG RAW (18 MB)
Intermediate TIFF (16 MB)
Final processed JPEG (2 MB)


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