Lightroom ‘Underexposing’ Nikon RAWs?

Solution inside.

I used to have a dilemma. I typically shoot RAW with my Nikon D90 and process them with Capture NX2. I much prefer the workflow and interface provided by Lightroom, but couldn’t quite get the same color and tone I got from Capture NX2. I knew that Lightroom didn’t have access to all the proprietary camera data that Nikon can put into NX2, but Lightroom always seemed to do something weird with the exposure of the RAWs I took, seemingly dropping the brightness or exposure on them. I would then need to tweak the hell out of the develop settings (boosting exposure, for example) to get it anywhere close to the Capture NX2 starting point. It was a pain. Even the camera Nikon camera profiles I downloaded from Adobe didn’t help matters.

I had become content, settling with Capture NX2, but recent glowing reviews of Lightroom 3 beta piqued my interest once more. More digging on the issue led me to download some Nikon color presets, which didn’t help, and one tidbit on Capture NX2’s handling of Active D-Lighting (fancy name for dynamic range expansion through in-camera processing). Apparently the feature works by underexposing the shot, then gaining up the photo in select areas to produce the effect of increased dynamic range. Capture NX2 reads the ADL setting and previews the RAW image with the adjustment. However, Lightroom, not knowing anything about Nikon’s proprietary ADL algorithms, simply spits out the RAW sensor data, resulting in the sometimes grossly underexposed image. Take a look:

Nikon Active D-Lighting Effect on RAW

On the left I’ve switched off ADL in Capture NX2 and you see the RAW sensor data. Meanwhile, on the right, Capture NX2 has done its wizardry and applied ADL – High. Lightroom will display the image on the left, even though the camera will show you something akin to the right in its preview display.

I fault myself for not turning off ADL in the first place when shooting RAW. Now that I know what’s causing Lightroom’s ‘apparent underexposure’ problem with Nikon RAWs, I can switch my workflow over. Hope that helps people out there who were just as confused as I was. I went through a ton of unsolved trouble-shooting posts during my search.


5 Replies to “Lightroom ‘Underexposing’ Nikon RAWs?”

  1. Excellent Article, I have been looking for this all over the net, now my problem is that I shoot with a canon 7D, I’m guessing I have something similar to nikons ADL in my canon’s 7d, I just can’t remember the name for it now, I will have to look into it when I get home.

    I can see the RAW’s before being imported perfectly nice and exposed correctly and once I import them into lightroom no matter if I convert to DNG or keep them CR2 BOOM! Underexposed! So frustrating!

    Great help!


    Mario G

  2. Thanks! This was really bugging me too on a D7000 Now I’m wondering about adverse affects from other in camera setting such as “auto distortion control”…


  3. I have this exact problem with new D7000 – but turning off ADL doesn’t help. I’m beyond frustrated that I can’t resolve this because I want to use Lightroom or Camera Raw and both do the same thing. I’ve updated all software and that didn’t help either. In one forum I read that Nikon has now made it even harder in new nikons to use 3rd party software. Is there anything else that can be done if ADL is off and still this problem is happening.

  4. Man ! Great article ! I have exactly same problem which blocked me to releasing photo ( I just want to use raw quality in Lightroom software ) for about 3 month.
    In any other article they only walking around, speaking like pros, but they are not.
    But you shoot the duck.

    Just one more big question : ) How to solve this problem when u want to use raw + LR and after import you want to see your pictures like shooted on your lcd display ?

    Thanks a lot !

    1. I forget to mention that I’am using D90, ADL high, vivid profile colors, adobe rgb, P mode usually with about -2/3 EZ

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