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x-rite ColorChecker Passport


New York City, US
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Obregon Moderator Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Charter Member
Wed 02-Dec-09 11:51 AM

In the old days of film (say, fifteen years ago), we had two choices: daylight film and indoor film. Once you put a roll of film in the camera, you were stuck with the white balance, unless you rewound the roll in midstream to change film. Then you went home and used a little gadget to fish out the leader, and hoped you had correctly noted the number of exposures you had taken before rewinding, so that you didn’t get a double exposure when you reloaded that roll.

All of that changed when digital RAW came in. Now you could adjust the white balance after the fact so you could shoot under all kinds of light on the same memory card. You could even set it to auto so that the camera would calculate the white balance and the pictures that emerged seemed pretty good.

There were always obsessive photographers who were concerned about white balance and color management. I used to make fun of them to myself. Then I got the ColorChecker Passport made by x-rite. Now I’m really upset and becoming obsessive too.

The Passport is a little passport-sized gadget with three little cards in it with lots of little colored squares, something like a paint sampler. You use this three ways. You can photograph the included grey card to set white balance at the time of shooting that will then be applied to all of your images, or you can photograph the chips while on a shoot and wait until you do raw processing and use your software to select one of the grey squares to set white balance for a series of pictures taken under the same light, or you can build a camera calibration profile for the lighting conditions of your shoot.

Either of the first two methods seems to work fine for white balance. I tested both and for the most part there was a slightly different temperature than my Nikon camera would have assigned and except for the most important color accuracy, this didn’t seem important for me.

But when it came to actual colors, I received a shock. I’ve followed a color-corrected workflow pretty rigorously, calibrating my monitor regularly and using appropriate profiles for printing, and my prints look like my monitor to the extent that the different natures of the media allow. However, when I looked at an image of the Passport color chips on my monitor and compared it to the actual Passport, there were wide discrepancies in the colors. Many colors, particularly blues, looked very different. My camera was not as accurate as I thought.

Luckily, I was able to create and apply a profile with ease from the image of the Passport with the software that comes with it, and the colors looked a lot better, except for the deepest hues.

The lesson is simple. If you really want correct color you need a ColorChecker (although even then, there are colors that your sensor will not be able to capture). Now here’s the rub. That means you are going to have to take the gadget with you and photograph it whenever you shot. The small size makes it easy to carry but it is not convenient to use, especially if you are a photographer on the run. But until the manufacturers make better cameras, it’s either that or accept that your colors are going to be off.

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