Color Management is Essential

by James Duncan Davidson

If you use Aperture, you probably really care about your photographs. You might be a pro with a library that ranges into the 100's of GBs, or you might be an amateur with 20GB of data, but you care enough to take the time to do the right thing with your images so that you can fulfill your vision of what those images should be. So you calibrate your display, right? And you do it frequently, right? If not, let me quote from Appendix B of the Aperture User Manual:

"Aperture is a powerful digital image adjustment application, but its power is limited to the accuracy of the devices that display and print your images."


If you want to be able to work with your images on multiple machines, print them, or share them, then you need to be taking full advantage of the fact that Aperture is a color managed environment that uses ColorSync to translate colors to your monitor accurately. But, of course, ColorSync needs to know how your monitor displays colors so that it can do the math. This is why you need to make a profile for your display. Not have a ColorSync profile for your particular monitor means that you're driving blind when you make adjustments to your images.

As important as it is, I know lots of people that are serious about their images that don't profile their display. And I think there are two reasons for this: 1) Color management is a complex field and it's full of lots of big terms and complex numbers; and 2) Good profiling hardware has typically been expensive. It's been coming down in price over time, but still, to get the good stuff hasn't been cheap. Combine these two points and most people, it seems, do nothing.

14 Comments

Jeff Carpenter
2006-11-20 11:03:49
FYI, the Pantone Huey is currently available via Amazon for $66.94 + free Super Saver shipping.
James Duncan Davidson
2006-11-20 11:15:34
Wow. That's a great price. When I looked up the price a few days ago, it seemed like everyone was sticking to the $89 MSRP. Doesn't look like that's the case anymore!
John
2006-11-20 14:12:12
James,


How do the Monaco Optix and Pantone Eye-One compare to the Spyder2Pro?

Sunny
2006-11-20 16:32:14
Nice review! I was wondering if we can expect more articles on color spaces in the future. Do you work entirely in sRGB color space or or just revert to sRGB for online/web use? Is embedding ICC profiles worthwhile at all when almost every browser reverts to sRGB anyways? Is your monitor color space closer to sRGB or a wider gamut?
foresmac
2006-11-20 18:02:48
I tried a huey on my new MacBook, and I found the results to be far from satisfactory. I used Apple's calibration wizard with the advanced features on, and it is far more difficult than that old Adobe Gamma of yore. I can tell it's not quite right, but it's far better than what I was able to achieve with the Pantone huey.


And, why is color management so damned hard? I've read countless articles and books on the subject, but I've never been able to implement any worthwhile color-managed workflow. And I'm a 3.0 Engineering major at Purdue, so I have this notion I should be able get it to work. wtf?

Jordan Nielsen
2006-11-20 21:39:16
foresmac, you have to remember that the MacBook also has a contrast/saturation increasing glossy screen so that could be why you are seeing such a weird outcome. Have you tried any other calibration tools?
Daniel
2006-11-21 14:01:40
James,


What happens when you use it with a external display attached to a mbpro?
I run my 17" with a 30" screen (lid closed on the mbpro), does that cause issues?

Ask Bjørn Hansen
2006-11-22 00:46:24
As I commented on your personal weblog, I got one today. I figured for ~$70 I wouldn't mind trying it out even if I end up with a Pantone Eye-One or Monaco Optix. So like John below I'm curious: What's better other than multi-display support? "Better profiles" is a little vague.


- ask

Jeff Carpenter
2006-11-22 05:46:48
Today Amazon upped the price to $77.98 + free Super Saver shpping.
Mike Ombrello
2006-11-25 04:56:09
I have used the Colorvision Pantone Spyder Pro for several years on my Windows machine. Prior to running it, I could not get a good match between what I saw on the monitor and what I was able to get in printed format (both from my printer and the lab). From the first time I ran it, my print output has been predictable (the same as what I see on the monitor). Calibration is a piece of cake. I calibrate the monitor monthly.


When I bought my MacBook, I installed the software and performed the calibration. Nothing difficult about either the installation or the actual calibration. As with my Windows machine, printed output is exactly as seen on the laptop display. I am not experiencing any wierd outcomes. The results are perfect.

Martin Stein
2006-11-25 12:31:59
I use the SpyderExpress that I got for $63 at buydig.com.
You can run the calibration program that generates a ICM profile, rename the profile (from SpyderExpressblabla.icm to HP2335.icm e.g.) and then switch your primary monitor to your second monitor. My other monitor is a cheap piece of 20st century burned out phosphor trash that doesn't really deserve to be profiled.


Why is profiling so hard? Because of that damn meatspace having so many parameters. Your camera is biased, the screen needs to be calibrated, the printer does weird things with the ink and then the paper absorbs and reflects light of that ink in yet another way. Don't even start talking about the ambient light you watch those pictures under or how they start fading after a while.
No one really knows why we see color the way we do. Is it all waves and particles or does our brain do some heavy duty post-processing? Probably both.
The solution may be intelligent materials. We need calibrated nanomaterials that are embedded in the camera, paper, ink and the environment that take absolute measurements of the color present and communicate it among each other. The paper would tell the printer and the ink about it's properties and communicate it to the computer that can then establish the right RGB numbers. But by then we probably have native JPEG support in our brains.

James Duncan Davidson
2006-11-26 13:35:54
Sunny: I'll definitely be talking more about color spaces and calibration in the future. It's a wide and important topic. This is step one: promote calibration! Any calibration!


I use sRGB only for images output for the web. For everything else, I let Aperture do it's thing or export out to other color spaces as needed. For example, some uses of JPG images want the output to be in AdobeRGB. I deal with that on a case-by-case basis.


foresmac: I feel your pain. I can't offer a quick band-aid though. I've not used a laptop with the glossy screens yet so can't comment on how that might affect calibration. As Martin said, color management is hard because of all the variables involved. It's a very analog area.


Daniel: Since the huey isn't rated for multiple displays, I didn't try it. I'd imagine it'd work just fine on any "main" display.


Ask: There are two things that makes the profiles from the more expensive tools better. One, the devices are more sensitive and probably get a better reading off of each color sample. Two, the software uses many more color samples to build it's profile out. More samples takes more time to process, but gives more data to build the profile out of which should yield more accuracy.


Mike and Martin: Thanks for your experiences with the Colorvision Syder Pro. The observations are most welcome--especially in this format where I don't have the budget nor the bandwidth to do a comprehensive evaluation.


Everyone: The most important thing to note, and my most important message, is to use something that gets the job done. If you pick up the huey and it doesn't do a good job for you--TAKE IT BACK PRONTO. And then try something else.

QW
2006-12-06 14:02:12
where can one rent a calibration tool?
James Duncan Davidson
2006-12-06 15:11:22
QW: I don't know of anybody who rents calibration gear. Since you're paying as much for the software as for the hardware device, it may not even be an acceptable use under the software license to rent these kinds of devices. That said, you could always check in with your local pro camera stores to see if there's anybody that will rent such devices.