Recently I took delivery of an Xrite Color Checker Passport

 

Introduction

Recently I took delivery of an Xrite Color Checker Passport  and I must confess, I own probably every such device ever hawked by the camera con men.. always searching for something that really helps not only get the proper on-site white balance, but the proper balance of colors as well.  This product includes plug-ins for ACR CS5 and Lightroom.

Most people.. when you talk "Correct White Balance" they focus on skin tones, and indeed correct skin tones are indeed the most obvious and easy way to tell if someone got the colors close.. assuming there's a person with skin in the composition.  However, it's entirely possible ane even most common, to get the skin tones close but still have your color balance totally off.  This is especially true in mixed light.

 

But what does the normal guy do when there's heavy cloud cover and you're taking a picture of your son in front of a colorful building?  Do you want it to look like its drab and dreary?  This usually means their skin tones are grayish and not natural looking at all, and the surrounding colors are flat and don't look right.

 

There is nothing so "right" about an image then the proper balance of color throughout the entire exposure and tonal range.  We've all seen them, and they almost always occur under very unusual perfect light or by way of Photoshop and a real experienced pro.  But what does the normal guy do when there's heavy cloud cover and you're taking a picture of your son in front of a colorful building?  Do you want it to look like its drab and dreary?  This usually means their skin tones are grayish and not natural looking at all, and the surrounding colors are flat and don't look right.

 

 Regardless, it's easy to see this device is in a class by itself and not only does it help you obtain the most perfect on-site White Balance of any device I’ve previously used, but it also computer generates a custom DNG color profile for each lighting situation that can instantly and easily be applied to one to hundreds of images at a time.

 

I've only used the Color Checker Passport for a week, but I plan on testing it much more in the coming week(s).  Regardless, it's easy to see this device is in a class by itself and not only does it help you obtain the most perfect on-site White Balance of any device I’ve previously used, but it also computer generates a custom DNG color profile for each lighting situation that can instantly and easily be applied to one to hundreds of images at a time. 

How long does it take to use it?  Just two shots, two exposures and you've got what you need for each lighting situation.  About 3-5 seconds depending on the technique required by the camera to set a custom WB.. and even the custom WB is optional.  You can still build the custom DNG profile with just one shot.. awesome technology!

 

Hands on Demonstration with Examples in Lightroom 3.0

 

First, using the spot focusing area in your viewfinder fill it on the grey card contained in the Passport.  Follow the directions for your specific camera to create a custom white balance.  This step is optional, but recommended and for many this custom white balance will be head and shoulders better than their auto white balance setting or what they can do by eye.  But we’ll take it several steps further towards better accuracy below..

 

First, using the spot focusing area in your viewfinder fill it on the grey card contained in the Passport.  Follow the directions for your specific camera to create a custom white balance.  This step is optional, but recommended and for many this custom white balance will be head and shoulders better than their auto white balance setting or what they can do by eye.  But we’ll take it several steps further towards better accuracy below.. J

With the Canon 5d Mark II, you take an exposure/image of the grey card, go to the menu systems second tab (or be smart and add these commands to your custom menu) and choose “Custom White Balance”, it will automatically show the last image you captured (but you can spin the wheel and choose more), hit the “set” button in the middle of your big wheel, and it will then ask you “Use WB Data from this image for Custom WB?”  Choose “OK” and then set your camera to use the “Custom White Balance” setting (add this to your custom menu too).

 

Next, take a picture of the color checker portion of the Passport in the light you’ll be using.  You don’t need to fill the frame with it, but I’ve found it needs to occupy approximately 15-20% of the frame to work.  Otherwise it won’t register with the automatic profiler in the plug-in.

 

Next, take a picture of the color checker portion of the Passport in the light you’ll be using.  You don’t need to fill the frame with it, but I’ve found it needs to occupy approximately 15-20% of the frame to work.  Otherwise it won’t register with the automatic profiler in the plug-in.

 

Once you’ve imported your images into Lightroom you can see here where the standard color profile is selected by default in the “Camera Calibration” area of Lightroom.

 

Once you’ve imported your images into Lightroom you can see here where the standard color profile is selected by default in the “Camera Calibration” area of Lightroom.

 

Right click on the image, navigate to “Export”, and then to “Color Checker Passport” and click on it.

 

Right click on the image, navigate to “Export”, and then to “Color Checker Passport” and click on it.

 

Now it will ask you for a name for the custom profile you’re about to create.  In this case I named it “N1.”

 

Now it will ask you for a name for the custom profile you’re about to create.  In this case I named it “N1.”

 

If the profile creation was successful you’ll get a dialog box telling you the profile was completed and you’ll need to exit and then re-enter Lightroom before the new profile is available.

 

If the profile creation was successful you’ll get a dialog box telling you the profile was completed and you’ll need to exit and then re-enter Lightroom before the new profile is available.

If like me, you took several “sets” of images in different locations, just go ahead and create all your profiles and then exit/enter Lightroom once.

 

Now you can select your profile and ‘immediately’ you’ll see the effects.  Notice the blue shirt has drastically changed (to the right hue) and the green paint as well.. not to mention the skin tones are near perfect.

 

Now you can select your profile and ‘immediately’ you’ll see the effects.  Notice the blue shirt has drastically changed (to the right hue) and the green paint as well.. not to mention the skin tones are near perfect.

 

Now you have the opportunity to use the “Warming Squares” to change the skin tones to your taste.  As I’ve said many times before, the “correct” white balance might not be the “best” white balance, so these squares allow you to adjust to taste.  Use the White Balance Eyedropper and select your first warming square.

 

Now you have the opportunity to use the “Warming Squares” to change the skin tones to your taste.  As I’ve said many times before, the “correct” white balance might not be the “best” white balance, so these squares allow you to adjust to taste.  Use the White Balance Eyedropper and select your first warming square. 

Note 1:  The Eyedropper doesn’t ‘stick’ with screen captures so I put a black dot on the selected warming square.  

Note 2:  The color checker is upside down, though it really doesn’t matter.

 

Notice the subtle change when selecting the second warming square?

 

Notice the subtle change when selecting the second warming square?

 

Notice the subtle change when selecting the second warming square?

 

And another subtle change with the third warming square?

 

And another subtle change with the third warming square?

 

 

The first warming square was too blue, the second warming square was too neutral, and the third warming square was too yellow.. but the fourth warming square was just right and I ate the entire bowl.. wait.. wrong story.. but you get the idea..

 

The first warming square was too blue, the second warming square was too neutral, and the third warming square was too yellow.. but the fourth warming square was just right and I ate the entire bowl.. wait.. wrong story.. but you get the idea..

 

With years of experience adjusting white balance both by eye and many other means, I could not achieve this sort of accuracy.  It’s stunning how easily it is to achieve perfect white balance and then bespoke skin tones using this device.

 

Summary

 

I'm easily seeing 'more capability' in the realm of color and exposure from my cameras, and this includes my professional DSLR's, my new Sony NEX-5, and even my point and shoots, than any single feature or improvement I can think of other than proper exposure in the first place.

 

I'm easily seeing 'more capability' in the realm of color and exposure from my cameras, and this includes my professional DSLR's, my new Sony NEX-5, and even my point and shoots, than any single feature or improvement I can think of other than proper exposure in the first place.

I'll be incorporating this into my workshops immediately, both in the field and software sections.  I'm obviously impressed and I plan on mastering the smaller points of this device over the next few weeks.

And of course it only has a consistent and proper effect if used on a color managed system, so once again I'll be running some future pieces on properly color managing your monitors, your browsers, your applications, and how to tell if they're done right and which color versions each is compatible with.

(I’m off to throw a few previous such devices in that ever growing box of “equipment I no longer use” with great pleasure)