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X-Rite ColorChecker Passport review
Ilse Jurriƫn : March 26th 2010 - 12:50 CET
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X-RiteX-Rite ColorChecker Passport review : Ever since the invention of color photography, it has been a real challenge to keep control over colors. This is simply not easy. Our brain will interpret the colors, and will adjust to different circumstances. Whether we see something in fluorescent light, in daylight or in the light of an incandescent lamp; we will perceive everything more or less the same. A movie or the sensor of a digital camera cannot perform this way. It merely registers the amount of light and the color the subject reflects. However, when we look at a picture, we would still like to see what we thought we saw. And that's difficult, very difficult indeed. Because who would know the exact colors? The X-Rite Color Checker Passport is a great aid for your color management.

ColorChecker review

X-Rite ColorChecker cards in a portable size
There's nothing new about the thing the X-Rite Color Checker Passport does. For decades, photographers keen on accurate colors, have been shooting a so-called Gretag Macbeth color chart along with the first shot. For digital photography, the gray chart provides the serious photographer with a convenient tool to attain the correct white balance. However, these are often awkward charts to carry along. The beauty of the ColorChecker Passport is that the charts feature an extremely portable size, and it enables you to do something that was previously considered a very cumbersome experience: you can profile your camera.

X-Rite ColorChecker passport

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport with color card and grey card
The X-Rite Color Checker is hardly any bigger than a regular passport and that is exactly where the name comes from. It's easy to take along in your photo bag or inside pocket. The housing is made of solid plastic, and is able to withstand a hefty blow. Just as well, since the charts are vulnerable inside. X-Rite recommends you to buy new charts every two years, since the colors could be affected. Also, it will keep the production going. There are three charts found inside the ColorChecker Passport: the White Balance Target (previously Gray chart), the Classic Target (previously the Gretag Macbeth ColorChecker), and an additional color chart; the Creative Enhancement Target. The case is multi-positional, which allows you to place the charts firmly in many ways. You can also give them to your model to hold, while shooting his or her portrait, however, you then have to be careful your model does not touch the colored areas, because that would affect the color!

X-Rite Software

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport software and profiles
The X-Rite Color Checker Passport comes with software to build profiles for your camera. You can also use the software without the chart, however, you then have to rely on your eye, which is a less reliable source than you would think. Much less reliable in fact. The software allows you to create a DNG profile to use with Adobe, Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW software, for example. In fact, Adobe works with DNG profiles, while other programs work with ICC profiles. You have to make these yourself, X-Rite is only able to make DNG profiles. And that is a child's play, especially with Lightroom.

ColorChecker passport

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport - Exposure and white balance
Before you can start on that, you will have to set everything correctly. It all starts with an accurate exposure. Not only for working with the ColorChecker Passport, but also for your actual pictures, of course. The better the source, the better the result. This also applies to white balance. Relying on the automatic white balance is not very wise, because it deviates strongly. Photographers working in RAW, will often say that they will get the gray from somewhere. Yet not every picture features a neutral tone, and what is neutral gray? You would need your memory to find out, and your memory is unreliable in this case! Moreover, also keep in mind that your eyes have a great ability to adapt and adjust. Even a white sheet of paper does not necessarily have to be neutral. Moreover, the brightness is actually too high to determine an accurate gray value.

ColorChecker passport review

ColorChecker Passport - Taking a picture of the grey card
Therefore, the first picture you need to take is the one of the gray chart; the White Balance Target. It lets you set the white balance inside the camera, or if you work in RAW, pick it up later. The White Balance Target is reliable, because it is genuinely neutral gray. If you like to fill in the gray afterwards, you can also use the gray patch of the Classic Target (Gretag Macbeth chart), which is perfectly neutral. Setting the color directly inside the camera works the fastest, although whether this will be easy or not so easy, actually depends on your camera. The next two pictures you shoot, should include the two color charts. You need to do this for every lighting situation, because light that falls on the color chart, will reflect a different color. Your eyes won't actually see it, the camera will. After that, you are ready to start photographing. It only takes two extra shots, which is not much hassle at all.

X-Rite review

Gretag Macbeth card and Creative Color Enhancement Target
At home, you can really get going with the color charts. If you don't feel like creating a profile, or you don't work with Adobe software, the color charts are an excellent reference to determine the color. The course of the gray scales tells you whether the exposure was correct, you have to be able to see a difference in coverage at every step. This can be checked by a pipette. This way, you can also check the colors of the Classic Target (Gretag Macbeth color chart) and adjust these if necessary. This is very simple, certainly with Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW. The White Balance Target (gray chart) will let you attain a very neutral gray color, however, sometimes it is too neutral. Since you might occasionally want a slightly warm glow, in the evening for example. This is where the Creative Enhancement Target comes in handy. It features two rows of gray patches, which are just not exactly neutral. One row is for portraits, the second for landscapes. By clipping the white balance on one of the patches, the picture will become either warmer or cooler. Without causing the colors to drop. It is an actual cast as a layer over the pictures. The adjustments made will then have to be copied to the actual pictures made in the same light circumstances. After that, you're done! This way, you don't have to apply the editing to every picture separately.

X-Rite passport

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport - Calculate deviations
Now each camera reacts different to the colors; this even applies to the various versions of the same model. What you actually want, is to have a profile that maps and adjusts the same way as monitors and printers do. Previously, this was a cumbersome and expensive hobby. The X-Rite ColorChecker Passport, however, makes it easy. Although this also requires making a profile for every camera and every light situation. However, this is a matter of taking one picture with the Classic Target (Gretag Macbeth chart), and getting started with the software. That one picture however, should be stored in DNG. If you work with Nikon for example, you can convert it to Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW. All your other pictures can simply remain in the general RAW file. The software detects the color patches and will start calculating. If the patches cannot be properly recognized, for example because they are too small, or because the chart is photographed too skewed, you will get a warning. When shooting the card, you have to keep it straight; read the manual, it's all in there! After calculating, the software will automatically place the profile of your camera and the light in the correct file for Adobe Camera RAW or Lightroom. When processing your pictures, all you have to do, is select the camera profile that fits best for the light and the camera. It does not affect the white balance, this should still be set by you.

ColorChecker

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport review
No matter how easy everything is becoming for digital photography these days, you still have to be alert. And the saying 'garbage in, is garbage out' still applies. I firmly believe in doing as many things as correctly as possible during shooting. I often tend to use a separate light meter, and until recently, I always carried along a gray chart. But now, the latter can be left at home, since I started using my own X-Rite Color Checker. That way, I already attain the correct white balance during shooting, which leaves me to only correct the colors at home. Naturally, on my calibrated screen. And the prints are made on a calibrated printer. Profiling these two was already a child's play, using the X-Rite Color Munki, for example. This way, you can start off correctly from the first picture you take. And at a very reasonable price. The X-Rite ColorChecker Passport should really be a permanent part of your camera case.
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