Tuesday, February 28, 2012

REVIEW: Trey Ratcliff’s Photo Course & Discount (Post-Processing and HDR Video Tutorial)

Copyright Trey Ratcliff

Trey Ratcliff is one of my favorite photographers and Mr. HDR. His HDR Workshop DVD set was game changing in the way I thought about how to process bracketed shots and it really tipped me off on how Trey does his magic. Little things like how he uses Photomatix in a very experimental way to how he finishes up using Topaz Adjust and Color Efex’s Tonal Contrast filter to create images that give his images the “wow” factor that many photographers seek.

Use Trey’s Raw Files To Mimic Trey’s Style With Your Own Twist

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Ron’s Homework Interpretation
(Hover over for 0 EV Original)

In this tutorial you get Trey’s actual RAW files with multiple bracketed exposures of each shot. He shows how he processes most of them in Photomatix, and for many (but not all) he will show you how he processes them. These photos are good photos too, but they are effectively his runner-ups for his portfolio shots. For example, you can see below shots that I’ve processed from the homework tutorial next to Trey’s portfolio shots which are similar, but different:

Copyright Trey Ratcliff
Trey’s Coliseum Portfolio Shot

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Ron’s Homework Interpretation
(Hover over for 0 EV Original)

Copyright Trey Ratcliff
Trey’s Eiffel Tower Portfolio Shot

 

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Ron’s Homework Interpretation
(Hover over for 0 EV Original)

What’s Included

After downloading the Total Course with Bonus you end up with 27 folders on your hard drive of lesson images plus 10 video courses that will keep you busy for quite a while. If you bought his HDR Workshop DVD set then this is much of the same but much better done. If you passed on the DVD set due to the price, then the good news here is that this is a fraction of the price with way more content.

Conclusion

Honestly when Trey released his DVD Workshop I talked to him and said his content was invaluable, but that I felt the price was just too steep for most people. The process of manufacturing a DVD product is expensive, so there was little he could do to lower the price for that set. However, he got lots of feedback on that first attempt and took it all to heart. What we have here is a much more complete version at a fraction of the cost.

While I would rather a shorter version that is more to the point (or non-tutorial related parts broken into separate video files), there’s lots of good stuff here that helps you get into the mind of Trey Ratcliff as he edits photos. Due to my busy schedule I was only able to listen to a few hours of the content, so naturally my homework interpretation images don’t have the benefit of apply everything that you can learn form the course.

If you like Trey’s work and wish you knew how he does his magic, this is a must own. It’s comprehensive and features everything you need to know. Once you have that skill you can start putting your own spin on his technique to create your own look, so it’s an invaluable teaching aid for HDR enthusiasts.

Special Offer – 15% Off

Click here to view more details on how to order this awesome tutorial. Save 15% when you use the coupon code RONMART15 when checking out. You may also want to consider the Textures Tutorial

Trey's Photo Course Discout Coupon Code

Trey’s Essentials

When watching this video you realize that Trey keeps going back to the same products over and over. He has his toolbox of goodies that he likes to use like we all do, so if you want to do work like Trey you might want to pick up some of those products. Here’s my thoughts on some of those products and links to where you can get them at a discount:

  • HDRSoft Photomatix – This is where it all begins. Every HDR shot Trey does begins here. Sure he, like me, sees the merit of HDR Efex, but the performance of Photomatix still make it the HDR leader.
  • Topaz Adjust – This is 2nd only to Photomatix for Trey’s secret sauce, so if you are a huge fan of his work this is a must. I also have on their other products that he uses like B&W Effects, Remask, Star Effects, and more
  • Imagenomic Noiseware – With HDR comes noise, and this is your solution to get rid of it.
  • Nik Software Color Efex – I call it the most important plug-in you can own and its at the top of my What Plug-Ins Should I Buy? article. However, Trey frequently demonstrates the value of the Tonal Contrast filter that is loved by the pros.
  • Trey’s Textures Tutorial – This includes the textures you need to create the cool effects that give Trey’s work that otherworldly look. I talk about it in my Trey Ratcliff interview and I even use them myself in subtle ways.
  • Wacom Intuos 4 – Tablet’s make life so much easier so Trey, myself and many others depend on the Intuos 4 for detailed layer mask work.

Disclosure

I was provided with free access to review the Total Package with Bonus for the purpose of this review. I also may get a commission if you make purchases using links in this article.

Trey Ratcliff’s flatbooks.com is also the publisher of my Printing 101 eBook.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cool Photoshop CS6 Sneak Peek Videos (Updated 2/24/12)

I’ll be keeping track of Adobe Photoshop CS6 features and announcements on this landing page so check back often.

Content-Aware Improvements

OMG, Content-Aware Move and other improvements are enough to make me upgrade. This is freakin awesome:


Play in HD

 

New UI and Adobe Camera Raw Improvements

These ACR changes will apply to Lightroom 4 as well, but good stuff here:


Play in HD

Performance Improvements (Background Save, Liquify)

A pretty nice performance improvement – especially to the super annoying save!


Play in HD

 

Dashed and Dotted Lines

I could care less about this one, but I included it for completeness…

Migrating Presets and JDI (Just Do It small features)

 


Play in HD

http://www.youtube.com/user/Photoshop

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

REVIEW: Vello BG-C2 Battery Grip for Canon 5D Mark II–$69.95 at B&H


Vello BG-C2 Battery Grip after being used on my Canon 5D Mark II 

The Canon BG-E6 Battery Grip has been on my wish list for quite some time, but I just couldn’t get myself to spend $235.95 for a battery grip. I loved the Canon battery grip I had on my Rebel XTi years ago, but I just always found a better place to spend $236 bucks.

Now over time people have shown me their cheap knockoffs from China that they bought off eBay, but honestly I don’t like shopping on eBay. Call me old fashioned, but I’d rather work with a retailer I trust (and who will take returns if I’m unhappy). As a result, I never ordered any of these cheap knockoffs.

Recently B&H told me about the Vello BG-C2 Battery Grip for Canon 5D Mark II which is only $69.95 (at the time of this writing), so I thought I’d finally give it a try. After all, it’s only 30% of the cost of the Canon equivalent, so it would really have to suck bad not to make it worth while for the casual shooter.

The Verdict

I’ve included two very crude and mostly untouched shots (only cropping and basic exposure adjustments during RAW processing)  of this grip on my own 5D Mark II so you can get an idea of what it’s like. As you can tell from the photos it looks the part very well. It looks like the real deal and it has the redundant buttons that make it a great addition for portrait shooting.

The question I’ve always wanted to know about these things are:

  1. Does it suck?
  2. Is the plastic really crappy?
  3. How do the buttons feel?

Well, my honest answers are:

  1. If I had the money, I’d get the Canon, but I don’t so this gets the job done.
  2. Yes, it’s typical cheap China plastic, but it should be fine for normal use.
  3. Nothing like the Canon buttons – the Canon buttons have a firmer spring and just feel much better.

That’s the cold hard truth, but there’s another reality – for some this may not matter.

If you are using your camera as a studio camera or you take pretty good care of your gear then I think the quality will be good enough to get the job done. At this price, you could actually go through three of these and still come out ahead of the cost of the Canon grip.

If you are a rough and tumble pro / photojournalist then I’d say this isn’t for you. Of course, I’d say the 5D Mark II isn’t for you either and you' should be carrying around a 1D series body.

So my net verdict is that yeah, it’s a cheapo knock off, but it gets the job done for an unbeatable price. It looks the part very well too, so you’d actually have to use it to tell it apart from the real thing. This means you’re friends will certainly be fooled, so you don’t have to worry about it screaming “knock off”.

Conclusion

If you need a battery grip for your 5D Mark II and can’t justify the Canon BG-E6 Battery Grip, then give the Vello BG-C2 Battery Grip for Canon 5D Mark II. I think you’ll find it gets the job done sufficiently well. If you disagree then B&H has a great return policy so you aren’t screwed like you would be if you bought from eBay.

Personally I’m using mine full time and I feel smart for having a more economical solution than Canon offers.

Click here to learn more about the Vello BG-C2 Battery Grip for Canon 5D Mark II at B&H.

Disclosure

I was sent a unit to review from B&H. If you make a purchase using links in this article, I may get a commission. Thanks for supporting this blog by using my links and sharing this article with your friends.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Monday, February 20, 2012

NEW: Pocket Wizard Plus III–Only $139 and SanDisk Specials

Click here to learn more and pre-order from B&H.

Adorama has SanDisk specials again:

Disclosure

I may get a commission if you make a purchase using links in this article.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Happy Anniversary

My apologies, but this weekend I’ve celebrated the marriage of my brother-in-law and tonight I celebrate the wedding anniversary to my beautiful wife. I’ll resume my normal blogging schedule tomorrow.

Best wishes,
Ron

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Portfolio Review Service Now Available


Ron Martinsen’s
Personalized Service Offering

On January 18th, I asked the readers of this blog what type of services that they would like me to offer. The top responses were Portfolio Reviews and Personalized Training. In this article I’ll address the first request by offering some services based on the responses I received. At a later time I’ll address the topic of Personalized Training.

Based on your feedback, it was clear that the budget for a portfolio review was a huge spread. One reader suggested free (sorry, that’s not gonna happen unless you are close personal friend, paid student or volunteer) up to $800 for an exhaustive review by another reader. However, the consensus among most readers was that they wanted flexibility to chose an offering that was in line with their budget and expectations. This is my attempt to make offerings which align with those requests and the value of the limited spare time I have to do this work.

Bronze – $60

You send Ron a link to your website and he will send you a personal email with the following feedback:

  1. Overall impressions of your site along with any recommendations for improvement on the overall presentation of your web site.
  2. Ron’s picks for the top 5 photos on your site along with any recommendations on how those photos may be improved in the areas of composition, exposure, and post-processing.
  3. Ron will offer recommendations on books, software, and/or gear that you may want to consider acquiring to take your portfolio to the next level.
  4. You may submit one question (with no subparts) and he will provide a personal reply.

The time spent reviewing and composing the email will be a maximum of 45 minutes.

Silver – $120

All of the Bronze features in a personalized private video instead of email where Ron may offer more observations and tips as he reviews your site on his MacBook Pro.

For this service Ron will pick the top 10 photos (total) for your site along with any recommendations on how those photos may be improved.

You may submit two questions (with no subparts) and he will provide a personal reply via email and/or video.

The video will be a maximum of 15 - 20 minutes, but the time spent preparing for the video will be one hour. He will also offer a limited follow up email with links to related information discussed in the video.

Gold – $250

All of the Silver features in a one on one phone call (Skype, Lync or Messenger may be used when possible) instead of email or video.

For this service Ron will pick the top 15 photos (total) for your site along with any recommendations on how those photos may be improved.

Ron will spend a maximum of 90 minutes on the phone and offer a limited follow up email with links to related information discussed over the phone.

Platinum – $250/hr ($500 minimum)

You make the rules. Ron is available to field your questions, review your images in the format of your choice, and communicate his feedback via the mechanism of your choice.

If a face-to-face meeting is desired then contact Ron for a full quote based on your plan. This can include travel (you pay the expenses) and one on one instruction using your gear at the location of your choice (including Ron’s studio, your home, or even a travel destination of your choice).

Topics may include Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, Printing, Working with Models, Studio Lighting and more.

If models are required then you will be required to pay all costs for models and assistants, although every effort will be made to keep this cost down to a minimum.

Limitations & Requirements (Excluding Platinum)

To offer the most helpful advice, some preparation work is required on your part. The following will be required to participate in this service:

  1. The photos that you wish for Ron to review should ideally appear in one gallery, but a maximum of five galleries will be reviewed. The maximum total number of photos in all of the gallery links submitted should not exceed 40. It is also recommended that you make your best effort to limit your photos to your best selections and try to avoid more than one from the same shoot and/or spot as much as possible. Under some circumstances a review of prints or email attached photos may be considered, but please discuss with Ron in advance as certain restrictions or fees may apply.
  2. The server hosting the photo galleries is expected to load and display photos in a timely fashion (within 5 – 8 seconds per image). In the event that the site is too slow you will be contacted for one reschedule review, but if the performance still remains slow this may impact the number of photos that Ron picks and discusses.
  3. Ron is only available for phone calls, video chats, etc… on Monday’s, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 PM until 11:30 PM Pacific time. He may also be available for limited weekends from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM on select Saturday’s and 3:30 PM – 6:00 PM on Sundays – Pacific time. Please keep this in mind if you choose a service that requires personal interactions. The platinum service is an exception, but will be booked based on different schedule limitations.
  4. Once work begins, this service is non-refundable. Ron is happy to discuss any concerns or complaints via email should you be anything less than 100% satisfied. When possible he will make every effort to ensure your satisfaction using remedies at his sole discretion.
  5. In the event your portfolio includes material that violates any laws or is questionable (i.e., stolen work, inappropriate images of minors, peeping tom footage, etc…), the service may be terminated immediately. In cases where this is determined early enough a partial refund may be made. Reviews of nude or sexually suggestive material is acceptable when all laws have been obeyed and in some cases model releases and age verification (license or passport evidence) may be required. Illegal material such as inappropriate images of minors will be reported to the authorities immediately and without warning.
  6. Ron’s opinions offered are just that - his opinions based on his experience as a photographer and a well-known photography/photo editing blogger. He makes no guarantee of any specific outcome of your future performance as a photographer based on this feedback. In short, your future is in your own hands and this service is Ron’s attempt to offer his opinion on where you are at the moment in time of the review.
  7. This is a service offering and not an employment arrangement. Fees will be paid in full in advance of the service being performed via PayPal only. You are responsible for informing Ron of any laws (i.e., tax or otherwise) which may apply to your area.
  8. Each review or Platinum service will be reviewed and accepted at Ron’s discretion. Terms will be established in advance
  9. Prices and service availability subject to change without notice. Your confirmation email will include details of what is included for your service and you will have the ability to cancel anytime up until the service work begins. An email will be sent notifying you of when the review related work has begun.

For questions, please use my contact form.

Payment Information

Please use the following link or contact Ron if you wish to use another method:

Portfolio Review Service

Platinum payment will be billed after the consultation email exchange.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Best of ronmartblog.com: Photomatix & Topaz Reviews

Someone said to me recently that “there’s a bunch of great stuff on your blog if you look for it, but after it’s off the main page nobody’s likely to find it.” That comment inspired me to try out a little “Best of the Blog” idea where I remind people about some of the popular articles of the past that are still relevant today.

I hope you enjoy the blast through the past here. Click the heading (in blue) to go to the topic and use the images below them to jog your memory about the product in question.

HDRSoft Photomatix Pro 4.x

HDR Fisheye Forest - Copyright Ron Martinsen - All Rights Reserved
Here’s a wild HDR images created with a Canon 8-15mm Fisheye Zoom (review)

Topaz Adjust 5.0

Trey Ratcliff secret sauce:

Topaz Labs B&W Effects

After this article, some say that this contender wasn’t a pretender and felt it was nearly as good as Silver Efex Pro 2…

B&W Effects - Traditional Collection - Warm Tone

Topaz Labs DeNoise 3.0

Topaz Denoise 3 - click for a larger image

Topaz Labs InFocus

Hand your camera to a bartender in a dark pub in Dublin and a blurry photo is sure to follow. Now how do you fix it? Learn here…

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
After InFocus and basic sharpening
(Hover to see the before & click for a larger version)

Topaz Labs ReMask 3.0

Complex masking sucks, but ReMask 3 makes it pretty simple to get 95% of the work done in a hurry…

Topaz Labs Star Effects

Add some extra sparkle to your images…

Conclusion

I hope you enjoy this blast from the past! Enjoy the discount coupon code page for discounts on ALL of these products.

Disclaimer

I may get a commission if you make purchases using links in this blog. Thanks for supporting this blog by using my links!

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Background Replacement By Shooting On A Chroma Green Screen

Chroma Green Screen Background
Chroma Green Screen Background
Impact Chroma Sheet Background - 10 x 12' (Chroma Green)

When readers and my students ask me how to do background replacements on shots and generally I’ll tell them to just shoot on white or black and use the techniques found in Photoshop Compositing Secrets or The Photoshop Channels Book to mask out the background. This works for me, and if I do a good enough job lighting the background then I can also just drop a U-Point control on the entire background and dial up the brightness in Viveza shown in this example here:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Viveza background substitution from white background
shot using a
Elinchrom Quadra Ringflash

However, the industry practice for video (i.e., your local weather forecast where the weatherman walks around with the map behind them) is done with what is called a chroma green screen.

To do this technique yourself you need a lighting setup that can be as complex as mine, or as simple as this kit that you can pick up for less than $100 at B&H:

Impact Digital Flash Umbrella Mount Kit
Impact Digital Flash Umbrella Mount Kit (<$100 at B&H)

For this article, I used the kit above but I’ll admit that I prefer this kind of umbrella adapter rather than the cheap ones included in this kit. In fact, I don’t even use a cold shoe – I just screw my 580 EX II flash directly into them using the little stand that comes with my flash (it has a screw mount on the bottom). I’m pretty sure this works for Nikon’s too, but honestly I haven’t ever tried it with something like a SB-900 or SB-910.

You also need a green screen of course, so for this article I chose the Impact Chroma Sheet Background - 10 x 12' (Chroma Green) which retailed for < $59 at B&H. I tossed this on a Impact Background Support System (12' Wide) and I had Kimberly sit on a posing stool. I positioned the white shoot through umbrellas (with the black covers removed) on the left and right of Kimberly and let ETTL do the rest. My handheld shot with my Canon 1D Mark IV was taken using a 70-200mm lens set to 102mm at f/2.8 using ISO 320 for 1/60 sec. The result was the shot at the top of this article and also shown later when you hover over the shot where I’ve replaced the background.

Replacing the Background in Photoshop

The key to replacing the background in Photoshop is the Color Range dialog that you’ve probably never used before. However, it’s easily found under the Select menu of CS5 (and presumably in the same place in earlier versions).

Color Range from the Select Menu of Photoshop

Once you have this dialog the easiest way to get the results you want is to HOLD THE SHIFT KEY and drag downwards over the areas where you know your background appears. REPEAT this process for the big areas until you get something that looks like the screen shot above.  Click OK and you get a selection like this:

Green Screen Selected using Color Range

To fix the eyes you can just use your favorite method of removing an unwanted selection. I like the quick mask tool, but a minus selection using lasso would work (as would many other ways).

Once your selection is good, then go to the select menu and inverse your selection. This selects the subject instead of the background. You can now do a CTRL+J (or CMD+J) to create a new layer with just your subject as shown here:

image

From here you can either fill your background layer with another color or just replace the background layer with a new background. For this example, I chose to replace it with black:

image

This of course reveals what I hate about using Chroma Green Screens – the horrid green fringe! If you are lucky you can go select the layer with your subject (Layer 1 in this example) and then go to Layer –> Matting –> Defringe. Enter a value (usually try 1 and work your way up from there) and voila the green halo goes away. However, that never seems to work perfectly from me (although it does help).

The easy way to remove the green screen

I use the free version of a tool called Easy Green Screen found at http://www.photoshopgreenscreen.com/ that just works at getting rid of most of that nasty green screen. Here’s a quick video that shows how it works:


Play in HD

With a simple few clicks I ended up with a much better separation of my subject from the green screen and doing a 1px Defringe fixed 99% of the problem. The net result of the before and after (using a new background is shown here):

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Mouse in and out to see the before and after

There’s a little area by her right arm, hair and shirt that isn’t 100% perfect but I honestly called it close enough for this article. In a real shot I might spend the time fixing it, but honestly that’s what I don’t like about green screens – you have to fight the green halo issue.

Of course you can use tools like Remask and Perfect Mask to quickly deal with contamination issues like this, but they can also be used to remove more complex background when you didn’t use a green screen in the first place.

Conclusion

This article shows that you don’t have to spend much money to do simple background replacements and that there are a wealth of tools to help you get perfect results. Lightroom users are probably better off using a white background and my Viveza trick for the cheapest way to just get a pure white background. However, Photoshop (and equivalent) users can use a product like Easy Green Screen and get great results in a hurry. The biggest tip to remember though is to be sure you get enough light on your background as the more evenly lit and bright it is, the easier it will be to remove it.

Disclaimer

If you make a purchase using the links found in this article, I may make a commission. Thanks for supporting this blog by using my links!

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

HANDS ON: Canon EOS-1D X (sample images and video) 9-16-12 update

 

****** SEE MY REVIEW HERE *****

 

View sample images here and videos on how to use this cool new camera.

At Photo Plus Expo in New York last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Canon Advisor of Technical Information Chuck Westfall and a reporter from Rangefinder Magazine to discuss the Canon EOS-1D X (press release article).

I’ve suffered through the pains of the 1D Mark III, but I’ve enjoyed my 1D Mark IV despite its few warts. I’ve also had this strong desire to take a 1D Mark IV, 1Ds Mark III, 5D Mark II, and 7D and mix them all up to create the perfect camera. From what I’ve seen so far, it seems that is what Canon appears to have done and I couldn’t be happier. Everything I love about all of those cameras is present in the X (and much more), yet all of the frustrations and limitations of them appears to have been addressed.

Sensor Details Still Leave Room For Concern

Canon says this sensor offers a 6.95 pixel pitch (µm) compared to 6.4 for the 5DM2 and 5.7 for the 1DM4 (see more comparisons here). This is very important because if you imagine photons as rain as illustrated here, then the pixel pitch is like the size of the bucket catching the rain. The bigger the pixel pitch, the better the image quality – sort of. For example, the original Canon 1D had a 10.9 pixel pitch, but many other modern advancements in sensor technology make its images far inferior to those of a 1D Mark IV so when comparing pixel pitches you need to think about the generation to which the camera belongs. In this generation, 6.95 is great, but still smaller than the 8.4 found in the Nikon D3s. This would make one wonder if this is really the D3s killer that the Canon shooters like myself hoped it would be, or if we still be lusting for the next Nikon flagship camera that will replace the D3s.

With a sensor that is effectively the same size as the D3s, yet nearly 6 megapixels more packed into each image, the big question is going to be about image quality – especially at higher ISO’s. Canon claims that with in-camera JPEG’s the image quality will meet or exceed what is seen today in the 1Ds-Mark III/5D Mark II. That’s a tall claim, but my hands on experience at the Expo seems to indicate this is true. I was unable to test the RAW performance, which Canon naturally acknowledges isn’t as improved as JPEG, but was unable to commit to how much of an improvement due to the pre-production nature of these bodies. Time will tell if it is simply a match to the D3s or if they will be competitive with the D3s replacement.

Sports Shooters Will Be Pleased


My unscientific testing yielded 52 full-size RAW frames
in 12fps burst mode before the buffer started to stutter

When I read about the 12fps performance of this camera I was excited – especially given the larger image size – but I was also worried as my 10fps performance of the 1D Mark III & IV has always been significantly limited by its puny buffer. In my early testing with what I was told was a slow CF card, I was able to get 52 full-size RAW frames in burst mode before the buffer started to stutter. That’s up from 30 in the 1D Mark IV, so that’s promising given the significantly larger file sizes. However, I would have really loved to have seen that number closer to 100 for RAW. RAM is pretty cheap, so I’m always frustrated there isn’t a way to add RAM or do something to overcome this limitation. With that gripe aside, the 52 RAW frames is going to be usable enough in most practical scenarios so this is a welcome relief. This also means that sRAW or JPEG only shooters will find themselves with an endless supply of buffer for sports shooting.

I didn’t have enough time to test buffer flush performance, but the Mark IV smoked the D3s (see here) so I’d expect the X to be the fastest camera on the market in this measurement.

Of course, the biggest problem with prior Canon 1D cameras wasn’t FPS performance – they were the leaders at 10fps RAW – it was the usability of the AF system. When used properly, the Canon pro AF system was unbeatable and it could give you a ton of in-focus images. However, when used improperly (which was VERY easy to do) it could be a disaster and lots of images would be out of focus. The reality was that just like a pro photographer must know the triangle of setting ISO, aperture and shutter speed to get a good photo – Canon shooters had to know how to coordinate four different AF settings to get a good result. Despite my attempt at writing a guide to help with this problem, the truth is that many still failed to get the most out of the system – myself included. This has left IV owners envying 7D owners zone system.


AF Point Selection is RADICALLY improved
and features enhancements over the 7D zone system

Fortunately Canon has added that system to the X (see above) along with many other autofocus improvements. The net result of this is that the new system is less prone to user error. The advanced ability to change these settings still exists, but presets have been added with additional help information to aid photographers in quickly knowing which setting to use for a variety of common situations. I think these changes will help photographers maximize the potential of the system. One example is shown below in the new 5 page AF menu that features help with a press of the Info button:


Auto Focus gets 5 pages of AF menus
On the first page are 6 different case presets
to help dialing in the correct AF results

Here’s a table that shows some pretty crude shots of each of the case settings (all of which are customizable and feature help when you press the info button):


Case Settings will be a welcome addition to newbies
as well as existing 1D owners confused by the AF system
 

14fps Super High Speed


Yes, it can do 14fps but don’t get too excited…

Make no mistake, this is a 12fps camera despite the presence of a 14fps super high speed mode. The reason why I say this is because during the 14fps mode the mirror is left up so you can’t see through the view finder and the AF are fixed. In addition, it only supports JPEG so its pretty useless in most scenarios. Sure if you have a fixed point to focus on and want to bang out the most shots possible (which is the case in skiing sometimes), this might be useful, but I think most will find it frustrating to use. That said, I’m sure some will be glad to see this added but I doubt I’d ever use it.

Only the REAL AF Points Are Shown Now

Another huge improvement is that the confusion about what AF points worked with what lenses has been removed. Before you would always see the same number even if some were not active for the lens you were using. The X will only show you the focus appoints that apply to your lens and more cross type sensors have been added to improve the accuracy of subject tracking.

Wedding Photographers Rejoice – Low Light Nightmares Addressed

One of my frustrations with my 1D Mark IV was that its low light auto focus performance was mediocre at best (worst than the 5D Mark II’s antiquated system). As a result it wasn’t a very good camera for situations like concerts, night clubs, etc… which is really where you want a high ISO pro camera. It seems that the advancements in metering with the new 100,000 pixel RGB metering sensor and its dedicated DIGIC 4 processor and a leap from 63 metering points to 252 will result in far fewer scenarios where you push the shutter release and nothing happens because it can not meter the contrast and/or acquire focus.

Canon has also made significant strides to not only catch up with the mighty Nikon D3s (the current high ISO noise champion), but from what I saw in these early cameras it possibly has surpassed it. The formerly useless ISO 12,800 is now usable and appears to look at least as good as what ISO 1600 looked like on the 1D Mark IV. Unfortunately I couldn’t take any of my own images for closer scrutiny elsewhere, so the judge is still out on this. At a minimum it seems that Canon has matched the Nikon D3s and is definitely 2 stops better at high ISO performance, but I think it is higher than that. It certainly seems to be a camera where 12,800 and lower all seem like very usable ISO’s from what I saw.

Videographers Rejoice

While video files are still limited to 4GB, Canon has come up with a seamless scheme for allowing multiple video files to be created and transparently stitched together for a maximum of 29 minutes and 59 seconds of its highest quality HD video per individual clip. This coupled with improvements in additional compression modes will be a welcome relief to many videographers.

The biggest improvement in HD video has now been improved to prevent any moiré (i.e., that annoying effect you get when videoing someone in a herringbone suit) as well as better compression. Video will also now embed a time code which will be a big benefit to cinematographers.

I had a chance to sit one-on-one with Hollywood Director of Photography, Shane Hurlbut, and he was thrilled about the video improvements. He felt like Canon addressed his major pain points he faced when filming his upcoming movie, Act of Valor, with the 5D Mark II.

Multiple Exposures On A Single Frame Now Possible

In the film days you could take multiple shots on the same frame of film by simply not advancing the film after the shot. Nikon added this feature a long time ago to their cameras, but it has been missing from Canon. I’m pleased to say that Canon has addressed this by adding an advanced version of this feature.

Built-in Chromatic Aberration Correction


Per lens chromatic aberration correction is built in

While this feature was available for select Canon lenses in DPP before, its now possible in camera where people will actually use it. Woohoo!

Battery Change

One interesting change is that due to safety regulation changes in Japan, a new battery has been introduced. The good news is that your old 1D Mark III & IV batteries will work in this camera, and the new batteries will work in your older cameras. They are the same size but have a different charger which is backwards compatible. It’s rare for camera companies not to screw us over by changing the battery size, so it was a relief to see Canon care enough not to do that here.

Other Random Notes


A new stand-alone Quick Menu button is nice to have in low light

  • An Ethernet cable can transfer data from the X to your PC at speeds up to 300mb/sec
  • Bracketing now goes from +/-3 to +/-5 scale with the same maximum number of bracketed exposures. This will help with the new built-in HDR processing as well.
  • Button redundancy is greatly improved with a joystick and front buttons being repeated for easy access in both portrait and landscape mode
  • The scroll wheel has a really nice rubbery tactile feel that is much nicer than all current Canon cameras
  • Dual compact flash instead of CF/SD
  • The EOS-1D X allows users to save up to 3 sets of customized camera settings that can be selected via the mode button and main input dial. They're listed on the LCD data panel as C1, C2 and C3. This puts the 1D X on a par with other current EOS bodies above the Rebel series in terms of its ability to store user-registered custom camera settings.

Other improvements include a much nicer feel for the scroll wheel, an easier to use joystick controller, programmable redundant front camera buttons. I was also happy to see Canon finally do away with the SD card slot and go to dual Compact Flash slots.

Conclusion

If I had to summarize one theme of Canon’s work on the 1D X it has to be “we’ve heard you”. Canon as done so many things to catch up with the Nikon D3s and D3x as well as extending its lead in video. Of course if they just did that then there would be little to be excited about, but I’m pleased to say that this is just the beginning. In fact, I’d probably put you to sleep if I listed everything here and I’m sure I have only discovered the tip of the iceberg.

Of course one difficult situation Canon has put me in is that they’ve finally built the camera I hoped I was getting when I made the leap to get my 1D Mark III, but they’ve priced it to be as insanely expensive (yet still cheaper than a 1Ds Mark III). I have a fear of ending up with the state-of-the-art promise only to be disappointed with a nightmare performance like I had with the Mark III. Fortunately, I’ve been assured by Canon that I’ll get a better chance early next year to give one of these cameras a test drive to give you my honest opinion on this camera. From everything I’ve seen so far I’m afraid I need to make a lifestyle change so I can start saving for this camera, but I’m also so pleased at what I’m seeing that I might be putting both my 1D Mark IV and 5D Mark II on the market to help pay for it.

Make no mistake, if this camera is stable and works as advertised, this is the greatest camera Canon has ever made. It appears to be well worth the upgrade for any Canon shooter with an existing pro body. Everything I’ve seen show signs of greatness and frustrated Nikon D3 and D3x owners might want to start planning for a platform change this Spring. Canon has finally listened so I’m very pleased I didn’t make the move to Nikon. Thank you Canon!

For more information, see my press release article or visit Canon USA's web site.

Preorder Info

Canon made it very clear that this camera still isn’t out of development yet, so the earliest we could hope to see it is March 2012. If history repeats itself, then that date could really end up being summer 2012 because the 1D Mark IV was supposed to be out in November/December of 2009 yet it didn’t start getting distributed into the channel until February 2010. In fact, those without connections or good luck were lucky to see them by summer of 2010.

As of the time of this writing, no legitimate online reseller I know of is taking true pre-orders (meaning you are guaranteed a spot in line when they come in). Click here to pre-order at B&H when they begin taking orders (perhaps by the time you read this).

More Expo Hands On Reviews

If you enjoyed this, then you’ll probably love these articles here as well:

Don’t forget that this blog has a discount coupon code page where you can get discounts not found anywhere else from companies like LensRentals.com as well as big discounts from Nik Software, onOne Software, QImage, Topaz Labs and many more. There are even special offers from Think Tank Photo and Kelly Moore Bags.

If you are new here, then you may also want to know that this is your one stop for tons of great info on printing via my popular printing series section and Printing 101 Guide:

 

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Disclaimer

My information was obtained by a hands-on experience of PRE-RELEASE versions of the EOS-1D X, so my facts and those who I spoke with at Canon are subject to change prior to the final release. I’ve made every attempt to share the facts as they are known now and to confirm with highly reliable sources. If any information here is proven to be inaccurate or misleading, I’ll update the article immediately so check back for updates.

This article contains links which may result in my earning a commission if you make a purchase. Thanks for supporting my blog by using my links when your make your purchase and rest assured that my partners would charge you the same price whether you use my links or not.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

GoPro or Go Home–HD Hero 2 Review (Motorsports Edition) UPDATED: 2-27-2012

GoPro HD Hero 2 Motorsports Edition
GoPro HD Hero 2 Motorsports Edition
Shown above at near actual size outside
of its waterproof case (shown behind it)

My love of cars is what got me into film photography in 1984, and to this day my passion for all cool things on wheels still trumps all of my many passions. As a big fan of Formula 1 racing, when I saw advertisements for the GoPro camera show up a few years ago I was intrigued, but my expectations were low. As a result I never bothered to get one – even for review. However, when one of my friends showed his GoPro video on Facebook it got my attention – especially since it was taken with the original GoPro and it looked so good.

This prompted me to contact my friends at B&H to see if I could finally review one these gadgets. They agreed, so when it arrived I was bubbling with excitement. However, when I took it out of the case I thought – hum, this looks like a piece of junk that you’d get off eBay. It was a low tech camera in bad need of more buttons and it just didn’t impress me. As a result, I wasn’t expecting very good results, and the horrible Northwest winter wasn’t given me a chance to take it out for a proper test. This weekend the great weather arrived, so I decided to have some fun taking it out mounted to a Porsche 911 C4s Cabriolet and a Lotus Exige for a little mountain road spin.

Here’s one of the few time lapse shots I managed to snag before the sun went down, but I thought it was a great one:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Country Road Time Lapse Fun
Mouse over to see the in-camera JPEG original
Mouse out to see my edit of the file

After I got home and files started to come off the SD cards, I quickly realized that what this camera lacks in features it makes up for in quality. I was very happy with the results as you’ll see later in this review.

What’s Included in the Motorsports Edition

GoPro HD Hero 2 Motorsports Edition

I’ve got to say that the GoPro HD Hero 2 Motorsports Edition comes in one of the most impressive boxes I’ve seen to date. It’s a big plexiglass box with a shiny black surface that makes you think – wow, this is cool. Of course, I wish they would have tossed it in a cheap box and put a few more buttons on the camera – but more on that later. Here’s what’s included:

  • Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery
  • Waterproof Quick-Release Housing
  • Assorted Mounting Hardware
  • USB Charging Cable
  • 3 x Curved Adhesive Mounts
  • 2 x Flat Adhesive Mounts
  • J-Hook
  • Suction Cup Mount
  • 3-Way Pivot Arm
  • 1-Year Limited Warranty

In layman’s terms, that’s everything (yes, really it is everything) you need to go out and start getting some cool videos or photos with it mounted to your car. I was skeptical at first. The directions didn’t inspire confidence when it said that the suction cup should be mounted 24 hours in advance in room temperature conditions! Fortunately in my testing it worked okay in cool conditions (50’s Fahrenheit) and mounted seconds before driving off with it. Not once did the suction cup even come close to coming off (in fact, sometimes it was tricky to remove), so I think this is pretty much the lawyers warning versus the real performance possibilities.


Everything you need is really included

Since I was reviewing this unit I passed on the adhesive mounts and elected to go for the suction cup mount. I tried it on glass, steel, aluminum and fiberglass and it worked like a champ on all of them. Even on curved surfaces it seemed to have a death grip needed for the twisty mountain roads.

The only thing I think was missing was perhaps one more mounting gizmo that would allow me to do the wheel shot shown above in landscape mode so I could do video. Instead, I could only do that one in portrait which is why I chose to do a time lapse. I’m sure this gizmo exists and it might even have been in my kit, but I just didn’t see how to get that configuration. As you’ll see in the videos below, I had what I needed to get the video shots I think most people want to accomplish.

Using the GoPro HD Hero 2

GoPro HD Hero 2 Motorsports Edition

As I mentioned earlier, the GoPro HD Hero 2  comes in a fancy box which I think is their way of overcompensating for the cheapo first impression the HD Hero 2 gives. However, this is a powerful little camera with a pretty reasonable lens – especially for this price point! I found that in practice the only thing this gizmo lacked was more buttons. It’s two buttons are so overloaded that it can be maddening at times, but I think this was done to minimize the failure points when using the waterproof housing buttons. Perhaps that is true, but honestly I’d rather more buttons with only one or two accessible via this way. In fact, the #1 button missing is the OFF button!

In fact, I think the #1 video most people will make on their GoPro is one like this:


GoPro Button Press Fail

This is shot of me trying to go through the menus to change a setting, but accidentally hitting the wrong button and recording myself fumbling around. I got a bunch of those which are funny at first, but it gets old pretty fast.

These issues aside everything was fairly well documented (not outstanding, but good enough) so I was able to figure out how to get this gizmo going. It’s pretty much fully automatic so you just pick your resolution, field of view and recording type (video, stills time lapse, etc…) and you are good to go. There’s a lot of little options for things like date and time and the all-important flip ( so you can video with the camera upside down), but nothing fancy here. In fact, one noticeable omission was a manual exposure mode so you can do a slow shutter speed shot to get awesome car images like Clint Clemens is famous for.

I should point out that I just used random SD cards I had – including one that was about three years old (so it isn’t super fast), and all just worked – no issues.

Videos

Gripes aside, the proof is in the pudding, so I put this gadget to the test to see what I could get. While YouTube doesn’t do the videos justice, I was pretty pleased with the results.

Be sure to the videos at 100% (which means no full-screen if you are on a display that can do greater than 1280x960). Keep in mind that no laws were broken in the making of these videos. Instead we simply used creative angles and low gears (to get loud engine revs) to make the videos slightly more exciting. Of course, this is no Hollywood production, so for most they may be as exciting as someone else play a video game, but trust me – you’ll love your own videos as much as the videos of the baby! ;-)

Here’s a video of a Lotus Exige driving downhill on a twisty country road. This video was shot at 1920x1080 at the maximum field of view for that resolution. The lead car is a 911 with the camera mounted to the top of the back bumper: 


Play in HD

This was good, but as you can see the daytime running lights of the Lotus kinda ruin it. In addition, the wide field of view means you want your follow car to be very close. Lesson learned, so in this one we try to get a little closer (about 1 car length) with no headlights on. This time I also tried using the 1280x960 resolution for a larger field of view:


Play in HD

You won’t be seeing me up for an Academy Award for these videos, but overall I thought the quality was decent. There are some popping sounds from rocks hitting the case, and the engine sounds are muffled because I used the waterproof door instead of the skeleton door (due to heavy dust from winter road sanding). Audio is definitely the weakness even with the skeleton door, and carful attention and some rubbery bits might be useful in getting the best results out of your audio if you care about that. In fact, external audio is probably best.

Conclusion

Overall I was happy with the exposure, dynamic range, and white balance of this camera – especially at this price point. It is a nice all-in-one solution that is a great value and fun. Given how much it would cost to do this in a DIY project, it is totally worth the price!

One tough part of using this device is its lack of an LCD. This means it is like the old days when shooting film where you can’t see results until later. If you are serious then you’ll want to bring a fast laptop (ideally with an SSD drive ) and an equally fast card reader so you can proof your results in the field. Personally though I just winged it and had fun, and that was good enough for me.

I wish it had more features (i.e., raw file support) and discrete buttons (or even better – a remote). Of course if it did it would probably cost more than I’d be willing to risk. It’d suck to lose this camera in an accident, but at $299.99 it’s cheap enough that I’d probably be more interested in seeing what it recorded before it died than I would about replacing it.

UPDATE

Shortly after I released this article people started send me all sorts of cool links. The best ones were about the cool accessories that I think will excite you as much as it does me! Click here to learn about the new remote coming this spring, and here's a link to the $80 LCD panel. I guess you can have everything! I love it!

I love this gadget and would highly recommend it to adrenaline junkies! In fact, I’m actually going to buy one myself!

Click here to see or buy the GoPro HD Hero 2 Motorsports Edition on B&H. If you aren’t into motorsports, then click here to see other options.

Disclaimer

B&H provided me with a unit to test. I had so much fun that I’m considering purchasing it. I may also get a commission if you make a purchase using links in this article.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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Choosing The Right Display Calibration Device (Updated 2/9/2012)

The X-Rite i1Display Pro, ColorMunki Display, NEC SpectraSensor Pro and Eizo (DataColor) EX1 are all current wide gamut colorimeters NOT spectrophotometers. The purpose of this article is to demystify a lot of confusion about display calibration devices on the market and educate you on some new models to let you know which display calibration device is right for you.

WARNING: I go super geeky at first to help clear up terminology and massive confusion, so if you know what you want and can’t deal with the geeky stuff then page down until you see a picture of the product you want to buy or research.

Profile vs Hardware LUT Calibration

What this means is that they are designed to calibrate your display against a series of colors swatches for which the display calibration software used knows exactly what value the sensor should read for each swatch.

The results of this data obtained by the sensor is used by the display calibration software in one of two ways:

  1. To create a display profile (most common) – this is where the display calibration software does what it can to adjust your display to show colors accurately and it creates a lookup table of differences in a file a profile. In simple terms it’s like having yellow paint that is supposed to look green so you keep a measurement of how many drops of blue you mix into the yellow paint until it is the shade of green that you want. The profile is that sheet of paper where you jotted down the information about how much blue is needed. Your computer operating system uses these profiles to work with your display card and monitor to make color adjustments to the red, green and blue channels to render color more accurately. This method works well, but it is system dependent and can’t be dynamic.
  2. To perform a display LUT Adjustment (a.k.a., programming the LUT) – Expensive and advanced displays improve upon the model above to actually write this data into the monitor hardware itself so that the monitor can do a better job than your OS at rendering accurate color. The method has the advantage of allowing you to use the same display with different computers without the need to calibrate because your operating system is bypassed for color rendition. This is less common on inexpensive displays, but very common on high end displays best suited for photography.  The downside to this design is that you usually need to the proprietary software by the display maker (i.e., NEC SpectraView II, Eizo Color Navigator or EasyPIX, etc…) as other third party software (i.e., the software included by X-Rite or DataColor) is sometimes not able to program the display LUT directly and will resort to creating a display profile (very bad when using a LUT based display). X-Rite has partnered with Eizo so that its latest software can program Eizo displays that are compatible with ColorNavigator can be programmed with i1Publish, but NEC still requires SpectraView II.
A Word About NEC & Eizo (proprietary) Display Colorimeters

The NEC SpectraSensor Pro is a colorimeter built by X-Rite specifically for NEC to calibrate wide gamut displays built by NEC using its proprietary SpectraView II software. The Eizo EX1 is a colorimeter built by DataColor specifically to calibrate Eizo displays using its EasyPIX software. They both can be used with their corresponding software to program the LUT of supported displays and therefore are offered as bundle when buying Eizo and NEC displays.

These colorimeters are just fine as they have been developed and tested under the supervision of the display maker to ensure they are able to program the monitors LUT using their proprietary software.

NEC SpectraView (i1 Display) Colorimeter

NEC used to also offer a special version of the i1 Display as shown below that supported wide gamut display calibration (the X-Rite i1 Display DOES NOT support wide gamut):

If you are a NEC display owner with one of these devices (or are considering buying one used), you do not need one of the products discussed in this article as it will still calibrate your NEC wide gamut display accurately. NEC and X-Rite will eventually phase out support for this product, so I wouldn’t invest in one at this point. Using today’s software and this hardware you should be able to accurately display any NEC display that supports SpectraView II, so an upgrade is only necessary in the future when you upgrade your operating system and/or SpectraView software to a version that no longer supports this device (won’t happen overnight).

Spectrophotometers – Display and Printer Calibration


Spectrophotometers like the ColorMunki PHOTO
calibrate displays plus create paper profiles

Click here to read an article that does a good job at explaining the difference between a colorimeter and a spectrophotometer.

A spectrophotometer can be used to create paper profiles which is the process where you print out color swatches of known RGB values it and then measure the colors using a spectrophotometer to compare what color actually gets printed. The operating system, the printer, the inks and paper you use all combine to contaminate the color that ultimately ends up on the paper, so a printer paper profile used in conjunction with a display color profile (or calibrated LUT) is critical to get the colors you see on your screen to look the same way on the paper that comes out of your printer.

This is a tricky process due to all of the variables that come into play, which is why X-Rite created a great product called the ColorMunki PHOTO (which is a spectrophotometer, NOT a colorimeter like the ColorMunki Display (discussed later in this article) along with its proprietary software to make this whole process work smoothly. I talk about this in my color management article, but know that currently this is the most easy to use and accurate method for getting your prints to look like what you see on your display (excluding the limitations of your display).

If your goal of reading this article is to match your prints with your display then my advice is to  go get a ColorMunki Photo from Adorama or B&H as that’s a color management workflow issue. Advanced print master (discussed in my printing 101 eBook) will use even more advanced and complex products like these:


B&H sells the i1iSis – an expensive spectrophotometer


i1 Pro shown with a
i1iO Automated Scan Table

X-Rite has replaced the i1XTreme I reviewed with thei1Photo Pro UVcut Professional Color Management for Photographers and offers the i1iO Automated Scan Table (shown above with a i1 Pro attached). It also offers the i1Sis which is only used for fast creation of paper profiles so a separate colorimeter is required.  It should be noted that this device is offered in a non-UVcut version as well.

Now before you go out and get a spectrophotometer besides the ColorMunki PHOTO, be aware that you will invest thousands of dollars and lots of time so mere mortals are going to find their money best spent on a product like ColorByte ImagePrint (new version 9 is awesome) that just has all the profiles you need available on demand so you are back to only needing a colorimeter to calibrate your display.

Colorimeters

Okay if you read the stuff before this then I’m sure your head is spinning. I’m happy to say that I won’t get too geeky from here on in as I’ll simply focus on which “gizmo” you need to make your display to the best job it can at showing colors accurately.

WARNING: If your display sucks, a colorimeter may not help!!!!

Please keep in mind though that colorimeters aren’t miracle workers. If you are using a crappy display you got free with your computer, then it may not be able to display color accurately no matter what you do. I know that on paper many displays seem like they are “just as good” but as the saying goes “there’s lies, damn lies and statistics”.  Statistics do not tell the whole story my engineer friends, so if you are serious about color management then you’ll need to invest a good wide gamut display (and no you can’t get one off eBay for $100). Here are a few models that I’ve used and have witnessed them display color as accurately as possible with todays technology:

  1. Eizo ColorEdge CG243W – The best photography display I’ve ever used, but also the most expensive. If you have a Ferrari or Rolls Royce sitting in the garage, then this is what you want to buy. Joking aside, it doesn’t get better than this.
  2. Eizo FlexScan SX2762W – You insist on Eizo quality but can’t stomach the price? Then this display is a nice alternative.
  3. NEC PA Series – If you a working middle class grunt who wants near Eizo quality for a fraction of the price, then this will rock your world. I use the PA241W and love it, and only a trained eye will see the difference between this an a Eizo.

I’m told HP has DreamColor displays that are fantastic too, but I’ve had such bad luck with HP products over the last decade that I’d recommend sticking with highly trusted brands like Eizo and NEC.

If you must choose a different brand then you’ll want an IPS display that can display at least 95% of the Adobe RGB color gamut, has a DisplayPort (even on the PC), has a programmable LUT for hardware calibration, and supports a minimum resolution of 1920x1200 (not 1080). 10-bit color is an added plus. If the display you are researching lacks any of these features then I’d advise you to keep shopping.

X-Rite i1Display PRO – (Ron’s Favorite)

Click to visit X-Rite for more info on the i1Display Pro
i1Display Pro ($269.00 MSRP – Adorama, B&H)
Professional Display Calibration for the Most Demanding Color Perfectionists

In the summer of 2011 X-Rite released two new calibration devices to replace their popular X-Rite i1 Display 2 and Pantone Huey PRO colorimeters – neither of the older units supported wide gamut display. The i1Display Pro and ColorMunki Display have the following in common:

  • Wide gamut color calibration
  • X-Rite ADC [Advanced Display Control] to control supported hardware to ensure the highest quality results.
  • Support profiling projectors (i.e., Canon SX-80 Pro Photography Projector) and includes a tripod mount to assist with calibration in large venues
  • Multiple Displays Supported (but more advanced via software for the i1Display Pro)
  • Flare Correct™ compensates for flare light falling on the surface of the display (but honestly I hate this feature <g>)
  • The ability to measure the ambient light to include that data in your profile when your display is not in an ideal viewing environment with a hood
  • and more….

Unique to this model is the bundled software is based on the all new i1Profiler software (which I’ll be reviewing soon). It can run in both a simple mode as well as advanced mode which means this solution can grow with you as your color management skills improve.

This model has advanced multiple displays support that also is useful in workgroups where you need all of the displays in your facility to be viewing colors the same way. Now based on my experience is that you need all of the same series displays built and purchased at the same time for the best result, but that’s not usually possible so this does the best job that I know of at getting you in the right ballpark.

This device will work with the latest version of NEC’s SpectraView II and Eizo ColorNavigator calibration software.

Here’s how to set the preferences for this device in NEC’s SpectraView II:

Click for a larger image

It should be noted that if you use a NEC display that supports hardware calibration then you must use SpectraView II and therefore can not (and should never) use X-Rite’s included software. Windows 7 will automatically detect and install the “i1Display 3” driver and it will work the next time you start SpectraView II and change your calibration sensor preferences as shown above.

If you have a photography business, then this is the device you need.

X-Rite ColorMunki Display – the photography hobbyist ideal solution

Click to visit X-Rite for more info on the ColorMunki Display
ColorMunki Display ($189.99 MSRP Adorama, B&H)
Advanced Display Calibration Made Easy for Color Perfectionists

Simply put, if photography is your hobby and not your profession then this is a great solution for you at a reasonable price. The software is a little more user friendly with no advanced mode, but the colorimeter device itself is identical so the end result of calibrating your display versus a i1Display Pro will be identical on a single display. The i1Display Pro has advantages for multiple displays, but this device supports multiple displays as well so don’t get too hung up on that point.

I like this device because its easy to use and it typically just works (unless you are like me and you are using 6 different devices without rebooting <g>).

Here’s a video walkthrough of the ColorMunki Display calibration process on a MacBook Pro in Easy Mode:


Click here to play in HD. Viewing in full screen is recommended.

Here’s another video walkthrough showing the Advanced Mode:


Click here to play in HD. Viewing in full screen is recommended.

NEC SpectraSensor Pro (NEC Display Owners Only)

NEC SpectraSensor Pro
NEC SpectraSensor Pro

If you currently own or will in the future own a NEC display that supports hardware calibration and you don’t have a calibration device already, then this is device you’ll want to buy. In fact, if you haven’t purchased your display yet then I’d advise that you purchase the bundle that includes it with your display (only one per computer needed).

When using SpectraView II it can be a little confusing choosing the sensor type if the Auto-Detect button doesn’t work properly (usually it does) or if you have more than one sensor installed. The reason why is because you must choose “XRite iOne Display Pro (i1D3)” as the sensor type as shown here:

image

The software actually reads the model information from the device so you can tell that this is really the NEC SpectraSensor Pro device, but it can be confusing so it’s worth mentioning that here.

Eizo EX1 by Datacolor (Eizo FlexScan Owners Only)

For the last month or so I’ve been using a Eizo FlexScan SX2762W for the purpose of doing my review. To my dismay the only way it could be calibrated was using Eizo’s EasyPIX solution which bummed me out as Eizo’s Color Navigator software is much better. However it worked well enough, so if you own (or are buying) an Eizo FlexScan SX2762W (or equivalent) then go for the bundle and get this.

This is just a Datacolor Spyder 3 rebranded so I was actually able to use it with my NEC SpectraView II software to calibrate my NEC PA241W (note you must physically plug it into the display you are calibrating when doing hardware calibration). Here’s how to configure it in the preferences:

Click for a larger image

NEC SpectraView II Calibration Comparison on a NEC PA241W

To compare the devices in this article I used the NEC SpectraView II software because it does a good job working with a large variety of sensors, it has good reporting info, and the hardware calibration means that no operating system issues will skew the results. With that said, here’s my calibration settings:

NEC SpectraView II Target Settings

The Eizo EX1 (Datacolor Spyder 3) was the sixth device I have used to calibrate this display on this machine so SpectraView is pretty good about letting you most of the popular colorimeter sensors on the market. For as long as I’ve been in the computer industry, I’m honestly shocked I was able to get all but one of working on one machine in harmony without my system crashing – well done X-Rite!

In the sections that follow I’ll discuss how a variety of products performed when calibrating this display. To be fair I had the display turned on for over 6 hours before doing the calibration so the display was fully up to temperature. My methodology for testing on a 64-bit Windows 7 system with was as follows:

  1. Making sure that NEC SpectraView II wasn’t running, I’d plug one and only one sensor directly into the same USB port on the NEC PA241W.
  2. I’d launch the software, go to Edit | Preferences and click Auto Detect to make sure that the sensor type selected was correct. I visually confirmed the model name as well.
  3. I’d run the calibration and also confirmed that the sensor shown during the placement step was the same as what I was using.
  4. At the conclusion of the calibration I pasted the results in this article. I ran each test two or three times more to see if it was statistically any different.
Eizo EX1 (Datacolor Spyder 3)

Eizo EX1 (Datacolor Spyder 3) SpectraView II Information Summary

This was by far the worst result and multiple runs didn’t produce significantly better results. When analyzing a calibration the first thing you want to do is look at the Delta E value. Many say that 2.0 or less is acceptable, but closer to 0.50 or less is realistically possible these days. Chromix has the following statement in their definition of Delta E:

A Delta E of 1 or less between two colors that are not touching one another is barely perceptible by the average human observer; a Delta E between 3 and 6 is typically considered an acceptable match in commercial reproduction on printing presses. (Note: Human vision is more sensitive to color differences if two colors actually touch each other.)

The 1.20 Delta E below my expectations because I’m accustomed to looking at a calibrated display that typically has a Delta E of 0.50 or less. The targeted 6506K white point is being calibrated to 6633K which in practical terms meant my display had an unusual blue cast to it and was not calibrated accurately enough for print soft proofing.

The contrast ratio (the larger the first number, the better) was lower than expected as well at 258:1. As a result I have to give this device, on this display using this software (which granted it’s not purposely built for) a UNSATISFACTORY grade. This device plugs in and runs, but I wouldn’t recommend it for accurate color calibration on this display using this software.

Of course I’ll be fair in reminding you that this device is designed for use in calibrating an Eizo FlexScan SX2762W with the EasyPIX software, so I am using it in an unsupported fashion. When using it on the Eizo with the EasyPIX software I got a Display Luminance of 99.7 and a temperature of 6507K. Easy PIX doesn’t report contrast ratio, but overall the results were acceptable on the Eizo. There was still a touch more of a blue cast on the Eizo than the NEC, but I’d say this device does well for what it is designed for, so perhaps there’s some tweak in it for Eizo that doesn’t translate well to NEC and/or SpectraView.

If you are considering a Datacolor device I’d suggest borrowing a friends Datacolor Spyder 3. You can’t return calibration devices so do your own tests to make sure you are happy before purchasing if possible. In fact, the the new Spyder3 Elite might perform better, so try it if you can.

X-Rite ColorMunki PHOTO Spectrophotometer

Click here to learn more about the ColorMunki Photo on X-Rite's Website

X-Rite ColorMunki PHOTO SpectraView II Information Summary

I was unable to test the ColorMunki Display colorimeter due to the OS not recognizing it for some reason. I plugged it in and tested on my MacBook Pro and Lenovo W510 with no problem so it was an issue specific to my Windows 7 system and this device (perhaps because I had installed the i1Display Pro).

At any rate, I was curious to test its big brother the ColorMunki PHOTO to see how this spectrophotometer would do compared to its big brother, the i1Pro. I ran the test three times and got statistically the same result each time so I was a little disappointed to see that the Delta E was 0.94. Of course this is below 1.0 so in theory this is acceptable.

Ironically with this one the contrast ratio was 615:1 so I’m not sure what to make of that result. The white point was only 14K off its target and the luminance was just 0.4 over 100.0 so to my eyes the result seemed ACCEPTABLE.

NEC SpectraSensor Pro

NEC SpectraSensor Pro SpectraView II Information Summary

This device is made by X-Rite for NEC so it should do the best job, right? I must admit that I was shocked when I ran the results and saw that the Delta E was 0.72. At 6543k and a contrast ratio of 513:1, the calibration felt “about right”, but the data proved it was off more than the maximum 0.50 Delta E that I prefer to see for everyday use. Ironically if I used the i1 Pro sensor type in the preferences dialog I was able to get the Delta E to drop to 0.68.

The Delta E was well below 1.0 so I’m going to give this device a GOOD rating.

My only explanation here is that there’s probably some manufacturing tolerance that comes in to play so this is probably considered within specification so it shipped. Your copy might be better than my copy so I wouldn’t consider this to be a wide enough margin for you to refrain from getting this. In fact, I’d let price be your guide because as I said – under 1.0 is going to be impossible for most to notice.

X-Rite i1 Pro

Note, the UVCut version was used in this test, but a non-UV version exists.

Click here to learn more on the X-Rite Website

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This is the most expensive sensor I have on hand, but it is a spectrophotometer so it can do paper profiles too. It did a VERY GOOD job with a 0.32 Delta E and a 469:1 contrast ratio. Of course it cost about 4 to 5 times as much as the other devices so it should do well right?

X-Rite i1Display Pro

X-Rite i1Display Pro SpectraView II Information Summary

Before running these tests my gut feel was that this was the best device, and my testing verified that was correct. In fact I ran this test 3 times just to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake. With a Delta E of 0.23 it performed the best and gave me the result that to my eyes seemed most accurate when soft proofing. Again, there’s probably some variation from unit to unit, but it’s no doubt this one is a dandy.

Conclusion

X-Rite is an industry leader in color management solutions, and a brand I trust. This article simply confirms my belief in their products is valid.

My bottom line advice is that if you aren’t going to be doing your own printing then you don’t need a spectrophotometer. If you are using a monitor that supports hardware calibration then get whatever bundled calibration device is offered with it and the display makers software. If you are going to be doing software calibration then go for the i1Display Pro (Adorama, B&H) if you can afford it, but if not then go for the ColorMunki Display (Adorama, B&H).

Amateur printers should get a ColorMunki PHOTO (Adorama, B&H) as the best cost effective solution. See my color management article to learn why. If you are print master then I’ll have more for you soon in my i1Publish article, so stay tuned to this blog to learn more.

Disclosure

Eizo, NEC, and X-Rite all provided me with calibration devices used in this article. The Eizo EX1 was not intended for this testing, so it was only included because I had it on hand. If you make a purchase using the links in this article I may get a commission, so thanks for supporting my blog by using my links when you are ready to make your purchase.

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