Color calibration should definitely be an essential part of every photographer’s workflow. Otherwise, it is impossible to tell whether the colors that are displayed by your monitor are truly accurate and whether what you see will match the print. There are many ways to do it and the process can be fairly simple or complex, depending on how accurate you want to reproduce the colors and whether you are also printing your work in-house. The simple method involves a hardware colorimeter for color profiling your monitor for everyday photo editing and image viewing, and there is also an end-to-end professional-grade color profiling that requires very concise calibration of all display and output devices, such as printers. In this article, I will only focus on simple methods to make your monitor show more or less accurate colors, so that you could rely on it for everyday photography needs.
In the past, hardware calibration feature was limited to premium wide-gamut models from companies like NEC or Eizo. Those models offer wide gamut, great uniformity and advanced calibration features…but at a fairly high price. Affordable wide gamut solutions with hardware calibration started in 2013 with Dell and after that other companies like LG, BenQ and Samsung begun to offer “similar” products with more or less success. It is important to point out that LG and Samsung wide gamut models cannot be properly calibrated internally with the i1Display Pro colorimeter using their software and the same applies to some BenQ models like SW2700PT and its Palette Master Elements software. The main issue with those models is that they bundle an outdated X-Rite SDK (Software Development Kit) in their software without GB-LED support, which is the current main* (see the footnote at the end of the article below) LED wide gamut backlight technology. Hence, their software won’t get accurate readings, which in turn leads to inaccurate calibration. The BenQ PG2401PT and its Palette Master software, on the other hand, come with proper GB-LED support.
The subject of monitor calibration and profiling can be quite difficult to understand not only for a beginner, but also for professionals working in the field. With so many different hardware and software components, color profiles, bit depth and other related terminologies, one can get quickly confused and lost, potentially ending up with a rather poor working environment. Having a badly-calibrated monitor is not only counter-productive, it is also potentially harmful for one’s business, especially when dealing with paying customers and clients. Due to the complexity of the topic, our team at Photography Life requested help from a real expert, who will be providing detailed information on how to properly calibrate monitors for photography needs. But first, some basic concepts need to be understood. This particular article is just an introduction to cover the basics of calibration and profiling, without going into too many technical details.
After we published our article on 10 bit per channel workflow, our readers requested to provide information on how to calibrate monitors with a built-in Look-Up Table (LUT). Specifically, a number of our readers asked to provide a detailed guide on how to properly calibrate the Dell U2413, U2713H and U3014 monitors, which we have recommended a number of times before due to their affordable price, attractive features and superb color reproduction for photography needs. Historically, true 10-bit and higher monitors with hardware LUT capabilities were extremely expensive, making them only attractive to those with large budgets. With the introduction of sub-$500 monitors featuring professional-grade IPS panels (read our article on best monitors for photography to understand IPS terminology), those with tighter budgets are now seriously considering such monitors for photography work. Unfortunately, many end up even more confused after acquiring such tools due to questions related to proper monitor calibration.
If you are looking for a professional-grade IPS monitor (if you have no idea what IPS means, see “this article“) for your photography needs, then check out this HP DreamColor LP2480zx that is currently on sale at B&H for $799. Yes, that’s a hefty price for a monitor, but keep in mind that this is a professional monitor specifically designed to accurately reproduce over 1 billion colors (12-bit look up table with 100% Adobe RGB and sRGB Color Coverage). With a 6 ms response time, this is one amazing monitor that can be used for pretty much anything you throw at it, including gaming. And the $799 price is a heavy discount, because the retail price of this monitor is a whopping $2,299! I looked at a number of websites and could not find this monitor cheaper than $1500, so this is a very good deal.
Michael Tapes Design, maker of the highly acclaimed LensAlign Focus calibration system, has announced FocusTune, The Auto-Focus Software Solution for correcting DSLR body/lens mismatch errors and restoring maximum sharpness potential.
If you are wondering about how to calibrate lenses, this article has detailed explanations and different methods of AF fine tuning. Due to the nature of the phase detect autofocus system that is present on all SLR cameras, both cameras and lenses must be properly calibrated by manufacturers in order to yield sharp images. Various factors such as manufacturer defects, sample variation, insufficient quality assurance testing/tuning and improper shipping and handling can all negatively impact autofocus precision. A lot of photographers get frustrated after spending thousands of dollars on camera equipment and not being able to get anything in focus. After receiving a number of emails from our readers requesting help on how to calibrate lenses, I decided to write this tutorial on ways to properly fine tune focus on cameras and lenses. Lens calibration is a complex topic for many, so my goal is to make this guide as simple as possible, so that you could manage the process by yourself, while fully understanding the entire process. In addition, I strongly recommend to follow these tips every time you purchase a camera or a lens in order to identify and address any potential focusing issues. But I have to warn you – this article is NOT for beginners. If you just got your first DSLR, you might get very quickly frustrated with the calibration process.
Below is the easiest and quickest way to test if your DSLR has an autofocus issue, along with a recommendation on what to do if there is a problem. This test can be used to detect front focus or back focus issues with a particular lens or a camera body. I will be using the Nikon D800E as a reference camera for this article, but any modern DSLR with Live View capability can be used for the same test (even entry-level DSLRs such as the Nikon D3200 have a Live View mode). Why would you want to test your camera for autofocus issues? Because if your camera or your lenses are defective or have a calibration problem, then you will not be able to obtain critically sharp images.
I recently posted an article on how to calibrate a monitor, but completely forgot to mention about using color-managed applications. Whenever you deal with different color profiles on your pictures, you should always use color-managed applications. Otherwise, some of the pictures could appear abnormal and the colors could be way off.