White balance is an age old problem that is becoming all too modern with so many people moving to digital SLRs. Today’s cameras all have a pretty decent auto white balance settings, from the basic point/shot cameras to the pro SLRs. There are also several “fixed” settings on many of the simple cameras and most of the SLRs like Sunlight, Shade, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, etc. But as many of you may know, these settings are not always perfect, and sometimes far from it.
Color balance is a long, deep discussion that can go on for days. But here, we are going to talk about a series of products of the type known as â€œover the lens white balance capsâ€. You may have seen these from companies like expoimaging.net with their ExpoDisc Digital White Balance Filter and the ExpoCap.
With the cost of the ExpoCap being around $80.00 and the ExpoDisc at $120.00 for my lens size, I decided to see what else was out there to compete with these products. With little effort, I found one from a company called Mennon that claims to do the same basic thing as the ExpoCap, but the price difference was extraordinary.
I searched on Ebay for â€œwhite balance capâ€ and was presented with over several products besides the ExpoCap. The one I found for my lenses was under $10.00 shipped! Could this be? Is it possible that a sub $10 item could compete with the $80 ExpoCap? I was anxious to see for myself.
After almost 2 weeks of waiting, the cap finally arrived. The seller had the item drop shipped from a different location, and took way too long to do it. The cap arrived in a small, unpadded envelope with markings form China on it. To my surprise, the product was actually higher quality than I expected. Made of fairly heavy plastic or nylon, the pieces were fairly substantial.
So, how this works is actually pretty simple. Most SLR cameras have the ability to set a custom white balance from their internal menus. On my Canon EOS 30D, the option is pretty straight forward. be sure and consult your camera’s manual to see how to set the custom white balance as every camera is slightly different. The idea is to get the color of the light where you want to shoot by pointing the camera at a white surface and taking a photo.
You then tell the camera to look at that photo you took and set the balance from the white it sees. However far off the color is from pure white, it adjusts your camera’s white balance to compensate for the difference.
With a partially translucent lens cap, the camera sees nothing but the color of the light that the cap lets through. In theory, its just like shooting a white piece of paper, but you can point the camera anywhere you want to capture the light from the scene. All you have to do is turn off your automatic focus so the camera can shoot (focus doesn’t matter, you just need a white image) and point your camera at the scene. You take a photo, then go to the menu and tell the camera to set its white balance to that photo.From there, you go to the camera’s display settings an tell it to use the custom white balance setting. Now, you are ready to shoot. It’s that easy!
In theory, you should set your white balance like this before every scene you shoot. If this works, you should never take a photo again with off color. So let’s take a look at the results.
O.K., to start, let’s do a little setup here. I played around for a day and shot several different scenes. When I was done at the end of the day, I noticed the huge difference in the color of each of the white balance images I shot through the white balance cap. It was amazing to see how different the basic color temperature was on each shoot. The 3 pictures here were shot at 3 different times in 3 different places. This is the basic color difference that the custom white balance setting sees in each scene you shoot. You can get this with a real white piece of paper, but the cap just makes it so much easier and convenient.
So next, I took some outdoor photo sets using 3 different settings… AUTO white balance, a MANUAL set white balance, and the CUSTOM white balance set with the white balance cap. This first image is of my son in the afternoon shade. Although the difference isn’t huge here, you can see how blue the auto white balance is. The manual SHADE setting saturated the colors a bit more in the orange/reds. The CUSTOM with the white balance cap was pretty good. Notice I included the white balance shot in the upper right corner that the camera used to set this balance.
Next, I shot a flower pod getting ready for a summer bloom. The difference here was a bit more dramatic. Notice again the blue shift in the AUTO white balance. The manual SHADE balance saturated it pretty good, but the CUSTOM white balance from the cap was definitely the best. The colors are richest and not over-saturated. This is a definate win for the white balance cap, as you might have shot a photo of this type just using AUTO white balance and had been disappointed.
Next, I went into the studio to put the cap through its paces. I started with my normal 5,000Â° k fluorescent bulbs. I shot an AUTO white balance shot, one with the balance set to FLUORESCENT under the manual setting and one with the custom white balance cap. The AUTO white balance setting here did pretty good as the 3 lights I used are all 5,000Â° k daylight fluorescent bulbs, but there was a bit of magenta in the background. The CUSTOM white balance shot is again the best overall color balance.
Now for the hardest test… multiple light sources of multiple color temperatures. Basically, how does it do when the color is all over the place. For this test, I had 6 lights on. 3 fluorescent bulbs at 5,000Â° k and 3 other tungsten lights at various temperatures. Basically, a light balance nightmare. In this shot comparison, the AUTO white balance photo says it all. This is a bad situation and AUTO white balance did a terrible job. The INCANDESCENT setting came out a bit green, but much better than AUTO. Once again, the CUSTOM setting with the white balance cap rules the day.
And perhaps the most significant comparison is the two white balance shots in the studio side by side. Remember these 2 shots were taken under completely different lighting conditions, as can be seen by the white balance cap images in the upper right hand side of the photos. Then look again at how close these two different images came out.
Conclusion… yes, an under $10.00 product can truly improve your photos, and greatly at that. Is this <$10.00 product better than the $80-$120 ExpoDisc products? Well, that is to be seen in a future review.
Now get out and start shooting!