X-Rite ColorChecker Passport Review

The world of digital photography is a magic and wonderful place where you press the shutter on the camera and instantly have the exact scene you saw with your eyes captured in perfect color inside your camera and then in all its brilliance on your computer screen…

If you believed that line than you are obviously living on a different planet than I am because I am constantly trying to get the right color on the screen as I saw with my eye. I know this as sure as I know that the color Ferrari Orange is not a real color.

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport

So solve this problem, our software needs to know what the colors in an image are supposed to look like. If we can make our software understand our specific cameras, then we are certainly going in the right direction. Adobe made an excellent attempt to solve this on a very broad scale in Lightroom 3 with camera calibrations. What Adobe did was to take a color chart under different lighting conditions with different cameras and then use that data to create a calibration that is designed for specific cameras. I have to admit, this works pretty darned good and I have relied on this for my image processing since the day it came out.

Is it perfect? No, its darned good, but I always felt it wasn’t quite 100% there. Maybe my lighting conditions aren’t perfect, maybe there is a variation in camera bodies/sensors, maybe Adobe had to compromise to make it as good as possible for a broad range of users. Whatever the case, I always thought I could do a little better if I had a calibration profile designed specifically for MY camera and MY lighting…and this is where the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport comes into play.

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport

The ColorChecker Passport is a combination of a shooting target with different color swatches and a piece of software the will analyze the resulting image to create a custom calibration profile for your specific camera.

All you really need to do is to shoot the target so that it fills about 10% of the image and have a good exposure and the software will do the rest. Ok, it’s not exactly that easy, the image has to be in DNG format so I use Lightroom to Copy as DNG (which I do most of the time anyway) at least the shot of the target. Then open the folder with the ColorChecker Passport software and drag the image file onto the application. In a few seconds, you have a custom calibration.

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport Software

Once you have completed the calibration and saved the file, you will need to restart your editing software (Photoshop or Lightroom) so it reads in the calibration profile.

Can you really tell the difference in finished images? I will let you be the judge of that with the following images:

Mouse Over Image To See The Corrected Version

With the Viper, the red’s are definitely richer. This has always been a complaint of mine with my Canon camera’s. The Lightroom Camera Standard calibration setting does really good at fixing that but is not quite as good as the ColorChecker Calibration.

Mouse Over Image To See The Corrected Version

Again with the Ferrari, the yellows with the corrected version are much richer. To see how these colors shift, let’s take a look at the ColorChecker colors using the Adobe Standard, Camera Standard, and a custom calibration created with the ColorChecker Passport software.

Passport Profile

ACR 4.6

Camera Standard

The biggest differences are in the blues and reds. While Camera Standard is very close, and probably perfectly usable for a large number of people. When you really need accurate color, a custom calibration is the way to go.

DNG vs Dual Illuminat

What Adobe did for their calibrations is to shoot a color target under different light conditions so that their camera profiles would hold up in different situations. What we have looked at so far is creating a single image calibration which is appropriate for a single lighting situation. The X-Rite ColorChecker Passport also allows you to create your own Dual Illuminat profile as well. Simply use two images shot with different lighting, like one with flash and the other with tungsten hot lights. The ColorChecker Passport software can then use both of those images together to create a more robust profile than we have been able to create for ourselves in the past.

ColorChecker Target Size Comparison

Is it Worth It?

While you can look at the images above and certainly see a difference, is that difference worth $99 to you? For me, the majority of the work I do is product photography and usually very little color is involved. However, when I am shooting weddings, portraits, cars, or other things that really have vibrant color, I want to be as accurate as I possibly can. I would certainly recommend that every camera club buy one and let all of the members have a shoot day where they can create their own calibration files.

Gray Card Function

But Wait…there’s more!

We have only looked at 1/3 of the functionality of the ColorChecker Passport, albeit a very important function.  Flip the target around and you also have a decent sized gray card that is just slightly bigger than a small WhiBal card.

The large gray card is ideal for product or food photography since you can get it into the scene and then use that image in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw to get a really good white balance. For People and Landscapes, its the next function that is really interesting.

Creative Enhancement Target

Creative Enhancement Target

The the calibration target over and you get what X-Rite calls the Creative Enhancement Target. There are two main purposes of the Creative Enhancement Target:

  • Allow for one-click white balance across a range of swatches
  • Allow you to easily see white and black clipping

The middle two rows are designed for portrait (top) and landscape (bottom) photography so you can easily select a white balance that is best suited for your situation. Often portraits are added a little warmth and landscapes with different color temperatures can really help make the sky bluer or grass greener.

At the bottom you can use the clipping swatches while adjusting exposure and blacks to make sure you are not overclipping those settings.

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport

Summary

If you are like me and strive for accuracy in your colors, then the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport is absolutely a must-have. If you are not shooting images where color accuracy is critical, then go in with a few friends or your local club and buy one just to have a good calibration profile for your camera.

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport on Amazon.com

X-Rite Website: http://xritephoto.com/

X-Rite Blog: http://blog.xritephoto.com

KerryG

Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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2 Responses

  1. in lightroom you can use raw-files directly. best regards from vienna, karl

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