The Ultimate Raw File Tweaker: Colorchecker Passport

As raw files become the common currency of high-end photographry a widening array of tools is arriving to help photographers get the most from them. I've been using SpyderCube from Datacolor/Colorvision for awhile to help set white and black points along with white balance for color critical situations. But recently I've added a new tool to my tweakers arsenal--Colorchecker Passport from X-Rite. Read on to learn about it...The Passport is both a portable set of cleverly designed photo targets and a piece of software which generates raw image profiles from test shots. The targets come in a well-designed case about the size of an iPhone. They include a mini version of the famous Colorchecker target which can be used for profile generation. It also includes a proprietary target which can be used for image enhancement with the included software and a small digital gray card.

I was primarily interested in the Raw profile creation features so I focuses my evaluation primarily on the Colorchecker target. It is only a few inches high and needs to be at least 10% of the area of your image for best results in profile generation, so it isn't really designed to be stuck off in the corner of a production image. Instead it assumes you can capture a test shot under the same lighting as your production shots. You then use the included software (either stand alone or as a Lightroom plug-in) to create an Adobe-specific (aka DNG) profile to use with that set of images. Unlike traditional ICC profiles, DNG profiles are applied in the Camera tab of the Camera Raw plug-in. These profiles are designed to map from the image as captured by the sensor into Camera Raw's own color space. Camera Raw (or Lightroom) then translates the image into a more traditional colorspace such as Adobe RGB, sRGB, or Pro Photo RGB.

In principle you could generate generic profiles for your camera but I personally don't see how those profiles will work any better than the carefully constructed ones which already ship with Adobe's products--and Camera Raw is smart enough to use the results from several different lighting conditions when it renders your image while if you use your own profile you'll be locked into one. So as a practical matter your profile will be specific to a particular lighting condition.

As a result the profile generation capability seems best suited for those who shoot frequently in a controlled lighting situation--or those with an extended commercial, fashion or event shoot under unchanging conditions. For those uses the product provides a straightforward way of generating the ultimate tweak for your raw images. Below are two versions of an oil painting. One is rendered using the Adobe "Camera Standard" profile for my D700, the other using a profile generated from the same scene using Colorchecker Passport. You can take my word for it as the owner of the painting that the custom profile does indeed render the colors more accurately and cleanly. But unless you are reproducing artwork or are willing to invest the extra effort in a specific image it is a lot of work to go to to incorporate it in your everyday shooting.

Painting rendered with Adobe Camera Standard Profile: Captured with Nikon D700, SIgma 24-70f/2.8 lensPainting rendered with Adobe Camera Standard Profile: Captured with Nikon D700, SIgma 24-70f/2.8 lens

Painting rendered with Colorchecker Passport Generated Profile: Captured with Nikon D700, SIgma 24-70f/2.8 lensPainting rendered with Colorchecker Passport Generated Profile: Captured with Nikon D700, SIgma 24-70f/2.8 lens

I'm intrigued by the possibilities for using the product in tricky but constant lighting conditions, particularly indoor sports. So over the coming months I'll be doing more work with it and will post the results of my experiments. Of course if you have experience with the Colorchecker Passport or other similar products, please do feel free to share them here or by posting in our Color forum. The Colorchecker Passport is available from Amazon for $99 or you can purchase it from B&H for $99.--David Cardinal