Saturday, June 02, 2007

Tandem Workflow in Photoshop

I guess I need to spell things out in detail for the Adobe crowd. In Photoshop ACR, the tandem Raw profile workflow could be implemented with the DNG matrix transformations as the faithful calibration profile, and something akin to a "Raw adjustment layer" as the digital emulsion.

The essential feature is that the effect of both the camera calibration and the emulsion be previewed when the user twiddles the Raw sliders eg. exposure.


Photography is NOT reprography: Raw workflow needs tandem profiles.

Photography is not Reprography.

Dual ICC profiles as faithful and creative enablers for the Raw camera workflow.

I believe dual ICC profiles, working in tandem, are required for a creative Raw conversion workflow. The first profile is needed to define the colorimetric properties of the camera, the second to describe the operator's chosen exposure curve compression, color adjustments and other esthetic effects.

Photography is not reprography. Cameras are creative tools with which by pro photographers have historically used emulsions to create imagery; with respect to what an eye on location would see, the resulting individual images recorded on a chemical emulsion are often far from colorimetrically correct in any sense, even less so when lens filters or light gels are used creatively rather than for correction.

However existing digital ICC input profile workflows inherited from scanner days are historically designed to channel data with some degree of colorimetric correctness. To summarize, the scanned film workflow translates into accurately digitally reproducing the wildly inaccurate colors of an image chemically imprinted on the film.

In the digital playpen, photographers again expect to play with new digital versions of their old deliberately inaccurate creative tools. And the right moment for creative tone curve, color hue and exposure tuning is really during Raw conversion. Coincidentally, Raw conversion is also the moment where colorimetric accuracy is best established. Which is why we expect ICC profiles to find their use in dual ways during Raw conversion. And if the use is dual, two profiles should be applied.

Separating the Raw digital camera profile in two stages, one devoted to calibration —sensor and lighting characterisation— and one devoted to the "film look" would enable a more intuitive workflow. Essentially we argue that the creative steps can and should be follow the somewhat faithful ones, but both can be represented by ICC profiles.

The first profile, the calibration profile, is a standard ICC input profile which characterizes the camera and and Raw converter. The second which applies the look might be called a "digital emulsion". It can be realized by means of an abstract ICC profile. There is no need for the digital emulsion to be colorimetrically accurate in any sense - an emulsion may even emulate black and white film !

What software changes are needed for the tandem-profile workflow ? Clearly, new Raw conversion tools tools must allow both "calibration" and "look" profiles to be selected, and their superposed effect visualized. Present-day camera profiling tools are already adequate for the creation of the "calibration" profiles. Ideally however, a profile editor would allow the user to cook up "digital emulsions" on the fly so that they can then be applied to batches of images, even across camera brands.

Edmund Ronald.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Canon 5D Portrait Profiles for Capture One Available

Canon 5D Portrait Profiles for Capture One Available

My 5D Portrait Profiles for Capture One are now available. Send me an email and I will send them out to you.

edmundronald at gmail dot com


Sunday, April 15, 2007

5 Ways to mess up profiling testcharts

5 Ways to mess up profiling testcharts - sung to the tune of "Mission Accomplished".

1. Client has a color un-manageable PS/Mac-OS/Epson system.
Yes, Adobe, Apple and Epson finger-point at each other, it's always the other guy who implemented wrong. Let's hope your client is lucky enough to have a system which works. Yeah, right.

2. Client prints with some color management still enabled in the print path.
There should be a big button which says "Profile Testchart" in both PS and printer drivers. But there isn't. Instead the printer driver has a bunch of buttons labelled "Hurt Me". Thanks for pointing out that label, Andrew.

3. Client has a corrupted Epson driver.
Epson drivers seem to suffer bit-rot. Clients are always astonished how different their charts look after the print system is reset. Well, if they can notice that, at least these clients won't blame you for the first bunch of bad profiles you sent them.

4. Client resizes the print chart.
Clients don't know we have position-absolute auto scanners. They think we have a cage full of monkeys with 1mm aperture EyeOnes who read the charts, whatever their size. Maybe we should print "Do not Resize" on each chart.

5. Client's native RIP messes up patches.
Some print drivers try to be smart when they uprez to printer resolution, and mess up the patches. The solution is to have your client uprez himself with 'nearest neighbor" interpolation. But this should be implemented as an option in the driver.

Last and best. Client sends in testchart festooned with glue-on labels, adhesive tape.
Yes, kindergarten kids do so love office supplies.

Gentle reader, if you happen to be working for Apple, Adobe or Epson, maybe you could do something to help our and your clients avoid these built-in wolf-traps ? Maybe disarm them ?


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Camera Profiles as Raw Emulsions

Camera Profiles are the film emulsions of the new Raw Workflow.

As a photographer, I have a set of "signature looks", which I choose to stamp on my work. These looks define my own way of rendering the world of color.

Also, in this new digital world, can package my "color vision" in a profile and share my "look" with other users. This is like cooking up an emulsion and selling film boxes. My experience with the my heavily edited Leica M8 portrait profiles has been a definite success in this regard. As they say, payment is the most acceptable form of flattery ...

I find that camera profiles as exploited in Capture One and Raw Developer are an easier way to stamp my look on a bundle of files than the Lightroom/PS curves approach. Let's compare workflows and we'll see why:

- In C1/PS:
I load my image and set my *signature camera profile*. This overlays my "signature look" on the screen preview. Now, I can twiddle the twiddle the C1 expsoure controls to my heart's content, but *signature look* is already embedded in the image. It's as if I had loaded a preset emulsion in my digital camera. And I haven't yet even opened PS !!!!

- In ACR/PS:
I take a Raw image. Open with ACR. Twiddle the ACR sliders. Get it roughly right. Then move to PS, apply curves etc. Now only can I see my final image *with my signature curves*. Of course a skilled retoucher will work mentally towards this target, but the target "color look" is only fully visible after the last curve is applied in Photoshop. Oh, and by the way, I love curves, and I hate those zillions of sliders in ACR, Lightroom and Aperture!

We see that the Capture One/Photoshop combo and the Lightroom/ACR/Photoshop solution work up differently although they should reach the same image quality.

My opinion in a nutshell: Camera profiles can and should take the place of film emulsions in the new world of Raw, and their use should be integrated in all Raw processing software. Conversely, the current Adobe approach to Raw suffers gravely from general kludginess and an excess of sliders. More controls do not a more intuitive interface make.


PS. A debate with Andrew Rodney on the LL forum allowed me to formulate my position more clearly. I would like to recommend Andrew's excellent tutorial book to all my readers who wrestle with the practicalities of color management.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

iSis review coming.

I now have a new Xrite iSis XL, and preliminary tests indicate that it's working great ! My previous sample of this instrument was transport damaged, which is why I didn't talk about it a lot.

The iSis is a very modern scanning spectro, based on an EyeOne diffraction grid head, which is replacing the Xrite DTP70.

Amongst the new iSis features: Solid-state illuminant, chart readings with and without UV, and a machine-vision sensor that can read bar-charts and identify the chart.

In addition, the XL model has a wider "carriage" and can read A3 format charts.

I'm using this instrument with Monaco Profiler mainly, via the new ColorPort 1.5 utility that Xrite should by now have available for general download. I shall be describing the iSis more in detail soon.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

iSis - Release transport catch before use

I visited Regensdorf today and the nice people at Xrite ex Gretag swapped my transport-damaged iSis for a new one. And warned me to look at the QuickStart Guide:

There's now a head-lock catch on the under-side the iSis, which should be moved to the unlocked position before use. This catch is much nicer than the slip-in plastic head-guard which was included with the first iSis unit I was sent.

Before transporting the spectro again you're supposed to move the catch back to the locked position, open the device and sweep the head to the right until the head engages.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Eizo CG - almost self-calibrating !

I like ColorEyes Display, and they support it well. It also has some nice features with presets files. I am a bit sceptical about the interface, though.

On the other hand, my demo has expired, and my main computer has crashed taking all the old versions with it. The ensuing panic was instructive - With Big Mac crashed, I needed to use my CG210 with the laptop,in a hurry.

The quickest way to get my Eizo set up with the Coloreyes-profiled
MacBook (with an inoperative demo copy of CE) while I was in panic
mode was to just press the front panel buttons to switch the CG210
into 5000K 1.8 mode.

Which leads me to wonder whether as the Eizos already have a USB port, they couldn't be programmed to accurately recalibrate their 5000/1.8 and 6500/2.2 presets with a puck ?

Just one more chip to add, and we need NO MORE SOFTWARE.

You heard that here first :)


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

M8 Broken - M8 Refurbs.

Over the past few weeks, I've started distributing various camera profiles for the Leica M8, which is the new digital successor to the Leica M rangefinder. The M8 is light, compact, has sharp Leica lenses and first-class image quality. The Leica M8 is addictive; unfortunately mine just broke.

by means of money and alcohol, I inveigled a friend, to act as an extra around Montmartre. When we got up there, the M8 was inert. I got it to wake by oepning, popping the battery, and re-attaching the back with the power switch on, but the back controls and rear screen of the M8 remained inert.

I limped through the session with no chimping at ISO 160, keeping the camera awake with my finger on the shutter button; I learned that one after it went into a coma again. Now the camera is going back to Solms. I'm going to recommend to Leica that they give dealers loaners so that customers have some fallback.

Talking of Leicas, I have some news: Refurbs have been seen delivered to some dealers. These will be sold at a substantial discounts. The warranty card of the refurbs is marked with a red spot on the bottom right.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Microsoft enters HD in Photo in Image Format race

Microsoft has just entered a horse in the Image Format Derby as you can read here and here.

I was expecting this, as I stated in one of my previous blog entries about DNG:

"Of course, it is to be expected that Microsoft, who recently acquired iView Media Pro will gatecrash at least the ground floor -consumer use of Raw - of this party when it gets big enough to warrant a landgrab. The PC has become the digital image shoebox, and even Bill Gates has kid pix to save these days."

At this point it's not yet quite clear to me whether HD Photo is a Raw format like DNG or a "cooked" format like Jpeg, but it is certainly aimed at the digital image shoebox.

Adobe themselves helped Microsoft, we are told, in writing their HD Photo plugin for Photoshop
! Well, I guess that owning both the racecourse and the committee, and having the favorite slow down to let you pass, helps your nag win the race.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Raw: The Adobe way, the Microsoft way and the Open way.

Photographers are reluctant hostages to proprietary Raw formats. Many have become vocal about this uncomfortable position as you can read on the OpenRaw site. In this over-long column I analyze the positions taken by Adobe and Microsoft vis à vis Raw, and indicate one Open way out of the Raw maze.

While I believe the industry, will continue to resist the imposition of any unique Raw format, I can suggest at least one method by which the current lock-in could easily be circumvented by the OpenRaw community. It involves copying Adobe's strategy by means of a free Raw converter called dcraw, and is detailed towards the end of this column.

With the Raw format there seem to be three ways the format inflation can be subdued: The Adobe way, the Microsoft way and the Open way. Let's look at all three.

Adobe's strategy is focused on ensuring that all the core technology for Adobe products be sourced in-house, and runs on all platforms equally well. Adobe has Thomas Knoll's innovative and proprietary ACR-based Raw conversion technology powering Photoshop's ACR Raw plugin.

I believe that all the technical gruntwork to incorporate the Raw format for a new camera format in ACR is done by Adobe. So since DNG has failed to be adopted by the market they have been forced to write I/O and decoding routines for a zillion different formats.

All this hard work has brought positive results for both Adobe and the end user: The resulting intellectual property is fully owned and maintained by Adobe. As a result, the quality of the code and the images it generates can be tuned by Adobe to their usual high standards across formats, bugs get fixed directly by Adobe, and the codebase can be updated and reused at will in Adobe's new products such as Lightroom.

Microsoft's strategy is focused on supporting very diverse hardware cheaply, and well. They achieve this by devolving responsibility to hardware makers: Each vendor supplies a basic decoding plugin for their format. This is similar to the printer market where each company supplies a driver disk which remains the third party vendor's responsibility.

Because the plugins are written directly by the camera makers, adding a new camera to the plugin library means zero additional effort for Microsoft — a significant advantage of this approach. Also, Microsoft does little maintenance work on the plugins.

But the Microsoft way also benefits the consumer: All third-party application programs running under Windows gain the ability to read Raw files, just as they gain the ability to print on any installed printer. The quality of the files is potentially very high because the camera makers can and will leverage all their proprietary technology into their drivers.

Alas, With both Microsoft and Adobe the customer's files are hostage to proprietary strategies.

In the case of Microsoft, the technology to read a format remains mediated by the binaries supplied by the camera makers, even though third party applications gain access to the plugin. This is not Microsoft's fault, but it does make the files hostage to the existence of the drivers.

In the case of Adobe, the proprietary ACR technology for the rendering of Raw is procedurally embedded in the ACR converter itself, and though the DNG file format is public the ACR source code is one of the company's closely guarded secrets So third party applications can decode the settings but not reproduce their effect.

So both camps are neither open nor future proof. If in the future a photographer cannot run the ACR software, or if the Windows plugins stop working, be it for licensing reasons or obsolescence, that photographer loses out.

Indeed, today already Adobe customers must regularly license new PS updates because old versions of ACR cannot read new camera formats.

Surely, there must be many open alternatives to these two approaches ? Let me suggest one avenue below:

David Coffin has written and maintains a GPL'ed Raw decoder called dcraw that can read just about anything. As he puts it: "Here is my mission: Write and maintain an ANSI C program that decodes any raw image from any digital camera on any computer running any operating system."

Dcraw is short (about 7000lines at present), portable and yields decent files. Indeed dcraw has been used extensively in both commercial and open-source graphics software. I can certify that dcraw provides decent, if not stellar, image quality.

I suggest the Open Source community and maybe even the OpenRaw guys write or commission dcraw plugins for Microsoft Windows and Adobe's software, so that dcraw becomes an additional input module to all existing and future software, thereby future-proofing it. In effect, dcraw would become the ACR of the open source community.

Some lobbying, as the OpenRaw movement could easily supply, would ensure that both large firms offer at least token cooperation for such an initiative, such that plugin SDKs would be made available. Technical competence to actually do the necessary programming is sufficiently available in the open-source movement.

Existing packages would then be forward compatible, as long as the dcraw code is maintained for their platforms by the open source community. A lifeboat may not offer the conveniences of an ocean liner, but it sure makes you feel better by just being there !


Monday, February 26, 2007

Spectro football and other games

What is your spectro really worth after the delivery guy has played football with it ?

Well, what you ordered may cost $3K, easily, if it's a chart reader. But if the guy has drop-kicked or caber-tossed it, it's probably worth zilch. Niente, nada, ├╝berhaupt nichts.

Because you don't know how accurate it is anymore.

Spectros are valuable pieces of equipment. Valuable by their calibration. What you're paying for is not the price or the materials, it's the guarantee of accuracy.

Now, I have no doubt that the instruments which Xrite, Barbieri or Minolta make are carefully calibrated at the factory. But are they still so precise when the client gets them ? Are they still precise after a year's worth of daily knocks ?

I just got an iSis XL spectro which got seriously roughed up by the UPS guy. I know it suffered: When it made dreadful profiles I looked inside and found the head cover had sprung open. I'm sure other buyers had similar experiences with their shipments.

So, I'm floating an idea: Why not deliver some physical calibration reference with every instrument ? Then whenever the urge strikes him the user could check whether the device is operating within acceptable tolerances.

Such a reference-bound diagnostic check would not only save the users worry. It would also save manufacturers headaches: Because only genuinely broken instruments would get sent back - I'd bet that nowadays quite a few service calls are really caused by user-error rather than hardware failure.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Adobe Lightroom - a lucrative surrender

The Raw format has gone fully mainstream, as proven by Adobe's launching Lightroom, a package entirely dedicated to filing and non-destructive editing of Raw files.

Lightroom is a surrender, on favorable terms, a retreat with honor. It signals the failure of Adobe's attempt to
impose a unified digital negative (DNG) and thereby commoditize the digital SLR camera.

This attempt at hegemony of the Pro and Prosumer imagery market sems to have failed at least for the time being. The SLR camera market is now owned by Canon, Nkon and Sony, and none of these seems to be in a hurry to kowtow to Adobe. Of course, matters may still change if customers demand Raw in the consumer market, but at that point Microsoft would be in a better position to embrace, extend and profit than Adobe.

In launching Lightroom, Adobe has come late to the party inaugurated by Apple' Aperture, but Adobe seems to have replaced Apple's arrogance with an ear for the customer's wishes, and probably has a bestseller on its hand.

Of course, it is to be expected that Microsoft, who recently acquired iView Media Pro will gatecrash at least the ground floor -consumer use of Raw - of this party when it gets big enough to warrant a landgrab. The PC has become the digital image shoebox, and even Bill Gates has kid pix to save these days.

I will not be discussing color management in Lightroom here, due to a momentarily lukewarm relationship with Adobe PR who see no reason to send me a copy. However, Andrew Rodney discusses the color model for Raw in a very knowledgable article.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

The King (DTP70) is dead, Long live Queen iSis !

The DTP70 is retiring.

Quite a few people have discovered, just now, via the Colorsync list, that the DTP70 is headed for the Smithsonian. Indeed, my friends, I heard it announced in Regensdorf, the one and only DTP70, our beloved DTP70, flagship of the Xrite chartreaders, is being pensioned off .

It's just economics. There has been a takeover of Gretag by Xrite - or is it a takeover by Gretag of Xrite, I do get confused; anyway, it has been decided that the graphics products shall be mainly organized around the true and proven EyeOne technology. Invented and proven by Gretag.

Thus, simplification of the product line of the combined company explains the prior exit of Pulse -replaced by EyeOne Pro, the demise of Optix - displaced by EyeOne Display, and the redundancy of the DTP70 now that iSis is reaching the market.

But what then of the clients who invested in the DTP70 and Monaco Profiler, and who are now muttering rumors in the bazaar ? Let us be sure that Xrite will support them - anything else would be suicidal in this small market.

And software updates? Well, I have been assured that the fans of Monaco Profiler will find their favorite engine and renderings carefully preserved in a forthcoming combined offering. And of course the PMP rocket pilots will get their engine updated too.The guys and gals in Regensdorf know their surest money comes from the installed base, and don't want to offend either one of their client pools.

Which brings us back to the hardware. The replacement for our old and faithful DTP70 is the brand new iSis. The DTP70 was a tried and tested design with an incandescent illuminant , filter technology and an optical UV filter. The iSis is a modern design which incorporates EyeOne diffraction-grating spectro technology, a solid state illuminant and a vision system that can read barcodes.

iSis will doubtless bring us Swiss precision and, we do hope, reliability. This is a conservative business, and I guess it takes at least a year for the pro users to feel really comfortable with any new technology, however good.

Now please excuse me, I need to go and check some profiles I've just made.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Idiot-proof color pays off for HP

We've all been amazed by the rave reviews which the Z-series has been getting from the photo crowd. Are they really that good ? I think they're simply idiot-proof.

Methinks many of the "Gag me with a spoon !" Z-series fans are seeing the effects of seamless working CMS for the first time. Decent color, and painless. And no consultant involved, either. Please, Sir, may I have some more ?

HP has figured out that any custom-profiled printer with decent native drivers will always beat an unprofiled printer.

When the fight involves third party media the fight is even more unbalanced. But the photo crowd do so love their esoteric paper choices. And the channel loves them for their conspicuous consumption. A bartender does like his alcoholics.

Epson and Canon have good print quality, when somebody bothers to make a custom profile for them. Which involves spectros, and/or consultants and/or dongled software and other nasties.

Which is why Epson and Canon should be afraid for their market share — when the sh*t hits the fan - excuse me, when the product hits the market, usability wins over quality every time.

Wait and see.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Speed is the new greed !

I guess a lot of graphics guys are impatiently waiting for the new Adobe Creative Suite to ship, not because of the new features, but because it'll run native on the Intel Macs. Native means faster !

We all know it's gonna happen soon because Photoshop CS3 is in beta, and Lightroom just shipped.

In fact, I bet Apple has some slick powerful new laptops they will bring out to crest the Adobe upgrade wave.

But I like to catch my waves early. I've already got the beta on the current surfboard-sized 17 inch MacBook Pro.

So I can tell you two things you need to know. Firstly, Photoshop 10 (or CS3) is really fast on the G5. And blazing fast on Intel. And second, the screens on the current MacBook Pro are no good for colormanagement.

To use tech-speak, the MacBook Pro matte screen has very high-directivity, that's why it's so bright. That's why every little move of your head makes those colors dance.

And then, the gamut is a joke. I cannot do my camera profiling work on this machine, the reds are so poor.

If Apple brings out a new laptop screen technology, go for it ! The present display is a bummer !