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Product Review: ColorChecker Passport from X-Rite

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The X-Rite ColorChecker line has long been a standard in matching accurate color between capture and edit for years. As one of the most photographed images in the world, the original ColorChecker was an 8.5" x 11.5" checkerboard array of 24 2" scientifically prepared color squares that represented natural colors like skin, foliage, blue sky, and more.

With the introduction of ColorChecker Passport this technology has been updated, enhanced, and reduced in size for the ultimate in portability and functionality. While still being easy to use, there are additional new features that include an enhanced target for one-click photo editing, calibration software, multiple targets, and a protective case and lanyard that will protect your checker while you are out in the field.

ColorChecker Passport

What is needed to work with ColorChecker Passport?

• Compatible Software For use with MAC or PC and DNG profiles, Lightroom 2.0 or newer, Adobe Camera RAW 4.5 or newer.
• Windows, Microsoft Windows XP 32- or 64-bit (with latest Service Pack installed) or Microsoft Windows Vista 32- or 64-bit (with latest Service Pack installed), 512MB RAM, 200 MB of available disk space, monitor resolution of 1024×768 pixels or higher.
• Macintosh MacOS X 10.4.11 or 10.5.X (with the latest update installed), 512MB RAM, G4 Processor or higher (G5 recommended), 350MB of available disk space application, monitor resolution of 1024×768 pixels or higher.
• Humidity range: 85% or less, non-condensing, temperature range for normal use of the case: 32 – 104 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 – 40 degrees Celsius.

What Do You Get with the ColorChecker Passport?

The Classic Target
This smaller version of the classic target provides its customary functionality, but now with the extended ability to calibrate your camera using the included software that takes a DNG and produces a profile of your camera and lens's response to the individual scene lighting. This allows you to establish an accurate color foundation, minimize the color differences between cameras and lenses, as well as adapting for mixed lighting situations.

Because it provides a point of reference, when you photograph your target in the same lighting situation that you do your subject, it will give you better color results than if you just eye-ball the colors for what you thought looked correct. This gives you the ability to make global corrections based on accurate information. By editing a few photos with the ColorChecker included will give you a better idea on what changes can be expected with other photos shot under the same light.

ColorChecker Passport

The Creative Enhancement Target
This new target helps you get the desired shot in a few clicks whether in the studio, in the field, or shooting at multiple locations. The Enhancement target provides visual reference for judging, controlling, and editing images for shadows, details, highlight clipping, and color shifts.

There are multiple levels of warming and cooling color patches for portraits and landscapes that help create pleasing and repeatable edits. This target enhances the power of working in RAW by using the grey ramp patches. You will be able to verify any clipping that could occur on both the light and dark edges ensuring the image has optimal shadow and highlight detail. The HSL row includes eight spectrum patches for ensuring color fidelity across all hues.

The White Balance Target
This target can be used to create in-camera custom white balance that can properly compensate for those situations where there are color casts and inconsistencies between lighting conditions.

This target is a spectrally flat so it provides a neutral reference point across different lighting situations. With the White Balance Target you will be able to eliminate color casts, improve the preview on your camera display for better histograms, and speed up post processing by eliminating the need to neutralize each image.

ColorChecker Passport

Camera Calibration Software
You also get specialized software for use in Lightroom, Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, and Adobe Camera Raw that will allow you to create custom DNG profiles for accurate color.

If you are shooting with one, or multiple cameras, you will be able to build an accurate foundation for maintaining the control of your colors. By calibrating your camera, you will be able to minimize the color differences between cameras and lenses, adapt for mixed lighting, and make color balance match across different scenes. You can even create dual-illuminant DNG profiles that take into account two different light sources to create a single profile which can be applied to a wider variety of lighting conditions.

Now you may question why would you need a ColorChecker Passport and what benefit will it provide? Anyone who has tried to accurately take a picture, post process it in Lightroom or Photoshop, and then print it to their printer and have it come out with the same colors across the board, has probably been disappointed unless they have a profiled monitor and printer.

You can easily use your ColorMunki to profile your printer to match your monitor. By using ColorChecker Passport you can now get your monitor to match what your camera captured.

While the raw converters come with profiles, they are generic. They are limited to two basic temperatures – warm and cool. This would work out fine if you only shot in these conditions, but the reality is that you shoot in a wide variety of lighting situations from very dim, to overly bright. Yes you can compensate on the computer, but again you are just guessing.

The ColorChecker Passport takes the guess work out of the equation. All that you have to do is whenever you are on a shoot is take a shot of the ColorChecker in each of the different lighting situations that you are in. Then, when you are back at your computer, you export each target image as a DNG into the ColorChecker Software and it will generate a profile.

Once you create your profile, you will need to re-launch your raw converter for it to access the profile. Then you can create a custom preset in Camera Raw or Lightroom that contains the White Balance and profile and then you can apply that preset to any or all images that you shot under those conditions.

ColorChecker Passport

The Creative Enhancement Target gives you a smaller sample of standard colors on the top row, a warmer set of white balance patches on the second row for use with portraits and studio work, a cooler set of white balance patches on the third row for landscape work which will produce better greens, and a set of clipping patches which are useful for setting clipping warnings and for use with recovery sliders.

I found the results to be amazing and so much better than using the standard camera raw. In the image above, I did no clean up, no adjustments, no modifications. The only difference is using the standard Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) vs. ColorChecker Passport. I could tell immediately that the books in red had an orange cast to them in ACR, whereas in using the ColorChecker Passport, they are a crisp red on a calibrated monitor.

To me, the ColorChecker Passport is a must have product. It comes in a hard-shell case that will last forever (although it is recommended that you purchase a new one every two years due to fading and the environment). It is sturdy and stands on its own when there is no one to hold it, and it is small enough to fit into a pocket or your camera bag and can go everywhere with you. If you want a fast, inexpensive way to make sure that the color you shoot shows up on your screen, then I very highly recommend ColorChecker Passport from X-Rite.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.