Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Optix, Pulse get the Swiss Kiss

The Optix screen calibrator and the Pulse spectro had their death warrants read out at the Xrite press conference at Photokina this afternoon, Tom Vacchiano presiding. They will live in memory, starting December. Both of these products were found guilty of minority market share when compared to their GMB counterparts, EyeOne and Eyeone Pro. Goodbye Optix, you were accurate, you will be missed.

Profile Maker Pro and Monaco Profiler will be marketed side by side for now, as they each enjoy market dominance in their geographic sectors. They will in due course be merged into a single software package embodying switchable rendering engines. The DTP-70 seems alive for now, but I wouldn't bet on its long-term survival once Isis invades the X-Y scanning spectro ecological niche.

On the positive hand, it looks like the Swiss team is now finalizing the reverse takeover of Xrite with efficiency and expediency. They will be integrating ex-Gretag's darling EyeOne spectro head technology in their own and third-party hardware every chance they get. The annnounced deal with HP for the Z-series Designjets with an integrated spectro might just be the tip of the iceberg - I can sense Epson sniffing round the edges. Moreover, whispers say they are developing a new product for the prosumer photo market. I don't enjoy seeing the Optix and Pulse hit the dust; but I can discern positive momentum building here - if I were an Xrite stockholder I'd feel bullish about hardware sales.

We'll leave the discussion of the side-effects of Windows Color System on the color software industry as an exercise to the reader, who will not forget to factor in Adobe's desire to offer an OS-agnostic platform for its graphics tools.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

By popular demand, here is another picture of the Rollei/Sinar/Leaf camera prototype. I was told that currently the Sinar back does not rotate in place, but it can simply be taken off and replaced in the other orientation. Prices should be in range with the current 6008 offerings. I believe that there is a filmback. I will talk to Rollei again to try and get more photos and details to post here.

I'm now off to the Hasselblad press conference - please feel free to ask me to report on any topic which you deem of interest at Photokina.


Rollei-Sinar-Aptus Full Frontal

Here is a frontal view of the Rollei camera also marketed by Leaf and Sinar. The handle rotates. A side view of the same camera can be seen on my test blog.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Review: Colour Engineering by Green and MacDonald

Phil Green and Lindsay MacDonald, Colour Engineering, Wiley.
Digital camera makers, printer manufacturers, image processing software authors and the whole of the printing and imaging content industry share a need for allowing color information to move seamlessly between acquisition, archiving and display. This desire for hardware-independent seamlesness is manifest in the creation of the International Color Consortium (ICC), and translates into the subtitle of the Green and Lindsay's book, " Achieving Device Independent Color".

The science of color is grounded in physics and psychology; however the practical use of color in capture, display and reproduction of imagery relies heavily on descriptive formalisms, measurement devices, computer software, and the quirks of today's capture and display hardware. This is technology, not science. And anyone wishing to write code to manipulate color information benefits from an overview of these details.

Green and MacDonald have edited a book composed of information-packed peer-reviewed survey chapters which taken together supply an overview and tutorial introduction of the implementation details of color technology, as it stood in 2002. Colour Engineering bridges the considerable gap between simplified texts such as Abhay Sharma's "Understanding Color Management" and current research.

A reader desiring to enter the field will find assembled here most of the technical background material needed in order to quickly use Matlab or another toolkit to manipulate color imagery and color transforms, and an invaluable chapter by chapter bibliography. Colour Engineering is an essential resource that should find itself on the bookshelf of every color scientist, hardware designer and color software author.

NB - this review is not yet finalized.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Eyeone Display video tutorial for clients

Most photographers I help with color are at remote locations. So I use the phone, Skype and email to interact with them, and above all, I try to recommend easy to use solutions.

With ease of use first in mind, I'm liking the Eyeone Display 2 package a lot these days. It's easy to buy, easy to use, and I can point clients at a very nice web video which explains what it's all about. Every Eyeone system buyer should watch the video.

There's another thing I like about the Eyeone, and that's the white ambient light shoe which acts as protection. I've an Eyeone in my travel bag, and don't want the sensor side damaged. Now, I did suggest to Gretag that they add a cheap pouch and sell it in a bubble pack, so that buyers would get the "buy it for the office, use it at home" idea, but as with most of my suggestions it fell on deaf ears. Hey folks, it was a suggestion, not a criticism !

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Capture NX brings innovative edit tools

Nikon Capture NX is Nikon's latest entry in the Raw conversion turf battle, and it would appear to be a major step forward, innovating with a new local image editing paradigm called Control Points. Creative Pro has done a nice review.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Rumors of Basiccolor back-to-basics profilers.

A high-placed source at Basiccolor, speaking on condition of anonymity — yes Heidi, I wish I were a political journalist— indicates that two new streamlined products are being fueled up for launch from Penzberg.

One is an RGB print profiler that I believe is code-named Droprgb, the other a CMYK profiler named Cmykick.

These two packages do not drive instruments for acquisition— they expect a measurement file containing spectral data to be dropped on them. Apparently they don't require any configuration either - when a measurements files is dropped, a profile gets generated and written into the right places, as required by the host OS.

I guess someone over there in Penzberg with a doctorate in physics must have argued that the company's core competence is color and not interface design. Or maybe it was someone with sound business sense. In any case, I would agree - there is room for simple software in the CMS arena.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Photoshop CS2 9.01 print bug: Revert to Original 9.0 Disks !

Reports on the Adobe forums, indicate that the 9.01 update of Photoshop CS2, when running on certain updates of Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, is having serious color management issues when creating files for printing. Ian Lyons has posted an image of the bug and a workaround.

I would think that building profiles might also be problematic on any affected computer — profiles built with an affected configuration might well be worthless and need to be redone.

Printing from InDesign is also a solution. However,
I would suggest users revert Photoshop back to the original Photoshop 9.0 disk install, and upload the current Adobe Raw Converter if they need Raw capability. This should keep people out of trouble with any latter Apple update to Mac OS 10.4.x — even users with no present issue might have problems when they update the system.

This is surely just a temporary hiccup, and I expect Apple and Adobe will resolve it soon. Adobe's flagship application is renowned for its stability, especially when compared to software that comes out of Redmond. However, this is yet another indication that updates to production systems may be avoided, except when security mandates them.

Update: I got the following email from Bob Frost:

According to Adobe, it is a bug in OSX 10.4 (not in CS2) and they are waiting for Apple to fix it.

Bob Frost

Monday, June 12, 2006

Gutenprint versus native Epson driver gamut

Here are the gamuts, courtesy of the Gamut Warning in Photoshop. One can see the extended shadow range as well as the deficit in the reds.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Gutenprint / Gimp-Print inkjet RIP review Part 1 — RGB

I have started to look at the Gimp-Print inkjet drivers (now called Gutenprint). In conjunction with other preinstalled components such as CUPS and Ghostscript, this open source system project forms a RIP system, supporting 8 and 16 bit RGB and CMYK files as well as PDF and Postscript, and it's present on every Mac, and can run on every Linux box.

Today, I'll just discuss my findings when using the beta Gutenprint V5.0 RC3 as an inkjet RGB driver for printing images from Photoshop.

Nutshell report: Very easy to install and very good results, on a par with the proprietary Epson RGB driver. However, it's painful to configure. Gutenprint's excellent functionality is obscured (read obfuscated) by an interface overloaded with undocumented options.

Equipment used: Epson 2400, connected to a Dual 2.5 Ghz PowerMac G5 printing on Epson archival matte. Profiling with XRITE DTP-70 spectro and Monaco Profiler 4.8, eyeball evaluation by using the Chromacity target, and male and female eyes.

Installation: On the Mac, an update installation of the latest GutenPrint is easy, via a package that can be downloaded from Sourceforge. Creation of a print queue is done via the Mac's Printer Setup app, and is well documented in a PDF supplied with the package. Gutenprint does as well here as the Epson driver.

Printer Configuration: On the Mac you set up the printer by pointing a browser at the CUPS web interface, located at
http://localhost:631 and there are zillions of incomprehensible parameters. Hint: Set the printer to Line Art if you are doing profiled printing with Photoshop working as the color engine. I'd say this is the only bad aspect of this driver.

Printing: You can print to your newly installed Gutenprint device from Photoshop via the usual Print with Preview dialog. Although the margins are different, everything ends up at the right place when you click the "Center Image" checkbox. Nothing new here - and that's exactly the way we want it.

Print Speed: On my Epson 2400, Gutenprint was slow. Not unusably slow but much much much slower than the Epson driver. Long pauses between passes. Maybe I need a USB 2.0 cable ?

Profile Quality: I profiled both Gutenprint and the proprietary driver with Monaco Profiler, using the simple 343 patch target that results in very smooth inkjet profiles. Looking at the target indicated Gutenprint has a better linearization out of the box. The gamut looked fairly similar to the Epson driver, except in the reds where there may be a bug. The Gutenprint gamut seemed better in the shadows.

Print Quality: Looking at the Chromaticity target, rendered perceptually.
  • -Neutrals were neutral, shadow gradients smooth.

  • - Gutenprint had better shadow detail.
  • - The Epson shows a smidge more contrast (due to the blocked shadows ?) and slightly more sharpness.
  • - Highlight definition of colored zones looks better with the Gutenprint driver.
  • - I'd say the reds are significantly better with Epson's driver.
  • - Examination with a loupe showed a weave/stripe pattern on the Gutenprint sample, while the Epson sample showed more random fill patterns. However this is not visible to the naked eye.
  • - The Colorchecker looked good on both samples, except - you guessed it- for the red patch. The red is better but not perfect as rendered by the Epson driver. But then, of course I printed with perceptual rendering.

Daylight/Indoors: Disparities between the samples seemed stronger in incandescent light. They matched more closely in daylight.

Suggested improvements: A minor quibble, there is a slight gamut issue with the reds on the 2400, at least on matte paper. I guess this is something that could be easily fixed by adjusting the linearization settings, but I don't know how to do it. Apart from that, to solve the zillion settings issue by giving people decent starting points, I suggest bundling some pre-configured settings into the install package, one of which would be a good-quality no-color-correction settings-set for the CMS crowd, and another for normal users wanting to print photos. I'd also recommend some sort of HTML documentation for the settings options. Apart from a very slight deficit of sharpness, I don't see much in the functionality that needs improving. Some tools for linearisation might be a useful adjunct however. Oh yes, and then there is the speed problem.

Summary: The Gutenprint RGB printer driver, when profiled, offers equivalent quality to Epson's printer driver. Indeed Gutenprint seems particularly well suited to portraits because of good shadow and highlight rendering. In the next part of this review we'll be looking at what Gutenprint can do that Epson's driver cannot - did you say CMYK and Postscript ?

Addendum: Yes, I will make custom profiles for this driver on request. Provided you already know how to use it.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Darkness is your friend

This week, no news is good news: I'm gonna link to a digital photo episode of BOFH - the artist otherwise known as "Bastard Operator From Hell". Enjoy !

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

They shoot horses, don't they ?

Now that Xrite has gobbled up GMB, I guess most of you wonder if your products will be supported and or upgraded. Have no fear ! I would expect that existing clients will be supported both for Xrite and GMB products. Indeed, interoperability between product ranges shoud improve: I expect soon-to-come versions of all software, eg. both Monaco Profiler and Profile Maker Pro to support all instruments from either company. If anytime there has been a merger which presents zero-risk to customers, this should be it.

But there will be some cutting too, no doubt: Can the Pulse and i1 Pro hardware coexist for long in the same niche ? can Optix and EyeOne ? - they're probably drawing straws over in Grandville to decide which hardware to kill or maybe just relabel and rebrand . Maybe EyeOne Display will be dropped into the Pantone channel for keeps, or relegated to entry-level ? Or will it be Optix ? I think the management at Colorvision is probably having kittens, figuring out what they will need to compete against -

Which leads us to the other side of the coin and the rest of my "customers" - Dear Reader, if you're not a CMS user, then you're probably an industry insider, and you're wondering which of the product managers, marketing guys, techies and support who are your friends are going to get axed ? Well, you can reread the above paragraph, and place your bets.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A color monopoly is born: XRITE, GMB Merge

This is not a rumor, it's a done deal. The two 800 pound gorillas of the Colour Management market have got married. The marriage ceremony is valued at $280 Million. Color is serious business nowadays.

Here is the Gretag-side link to this announcement and here is the Xrite-side page .

The CEO of the merged company should first be the present CEO of XRITE, Mr. Michael Ferrara. The present CEO of GMB, Mr. Tom Vacchiano should replace him within 18 months, according to info which I was given. Mary Chowning of Xrite will be CFO, Francis Lamy of GMB CTO. The new HQ will be located in Grandville, Michigan, not Regensdorf. It would seem that digital imaging products rather than industrial color is the center of gravity of the new company.

I knew that Xrite was cash-rich. I didn't know they were that rich.

Having observed -on previous occasions- the fanatical cost-cutting that accompanies these US-driven mergers, I would guess that there will soon be a bunch of color marketing execs and even a few color-scientists looking for work. Not to speak of manufacturing . Maybe some of these idled guys and gals will set up the much needed competition to the newborn giant.

However, there is also the possibility that the new management will redirect the freed R&D and marketing resources to create the cheaper, simpler colour management products that the desktop publishing and photo market really needs. I certainly hope they will do this.

On a more serious note, I think that melding Xrite's excellent design for usability with Gretag's measurement precision will be good for existing users in the short term. Both companies have a good rep with users and good products.


Monday, January 16, 2006

Finally Here! The Calibrator they might give away: Pantone Huey

My regular readers will remember that I predicted a crash in monitor-calibrator prices as Windows Vista looms on the horizon - looks like I was right, even sooner than I expected. Entry-level monitor calibrator prices are diving.

The favorite party favor in Color Management circles should soon be the Pantone Huey device - with its $89 list price now, I expect it to be retailing below $50 when Vista hits the streets. The Huey is an OEM product from Gretag, if my info is correct, and this means swiss-designed hardware, and good quality control.

The Huey adds an interesting twist to calibration, as the sensor sits next to your monitor and continually feeds real information about ambient lighting to the computer. With Vista's measurement-based WCS capablities, this could mean that color is readjusted to match not only the ambient illumination intensity but also the fluctuation of color temperature with varying daylight or mixed lighting.

Of course, we can expect Gretag Macbeth to release a low-priced product of their own soon, before the Huey knocks the bottom out of the i1Display sales in the photo channel; also, I wonder how they're feeling at ColorVision, the company that makes the Spyder, the moderate-cost and moderately precise calibration product previously marketed by Pantone. As for Xrite, well guys looks like youre gonna have to lower prices too, but at least no one has ever complained about your product's quality !

Last, not least, about my tag-line: I would expect the Huey to be a favorite "bonus" item soon in the channel with Photoshop or Epson printer bundles, and hopefully a few screen makers will finally see the light and bundle calibrators with displays...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Nec Spectraview 2180WG non-uniformity correction

If you have $6K to burn you can go out and buy a wide gamut Nec Spectraview 2180WG monitor and see all of Adobe RGB on your screen - but if you're a tech fetishist like me, with no money, then the Nec Spectraview 2180WG tech documentation will have to do, I guess.

One interesting interesting innovation incorporated in this monitor is the ColorComp 3d table (page 6) that mods individual pixels to compensate for display non-uniformity. My guess is the folded backlight system that mixes the LED light is not good enough at evening out illumination across the panel, and also some underperforming LEDs can always creep in to the production line, so it's smarter to try and improve matters with a "local profile". Nec would have you believe is that this is something they added out of the goodness of their hearts to compensate for uneven panels, as supplied.

I wonder how long it'll take until LED backlight panels come into general use.