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Color-Macbeth

Last updated 2006-08-01 - Send Feedback
Related: Nikon DSLR
D200 D2x
no adjustments, sRGB, Tone=Low Contrast

Introduction

This page examines color rendition using a Macbeth Color checker card.

The example images were shot at 1/60 second @ f8 using diffused sunlight through a large umbrella with the 60mm/f2.8D Micro-Nikkor. There were no lost shadows or highlights in the captured images as shown by Nikon Capture.

The images on this page should be viewed on  a color-calibrated display.  The author evaluated the images on a color-calibrated Apple Cinema Display (Gamma 2.2, 6500K).  There are more accurate displays available, but it is reasonably good.

Processing

Each image was color balanced within Nikon Capture using the 3rd-lightest gray patch (the pure white patch being the 1st-lightest). The Tone=Low Contrast setting was also used.

Because of the significantly different contrast of the two cameras, some adjustments were made to facilitate comparison

Using the Lab numbers supplied by Gretag Macbeth for the Macbeth Color Checker card used, the black and white patches were matched in luminance. The D2x image was pushed 0.23 stop to achieve a luminance value of 20 for the black patch. The D200 image was pulled 0.1 stop to achieve a luminance value of 20 for the black patch. These values do not indicate ISO response, but are related to the inherent contrast of each camera.

The images were then saved from Nikon Capture as 16-bit TIF files in ProPhoto RGB color space. In Photoshop, the 16 bit images were converted from ProPhoto RGB to 16 bit Lab.

A Photoshop “Levels” adjustment layer was used for each image to force the white values to a luminance of 96, while also maintaining the black value at 20 (see images that follow for details):

  • The D2x image used a “Levels” adjustment layer of {0, 1.00, 248}.

  • The D200 image used a “Levels” adjustments layer of {0, 0.93, 224}. Note that the D200 image also required a slight gamma adjustment to maintain the black patch luminance at 20.

If you would like to see the unprocessed, “as-is” images click either one at the top of this page.

Gamut check

A gamut check was done in Adobe Photoshop with the images now in 16-bit Lab, having been converted from 16-bit ProPhoto RGB. The gamut check was done after the black and white point adjustments.

Out-of-gamut colors are grayed out in the images below.

Gamut Check—Epson R2400 with Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper

For the D200, the fluorescent green cloth (leftmost) was out of gamut.

For the D2x, the entire image was within gamut.

Gamut check—Epson R2400 with Premium Glossy Photo Paper
click for larger versions
D200 D2x

Gamut Check—sRGB color space

For the D200, only the fluorescent green cloth was out of gamut.

For the D2x, the fluorescent green cloth was out of gamut, as well as a considerable amount of the yellows on the other cloth. .

Gamut check—sRGB color space
click for larger versions
D200 D2x

Comparison

The comments on this page are based on viewing the images both on-screen and from prints made on the Epson R2400 (Premium Glossy paper). Depending on your browser and/or your monitor calibration, the results seen on this page might or might not match the comments.

To the author’s knowledge as of July 2006, only one browser is colorspace-aware, Apple’s Mac OS X Safari. Viewing the ProPhoto RGB images in other browsers will display a muted, desaturated version of the image. If so, open the image in a colorspace-aware program, such as Adobe Photoshop. See Web Browser Color Display at diglloyd.com for details.

Processed variants

All variants of the image are found in the tables below in addition to further on where they are assessed. Click for larger versions, and read on for details.

No adjustments, sRGB, Tone=Low Contrast
D200 D2x

Adjusted, sRGB, Tone=Low Contrast
D200 D2x

Adjusted, ProPhoto RGB, Tone=Low Contrast
D200 D2x
Rigorously lab tested and OWC certified.

Gray-scale rendition

The two cameras, once the black and white points were equalized, demonstrate remarkably similar gray scales, shifting slightly warm in the white patch, and slightly cool in the dark patches, with the D2x showing a 1-2 point greater shift. Mid-tones remained perfectly neutral for both cameras.

The two cameras have luminance values that are all but identical. However, this was after the black and white patches were matched to luminance values of 20 and 96, respectively. Without that step, luminance values of the D2x were brighter in the highlights and darker in the shadows eg inherently higher contrast:

D2x:  17, 33, 48, 64, 76, 88
D200: 21, 37, 51, 64, 75, 86

This is suggestive of a greater dynamic range for the D200, which is addressed on the Dynamic Range page.

Though quite close, luminance values are not a perfect match for the Macbeth card. Possibly the lighting could have influenced the results, and the card itself was not perfectly flat, which might have caused slightly greater reflectivity.

A non-linear gray-scale had been previously observed in both shadows and highlights with the D2x during the D2x vs EOS review.

In Lab color space, the D2x image shows about 3 points (Lab) of extra blue in the black patch, and about 3 points of extra yellow in the white patch.

The D200 image shows about 2 points (Lab) of extra blue in the black patch, and about 1 point of extra yellow in the white patch.

Both cameras have a hint (1 point) of magenta in the white patch. One point is a small amount, and taken by itself might be considered within the range of error. However, the color casts observed here were previously observed for the D2x in the D2x vs EOS review, and the consistency must lead us to believe that the color cast is genuine.

Click on either image to see a larger version. The differences will be more obvious if you view the larger versions.

Nikon D200, sRGB

Lab values {L, a, b}: {20, 0, -2}, {38, 0, -2}, {54, 0, 0}, {70, 0, 0}, {82, 0, 0}, {96, 1, 1}
Reference {L, a, b}: {20, 0, 0}, {35, 0, 0}, {51, 0, 0}, {66, 0, 0}, {81, 0, 0}, {96, 0, 0}


Nikon D2x, sRGB
Lab values {L, a, b}: {20, 1, -3}, {38, 1, -2}, {54, 0, 0}, {70, 0, 0}, {83, 0, 0}, {96, 1, 3}
Reference {L, a, b}: {20, 0, 0}, {35, 0, 0}, {51, 0, 0}, {66, 0, 0}, {81, 0, 0}, {96, 0, 0}

Color saturation

The D200 exhibits lower color saturation than the D2x. Because the tonal range was equalized, thus removing contrast as an issue, it can be concluded that the D200 also has lower saturation in general (in addition to lower contrast).

Using Saturation = Enhanced in Nikon Capture brings the saturation of the D200 closer to that of the D2x. Compare the D200 Saturation = Enhanced image to the D2x Saturation=Normal image below (click for larger versions). The colors are slightly different, but the saturation is now much closer.

D200, Saturation = Normal D2x, Saturation = Normal

D200, Saturation = Enhanced D2x, Saturation = Enhanced

My personal preference leans towards the D2x rendering. Without the extra saturation, the D200 image looks mismatched to the original Macbeth card when a print is viewed with the card as a reference, whereas the D2x print is a much closer match (more on this below).

In short, the D2x offers a better “out of the box” match, both in terms of luminance and color saturation than does the D200; the D200 required a white point and gamma adjustment, as well as additional saturation to produce a result that matched the original.

Comparing prints

I viewed the prints in both direct and indirect sunlight together with the original Macbeth Color Checker card. The subjective differences between the prints correspond quite closely to the differences seen on the computer monitor, so viewing the prints on a quality monitor provides an accurate sense of the differences.

Evaluating color differences when the images differ in saturation is a tricky business, and the author makes no claim as to having any better eyes for this task than other photographers. The reader is advised to make his/her own evaluation, perhaps before reading this section.

First impressions

First impression of the prints, without reference to the original Macbeth card:

  • the D200 print looked slightly “flat”.
  • the D2x print has a nice pop with pleasing color saturation.
  • the D200 gray-scale is neutral; the D2x print was mostly so, but had a hint of a color cast in the darkest gray patch (next to the black patch) and the white patch.

On a purely subjective basis, the D2x print was more appealing. Of course, increasing contrast and/or saturation should be able to rectify the slightly boring look of the D200 print.

Compensating mentally for the contrast and saturation differences, it was difficult to discern any color-rendering differences between the two prints.

The D200 is slightly more neutral than the D2x in shadows and highlights. Given the fact that they are different cameras, with different sensors (CCD vs CMOS) and electronics, Nikon has done an excellent job of matching their characteristics.

Neither camera was completely neutral across the gray scale. Could the yellow cloth in the background have had an effect? Possibly, but light travels in a straight line, and there was no surface from which yellowish light could have bounced back onto the gray patches. At any rate, the D2x results match previous tests in which no yellow background was used.

Comparison with the original Macbeth card

Using the original Macbeth card as a reference, I viewed the prints in turn. Both prints were an excellent match for the card, especially considering the matte surface of the original card as compared with the glossy surface of the print. There were some very slight color differences, but whether these were due to the camera or the printer/inks is hard to say.

The color saturation of the D2x print was a notably better match for the original card than the D200 print—no deliberation was needed to immediately see the difference. However, I judged neither print to be a better match than the other for color accuracy.

Neither camera could match the intense color saturation of some of the patches (particularly the bright red patch), but viewing prints is as much an evaluation of the printer and inks and paper as it is of the camera, so no conclusion should be drawn in this regard.

Conclusions

The D200 shows lower contrast and lower color saturation than the D2x with slightly more neutral highlights and shadows.

Without adjustments, the D2x was a better match for the Macbeth color checker card in terms of both luminance and color saturation when a print was viewed next to the original.


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