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Review of X-Rite's ColorMunki Monitor Calibrator

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In the final part of my 'From Camera to Print' series, I spoke about the importance of having a calibrated monitor as well as a consistent lighting environment to ensure accurate color-corrections. Without these two pieces working together, accurate processing of your photos isn't possible. The X-rite ColorMunki is designed to help with just this problem.

Having a consistently lit editing environment isn't always a practical choice for many photographers, especially the traveling photographer such as myself. For many photographers - including the pros - the living room, bedroom, hotel, restaurant, or office is the place where post-production work happens. This means that the profiles I generated in my light-controlled basement were no good somewhere else.

Even though my trusty i1Display2 travels with me on assignments where I know I will be doing on-location editing, it could not detect changes in my environment. And since I'm concentrating on editing, I won't notice the changes a passing cloud or someone turning on the television would do. Those changes can render a color profile useless mid-edit. And as I said before, wasting another 10 or so minutes recalibrating isn't very efficient.

To address the challenges a lot of us face regarding color-correction in changing environments, X-rite has released the ColorMunki Display ($190). X-rite says that it will not only do what my i1 did, but also automatically detect and adjust my monitor whenever a change in my environment is detected.

Oh really?

I'll do a little side-by-side comparison between i1 and the ColorMunki Display as well as test the ColorMunki's ability to detect and mitigate the changes in my color-editing environment. We'll see if I do get accurate color in any location and if this is a worthy upgrade and time-saver.


Design

First up is the design comparison. As technology progresses, designs and user-friendliness usually improve. The ColorMunki definitely has some design improvements over the i1. It's not that the i1 was designed or built poorly, it's merely the march of time.


Left to right: i1 Display2 and the ColorMunki Display. (X-rite, Inc.)

The integrated ambient light filter on the ColorMunki is a great idea. It swivels out of the way when calibrating and swivels back when measuring the ambient and for travel, keeping dust out. This is a little thing, but is a huge piece of mind for me. My i1 cost me $250, and whenever I had to remove the ambient light filter, I had to pry it off. Worrying about snapping something off a $250 piece of equipment isn't fun.

Another good idea is the integrated counterweight. Again, not a big deal, but it's another piece I don't have to worry about losing. Fewer pieces to lose or replace is a good thing for the traveling photographer.

These two advancements in design make the ColorMunki a good traveler and more user-friendly. There are fewer pieces to worry about and there's no forceful prying of anything.


Software

The calibration wizard for the ColorMunki is much more user-friendly than the i1's application. The i1 was clear, but the ColorMunki provides you with a silhouette target showing the center of your display. With the old software you had to eye-ball it. Again, not something major, but every little bit helps.


The target found in the ColorMunki wizard is much better than guessing where the center of the screen is.

Both applications are easy to use, but with the advancement of technology, the ColorMunki's calibration wizard is a lot easier to follow. What I don't like about the ColorMunki's application is the lack of curves and colorspace graphs that are included for easy comparison as found in i1's application. You do get a bunch of sample images to compare the before and after effects in ColoMunki's application though. Those are nice, but I like the technical stuff that i1 was showing me.


You can see exactly how bright and blue an uncalibrated display can be by seeing just how much the curves have moved off the central diagonal. This information is missing in the ColorMunki calibration wizard.

Testing & Goals

I could go on and on about the numbers and all kinds of color science jargon, but that's what scientists are for. All the really technical stuff is important, but most photographers simply want WYSIWYG color. Not being surprised is the whole point of accurate, WYSIWYG color.

The first test is to demonstrate how each unit interprets the ambient conditions and compensates for them in a controlled environment. Next we'll visually edit a photo using each generated profile. After that, I'll move my computer - a laptop - to a different room with different lighting to see if the ColorMunki Display actually detects the change. Once that happens and it adjusts, I'll visually edit the photo there.

To keep things on the level, I'll use an X-rite ColorChecker in the photo and measure the neutrality of the gray tones.

There are a lot of variables, such as my personal ability to visually color-correct and my monitor's color-quality. However, these are exactly the kind of variables the ColorMunki Display is supposed to help mitigate and provide accurate color, "even in the most challenging working conditions."


Controlled Environment

First the easy test. I expect that both my i1 and the newer ColorMunki will deliver the WYSIWYG color I expect. I'm running this calibration to compare how each device interprets the lighitng situation.

The i1 and the ColorMunki accurately gauged the color temperature of the light and ambient reflections coming from my walls. I'm under a pretty common lights, 4000K fluorescents , with pale yellow walls adding a little warmth making my light 3700K.

The major difference between the two calibrators is their measurement of Lux (light intensity). The i1 measured 123lx and the ColorMunki measured 208lx. However, both adjusted my monitor's brightness by the same amount, dropping the brightness more than half.

Comparing the colorspace models of each you can see the shifts. The i1 gave me lots of greens but sacrificed the purples. The ColorMunki went the other way and gave me notably more purples to work with while sacrificing some of the greens.


The i1 Display2's colorspace (left) and the ColorMunki Display's colorspace (right).

As the overlay below shows, the ColorMunki (ghosted) actually widened the gamut and appears to have compensated better for the fluorescent lights than the i1.


Variable Environment

Now, comes the challenging part which addresses the main feature which interests me the most: automatic profile adjustments. I won't be testing the i1 Display2 here because it doesn't have the feature to automatically detect these changes. We'll compare the controlled and variable environment images.

I've moved the laptop from my 3700K environment, typical office lighting, and into a living room with incandescent bulbs in lamp shades. So, now the light has shifted from 3700K to around 2500K. This is a massive change as now everything has an orange-red tint, nullifying my previous profile's accuracy and affecting my perception of color.


Notice how warm the area is, even with an Incandescent WB applied in-camera. This is a typical lighting scene of many homes and hotels.

Here is a comparison of the colorspace graphs of the original ColorMunki profile and automatically adjusted one in the incandescent environment.


The automatically generated (right) bumped up the blues and purples and trimmed the reds a little to compensate for the warmer color temperature. It's slight, but it's there.

As you can see, the ColorMunki actually did modify the colorspace and adjusted my display's brightness based upon these new conditions. The new profile trimmed the reds and oranges to compensate and give me a more faithful rendition.

Here are the test images done using the wizard-generated profile (Controlled Environment) and the automatically adjusted one (Variable Environment).


Samples from the same neutral gray square on the ColorChecker show how close the results are between my control and my variable. It also shows just how far off the original photo was from proper color balance. (1/60sec, f/2.8, ISO 3200, AWB, jpeg)

The ColorMunki unit enabled me to see color accurately despite the dramatic change in lighting conditions.


Conclusion

The new features in the ColorMunki Display unit are very liberating. Now, I don't have to worry or wait until I get back to the studio in order to properly process and softproof my images with confidence. Watching the ColorMunki automatically shift my display settings was actually exciting. I could literally see it working!

While the adjustments weren't perfect, they were very, very good and very pleasantly surprising. This will allow me to work more efficiently since I can not only shoot, but also color-correct with confidence on-location. And not having to recalibrate with each new situation saves me time as well.

If you're a photographer who doesn't have access to a light-controlled editing environment, traveling photographer, or photojournalist the ColorMunki Display is an excellent tool to get you the accurate color you need for your workflow - now pretty much anywhere.

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