Getting colour right on four year old cameras

Back in June 2010 I wrote a blog post about getting the colours to match on multiple Canon digital camera bodies. Ever since then I have tried really hard to keep my cameras synchronised for colour and contrast as well as making sure that the clocks are set to identical times. What has become obvious to me is that as cameras get older they shift their colour balance and the shift seems to accelerate a little. What has also become obvious is that the clocks built into Canon digital cameras get out of synchronisation far too quickly.

WB Shift on a Canon EOS5D MkII

WB Shift on a Canon EOS5D MkII

Getting the clocks the same is a simple task: you can either do it in the menu on the camera or synchronise the clocks when the camera is connected to the computer using the very useful Canon EOS Utility software – a simple task that I find needs to be checked at least every four to five weeks. When I did the synch’ this morning two Canon EOS5D MkII bodies were nearly fifteen seconds different.

Moving on to the much trickier question of colour, I suggest that you read the old post before actually doing any work. Getting two cameras to match takes a while and getting three to match when one of them has a significantly different chip is even harder. This time I was simply wanting to get my two four-year-old 5D MkIIs to give me the same colour rendition as each other. I had started to notice that one required quite a bit more magenta removal than the other and so I put my 70-200 lens on a tripod, connected the first camera (which was giving me some fairly magenta images) to the laptop and mounted the body onto the lens. I built myself a little still life with a cereal box and a grey card, lit it with a reliable flash on manual power output and shot a frame or two.

My makeshift test target

My makeshift test target

The images were brought into Canon’s EOS Utility software and then into Photo Mechanic on the calibrated computer screen and I had a look. The grey was noticeable pink and the whites on the cardboard box were too and so I adjusted the white balance shift (WB SHIFT/BKT in the camera menu) from it’s starting position of B1,G2 to B1,G4 and took a couple more frames. Much better, but still a tiny bit magenta. I shifted it to B1, G5 and took another picture and the grey was finally grey and the white was finally as white as it could get.

That was the first camera sorted. All I had to do was to get the second one to match it. Leaving the lens on the tripod I simply swapped the bodies over,  matched the exposure and fired a couple more frames. This body was on B0, G1 and, after a bit of fiddling, I got the colours to match by eye on B1 G2. Comparing the frames shot on the two cameras showed that one was a tiny amount more contrasty than the other and so I simply adapted the Picture Style “standard” that I habitually use for RAW files to get the contrast between the two cameras to match as well.

All-in-all it took about thirty-five minutes to set the kit up and get the results that I wanted (including synchronising the clocks). On my shoot today everything was the right colour as soon as I dragged it into Adobe Camera RAW from both cameras and I saved myself a fair amount of computer time – which is important because in the editorial markets where I make most of my money nobody pays for the time you spend in front of the screen and adjusting images from two different cameras can take quite a bit of time.

For me, this kind of techie stuff is vital. A lot of people just plough on and shoot without ever calibrating or changing anything but I am sure that thirty-five minutes work once every few weeks will save an enormous amount of time in between and time is, they say, money!

6 comments

  1. After two years of not enjoying my Panasonic GF1 (except when shooting in subdued mixed lighting) I read up a bit and shifted the AWB a dot or two away from the centre to counteract the blue magenta cast.

    Still not happy and after several months more struggles, I bought a little Olympus E-PM1 body, and now I’m happier.

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  2. How about shooting an Xrite passport and creating a calibration for each camera in Adobe Camera RAW / LR?

    The long winded and, arguably more precise method is to create an ICC colour profile for each camera with i1Profiler that can be used in Photoshop / Capture One or even ACR. It gives the optimal result, but can get expensive

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    1. I like the idea of getting it right in-camera. It means that I can let someone else handle my CR2 files (which happens occasionally) without having to give them settings or second-gues what they might do with the colours. Computer based solutions only work if you can guarantee to use your own computer. For my work this is the right solution.

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