Please note that this isn’t a test like you would expect it from sites like DPReview, or Imaging Resource, or SLRGear and other great test labs. Nothing really scientific here, no curves, no numbers. This is just a field report after two days of usage and calibration of 3 displays (one of those was calibrated twice tho).
When Richard Hughes, founder of Hughski Limited announced an “open source” colorimeter with full GPL source code and even Linux support late last year, he offered a developers’ discount for testers and early adopters. So I was quick to give him a nod on that one. A few weeks ago I was informed that now I could have one if I still wanted it, and I did. And two days ago my ColorHug arrived, and here it is:
It’s incredibly small, as you can see in the next photo which also contains my gray card – and that gray card is exactly the size of a credit card:
So what do you get, and how will it work? Well, you get:
- a “thank you” letter with first instructions,
- a bootable Live Linux CD with Fedora and all the needed calibration software on it (you can also download newer ones),
- the device itself, and
- a USB cable to attach it to your computer(s)
Beside that, you’ll get a 5 year warranty, but you can read everything about that device at Hughski. Here, I want to tell you how it works.
Your screen should have been turned on for at least 15 minutes before you start. Then, after booting that Linux Live CD, you’ll find yourself in a rather naked Fedora standard screen. Nothing on the screen, and not much in the menus. Knowing Linux fairly well, I decided not to click any links in these menus, but to attach the device first. And that is the time when magic starts to happen:
The needed programs start automatically, and you are completely guided through the calibration process. Even my aunt Geno could do this. (Nothing against my aunt, she does have a computer which runs – who’d have guessed it – Linux of course!)
I have a Samsung SyncMaster 2433BW monitor, which – at the time of purchase – was an extremely good device for the money. Or so I thought. I didn’t expect much of the calibration, because I thought that my monitor was a fairly good one, and my settings near perfect. So I was in for a surprise, not to say: I was completely shocked. Half way through the calibration process (I used the ‘standard’ one first, not the more precise one which lasts longer), my screen turned red. Or reddish. Or pinkish. Way off, I thought. Hm. Ok. I completed the process, saved the generated profile to a USB stick, and rebooted into my normal 64 bit Debian (also Linux) desktop. There, I copied the profiles from that USB stick back to some folder on my hard drive, and used xcalib to load it (which I later automated).
And again, that screen looked reddish. Much too red. So I joined the Google+ group for owners, testers, and developers, and read about others who had the same experience. Especially a few with Samsung monitors. Others mentioned that you’d get used to this, and that this would be some kind of “normal” experience, because the now “right” colours appear “wrong” at first simply due to extended periods of time looking into screens which are in fact too blue. Their recommendation was to try it for a week or so, and I’ve also read comments like “Going back is no option”.
Yesterday morning, I was early at work like usual – I try to avoid traffic jams at least once a day, so I’m kind of an early bird. That is why I took the device to work, and my first action in the morning was to calibrate my monitor there as well. This one is a 1680×1050 Lenovo 22 inch (or so), and my subjective impression after getting it was that it could never compete with my Samsung. I used the more precise method this time, and attached the device to the screen in a way that I didn’t have to hold it, using something to give it just a bit of needed pressure to stay in place, so that I could move away.
After loading that newly created profile into my “IBM Open Client” (which is based on a 64 bit Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6), I thought hmmm, not too bad, and decided to also give it a try, and keep it loaded while working. Work is mostly text anyway, but IBM policy is to lock your screen when leaving your desk, so each time I left and/or returned, I saw a screensaver showing some of my “keeper” photos, which I know pretty well.
When seeing some of these images, I was amazed. And after half a day of work, I thought ok, that’s it – going back is no option at all.
Still, after returning to our home in the evening, my own screen looked too red. So I decided to calibrate Mitchie’s device – a 19″ and 1280×1024 LG monitor. Again I took some thin book to give the ColorHug just a tiny bit of holding pressure against the screen, and went away. That more precise profiling lasts about 40 minutes, and after loading that profile into her Ubuntu, I was pleased – looked like the best screen and profile so far; colours were simply perfect. And Mitchie was happy.
I wasn’t, at least not with my own screen, so I repeated the precise and automated method with my own screen – and now it’s gorgeous. Maybe the first time I was moving the little device while trying to more or less hold it in place? Or maybe there’s really a visible difference between those ‘standard’ and more precise methods? I don’t know. All I know is that now finally I look at correct colours, and so I have much more confidence when doing raw conversions, or try to decide between two different conversions (like one for the web, and the other for prints). Even the GTK mouse pointer in my Gnome desktop looks different – it seemed to have the same white colour like an empty text file before profiling, and now it’s kind of turquoise – as if the monitor finally show a real white, while the mouse pointer doesn’t. I couldn’t care less about that…
The photo in my last post (or article) was my first raw conversion done on my now calibrated screen, and the two above also. Finally I have some kind of confidence about the blacks and whites and also the colours. Does everyone need this? Probably not. But if you care for the photos you make for anyone else than for yourself, a calibrated monitor is a pretty good starting point in my humble opinion. Just as important as a gray card or a matching camera profile for your raw converter.
If you’re just beginning to take photography seriously, start with good lights. The studio and the compact flashes I used for the two images above cost almost as much as a dedicated Canon or Nikon or Olympus flash – but I’ve got two for that sum, with lots of extras like radio remotes and such. Here’s the setup shot for those images:
In the front, my 300WS studio flash which came with light stand and a softbox for under 200€, far in the back, and pointed upwards is my Yongnuo flash which now costs around 50$ in China (worldwide shipping included). That tiny little thing on the table is the ColorHug. Which I really recommend.
Thanks for reading.