The charts from DSC Labs are manufactured to stringent color fidelity standards.
Sometimes only 1 in 16 charts they print meet the rigid technical specifications they set
I had the pleasure of speaking with David Corley of DSC Labs. He affectionately refers
to himself as "the old guy", but he's been in the business of creating charts for quite
some time. DSC works with NASA and many companies that record high quality
images where color reproduction is essential.
DSC made a very radical decision many years ago, which was to create glossy charts.
The reason they did this was that they found it was the only way they could
appropriately reproduce the color black.
While people complained about this decision initially, going forward, it has made the
reference charts much more precise. Why else is this important? These charts are used
to calibrate medical imagine devices. In a sense, DSC must be scientifically accurate to
help ensure that the medical devices are capturing and reproducing colors accurately.
So, when DSC is creating charts for motion pictures and stills, they are applying the
same science and care they have to provide doctors who are using medical imaging
devices as part of their patient care.
Glossy charts need to be more carefully lit, as they tend to reflect hot spots if the lights
are not placed correctly, but they are amazingly more accurate.
"In our tests the difference was immense. With matte charts, such as those
used since the beginning of photography, the whites and gray scales are
seldom neutral and the blacks are much lighter, reducing dynamic range by
two stops or more."
The RED CamBook is the only chart made for, endorsed and sold by RED. Graeme
Nattress uses DSC charts in combination with several other charts under various
lighting conditions to test REDCODE and REDs image sensor.
Graeme can attest to why a chart is a critical tool toward creating great images.
"A chart is a known quantity, containing reference colors and a neutral grey. The neutral grey allows for accurate setting of white balance, while the colors make it easy to
maintain color integrity throughout a post chain. It goes without saying that the chart
must be illuminated by the same lights that are illuminating the talent!"
The color temperature is one of the most important things in determining the
color reproduction. Colors react differently under different lighting
conditions. The RED CamBook includes a spectrophotometrically neutral
grayscale and 18% grey background. This is very useful when determining
accurate exposure of a scene. 18% is a traditional tool of cinematographers
working in film, so this is very helpful to those new to digital imaging.
The quality of the images starts with choosing the correct white balance for the scene.
Graeme knows the importance of white balance when decoding RAW files. The correct
color balance allows you to start with accurate color, a baseline, and then moves
forward to shape and determine original looks when you are doing the final grading of
"RAW can be best decoded back to a RGB image when the type of lighting used is
taken into account. White balance is the first step that ensures the RAW decoding has a
good idea of the type of lighting used.
A chart gives us a record of the lighting used, its color temperature, and how standard
colors react to that light."
There is much else to also consider. Using a chart is important in multi camera scenes
so that each camera shoots the color reference. It's important to film a chart because
later, it is much easier to use the charts as a way to ensure each camera angle can be
easily matched. It's not sufficient to just record the bars coming from a camera. The
color bar generator has nothing to do with the colors that the camera's image sensor is
capturing. In my experience even just the change of angle between camera will yield an
ever so different color temperature. There are also considerations if different lenses are
used on different cameras as lenses also have a color character.
"If you're trying to match colorimetry across a variety of sources, a chart becomes even
more useful. It is important that the chart show a good range of colors to allow you to do
this accurately. As highly saturated colors clip more easily, the half-saturation colors on
the DSC charts really help. Also, their logical arrangement on a vectorscope, waveform
or histogram allows for quick an easy determination of which colors need to be
Of course we cannot forget to mention 3D cinematography. Charts are an essential part
of matching the two camera's used in stereo setups.
"In stereo shooting, a chart can also help you match the colorimetry between the left
and right eye cameras."
If you use a RAW image workflow the RED CamBook charts are a big help. The book
itself comes in a perfect size for travel and is mounted on lightweight, high-quality
composite material (it is washable, as well). The RED CamBook includes one chart with
the industry-standard 18% neutral gray background, and a second with DSC's
CamWhite background -- both having RED camera framings up to 5K so the charts are
Click on image for larger view.
Click on image for larger view.
In addition, the RED CamBook contains the ChromaDuMonde 28 with 24 colors, 4 skin
tones, and an 11-step crossed grayscale featuring an 18% gray background. The 11-
step crossed grayscale displays the exposure setting and determines exactly how
gamma curves are affecting the image.
Click on image for larger view.
The RED CamBook and DSC's other charts are a great value, and come from a
company that cares deeply about getting the color right. They are as passionate about
color as we cinematographers are, and they are providing some of the tools to help us
achieve our very best images.
Also available for download: a ZIP file of the actual RED r3d files so you can take a look for yourself.
David Battistella is a director and filmmaker currently living in Firenze, Italy. Feel free to
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