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Reproducing Rainbows: Color in the Digital Environment

COW Library : RED Camera : David Battistella : Reproducing Rainbows: Color in the Digital Environment
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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 for color.

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.


David Corley:

"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.

Graeme Nattress:

"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 your film.


Graeme Nattress:

"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.


Graeme Nattress:

"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 changed."



Of course we cannot forget to mention 3D cinematography. Charts are an essential part of matching the two camera's used in stereo setups.


Graeme Nattress:

"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 EPIC ready!


Click on image for larger view
Click on image for larger view.


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
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 contact him.

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Re: Reproducing Rainbows: Color in the Digital Environment
by Jeff Brown
For straightforward white balance and color reference, a reliable and modestly priced option is the Greytag Macbetch color chart. Used by film and print professionals for decades. It is matte, but I would not set black level off a chart, personally. Off a black velvet square, perhaps.


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