Product Review: Page (1) of 1 - 04/16/08 Email this story to a friend. email article Print this page (Article printing at MyDmn.com).print page facebook

X-Rite ColorMunki

Photo monitor and printer color calibration device By Robert Jensen
Weird name aside, the ColorMunki Photo offers two much-needed tools for the photographer; monitor and printer color calibration, plus simplicity of use, and all at a great price. This makes the new X-Rite offering a great choice for the photographer who wants fast and easy color calibration of their monitor and printers.

X-rite is pretty much the king-of-the-hill right now in color calibration offerings providing everything from the -$100 little Huey to the almost $8,000 dollar 530 SpectroDensitometer & QCcolor system. You'll even find them behind the long time industry standard MacBeth (now X-Rite) ColorChecker card (used in the photo, television, movie, etc. industries for decades to guarantee an accurate color reference), so X-Rite has more than earned its credentials as the company to trust for accurate color.


Now to our reason for being here, the newest color calibration product from X-Rite, the ColorMunki Photo. IMHO, the ColorMunki Photo will be the biggest break out product in this category since the Original Gretag/MacBeth Eye One Display from several years ago. I'm sure this will be a hotly contested market segment in the years to come just as the entry level monitor calibrators have been in the past.



X-Rite's new ColorMunki Photo is breakthrough in two areas, price and ease of use for printer profiling. It sits solidly in between the monitor only i1 Display 2 at $230 and the $800 dollar i1 Photo LT, with monitor and RGB printer calibration. The i1 Photo LT offers similar features to the ColorMunki Photo but can expand with add-on software. (Could there be a chance of similar software upgrades on the ColorMunki in the future?)

In the Box:
Looking like an over-sized measuring tape, the black X-Rite ColorMunki Photo comes in its own zippered case with weighted strap attached. This weighted strap is used as a counterweight when mounting the device to your monitor. There is also a mini-USB to USB cable, the CD, and the simple instruction book.

Setup:
The FIRST thing you'll do is insert the ColorMunki Photo CD which will immediately download the newest version of the software. This is a rather larger 285MB file so have a fast Internet connection. I personally think this is a nice touch over the usual, install the CD software, then go searching for 10 minutes for any updates, download the updates, and install new version over the old (or even more tedious, uninstall the older software and install the new. Although those who like to get into it as fast as possible might prefer the other way. Usually running the latest software version proves to be the best way to go as far as stability and features.

The SECOND thing you want to do is download and install the latest version of the Java Runtime (Java 6 Update 5 as of this writing). THEN when installing the ColorMunki Photo software DO NOT INSTALL THEIR VERSION OF JAVA! Its fine to just hit 'Cancel' when the new Java install window pops open. This avoids installing the older, less secure, version of Java which can leave your computer open to attacks.

Notes - I also removed my existing colorimeter drivers and software before installing the ColorMunki to avoid any conflicts. Windows users also need to have Microsoft's .Net framework installed on their system.

Then reboot your computer. Once you have your software installed and rebooted your computer all you do is start up the 'Photo' (ColorMunki) program either by clicking on the desktop icon or the small icon in the Notification Area of your Task Bar. Up will pop the 'Welcome to ColorMunki Photo' window that will ask if you want to learn how to use the program and other utilities like Digital Pouch and Photo ColorPicker. There's also a check-box to avoid this window in future start ups. I'm going to cover the main component, the calibration software in this review.



The ColorMunki program will ask if you want to 'Match My Printer to My Display', 'Profile My Display' or 'Profile My Printer'. For first time use just click on the first option. This will ask if you want display type you'll be profiling, LCD, Laptop, or projector. It also offers the choice of 'Easy' or 'Advanced' modes. To be honest, with my old Eye One Display I always chose the easy mode after my first hair-pulling experience with 'Advanced' and I've never regretted it. I will say that the Advanced mode in the ColorMunki Photo software is MUCH easier than what I went through with the same mode in my old colorimeter.

In Easy mode all you do it mount the unit on your display in the area marked on the screen by the software. Then let the software do its stuff for a few minutes and your done. You can save the profile with a unique name, I use the date, and see a 'before/after' image that shows the changes the unit has made to your display's output. Don't put the ColorMunki away yet. If you keep it attached to your computer via the USB cable and set it next to your monitor the unit will automatically adjust your display to compensate for light changes (cool daylight ~ warm incandescent light at night or combinations of the two plus color casts created by objects/painted walls in the room).


Profiling your printer is almost as easy. First you'll use two 8.5 x 11-inch sheets of your photo paper to print out a series of color swatches. The program then makes you wait about 10 minutes for the ink to dry. (For even more accurate results you might want to wait overnight or even a couple of days for some ink/paper combinations to dry completely and the colors to stabilize.) Then simply place the leading edge of the colorimeter over the first color swatch of the first column (as show on the screen and provided animation), press the large switch on the side of the unit and slowly move it up the column of colors. If you did it right the display shows you can move to the next column of colors. If there's a problem the column is highlighted in red and you're asked to try again. Its only a matter of a minute to scan all the columns. (Much faster, and far easier, to do than in other printer profilers) Then the program prints out a second sheet of swatches using different colors. (There are 100 swatches in all counting both prints) Again wait for this second print to dry and scan it again as before. The software will ask if you want it to set things up to automatically use the new printer profile for your major programs, I.E. Photoshop, I said 'yes' and that's it, you're DONE! The hardest part of the whole calibration process is waiting for the prints to dry.

Results: It would be pointless for me to take comparison photos of the results of calibrating. The camera and your monitor would skew the results. So the best thing for me to do in this instance is to describe the differences on a couple of photos I printed out for the test. I used two sample photos, a landscape and a portrait for examples. I made three prints of each using my trusty Canon iP5200 photo printer. One set went straight to the printer as an sRGB file and the printer handled everything. For the second set I used Adobe Photoshop CS3 Extended to control everything and Canon's provided paper profile and for the third set I used CS3 Ext. and the ColorMunki calibrated profile. I used Adobe Camera RAW to handle RAW conversion for the landscape photo.

In the landscape photo of the camera bags I immediately noticed that the calibrated photo retained better detail in the highlights, and the whites were purer. With the photo sent straight to the printer and with the Canon SP2 paper profile there was a very faint greenish cast to the whites. The yellow flowers were handled well by both the ColorMunki and SP2 profiles but the straight to the printer file the flowers were a yellow/orange color. The contrast in the bushes was noticeably better with the ColorMunki calibrated print with the other two looking slightly flat, this was a bright sunny day around noon so contrast was high. The neutral/black fabric of the bags had a slight reddish tint with the straight to printer and SP2 profiled prints but the ColorMunki profile kept them nice and neutral.

On the portrait test, with the ColorMunki generated profile again the highlights on Jenny's skin, her forearm and face primarily, were kept in check while with the other two they were blown out (although the highlights with the SP2 profile was much better than the straight to printer print). Also the calibrated photo kept better detail in the darker areas of her hair without looking artificial. Overall there was a slightly more natural tint to her skin tone using the ColorMunki profile. When I used the Canon SP2 paper profile, results showed a slight yellow tint to her skin. With the photo that was sent straight to the printer there was a serious overall magenta cast, higher contrast, as well as blown highlights everywhere.

Landscape



Portrait


Final thoughts:

At $500 most of you out there will be thinking the X-Rite ColorMunki Photo is not exactly cheap but considering that a few years ago I was paying someone $50 a pop for producing for me a single printer/ink/paper profile combination (albeit a slightly more accurate one) you can see where the ColorMunki can quickly pay for itself. The money spent on the X-Rite ColorMunki will pay you back in better prints and less wasted paper and ink.

If you're looking for the best possible output from the ColorMunki Photo I would compare your monitor's output with the Easy versus Advanced modes in software and go with what you think best for the time and effort involved. You'll want to run profiles of your monitor every month, or even several times a month.

For your printer, for the most accurate results you'll want to run a profile for each different type of photo paper you print with, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to run a profile every time you buy an new pack of paper or change ink. (I bought paper in bulk making sure it came from the same emulsion batch or run to save me from having to pay for yet another profile). For more information visit www.xrite.com


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Robert Jensen has spent most of his 55 years in photography, from the age of 11 when he got his first camera (a Kodak Instamatic) to the present, shooting professionally. From 1971 to 1997 he worked in retail selling photographic equipment to people of all skill levels. For most of that period he was also a manager.
Related Keywords:color calibration, digital photography, digital imaging

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