The TBTL Syndrome
June 16, 2011
By Steven Katzman
It happened while enduring Florida’s scorching summer heat; a chilling email arrived ignoring our relative humidity of 95%. Couldn’t they just wait until I was at least a little more comfortable, fall was fast approaching and we could all escape from the constant groan of our air-conditioning compressors? “No, we need our monitor back.” I was heart broken, VIP or not, “They” needed their monitor back. “But you can buy it for a great price.” Hmmm, last year’s technology at a great price. “It’s a great monitor, but unfortunately I can’t justify the expense for older technology, especially since I need two.” Return address label printed, monitor packed and shipped…now what?
My Apple Cinema 30-inch display doesn’t look so bad, a nice design element complementing my studio, beautiful hi-tech articulated arm supporting it above my Wacom Cintique tablet. I got used to the smaller color space provided with the Cintique, the compromising quality of the Cinema Display. Who needs all of that subtle information that exists in the quarter and three quarter tones? I can squint, put my nose 6 inches away from the screen and guess, while dropping info dots on areas that I was concerned about most. I love it; instrument rated, flying through the clouds of post editing ignorance.
And then it slapped me in the face; I was suffering from an epidemic that CDC (Centers for Disease Control) wasn’t even aware of. No vaccine or quarantine could remedy my situation. Brother, you are on your own, and only you can self diagnose this illness— Too Busy To Learn (TBTL) syndrome. Yeah, I know what your thinking, “is it contagious?” Could be. It comes and goes, and yet you keep ignoring it. And here I am, comfortably sitting in front of Cintique/Apple Cinema environment suffering from TBTL.
Those of you whom want to deny you have this affliction, move on, read another article online and continue to struggle with WYSIWYW (What You See is What YOU Want). Those who want help and are tired of self-medication, read on.
First of all, one must come to grips with TBTL. Once you admit it to yourself, life’s colors begin to change, output becomes more consistent, and you can get down to basics, making the best damn print out there. Now this isn’t a panacea for poor capture, but you already know that. There are a number of remedies available for this pre-capture workflow; follow Rangefinder and AfterCapture online archives and read until TBTL is cured.
I knew that CRT’s had a short-life expectancy, but LCD’s, no way. Besides, I was getting acceptable results with my output (acceptable being objective), until I realized with the help of Derrick Brown, founder of Integrated Color’s ColorEyes Display Pro™ (www.integrated-color.com), that the monitor I was using for my print station was shot. I don’t mean subtle, we’re talking doorstop, boat anchor, side of the curb recycle bin (please discard your monitors in a green and responsible manner) shot.
And here I am, printing job after job, spending countless hours, and money, sending jobs to this print station, soft proofing on this monitor that is so far out of gamma, despite being profiled with an X-rite i1 spectrophotometer. Garbage in, acceptable out. I’m not saying this has been a struggle; I take great pride in my work, hence the signature on the bottom of the print. I think one company calls it their “signature worthy papers.”
I hate profiling monitors. “What did you do over the weekend?’’ “Oh, I profiled my monitor.” NICE! I know what you’re thinking, you either agree with me, or there are those of you who are pretty excited about this prerequisite for great output. It’s a necessity, but not very sexy. So I would always choose EZ, let the X-rite software do its thing. I’d always avoid the Advance radial, because I was, that’s right, TBTL. I was somewhat intimidated by the monitors’ OBD (On-board Display) and I didn’t want to @$#& it up.
My wife says I like to go shopping… The truth of the matter is, I love to go shopping, and now it’s time to go shopping for some monitors. Obviously, one won’t do for my workflow; two for my editing station (C1, LR, PS), and one for my printing station. And these three monitors are going to be the same brand, model and purchased at the same time so that I am relatively assured that regardless who makes the internal screen, they will be as closely matched as possible.
The NEC PA271 Wide Gamut Color Display
The NEC is 27-in. wide and offers 2560 x 1600 resolution aspect ratio of 16:9, corresponding to HD video dimensions. Unlike my brain-dead Apple Cinema, this monitor can be rotated vertically or horizontally, raised, lowered, angled forward and back as the other two monitors I tested.
The NEC connects with either a DVI display port cable or their passive adapter that connects to the mini display port in Apple’s Mac Pro or MacBook Pro. When I used Apple’s active adapter, a $100 dollar option I previously purchased with my 30-in. Cinema Display, I wasn’t able to take advantage of the NEC’s high resolution through the mini display port.
Proof is in the pudding. The high resolution, especially text, wide color gamut and edge-to-edge uniformity with gray scale accuracy were exceptional, providing more information and less eyestrain than my previous set up. Viewing pure black illustrates the importance of viewing angle, showing a subtle flare at the bottom of the page, but once I repositioned myself, the issue was resolved. The black screen also revealed evenness in the NEC’s backlighting. I don’t ordinarily look at black screens, so I switched to a working image and couldn’t see any flare regardless of my viewing angle.
With a typical contrast ration of 1000:1, the NEC monitor reproduces 97% of the Adobe color space. Where’s the other 3%? The monitor slightly falls off when producing greens at the outer edge, but encompasses all yellows and increased sensitivity in the blues and reds outside of the Adobe color space. This is also something I noticed with the EIZO and the LaCie monitors The OSD is intuitive, and its controls light up on the monitor screen so that adjustments can be made in a dimly lit environment. There is more information than my profiling applications would ever need, including the ability to track and change kilowatts per hour consumption.
The NEC PA271 Wide Gamut Color Display comes with a viewing hood, all necessary cables, free MultiProfiler (http://necdisplay.com/support-and-services/spectra-view-iidownload), and a 4-year warranty.
Since I was going to be comparing different brands of monitors side-by-side, I needed software that would allow me to make this comparison. Keeping the playing field as level as possible I introduced ColorEyes Display ProTM into the workflow equation.
I first met Derrick Brown about five years ago at PDN PhotoPlus Expo, saved his card and received the download key shortly thereafter. I was just starting to use two monitors and I knew that there was only one piece of software that could mirror each other despite being manufactured by two different companies, and yes it worked. But now I needed more information and I snapped out of my TBTL doldrums.
This year I met Derrick once again in Naples, FL where he was a panel moderator on SoftProofing to the press industry at a commercial printing conference (his products are used by Conde Nast, National Geographic, Target, American Greeting Cards, and other leading press houses). If his software is good enough for them, I’m in. With my monitor in tow, the one I eventually kicked to the curb, we began to calibrate using ColorEyes Display ProTM It was during this tutorial that I also met Robert McCurdy, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the family owned business GTI (www.gtilite.com), manufactures of color viewing products and viewing systems.
As the three of us sat down to profile my monitor, we used Derrik’s i one Pro as a measurement utility to measure the color temperature inside the viewing box synced with the color temperature of the monitor. The magic number, 4987K! Luminance and white point targets are set in Color Eyes so that profiling doesn’t fall out of these user determined tolerances. Don’t assume that just because it says 5000K or 6500K on your monitor that is what you are seeing. I went there, and was obviously wrong! But before I go further, a little history is in order.
In May 2009 the old international color viewing standard for the graphic technology and photo industry became obsolete, especially with the introduction of OBs (optical brighteners). As a result, a more stringent standard was created worldwide to optimize this critical color assessment known as ISO 3664:2009. This new standard reflects tighter quality control guidelines, reducing miscommunication in color reproduction while providing minimum criteria necessary for all color viewing systems to be met, enabling lighting engineers and manufacturers to design, test, and certify their color viewing systems to the industry viewing standards. Don’t let TBTL creep in!
One of these standards is color temperature relative to a phase of natural daylight with a correlated color temperature of 5000K. This is the accepted universal standard for color viewing in graphic arts and photography, which is meant to approximate daylight, more commonly referred to as D50. The closer a light source’s spectral power distribution is to D50, the more consistent and accurate it is.
How well are you able to judge the final outcome without a standardized light source? We use software and tools specifically for calibrating monitors and paper profiles, but commonly ignore the lighting and viewing environment where we make these critical adjustments in post production, i.e., viewing a print in our work space without a standardized light source; read ISO 3664:2009.
A number of years ago I was in Italy supervising the press run for my book, The Face of Forgiveness, in addition to watching a Danny Lyons’ book go through the Heidelberg. Although the press environment was a standardized 5000K, the publisher didn’t like what he saw because he never saw the proofs in a 5000K environment, only mixed lighting in their New York offices. With proofs in hand, we went outside and reviewed the press sheets. Hard to believe, but true. He took my advice, and went with the feedback of a controlled environment, and the correct choice. Having controlled lighting provides the photographer with important information, allowing critical changes on the final print. In other words, if lighting changes, your color changes. Without this standard we are still editing in the dark, or on a side street in Verona, Italy.
Once monitor and light box (GTI Soft view D50 Viewer SOFV-1xi, 2010 Digital Reader’s Choice award) were in harmony, the profiling began; ColorEyes Display ProTM taking over the software of the specific monitor’s display buttons. With the Eizo and LaCie, the software calibrates all of the Monitors’ Display Data Channel Common Interface (DDCCI), but with the NEC, only brightness and gains (RGB) were applied. The DDCCI for the NEC has downloadable LUTs to profile gray balance. It was after this profiling session that I realized my boat anchor, err monitor, could not meet the tolerances manually set in ColorEyes. Upon leaving, monitor under my arm, Derrick helped me carry out my newly purchased GTI viewing station.
Eizo ColorEdge CG243W
The Eizo is a 24-in. monitor with 1920 x 1200 native resolution with an 850:1 brightness. And like the NEC, the monitor produces 97% of the Adobe RGB color space. It also has an sRGB mode to accurately reproduce colors in this narrow color space that inhabits the Web. To ensure that each ColorEdge monitor produces the most accurate and consistent color gradations possible, Eizo carefully measures and sets every shade of R, G, and B from 0-256 on the production line with the monitor’s 16-bit LUT to produce a monitor gamma value of 2.2. This can be changed in Color Eyes Pro if you want to have a gamma value of 1.8. Each monitor comes with verification documents, stating that uniformity and all 256 color tones on the gamma curve were individually adjusted at the factory. In addition, the monitor has an EIZO-patented drift correction sensor that quickly stabilizes the brightness level after startup, and compensates for brightness changes caused by surrounding temperatures and the passage of time.
With the NEC profiled it is possible to set the Luminance and White Point Target of the NEC and apply those calibrations to the EIZO via Color Eyes Pro. Once these targets were set, and profiling was finished, there was still a discrepancy in color cast with the EIZO. With the White Point Tuning (WPT) in Color Eyes, I was able to adjust the EIZO without disrupting its profile; both monitors matching despite being of two different manufacturers. Ingenious!
Eizo CG243W has no clouding issues. Utilizing Eizo proprietary DUE (digital uniformity equalizer) ensures that backlight uniformity is excellent. This integrated circuit compensates brightness and chroma based on date measured at each gray level at the factory so that the entire screen will be uniform at each gray level from 0 to 256.The viewing angles are wider than the NEC and colors maintain intensity from even wider angles than the NEC. The OSD controls were easy to navigate as well as providing selected modes for predefined color space, i.e., sRGB, but not as easily accessible as the NEC. A factory-reset button is also provided. A light hood and 5-year warranty are included.
When comparing the two monitors side-by-side, the NEC’s higher resolution provided a sharper image as well as having more viewing real estate. In determining which monitor would remain my reference, I couldn’t ignore the price points (x3); the EIZO CG243W street price is $2346; while the NEC PA271W rings in at $1399. The Eizo was shipped back to the manufacturer. At press time, Eizo has announced the CG275W, a 27-in. monitor with built-in calibration. Price yet to be determined.
Like the Eizo CG243W, the LaCie 324i is a 24-in. panel with native 1920 x 1200 resolution and provides a 178-degree viewing angle from numerous axes. This monitor also pivots in portrait mode. It has a 16:10 aspect ratio, 10-bit gamma correction, 1000:1 contrast ratio, and captures 98% of Adobe RGB. Cable management is easily achieved by rotating the monitor on its 90-degree axis.
Profiling was done with Color Eyes Pro, luminance and white point were matched internally via the software. The White Point Target was used to match the gray values of the LaCie to the NEC. As can be expected, the NEC provided slightly more color saturation, greater detail, primarily due to its 2560 x 1600 native resolution. But one cannot dismiss the exceptional price point of the LaCie; base price of $1199. Their 3-year Gold Protection Plan provides the user a replacement monitor immediately, avoiding any downtime. The unit comes with all of the appropriate cables; optional Light hood and software are available.
After working with all three monitors over a period of two months, I’ve decide to purchase the NEC PA271 Wide Gamut Color Display, two monitors for editing, one monitor for printing. I felt the NEC offered the best price to value ratio, considering its size and resolution. Keep in mind that I already have a GTI Soft view D50 Viewer SOFV-1xi, as well as ColorEyes Display Pro. When making your own decision, using ColorEyes and a GTI viewer is not a luxury, but a necessity when working in a 5000K environment—the industry standard.
Writing this review cured me of TBTL, providing me with greater understanding of monitor profiling, and the importance of being able to create an environment where viewing pixels on the screen matches the dots on an inkjet print. Why hadn’t I come to this realization sooner? All of the tools and information were previously available to me. I had become too comfortable in my knowledge base, my own worst enemy. If we are comfortable in creating images, we are less likely to create better images, pushing the envelope of risk. Without risk, there isn’t failure, without failure, there isn’t growth, which enables us to become better photographers. Which provides an opportunity to learn more about ourselves, and the images we create.
Special thanks to Derrick Brown who led me to the correct light.
Steven Katzman, a self-taught photographer, established Steven Katzman Photography, LLC. in 1990. His recent book is The Face of Forgiveness, Salvation and Redemption. Mr. Katzman has been on the faculty at the Ringling School of Art and Design since 2003. He is a Lexar Elite Photographer, a Gretag Influencer and is sponsored by Bogen Imaging. Visit his Web site: www.stevenkatzmanphotography.com