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Digital Cameras--Nature's Palette, Printer's Plate

June 1998
BY A.L. RUSLAVAGE


Behold the phenomenal world of color, where choices of tones, hues, shades and textures can make or break an image. Ask any prepress manager: The right combination of colors creates realism—eliciting strong responses and emotions from the people viewing the picture.

Digital cameras help make this realistic imagery a realistic goal. Prepress departments equipped with digital cameras can now fine-tune the color quality of an image—all before the photograph goes to paper.

Today, technology innovators continue to enhance the color performance parameters of their digital cameras. Undeniably, color management is a crucial issue for manufacturers.

Printing Impressions asked the experts to give their perspectives on digital cameras and color management. Here's what they had to say.

Michihiro Iwata
Manager, DP Department
Minolta Systems Laboratory
Let me begin by stating, for the record, Minolta believes digital images are not much value without a strong color management capability. Digital cameras, especially the camera-back products, are producing excellent images. The problem is that in most commercial environments, people either fail to, or lack the experience to, synchronize all equipment involved in the digital imaging process.

In a fixed, stable environment, we can address this issue; however, if in an unstable environment, it's extremely difficult. What is needed is a way of taking precise measurements of the conditions and feeding them back to the camera. Once this can be accomplished, digital photography will come into its own.

Stanley Barkan
Senior Image Processing Scientist
Scitex (exclusive distributor: Sinar Bron)
Camera vendors must provide a cost-effective workflow for the photographer. The largest gain is on the capture-to-print cycle, since most captures will end up in print. What's needed is a one-button process from capture to a proof-ready CMYK file. We believe photographers want color automation and quick overriding—eliminating the need to go in and out of applications to get the color right.

A personal pet peeve: No one seems to pay attention to the fact that getting a good rendering in CMYK is only half the battle to a stunning image. Another variable in determining the way color is perceived is sharpening. Sharpening restores a semblance of the scene's original contrast into the print. Photographers venturing into the world of CMYK need to know this.

Jim Malcom
Marketing Manager of Electronic Photography
Sony Electronics' Business & Professional Group
Simply put, color management enables photographers to meet the expectations of their clients, and allows photographers to do what they do best—be creative—without having to become color scientists.

When shooting digitally, the photographer relies on a computer monitor, rather than a Polaroid, to act as the first checkpoint for evaluating the photograph, including lighting, composition and color. The only way to predict on screen what a proofer is capable of printing is to profile the monitor using color management tools.

The client defines the use of the image, a profile is made of the output device, and those properties are used to calibrate and manage color throughout the workflow.

What is viewed on the monitor is a very close representation of what will be printed on the proofer, and the proof is very close to the results of the final print on press.

Michael Shea
Senior Product Marketing Manager
ColorFlow
The use of ICC profiles continues to grow as does the need for tools for profiling devices accurately. The ability to make ICC profiles for digital cameras is still relatively new and, at this time, somewhat limited. Currently, it is only viable to make ICC digital camera profiles for controlled studio environments with specific lighting (i.e., daylight or strobe).

Default profiles are good, and custom-built profiles are better. I believe the best profiles can be achieved when using profiling software that includes visual profile "tuning" tools like what is available in our ColorFlow software.

Jerry Magee
Product Line Manager, Digital Cameras
Kodak Professional, Eastman Kodak
To understand the complexity of colors in a digital camera, try to imagine that the possible colors which can be reproduced in a digital image are located on a single sphere. Though the sphere doesn't reside in the camera, the sampling of that sphere and the camera's ability to record the colors within, in terms of its mathematical representation, do. The sampling of the sphere, in turn, is metaphorically located within the camera and helps to assign the proper lighting and colors to pictures.

A color scientist is tasked with sampling this color space to create color matrices closer to the actual subject at the time of the shoot. The matrices are created and stored in the camera to accommodate any possible color configuration that may need to be recreated.

Innovations in digital technology provide the freedom for photographers to set the mode of the camera or leave it up to the camera's "brain" to decide the best lighting. By letting the camera decide, the photographer can leverage the power of the camera's sensors to determine appropriate settings for its environment.

Tim Bates
Director of Marketing
Dicomed
Color is a critical subject for the photographer when using a digital camera. With a digital camera, there is a direct link to the printed page—and color management becomes a major issue. With most digital cameras, color management is more about converting files.

Today, color management systems are allowing the photographer to color-balance monitors, printers and the press close to the original image. It is important to understand when employing a digital camera for product photography, the most important issue is getting the color correct on the printed page. Thus, a great RGB-to-CMYK program is needed.

Taking pictures with digital cameras and getting excellent results in a RGB format is easy. Getting the file into a CMYK format and ready for press takes education and the right conversion program. What most photographers need when using digital cameras is good conversion software, not just color management software.
 

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