David Cardinal: Datacolor’s David Tobie shares real world color management experiences at Stanford University
Mar 2013 05

Stanford’s Center for Image Engineering draws a regular roster of industry luminaries as speakers. Recently, Datacolor’s own David Tobie was the featured guest, giving the full-house crowd a “view from the trenches” of how color management works in the commercial world. It was a real eye-opener for many of the Engineering students, and even some of the researchers, to see how the complexities of fielding a successful product create challenges far beyond those that need to be tackled in a research prototype.

David used a series of Datacolor’s product innovations to illustrate his points. Beginning with Datacolor VIEWPORT, Datacolor’s exclusive multi-illuminant product light booth that integrates a calibrated digital camera and color chart to allow for accurate color matching even with complex fabrics like plaids. From this high-end industrial product David moved on to his primary area of expertise, color management products suitable for consumers.

Starting a color management revolution for consumers

When I introduced David to the audience before his talk, I pointed out that he, working with the color scientists at Datacolor, has helped turn color management from a multi-thousand dollar, dedicated, hard to use set of solutions into a sleek, easy-to-use family of Spyder products that still provide plenty of deep-diving for advanced users. By walking the audience through the inspiration and innovation behind some of the Spyder family, David showed how much thought and effort goes in to making something complex appear simple.

For photographers, David’s explanation of the ideas behind the SpyderCube and SpyderCHECKR were particularly interesting. Realizing that the conventional solution of creating ICC profiles for digital cameras was the wrong solution to the problem of accurate color and proper exposure, Datacolor innovated with a simple, small device that would address the most important of the issues — color balance, contrast and exposure. The result is a simple and versatile tool that is much easier to use than attempting to create custom ICC profiles for each lighting condition for each camera.

Individual cameras still had the issue of imperfect color, so the SpyderCHECKR was born to allow photographers to further tweak their images using camera-specific profiles that can be loaded into Photoshop or Lightroom. I’ve built them for my cameras and the tweaks they provide to Hue, Saturation and Lightness of each of the eight color ranges provided by Adobe’s raw conversion software. What I didn’t realize until David’s talk was that the 24 adjustments provided by the SpyderCHECKR software is actually more powerful than Adobe’s own DNG profiles — which only provide six adjustments.

David wrapped up with a topic that generated quite a bit of interest from the audience — multiple monitor matching. Intuitively, most of us would assume that two carefully calibrated and profiled monitors would match when the same color patches or images are displayed on each. However, they don’t, and for users to be happy with multiple monitor setups (whether it is two monitors on a desktop or two projectors in an art history class), personal tweaking of the two monitors is needed. That’s where SpyderTune comes in, providing an elegant way for individual monitor setups to be tuned until they are perceived to match correctly.

Judging by the questions and conversations afterwards, David’s talk generated quite a number of questions and ideas for the Stanford community members and industry professionals in the audience. Clearly many interesting research topics are left in the area of practical color management and David provided some good food for thought for those in the room hoping to tackle them.


David brought some of Datacolor’s products to show and explain, including this SpyderCHECKR

David answers questions for curious researchers after his talk

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is a veteran travel and nature photographer who specializes in Southern Africa and Southeast Asia as well as North American mammals and birds. His images of creatures in the wild help communicate the importance of our natural heritage and our responsibility to preserve it. You can learn more about David on our Friends with Vision page, or on his own website, Cardinal Photo, and its sister site, Nikon Digital, which are both full of tips, reviews and forums where photographers compare notes and tips. Or you can follow David on Facebook or join him on one of his Photo Tours and Safaris for plenty of experience