Saturday, July 16, 2011

First Impressions of the X-rite Colormunki Display

I had a small disappointment when I purchased a Dell u2711 27 inch display to use with my second generation MacBook Air. The colors looked awful. Dock icons look saturated and cartoony. Grays looked dark green. Blacks looked gray.

Allegedly, this display was calibrated before leaving the factory. The factory calibration report didn't have "just kidding" written at the bottom, so I can't explain why the colors looked terrible. Maybe the calibration only worked for Windows computers?

I felt pretty irritated with how ugly my photos looked on the new display. I edit lots of photos. Too bad I just spent a pile of dough on a monitor that made my best photos look like snapshots from a disposable camera.

Clearly I needed to recalibrate the monitor if I wanted to keep my sanity while editing photos. My first attempt to fix the issue was using the Colorsync calibration utility. The calibration utility uses the human eye as a calibration device. The results were an improvement, but still definitely fell on the ugly side of the fence. I suspect that only certain types of calibration issues can be fixed by using the human eye.

Next, I looked at a few different inexpensive options for hardware calibration. The X-Rite i1Display 2 appeared to be discontinued. The Datacolor Spyder had occasional reports of a poorly-calibrated unit slipping through to consumers. Buying a potentially mis-calibrated, or obsoleted calibration device didn't sound very satisfying to me.

The Colormunki Display seemed to be the replacement for the i1Display 2. There weren't many reviews for this device, but I decided to take a chance and be an early adopter. I found a good deal on Adorama.com, and ordered a munki.

The Munki Arrives

When the Munki arrived in the mail, my first move was running it's "easy" calibration routine on the u2711. The results were disappointing to say the least. Sure, it was a large improvement over what I had before. The green tint was gone, which was nice. But it still seemed oversaturated, and there were still cases where colors just seemed wrong.

I next ran the advanced calibration. This produced great results. The colors looked correct, the brightness looked awesome. The only problem was that certain shades of gray appeared greenish or pinkish.

I process lots of images into black and white using Silver Efex Pro, so I can't tolerate nasty grays. I looked for hints on how to configure the Dell u2711 for a Mac.

The first thing I realized was that setting the gamma on the u2711 to "Mac" might have been a mistake. I haven't found a lot of documentation on it, but I suspect that the "Mac" gamma setting meant 1.8, and the PC gamma setting meant 2.2. Historically, Mac had a gamma of 1.8, but since the release of Snow Leopard, the default gamma has been set to 2.2, just like a PC.

I changed the Gamma setting on the u2711 to "PC" and ran the advanced Colormunki Display calibration again. Success: everything just looked better, including black and white images, which now looked consistently black, white, or gray, but never green and pink. I can't explain exactly why the wrong gamma made black and white look green, but I was relieved. My problem was solved.

Hints

  • If you have a new Mac OS X (10.6 or later), the display gamma is the same as a PC. The "Mac" gamma setting on the u2711 seems to be for older Mac operating systems.
  • The Colormunki Display advanced calibration seems to produce better results than the easy calibration. I suggest starting there.
Notes on the Colormunki Display
  • The Colormunki can be set to monitor the ambient light levels and automatically adjust the calibration to match.
  • The Colormunki knows if the ambient light diffuser is in place or not. Nice touch!
  • The Colormunki has a white LED on either side of it which periodically ramps on and off when it is plugged in. This might be distracting for some folks.
  • The USB cable has a counterweight which can be slid up and down it's length to help hold the Munki on the display.
  • The Colormunki has at least five feed of USB cable on it.
  • The Colormunki has a threaded tripod socket on the bottom.
  • You can calibrate multiple displays on the same computer using Colormunki.
  • The colormunki advanced calibration has you adjust monitor brightness (presumably to go with ambient light levels). This presumably saves power on the monitor, but I suspect this puts an upper limit on how much the Colormunki can automatically adjust to ambient light levels. I wonder if there are tradeoffs to calibrating with the room brighter than usual and then letting the automatic ambient adjustment adjust down to normal room levels.
  • I believe that changing monitor brightness probably invalidates the monitor calibration. If you change the monitor settings, you should recalibrate.
  • I feel like the colormunki calibrates display brightness (when asked to match ambient levels rather than a fixed brightness) a bit lower than I normally would set it. It might feel a little weird after being used to the very bright default brightness levels of most displays.
If you decide to buy the Xrite Colormunki Display using the Amazon links on this page, it will help support my efforts. 


*Moving Average Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
*Updated 22 March 2012 to add links to Amazon.

2 comments:

Michael Chu said...

The "problem" with the U2711 is that it is a wide-gamut monitor. Unfortunately, without color calibration, a lot of colors will be out of whack and over saturated on a wide-gamut display with default settings on both Macs and PCs. The only way I know how to fix this is through the use of external color calibration and making sure all your photo editing and viewing and your browsers all have color profiles activated. I spent a week figuring this out when Dell replaced my 3007WFP with a 3007WFP-HC when it died. I always run with color calibration, but with the "normal" gamut display I could leave my browsers without color profiling and sRGB would render properly. With the new wide-gamut display, I had to activate color management to get the images to render properly.

John M. P. Knox said...

Ah, interesting insight, Michael. Dell must offer a PC calibration file, right? It is a little crazy to expect everyone to have access to a calibration tool.

Do browsers on the Mac have color profiles? My browsers seem to follow the system calibration.