At the beginning of a new year many make resolution that are usually idealistically self-serving and short lived. I’m too old for that game, and in respect of that after selling my big dSLR system bought a very small but serious new camera just out. And with a completely new camera something also new that’s been an old friend, the just released X-Rite Color Checker Passport, which is an ideal tool to find out and control how my new camera performs.

The Sorta New Sigma DP1s Compact High Performance Camera
At 76 and after a couple of years of health issues a heavy, complex system dSLR was intimidating my interest in going out and making images. So I am beginning this decade with what some might think an odd and limiting camera, the little pocket single focal length lens pocket camera with the quite distinct 3 layer Foveon sensor chip that saves 14 megapixel picture in raw or .JPG. I think I am one of few who might like working with a camera with just one focal length. Considering I started doing photography professionally back in 1952, and for many more years did nearly all my shots with cameras with just a ‘normal’ lens. It wasn’t until the mid 60’s when I was doing 35mm shots for editorial markets that I had SLR cameras and used more than a single length lens, and even then my primary camera was a Rolleiflex with a fixed single length lens.

The Sigma DP1s is a moderate wide angle camera, which is also desirable to me as I used a 24mm on a 35mm SLR as my walk around lens for many years. But the usual P&S LCD on the back of the camera provides a shooting arrangement I find awkward with poor support for serious photography, so I added the VF-11 optical eye-level finder and the HA-11 lens shade, and already had a HoodLoupe made by Hoodman that enables using the camera LCD for eye-level framing and shooting. With these accessories I was confident I could apply good and accurate camera control, but I soon learned it was so different that I failed to get much of what I should expect from myself with the first few images I made. This old dog has to learn some new tricks! When at a friend’s business, and he had his prize, a very rare ’85 Saab 900 Aero out of his showroom, so I asked if I could photograph it. Taking my time, slowly and deliberately I did, and was rewarded with some better shots - but still need to learn much more about how this new camera actually reproduces images.

The Sigma DP1s is very much like the previous DP1, but has the features of the PD2 added, and the one of most interest to me is the option of an ISO 50 shooting speed that adds a bit to image capture quality. In addition if your shooting in a city where perspective is an issue there is a LCD viewfinder Grid available so you can see to keep the image “straight”. Most of the other DP2-like features are additions to the controls some may find useful. Otherwise, for such a small, light camera it has an amazingly sophisticated capability, and saves raw image files with incredible detail and refinement.

With its Foveon image sensor the Sigma cameras are unique and the Raw files have to be processed with Sigma’s software, Adobe Camera Raw does not support the Sigma files, nor does Apple Aperture and many other converter applications. I find the Sigma software works well but I understand others may not.

Tom Gustafson’s 1985 Saab 900 Aero is one of 3 specially finished “pearl ivory” painted show models Saab brought into the US. This is one of two remaining, and has never been licensed, so is essentially new with but for a few miles put on it by journalists. For the purists, sorry, the Photoshoping in of a background looks so much better than the side of Tom’s shop. And the finished image made up into a very respectable 13x19 inch inkjet print.

An Old Friend With New Feathers
With a new camera I wanted to have the ability to evaluate what it is doing to better control the camera to obtain the best image quality. This process demands an objective tool like the good old ColorChecker to place a known subject content in an image that can be measured. I’ve used the letter-size Color Checker for more years than I can count, and frequently in my old days at Petersen’s PhotoGraphic when evaluating new color films. X-Rite now has the Color Checker and just released a new Passport version ideal for digital camera use and with many new capabilities and functions.

This new Color Checker Passport is a compact 5 by less than four inch hard plastic case with three internal panels. One of the panels is a new version of the classic Color Checker. Essentially the same 24 color patches newly refined for capture by a digital camera. A second page contains two rows of standard patches, a HSL color range of 8 patches on one side and a gray scale range on the the other. In the middle are two ranges of Creative Enhancement patches which can be used to shift the color temperature balance of a portrait or a landscape if the balanced gray adjustment needs to be warmer or richer in color. This adds to the correction capability of the ColorChecker to modify a subject that should have coolness or warmth that better suits particular photographic scene or subject. The third panel in the passport is a highly accurate panel to set a digital camera’s white balance for the illumination of the environment in which you are photographing. The entire Color Checker Passport system fits nicely into even the very small bag I use for my little Sigma DP1s camera.

The X-Rite Color Check Passport now contains three targets, the classic Color Checker, the Creative enhancement, and the White Balance target. And, it is also accompanied by a CD with software. For any photographer shooting in Raw format saves (excluding my Foveon based Sigma), Adobe Digital Camera Raw can be used to convert the image to the .DNG format, and then the file can be opened in the Passport application. This allows the creation of a profile for the digital camera from the reproduction of the digital image of the Color Checker for the shooting environment in which the Passport color Checker image file was made. Then this profile can be used in batch processing to bring all of the images made in that environment to the same color correction easily and effectively.

Yes the Color Checker Passport provides an easy way to profile a digital camera, and a way to quickly batch process digital camera Raw files to a color corrected adjustment. However, as we discovered over a decade ago profiling digital cameras is quite limited, a profile for one photography lighting and environment will not work for a different subject and lighting, a new profile has to be made for each different session of photography. But this is still an advantage for instance to many readers who make numerous shots of a school sports events - a shot of the Color Checker Passport for the lighting and environment can be used to adjust all of the images from the shoot.

If this sounds interesting check it out here.

I never expected I’d see the year 2010, but since I’m living in it I am trying to make it work - so far so good.