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Use your smartphone or tablet to see from the camera’s perspective and trigger the shutter release, then automatically transfer images to your device for instant sharing.

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The Not-So-Obvious Reason for Using HDR

Get Viktor’s Rapid Editing for HDR eBook, Course & Presets Bundle at 60% off now over at Snapndeals, only until June 7th (AUS time). 

Over the past five years or so, HDR (high dynamic range) has become a huge part of my photography.

Even with the latest advances in camera sensor technology, the dynamic range of the human eye is much wider than any modern camera sensor, and as a result, can only partly interpret the human experience. The goal of HDR photography is to artificially increase the dynamic range of a given photograph, making it as close as possible to the human experience.

Images The Not So Obvious Reason 01

I do not consider HDR to be a photography style, but rather, a technology that helps us to extend our creative reach and overcome the limitations of modern photo equipment, specifically a camera’s sensor.

When the dynamic range of the scene we capture exceeds the dynamic range of the camera’s sensor, it results in the loss of information (or details) in both the highlight and shadow areas. HDR technology allows us to separately capture these details from the darker and brighter areas of the scene, and merge that information during the editing process.

Even though every generation of modern camera offers a larger and larger dynamic range that gets even closer to the human experience, HDR technology continues to be an extremely valuable tool to have in your toolkit.

But, those who read my blog and follow me on social media often give me a hard time when I post an HDR processed image with a dynamic range that is not extreme. As a result, I get blamed for using HDR for no reason and am accused of intentionally complicating the editing process.

Images The Not So Obvious Reason 02

In this article, I will demonstrate exactly why and how I use HDR when the lighting of a scene is not too extreme.
I took the featured photo in the Eastern Sierra during my driving trip to the Southwest.

Images The Not So Obvious Reason 03

Covered by the clouds, the sun diffused the light and made it less dynamic. I could see right away that I did not need HDR processing to capture and preserve the entire light range. However, I took three bracketed shots anyway just to make sure I collected as much information from the scene as possible.

When I started editing the photo in Lightroom, I only used a single RAW image (middle bracket). The challenge was to overcome the mild haze in the air, so I had to apply pretty aggressive edits in Lightroom (contrast, clarity and vibrance) to bring back the contrast and colors of the scene.

Once I was happy with the result, I evaluated the image by zooming in to 100% (1:1 in Lightroom), in order to see what noise reduction setting to use. When I did this, I realized that the image started to break up because of my aggressive editing. The deterioration in the image was beyond digital noise and was almost impossible to fix even using the dedicated noise reduction tool.

Images The Not So Obvious Reason 04

This is when HDR came to the rescue. I selected three bracketed shots and merged them to HDR using the HDR Merge module of Lightroom.

Images The Not So Obvious Reason 06

After Lightroom produced a brand new HDR image in DNG format, I used the Sync functionality of the program to apply the editing setting of the original RAW file, to the new HDR image.

The effect of the edits were identical to the original RAW file, but the image was much cleaner without any traces of deterioration. The newly created HDR file had much more information and details, which allowed me to push it much harder without producing negative artifacts.

Images The Not So Obvious Reason 05

The image is cropped 100% without any noise reduction added.

The digital noise of the image was mild and was completely eliminated using the noise reduction plugin.


By merging multiple images to HDR, it not only helps us overcome the dynamic range limitations of modern photo equipment, but can also to produce images that have more digital information and details, compared to individual out-of-camera RAW files.

Get Viktor’s Rapid Editing for HDR eBook, Course & Presets Bundle at 60% off now over at Snapndeals, only until June 7th (AUS time). 

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The post The Not-So-Obvious Reason for Using HDR by Viktor Elizarov appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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A Study in Vision, Light and Shadows

Three years ago, when I made my first photo tour through the magnificent landscapes of Iceland, I fondly recall an interesting dinner discussion with my fellow photographers. We had just returned to our guest house from a memorable photo shoot. As we shared good wine, food, and laughs, the discussion pleasantly turned to photography. After the seemingly prosaic and obligatory discussion of camera gear, we got around to more interesting topics such as light, travel destinations, and our individual exploits. One pleasant, wise, and well-traveled gentleman from Holland made an interesting comment that has resonated with me ever since. With a blend of delight and amusement, he said, and I paraphrase him:

“It’s amazing how photographers can travel to the same place at the same time and come away with completely different photographs.”

He chuckled as he said that, and his comment drew smiles and nods from the group. Interestingly, there was a pause with confounded looks, and the discussion quickly turned to other topics in photography. In retrospect, what the gentleman from Holland remarked was not only interesting but the truth – a truth whose basis is the epitome of the visualization process. That is to say, unique artistic constructs are molded by different life experiences and likely influenced by the predominant emotion at the time of making the photograph. The same scene, yet different visions, different interpretations, and thus, different photographs. Over the years since that dinner discussion, I have pondered a related question, “How can the same photographer travel to a similar subject and come away with the same photographs?” Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that, yet for me it has been a challenge to photograph the same subject and come away with distinct and more interesting images. For me, the answer to that question became manifest: I had to change my vision.

The Algodones Dunes

I have hiked and photographed sand dunes in Southern California multiple times, stretching from the Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve to the Mesquite Flat Dunes in Death Valley National Park. Yet, there is a stretch of dunes that I had not yet explored, the Algodones Dunes, widely known for all terrain vehicle recreation. Since I was in the mood for exploring a new place, exploring the intersection of light and land, and since these dunes are a short 2.5-3 hour drive from my home base in San Diego, CA, I decided to take a chance. Three months ago, I made a brief 2-day road trip to these dunes to make photographs of the terrain in a way that I had not yet done with enough emotion and creativity. I embarked with a clearly defined goal: to explore light, shadows, and contrast to create a new rendition of a familiar subject.

The Algodones Dunes, also known as the Imperial Sand Dunes, are a vast stretch of dunes in the Sonoran Desert deep in Southeast California, near the California-Arizona and US-Mexico borders. It encompasses the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness, which is a protected natural habitat that is off-limits to recreational vehicles, and the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreational Area. It is the latter that boasts the more impressive stretch of sand dunes. Although I had understood the landscape in the region that I would be entering (Osborne Overlook off Hwy 78) at this particular time of the year (winter-early spring), would undoubtedly be marred with tire tracks from all terrain vehicles, I was not overly concerned about it. My interest was not in photographing a pristine landscape, but more in exploring light, shadows, textures, and patterns. As I surveyed the scene, I immediately became interested in the abstracts that I could potentially make (with or without the tire tracks). Given my artistic imperative at the time, I felt reasonably good about the prospects for making interesting images. The only question in my mind was: at the decisive moment of opening the shutter, what specific subjects would materialize?

Kelso Dunes, Mamiya 7II, 43mm f/4.5, Fujichrome Velvia 50

Kelso Dunes
Mamiya 7II, 43mm f/4.5, Fujichrome Velvia 50

Mesquite Flat Dunes, Nikon D800, 100mm f/2.8 E Series

Mesquite Flat Dunes
Nikon D800, 100mm f/2.8 E Series

Whenever I embark on a photo shoot, in particular landscapes, I do so possessing one of two mind sets. One, I have a very specific subject of interest, most likely a subject that I have scouted and all that I need is for Mother Nature to provide the light to consummate the visualization process. Alternatively, I set out for a specific quality of light for which I am confident will materialize, yet I do not have a well-defined subject in mind. Then based on the light, I will seek out a subject based on my mood and emotion at the time. For me, both approaches are not mutually exclusive; but whatever photograph I end up making, one of these approaches will have been paramount. For this photo shoot, I took the latter approach. Based on the weather reports, I knew with a high degree of certainty that I would have the desired light in abundance (unidirectional and high contrast under clear skies), but my specific subject would need to materialize at the moment, as if in an epiphany, or serendipitously. Previously, I have written about the former approach taken to the nth degree.

To create the photographs below, I used one of my favorites tools – panchromatic black and while film. With the exception of one photograph, I used a 35mm camera, which is one of my preferred tools under conditions where light is changing rapidly, where I desire to change locations and compositions quickly, and where I desire to take multiple exposures in a short amount of time. It goes without saying that for the black and white landscape photographer, it is all about *contrast*, pure and simple. To yield the contrast that I visualized, I used a classic tool in black and white photography, the deep red filter. For more background on the red filter and the technical rationale, you can read here and here. With the exception of one photograph below, I used an exposure strategy that would yield strong highlights balanced with deep shadows to create contrast and depth and impart a sense of intrigue and mystery to the scene. For all of these photographs, I used a long lens to frame the perspective.

It would be worthwhile to pause briefly to explain the relationship between the directionality of light and texture, although a dedicated article would surely be merited down the road. In general, whether the artist is a photographer, a painter, or a sketch artist, textures are best revealed by two directions of incident light: lighting from the side and back lighting. For the landscape photographer, light that sweeps across the landscape from the side has been a cherished tool for revealing textures and lending shape and dimensionality to the scene, although backlighting can accomplish the same feat. A good on-line resource that nicely illustrates the relationships between the directionality of light and texture can be found here with an excellent book written by the same author that I highly recommend.

For this first photograph at mid-morning, I visualized a blend of coarse and smooth textures. As the sun was rising higher, the shapes and deep shadows gradually materialized. In the midst of the depressions and deep shadows in the dunes, my mind saw the nose of a human face in the bottom of the frame. It was uncanny. With this emotion gripping my consciousness at that moment in time, I felt compelled to open the shutter.

Nikon F6, Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR, Adox CMS 20 II

Nikon F6, Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR, Adox CMS 20 II

For this next photograph (my first exposure of the morning), the sun was starting to clear the Chocolate Mountains and bathe the landscape. As I previously discussed about this scene here, I was feeling an emotion of scarred beauty, an emotion of mystery, and that of an untold story. I again “saw” and “felt” the contours of a human face, and as the contrast was building up, I was “feeling it”. The lighting, which was highly unidirectional and contrasty, was sweeping across the subject at a nearly 90 degree angle, which casted long and deep shadows. At that decisive moment, the light, shadows, and emotion were aligned, and I again felt compelled to open the shutter. In retrospect, the wait to see this particular negative on the light table was immensely gratifying. It was almost like re-living a love affair with light and then re-uniting with your love days later . . .  Sighh . . . It was pretty awesome. 🙂

Nikon F6, Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR, Adox CMS 20 II

Nikon F6, Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR, Adox CMS 20 II

As the sun was rising higher, I was still inspired with a human emotion embedded within the landscape, and I just rolled with it . . . As I surveyed the scene looking for my next subject, my eyes caught another set of depressions, curves, and contours. At that moment, my mind interpreted the contours of a human torso. In the midst of the light display, I saw an abdomen, a navel, a waistline, and hips . . . She was beautiful! It was another uncanny sight, and it felt right for making another exposure. The quality and directionality of the light – sweeping from above and to the side – was conducive to creating shape and 3-dimensionality and revealing fine textures on the sand. Although I was shooting directly into the path of the sun, the reduced contrast from flare did not deter me, as I knew what I was seeing in my mind could not be witnessed from another direction of light.

Nikon F6, Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR, Adox CMS 20 II

Nikon F6, Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR, Adox CMS 20 II

Since I’ve been photographing sand dunes (and beaches) over the last past four years, I have found that potentially interesting compositions may actually lie not far ahead but literally underneath your feet. Again, if the incident sunlight is from the side or in front of you, with careful study through a composing card, the potential for the mind to see patterns and abstracts can be alluring, as the following two photographs illustrate.

Nikon F6, Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR, Adox CMS 20 II

Nikon F6, Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR, Adox CMS 20 II

Nikon F6, Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR, Adox CMS 20 II

Nikon F6, Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR, Adox CMS 20 II

In contrast to proximity and abstracts, again with careful study of the landscape and the light through the composing card and a long lens, even a distant scene may declare itself to be a delightful interplay of light, shadows and texture conveyed with a sense of minimalism.

Nikon F6, Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR, Adox CMS 20 II

Nikon F6, Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR, Adox CMS 20 II

What I enjoy about long deep shadows in a landscape is that they have the potential to confer different emotions and physical interpretations of a scene. From an emotional perspective, as I have mentioned deep shadows can provoke a mood of intrigue, mystery, drama, and a sense of abstraction. From a physical perspective, they can lend shape, depth, and 3-dimensionality to the scene. Consider the next two photographs.

Nikon F6, Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR, Adox CMS II

Nikon F6, Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR, Adox CMS II

Nikon F6, Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR, Kodak T-Max 100

Nikon F6, Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR, Kodak T-Max 100

The first illustrates how the deep shadows lend a sense of depth and an element of mystery to the scene, whereas the second photograph – taken later in the morning when the sun was higher in the sky – reveals greatly diminished the shadows, which unfortunately impart a bland mood as well as a flattened perception of depth.  The same subject . . . The same perspective . . . Different lighting . . . Two starkly different photographs, emotionally and physically.

Although a view camera is not my first tool of choice under rapidly changing lighting, I brought my 4×5 with me because I was both stubborn and felt that I would easily find an appropriate subject for a couple of exposures. For this next photo, which was the last photo I made on my trip, I had scouted the dunes north of Hwy 87 (the area that is restricted from all terrain vehicles) and found a stretch of low-lying dunes where the light from the setting sun would strike it at low angle and potentially reveal more interesting textures and deep shadows. At sunset, the light was creating lovely tonality across the sand and becoming more enticing as the minutes passed. This was another shot where “I was feeling it”. After honing my composition with my card and adjusting it on the ground glass, the sharp curved line conveyed an emotion of two separate worlds . . .

Ikeda Anba 4x5, Nikkor-M 300mm f/9, Ilford Delta 100

Ikeda Anba 4×5, Nikkor-M 300mm f/9, Ilford Delta 100

Since my goal with this particular photograph was to capture a broad range of tones and preserve shadow detail, I deliberately did not use a contrast filter (e.g., red, orange, yellow, or green), since such a filter would have blocked blue light and reduced shadow detail. I did, however, use a UV filter to block UV light from exposing the film. Briefly, from a technical standpoint, I spot metered the shadows in the middle right of the frame to preserve those on Zone II, then extended the development of film by N+1 to expand the high values, and thus the overall contrast range. This was my personal favorite exposure of the trip: a pleasant tonal range, replete with textures, and still conveyed with a sense of mystery yet with less drama than in the previous images.


In a recent conversation with Howard Bond, with whom I have had the privilege to periodically share thoughts on art, photography, and history, Mr. Bond remarked, “It’s wonderful to see that there is a lot going on in your head when you are photographing.” That comment resonates with me as much as the comment from the gentleman from Holland, for similar reasons. The process of modifying a vision, changing an established way of interpreting a scene, or thinking outside of the box is not an easy one for a photographer and artist. This is the most challenging aspect in the creative process. For this photo shoot, following weeks of contemplation and refining a specific goal and vision coupled with the appropriate light, I was able to create a set of photographs that were distinct in meaning and emotion from my earlier photographs of a similar subject. For the contemplative photographer, the visualization process starts with feeling it and believing in it. The light and the skill of the photographer will take care of the rest.

The post A Study in Vision, Light and Shadows appeared first on Photography Life.

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Review of the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary Lens Plus TC-1401 Teleconverter Bundle

One of my favorite subjects to photograph is wildlife, so when asked to review the Sigma 150-600mm lens, I was excited about the opportunity to see how its results compared to my Tamron 150-600mm.

Sigma 150-600mm

In addition, Sigma recently began offering a bundle for their 150-600mm with a 1.4x teleconverter. Since I shoot mainly with a Nikon D750 full frame, the lens bundled with a 1.4x TC interested me very much. The 1.4x TC makes the 600mm, an 840mm on a full frame camera, so in theory this allows my full frame camera to shoot wildlife with nearly the same zoom factor as a crop sensor. (Nikon crop sensors are 1.5 and Canon, 1.6)

There are two things to consider when looking at a new lens:

  1. First is its ease of use
  2. Second is the quality of its optics.

In this article I’ll be applying both of these considerations as I review Sigma’s new bundle, and make comparisons between the Sigma and Tamron lenses. All images in this article were captured with the Sigma 150-600mm with the 1.4x TC.



The Tamron features a larger, thicker focusing ring than the Sigma, which makes it easier to manually focus the lens. As for the Sigma, it has an extra setting on the autofocus switch for manual override (MO) which combines autofocus with an option to manually focus. I did not notice any major difference in the focusing responsiveness between the two lenses. Both did a fair job when grabbing focus, though neither lens is going to focus as quickly as a much more costly 600mm prime lens. The minimum focusing distance on the Tamron is just slightly less than the Sigma – not a game changer, but nevertheless a plus for the Tamron.

Focus Limiter switch

While both lenses have a focus limiter switch, with settings between Full and 10m (Sigma) or 15m (Tamron) to infinity, the Sigma features a third option on the limiter switch for 10m to 2.8m. In my testing, this third option proved very useful and was easy to locate and use, in order to focus on closer objects much quicker.


A feature the Sigma lens offers that the Tamron does not is an extra customization switch, which provides for an optional USB docking station (purchased separately). This allows a photographer to create two customized setting for OS (Optical Stabilization), AF, and focus-distance limits, and can also be used to download firmware updates directly to the lens.


Zoom Lock

Both the Tamron and the Sigma have a locking switch to prevent zoom creep at 150mm. However, the Sigma can also lock at several other focal settings, and what is even better, a quick twist of the zoom ring will unlock the it, without having to fumble around to find the switch. (In some cases this might be the difference between capturing and missing a killer shot!)

I found that my Tamron lens crept more than the Sigma, but this could be caused by the fact that it is an older lens with more use. Still, the lock switch on the Sigma is a great feature, especially since one can “soft lock” at many focal lengths.

Image Stabilization

Both lenses have their own image stabilization systems: Tamron’s VC (Vibration Compensation) and Sigma’s OS (Optical Stabilization). The Tamron has a simple on and off for the VC, while the Sigma has two settings: #1 is the standard setting for normal lens movement, and setting #2 is used for hand-held panning on a vertical plane, which will correct for up and down movement in subjects, such as birds in flight.


Zoom Ring

The zoom ring on the Sigma turns counter clock-wise, which is no big deal for Canon shooters. But for Nikon users, this is opposite from the normal zoom rotation on most Nikon lenses. It’s not a big deal, but does take some getting used to.

Tripod Collar

Both lens come standard with a tripod collar, but the foot on the Sigma collar is much smaller than the Tamron’s. This is only a minor problem, but I found a solution for it. I added a 5 inch quick release plate to the foot, which makes a great handle to carry the Sigma lens, as well as a plate to connect to a tripod.


Image Quality

Here is where the comparison gets tougher, as both lenses are much sharper at the shorter focal lengths, and both are softer at the longer focal lengths. Both are sharper when stopped down to f/8 or f/9, than wide open. In my opinion, the difference in image quality between the two is negligible. There is no clear winner here, both having areas where they are slightly better than the other.

The addition of the 1.4x TC to the Sigma when stopped down, doesn’t seem to affect the image quality. The Sigma seems to have a clear advantage when it comes to chromatic aberration (CA), and even using the 1.4x TC there was noticeably less fringing in high contrast areas, when compared to the Tamron. Of course, CA is very easily corrected in Camera RAW or Lightroom when shooting in RAW.




The advantage for warranty goes to Tamron, which offers a 6 year one, compared to 4 years with the Sigma. Still, in my opinion, both lenses are well constructed, and I am not convinced how much of an advantage that is, as most warranty issues show up early on.

1.4x Teleconverter

Adding the bundle of the 1.4x TC, and the 150-600mm Sigma can get your full frame camera back in the field when it comes to wildlife photography. While adding the teleconverter seems to slow the autofocus a bit, I shot with this bundle on both my crop sensor and full frame sensor cameras, and I believe the autofocus was more responsive on the full frame.

NOTE: Before purchasing the 1.4x TC, make sure the camera will autofocus at f/8. Many entry model DSLRs will not autofocus above f/5.6, so while this bundle may fit those cameras, manual focus will be necessary. Other models may only autofocus on the center focus point, and still others may have a limited number of focus points with the 1.4x TC.

Adding the 1.4x TC did seem to give a softer image when the lens was extended to 600mm (840mm), but if you stop down to f/10 to f/11 the images are nearly as sharp as at 600mm without the TC. Of course, stopping down means either using a slower shutter speed or a higher ISO, which may add some blur or noise to an image. I did find that the OS on the Sigma did a nice job of reducing camera shake, when hand holding at slower shutter speeds.

The above images show the range and extra reach of the Sigma 150-600mm with the last 2 images having the 1.4 TC added for an extra 240mm of reach.

The above images show the range and extra reach of the Sigma 150-600mm with the last two images having the 1.4x TC added for an extra 240mm of reach.


The rule of thumb when shooting with long focal lengths is to set the shutter speed equal to, or greater than the focal length, so remember that when by adding the 1.4x TC to a 600mm, one is now shooting at 840mm on a full frame, and 1260 mm on a crop sensor. For sharp images, a shutter speed over 1/1000th of a second is a must.

When carrying your camera with a large lens such as these 150-600mm lenses, it’s best to hold them by the lens rather than your camera. These lenses weigh much more than your camera and can put a lot of stress on the lens mount if carried by the camera. Likewise, when mounting on a tripod, always use the tripod collar to reduce stress on your camera’s lens mount (it is better balanced using the collar and won’t be front heavy).


Both the Tamron and Sigma lenses are well designed, and for the price range are great equipment investments. As mentioned earlier, I feel the image quality compared very closely. The Sigma does offer some useful extra features, out-weighing the issues of the smaller focusing ring and the counter-clockwise turning of the zoom ring for a Nikon shooter.

If you currently have a Tamron it may not be worth making a switch. But with the addition of the 1.4x TC, the Sigma bundle offers a great setup for full frame cameras, as well as crop sensors for some extra reach. So if you are looking for some extra reach (and we all are) the addition of the 1.4 TC to the Sigma may be a game changer. It was for me!

As a result of my review of the Sigma bundle for this article, I sold my Tamron 150-600mm, and purchased the Sigma 150-600mm bundled with the 1.4 TC, to extend the usage of my full frame Nikon D750, especially for photographing wildlife.

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The post Review of the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary Lens Plus TC-1401 Teleconverter Bundle by Bruce Wunderlich appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Calibrate Dell Wide Gamut Monitors

In the past, hardware calibration feature was limited to premium wide-gamut models from companies like NEC or Eizo. Those models offer wide gamut, great uniformity and advanced calibration features…but at a fairly high price. Affordable wide gamut solutions with hardware calibration started in 2013 with Dell and after that other companies like LG, BenQ and Samsung begun to offer “similar” products with more or less success. It is important to point out that LG and Samsung wide gamut models cannot be properly calibrated internally with the i1Display Pro colorimeter using their software and the same applies to some BenQ models like SW2700PT and its Palette Master Elements software. The main issue with those models is that they bundle an outdated X-Rite SDK (Software Development Kit) in their software without GB-LED support, which is the current main* (see the footnote at the end of the article below) LED wide gamut backlight technology. Hence, their software won’t get accurate readings, which in turn leads to inaccurate calibration. The BenQ PG2401PT and its Palette Master software, on the other hand, come with proper GB-LED support.

These low-budget wide gamut monitors were an interesting option for hobbyists and professionals, who cannot or do not want to spend more than $1,500 on a fully-featured premium wide gamut monitor from NEC or Eizo. The release of Eizo CS240 in late 2014 lowered that budget gap, since it is a near fully-featured wide gamut monitor for $850-900 USD and even today remains as one if the most sensible and affordable choices.

Since 2013 Dell has released several GB-LED models with hardware calibration. Here is a brief overview of their features:

  • sRGB, AdobeRGB and for new models DCI-P3 factory gamut emulation, also called factory calibration. Factory calibration is done at default brightness and contrast OSD values, 50%, which means a high cd/m2 output. Factory calibration white point is not accurate at all but gamut, gray balance and TRC is more or less accurate. You will need graphics card calibration on most units to make use of them (white point correction). You cannot fix factory calibration “inside” your monitor.
  • 10-bit / channel input to monitor, for compatible hardware and software.
  • “Custom Color” OSD mode with full native gamut, and fully customizable values for RGB gain and offset controls, to help with graphics card LUT calibration.
  • Two OSD modes serve as independent “memory slots” for user’s hardware calibration, CAL1 and CAL2.
  • Uniformity compensation feature, with limited usability and not available at all for some OSD modes.

And below are their issues:

  • 2013 Models: U2413, U3713H, U3014. These were 1st generation of Dell’s GB-LED monitors with AH-IPS panel. They have more or less “good enough” uniformity but serious overshoot (ghosting) issues. In order to get faster response times and advertise magic “8ms” number, a strong pixel response policy is applied to electronics. This kind of strong and fast change when changing a pixel value from dark grey (let’s say 80/256) to a lighter grey (let’s say 160/256) made that pixel bright with a much more lighter grey during a short time interval (let’s say 200/256 as an example), which caused overshoot ghosting. For example, while scrolling text in an internet browser, ghost images of moving letters appear as you scroll up or down.
    A uniformity compensation feature was advertised, but cannot be enabled in hardware calibration OSD modes CAL1/CAL2, and if enabled in other OSD modes, it will block OSD brightness and contrast controls at 50%: this means a very high cd/m2 output not suitable for some applications. 1st generation was bundled with the very first version of Dell Color Solution software (DUCCS v1.0.x), a customized Color Munki Display software, which was buggy and inaccurate. v1.0.x versions work only with Windows and i1Display Pro colorimeter. To use exclusively i1Display Pro was not a real limitation, since it’s the only good and affordable colorimeter which has X-rite support for hardware calibration.
  • 2014 Models (4K GBLED): UP2414Q and UP3214Q. These were the very first 4K IZGO GBLED models available to public. Being the first out, there were some issues and limitations. Bad backlight brightness control was applied to the 32″ model: slow under 1KHz Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) was used for this task which may be a problem to some users, leading to visual fatigue. Also they use DisplayPort and MST for 4K resolution at 60Hz, but MST makes some OSes think that there are two monitors with half the resolution attached to the DisplayPort output of a graphics card. With these 2014 models Dell released a new DUCCS version, 1.5.x, which is now i1Profiler customized software. More accurate than the infamous v1.0.x version, with more profiling options. This new DUCCS version is available too for the 2013 models like U2713H, which is obviously good news for their owners. Now DUCCS suports i1Pro2 spectrophotomer (and i1Pro is reported to work too) but keep in mind that these devices are less accurate than i1Display Pro colorimeter for a GB-LED display. Also, the first OSX versions of DUCCS were released but it seems that they only worked with 4K models – they won’t write LUT3D data to CAL1/CAL2 in 2013 models.
  • 2015 (5K GBLED model): UP2715K. 1st GBLED 5K available to public, there are issues related to bad color uniformity in a significant amount of units. New DUCCS version released to support this monitor, which turned out to be very buggy. A new OSX version was released too.
  • 2016: UP2516D, UP2716D, UP3216Q. It is a refresh of the previous GBLED generation with a backlight (a little different, in red wavelengths). This is not really a problem since i1Display Pro filters are almost equal to CIE 1931 2º in those wavelengths. At this point of time there is not an EDR from X-Rite with that specific backlight… maybe because i1Display Pro is well behaved in those wavelengths, so we are going to call them “GB-LED” in order to not to confuse our readers. Dell users have reported very bad quality control, uniformity issues everywhere and uniformity issues beyond 6 deltaC (Spanish Canon DSLR forums) which are unacceptable values. Dell released DUCCS v1.5.10 to support these new displays but it offers less functionality than v1.5.3. Some of these new units need a firmware update to work with v1.5.10. Hardware calibration for 32″ 4K model seems to be broken since DUCCS is unable to upload an accurate LUT3D (banding issues, grey coloration artifacts…) at least for some units. Dell also modified uniformity compensation feature, but it still cannot be enabled in CAL1/CAL2 OSD modes. If this feature is enabled in “Custom Color” OSD mode, it will block RGB gain control, so the user is unable to change the white point inside the monitor. Despite this, now users can use brightness or contrast control to lower or raise cd/m2 output even when uniformity compensation is enabled. If the native white point is close enough to your desired white point, you can see it as an improvement, but users will need GPU LUT calibration to fix whitepoint, grey and TRC.

This is the sad tale of affordable wide gamut monitors, a promise that could be, but wasn’t. Some of them truly offer value for their price and still can be purchased today if they are sold for a fair price: U2413, U2713H or UP2414Q…and even UP2516D / UP2716D but it’s highly recommended to check color uniformity (ArgyllCMS/DisplayCAL).

When looking at its competitors in its price range, the sad tale becomes a tragedy:

  • LG: very serious uniformity issues, reported to be >4deltaC (unacceptable), in its two 27″ QHD and 31″ DCI-4K wide gamut models. Software unable to make i1Display Pro measure a GB-LED properly (and that colorimeter is the only real choice). The reason is SDK issue discussed earlier.
  • Samsung: unable to make i1Display Pro measure a GB-LED properly (same SDK issue and Spyder won’t measure it properly like with other GB-LEDs) and pretty low contrast after uniformity compensation is enabled. That means about 600:1 contrast at daylight 6500K (D65) white for such an expensive monitor, almost unsuitable for video or even sRGB content…since a “good enough” sRGB 24″ monitor has more than 1000:1 contrast for much less. It’s a bad deal unless it is used just for soft-proofing purposes. Low contrast means “more glow” on IPS displays, so you will need to sit further from the monitor to lower this effect. NEC or Eizo’s 32″ 4K models can get superb uniformity without sacrificing too much contrast but they are a lot more expensive.
  • BenQ: has an overpriced PG2410PT model that is unable to offer the same features as NEC/Eizo counterparts in its price range. The software for this model, Palette Master, is like DUCCS 1.5.x, a customized i1Profiler and comes with proper GB-LED support. They have another model, SW2700PT, with bad quality control and uniformity issues like 2016 models from Dell and its software is unable to make i1Display Pro measure a GB-LED properly (same SDK issue, again).
  • HP: has an expensive 27” model with hardware calibration within its firmware, without a computer. The sad tale is that built-in calibration is not very configurable, just a few presets, and it needs a specific i1Display Pro OEM version from HP which is a ridiculous requirement. HP offers an SDK for calibration under Windows, Linux or OSX, but AFAIK there is no user-friendly software that can calibrate them with a retail i1Display Pro. If you have very good programming skills it could be interesting to bring ArgyllCMS features to that HP internal calibration. This monitor is not bad, but it’s too expensive for what it offers and lacks user-friendly software. HP also offers a 32” 4K wide gamut with hardware calibration and proper GB-LED support for i1Display Pro (it comes with de-updated SDK and GBLED EDR).

Given these facts, I would stay away from any of these Dell models with high prices since they are not worth it: the risk of bad uniformity units is too high for the bigger screens and software for hardware calibration has some issues as we will see in this article. I would stay further away from LG or BenQ models since their cheap models have worse uniformity issues than Dells (at least worse than 2013 models) and their software is unable to measure them properly with a colorimeter. Crippled contrast after you enable uniformity compensation in Samsung’s 32” 4K wide gamut is not appealing for such an expensive monitor…you can get a fully featured 27” QHD wide gamut from NEC for that price and NEC offers 5-step uniformity compensation trade-off between max contrast and max uniformity.

This does not mean there is no hope for hobbyists or professionals with limited budgets. As I have pointed out before, models like U2413, U2713H or UP2414Q seem to be a sensible choice… but only if found for a fair (I mean low) price for their value, since they are pretty old models. Customers need to be aware of these Dell limitations before buying. This is the point of this article: to learn, evaluate and if possible fix their flaws.

Eizo CS240 (24” 1920×1200, like U2413) has an affordable price too and it’s very likely that it will show better color uniformity than Dell. It offers true uniformity compensation feature but it’s only an ON/OFF feature, there is no trad-eoff for contrast-uniformity. Its price is about the price of a 27” QHD GB-LED Dell like UP2716D, so this Eizo is another sensible choice for limited budgets.

For better uniformity or more calibration and color space emulation features, save money for middle-high (Multisync PA) or high end (Spectraview PA) GB-LED models from NEC since they are cheaper than Eizo counterparts. NEC’s Spectraview PAs offer the same quality as ColorEdge CG Eizos and the cheaper Multisync PA models offer better features than Eizo CX series.

Dell Color Calibration Solution (DUCCS)

After GB-LED family presentation, let’s see what these Dell owners can get out of their monitors and DUCCS software. Since v1.0.x versions were useless, this is a guide to the 1.5.x family. There are two major “stable” 1.5.x versions:

-1.5.3. which works with 2014 generation or older models. This is the recommended version for that monitors unless you notice bugs.
-1.5.11 which should work with all of these Dells but offer less functionality. 2015 or 2016 models will need that version.

User interface and almost every option are common to all 1.5.x versions, so unless stated otherwise this guide works with all of them. The following instructions are for the Windows version of DUCCS, OSX version should behave in a similar way unless bugs or Apple hardware limitations or incompatibilities are found. Ask Apple support team if DUCCS does not work for you…you are on your own since it seems that there is no official support of Dell monitors with Apple proprietary hardware configurations.

DUCCS included on your monitor driver CD may be outdated. They can be downloaded from Dell or Xrite websites. Below are the links to Windows versions (Windows 7 or newer is required):
DUCCS 1.5.3 (don’t worry about the model name on the page, it works with all 2014 and older models):
DUCCS 1.5.11 (for newer Dells)

Installation will need administration privileges; it will also install i1DisplayPro SDK, X-rite Services and .NET Runtime. After installation, which may require a reboot, you may want to check Windows Update for .NET Runtime security updates. Al the end of the process you should have a desktop shortcut to DUCCS. Before running DUCCS, plug in the i1Display Pro colorimeter. Windows may want to install is as a HID device (like a mouse, keyboard…), let it do the job.

The newer 2016 Dell UltraSharp models may need a firmware update (at your own risk).

While newer versions of DUCCS may work with a dual monitor setup, it is strongly recommended that there is only one GB-LED Dell connected to your computer when running DUCCS (or even one monitor at all). Calibrate each display separately.

Now run DUCCS. If you are running 1.5.3 and have Internet access, it will prompt you to update to 1.5.11. Do not update unless you know what you are doing. After it starts you should see DUCCS main screen which looks like X-Rite’s i1Profiler for those familiar with the program:

Dell Calibration Solution Main Screen

On the middle of the screen you will see a “User Mode” selection. Go ahead and pick the “Advanced” option so that you can see all the available calibration options.

Next, click “Display->Profiling” to proceed with LUT3D Calibration. The next screen will show your Dell monitor with its serial number and a set of presets for calibration target. If this screen does not display and you see the usual i1Profiler calibration target with white point, luminance and contrast, then your monitor is not recognized by DUCCS as a GB-LED Dell with hardware calibration. Unfortunately, it is a common issue for 2013 Dells under OSX. Here is how the screen should look like:

DUCCS Default Measurement

A brief explanation of the presets:

  • sRGB: it will create a LUT3D calibration that emulates sRGB gamut, with D65 white and “sRGB gamma”. sRGB gamma is not equal to a 2.2 gamma, it is close to 2.2 but is lower (brighter grey) near black and higher (darker grey) near white.
  • AdobeRGB: it will create a LUT3D calibration that emulates AdobeRGB gamut, with D65 white and “2.2 gamma”. It will try to get as close as it can to full AdobeRGB gamut.
  • “Custom xy”: it will create a LUT3D calibration with gamut defined by CIE xy coordinates of R, G and B primaries. “Custom xy” preset has a customizable white point target with a few presets like D50 or D65, custom daylight color temperature and a full custom white under “xy” for CIE xy color coordinates. There is also a “measure” option to match whites but due to DUCCS limitations it is not useful with i1Display Pro when matching another display: you can use an external program to properly measure xy coordinates of whatever white you want to match. There is a combo box for Gamma (TRC) selection. You may choose between a constant value or “sRGB” TRC. DUCCS v1.5.11 only allows 2.2 gamma or sRGB gamma, if you input other value like 2.4, it will ignore it and take 2.2 value. DCCS 1.5.3 users have the option of other constant gammas than 2.2.
  • With DCCS 1.5.11 there is another option for customized gamut emulation, “Custom u’v’” but it is not useful since all other customizable options disappear. It’s buggy too…if you go to “custom xy” after “custom u’v’” all these options will disappear!

You may have noticed that “sRGB” and “AdobeRGB” presets are just particular configurations of “Custom xy” and it’s true. You only need to know CIE xy color coordinates for R, G and B of sRGB and AdobeRGB (available on Wikipedia for example) in order to manually set an AdobeRGB calibration target without presets. You can obtain your monitor’s full native gamut R,G and B locations in CIE xy color coordinates from:

  • EDID information
  • driver default ICM profile, upon inspection (DispcalGUI, ICC Profile Inspector or other applications)
  • an actual measure of R, G and B CIE xy coordinates (ArgyllCMS or a validation from DispcalGUI)

Basic configuration and use of ArgyllCMS and DispcalGUI (DisplayCAL from v3.1 onwards) will be covered on the next article. For each preset you can configure target luminance between some common preset values of a value of your choice in cd/m2.

DCCS does not allow custom contrast value, it will aim to the best contrast that fit its needs. If you need a fixed contrast value (paper) you cannot do it with DCCS, you will need GPU LUT calibration and tweak monitor’s brightness and contrast controls under “Custom Color” OSD mode.

After choosing your calibration target, click next. Now you are prompted to choose a profile configuration, the way monitor behavior will be stored in a ICC/ICM file after calibration:

DUCCS Default Profile Settings

Here is a short explanation of the options:

  • Chromatic Adaptation: is about translation of coordinates from your desired gamut and white to a Profile Connection Space (PCS) defined at D50. This PCS is where color management operations are done. There is lot of free information about color math involved, but we are trying to keep this guide simple (no formulas). Bradford or CIECAT02 will work fine.
  • ICC profile version: it MUST be version 2. If you choose version 4, you won’t be able to validate profile with ArgyllCMS and some incompatibilities with other programs may happen too. Choose version 2 in this step, always.
  • Profile type: Matrix profile will create one of the simplest profile types. If will assume that after calibration your display has a neutral grey, be it true or not, so profile TRC values will be equal for R, G and B channel. Table profile will create a complex profile with a more accurate description of actual after-calibration behavior. It will make 3 independent TRC for each channel. Firefox is a color-managed browser but it will not understand X-Rite’s table profiles, even tweaking its advanced configuration, so you are better off keeping it as Matrix profile.

After choosing profiling options, click next.

Now you are prompted to choose a number of color patches for profiling. These patches are not for calibration, just to profile your monitor. With DUCCS you cannot choose patch set for calibration and this is one of the main reasons of its inaccuracy. The bigger the patch set, the more information DUCCS can use to compute display’s profile in an accurate way. The simple nature of matrix profiles makes them suitable for a low number of color patches.

DUCCS Patch Set

Click next.

Now you must choose where to store calibration: Calibration 1 (CAL1) or Calibration 2 (CAL2):

DUCCS Calibration Setup

If this screen does not show up, you are not able to hardware-calibrate your Dell because of some software or hardware issue. If an error shows with information about “no USB cable plugged from monitor to computer”, check it, but maybe monitor’s USB hub drivers are not properly installed, or maybe it’s just another DUCCS bug. Sadly, if this happens, you are on your own. You can report this problem to Dell, but it’s very doubtful that the folks from support will be able to help you. At this DUCCS step, the software tries to communicate with your monitor in two ways (DDC/CI and USB) to read the serial number. If any of these operations fail, this error happens.

If there are no errors, proceed by clicking “Start Measurement”.

At this point of calibration, DUCCS will go fullscreen and will prompt you to uncover the i1Display Pro lens and place the device on the center of screen. When done, click next.

Now, the actual calibration starts. User has no control during this process so just sit and wait:

  • The chosen CAL1 or CAL2 will reset to factory configuration, erasing previous LUT3D
  • It will measure a few white and R, G and B patches and change contrast OSD control for that CAL OSD mode until measurements meet its needs (whatever they are, DUCCS is just a black box, not GNU software). That means that you can get lower contrast (-200) than its nominal 1000:1 value near native white, and even lower contrast for warmer whites which are far from native white point. User has no control over it.
  • With contrast configured, it will measure several calibration patches in order to measure uncalibrated monitor response: it will read 44 patches for native gamma of grays (14) and of each channel (10): this is one of the most severe issues with DUCCS. If there is some kind of bad behavior (pink-green tint for example) between those measures (read my first article), DCCS cannot correct that grey because this bad behavior does not exist for DUCCS. It doesn’t measure it. Next, it reads 68 patches for gamut measurement: secondary colors, etc.
  • With that information DUCCS will compute actual LUT3D data that brings that uncalibrated state to target calibration values with more or less accuracy. A pre-lut (target gamma), matrix (gamut emulation) and post-lut (de-gamma, neutral grey and white point calibration) data of LUT3D are computed, compressed and sent to monitor. White color may change to pink or some weird color during this process. Hardware calibration for the new 32” 4K UP3216Q seems to be broken here. DUCCS 1.5.11 seems to be unable to write or to compute an adequate LUT3D for this model. Maybe this hardware has another LUT format, or it is just another of the long list of DUCCS bugs.
  • After LUT3D is written, DUCCS will try to fix luminance, trying a few brightness OSD values till it gets the closest OSD control value to desired value. There isn’t a fine tune for desired luminance, just a best effort. Since LUT3D calibration is written, white point may drift a little from desired value if DUCCS changes brightness. This is another source of inaccuracies of DUCCS calibration.

At this point CAL1 or CAL2 are calibrated to our desired target, but you need an ICC profile too because color managed applications need to now actual monitor behavior to manage color properly. So DUCCS starts a series of patch measurements (chosen in profile configuration step) and stores that information in computer’s memory.

After all patch measurements are finished, DUCCS will ask you to place close the i1Display Pro lens. Click next after you are done. Then DUCCS goes back to windowed mode. Click next.

Now you are prompted to choose a profile name. Write a meaningful name like “DELL U2413 sRGB CAL1.icm”, do not overwrite the generic “U2413.icm” profile. Click on “Create and save profile”, which will transform profiling measurements to a profile and write it to an ICM file, stored in your Windows OS profile folder. It will also set it as a “Default Profile” for your Display in the “Color Management” configuration of Windows Control Panel. That means that all color managed applications will work like if that profile accurately describes your monitor, but this won’t be true if you either factory-reset the monitor / reset that CAL1/CAL2 slot, or change OSD mode from your CAL1/CAL2 to other mode.

DUCCS Calibration Saved

Now you can repeat the process for the other CAL1/CAL2 slot or exit DUCCS since all other application options are useless: uniformity, validation…not reliable, not accurate, not to be trusted. We will deal with validation and uniformity measures in next article.

Since calibration is stored inside the monitor, you can take DUCCS’ ICM files with its behavior to another computer or OS (Linux, OSX, another computer with Windows), then install one of those profiles as the default profile for your display. Profiles are stored in “C:\WINDOWS\system32\spool\drivers\color” folder in Windows OS. You need to know that OSD brightness/contrast values for CAL1 and CAL2 are independent from the other OSD modes, but they may be independent too for each DVI/DP/HDMI input (may vary with model/firmware revision). If you calibrate your Dell monitor on a desktop computer connected with a DVI cable to your monitor and you want to use that calibration with a laptop connected with HDMI to your monitor, then you may need to copy OSD contrast & brightness value from CAL1/CAL2 modes in DVI input to CAL1/CAL2 brightness and contrast controls in HDMI input. CAL1 and CAL2 computed LUT3D will remain unchanged between monitor inputs, it’s just contrast and brightness values what you may need to copy to the other inputs. The same applies to RGB gain and offset controls for “Custom color” OSD mode (for GPU calibration), each DVI/HDMI/DP input may need its own configuration.

Color Management Configuration for MS Windows

If you go to Windows Control panel, and double click on “Color Management” you can change default profiles for each of your displays. On Windows 10, visit “System”, click “Advanced Display Settings” under “Display”, then click “Display adapter properties” under “Related settings”. When a new window comes up, click on the “Color Management” tab, then “Color Management…” button to see the following screen:

Windows Color Management

Under the “Devices” tab there is a Device drop-down box. Make sure that your Dell display is selected. Don’t forget to check “Use my settings for this device”. Below that you will find a list of profiles associated to that display. You can add and remove profiles. You must select as “default” profile the profile that matches your current monitor configuration before using color-managed applications. For example for CAL2 calibrated to AdobeRGB preset in a U2413 with DUCCS, there must be a profile with your desired name, “DELL U2413 AdobeRGB CAL2” ICM file. Make sure that this profile is set to “default” while in CAL2 OSD mode.

Do not change anything in the “Advanced options” tab – leave it as is. The only change that “may” make sense for some configurations is to enable Windows LUT loader for GPU. To enable it, click on the bottom button “Change system defaults” (administrator rights are needed). It will open another “Color management” configuration. Go to advanced tab and enable “Use Windows display calibration”. Then close all Color management windows.

With this LUT loader enabled, every time you set as “default” a display profile, Windows will load that profile’s calibration curves in graphics card LUT. DUCCS profiles have a linear LUT (no calibration), so this configuration is not needed, but if you use i1Profiler or ArgyllCMS profiles mixed with DUCCS ones, then it may be useful. Windows LUT loader is less accurate than ArgyllCMS LUT loader. It will load a low-resolution version of calibration curves (without “decimal values” we talk about in my first article) which may lead to banding artifacts. This does not matter at all for DUCCS profiles, they have a linear LUT calibration embedded. Unless for some strange reason you do not want to use 3rd party LUT loaders, I would avoid MS Windows LUT loader and use ArgyllCMS/DisplayCAL. DisplayCAL 3.1.x comes with an autoloader that notices changes in “default profile” (actually it seems to be a polling mechanism) for each display in your OS, and IMHO it’s the way to go.

Keep in mind that if you change the preset mode on the monitor to a different one (say from sRGB to AdobeRGB) and forget to change it in the Color management settings above, then fire up Photoshop, all colors might be wrong. Your display (while in that OSD mode) has a close to AdobeRGB behavior, but Photoshop will do color management as if it was close to sRGB. Before you open a color-managed application, there must be an accurate profile for your current OSD mode set as “default” for your display, as shown above. This is not a Dell limitation, this is true for every monitor and every operating system… unless a color managed application has its own monitor profile configuration. Because of this, always make sure to select the same preset (CAL1 or CAL2) as the default Color Management profile in your settings. If you change one, don’t forget to change the other. It may be possible to do this change sequence automatically with a third party application like Dell Display Manager (after tweaking it, out of scope of this guide). The same happens with Eizo/NEC monitors and their OSD configuration programs.

*NOTE: X-rite packed a GB-LED backlight SPD sample under “RG_Phosphor” EDR file – it covers AdobeRGB 99% LED backlight models. That GB-LED SPD is not exactly the same LED backlight for iMac 5K DCI-P3 (smaller gamut) or super high-end Eizo CG318-4k (bigger gamut); there is a noticeable difference in red channel output SPD between GB-LED backlight and those two models. ArgyllCMS with SPD sample data from those two displays (a “CCSS” file with SPD data) can properly measure those displays with an i1Display Pro, so do not worry about it.

This article has been submitted by a guest poster who wanted to remain anonymous. He goes by “Color Consultant” nickname in articles and forums at Photography Life.

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