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Do you trust your monitor?

26th January 2011

Color Calibration with the Pantone Huey Pro

As photographers, we spend an extraordinary amount of time fretting over color. We carefully tweak the camera settings and adjust the white balance, ISO, raw quality, exposure, noise level and sharpness to produce magnificent color in the captured image. Afterwards, we transfer the digital film to our computerized darkroom for further processing with a goal of reproducing the colors as true to life as possible.

So why are we surprised (read: disappointed) when a prized photo looks so different from our mind’s eye view of the original scene? After all, haven’t we set the camera for the best color?

The reason may well be that the true color of the photo has been inexplicably changed by the computer monitor.

    There are two main factors affecting the color of the image on your monitor.

  • One of these is the ability of the electronics to deliver and display consistent color to the screen. As its components age, the image will undoubtedly vary. A tired monitor can degrade your images.
  • The second is the presence of ambient room light. Sunlight from a nearby window or from an overhead room light can add a color cast to the displayed image.

Let me explain why I decided to investigate this topic.

My computer setup includes dual monitors. I notice that the same image looks differently on each of the two monitors. To “fix” this, I can adjust the contrast, brightness and saturation of each monitor to try to produce identical displays. If I “develop” the photo using editing software (e.g. Photoshop, Lightroom, iPhoto, Picassa), the edited image will now match on the two different monitors, but how can I be confident that the color will be acceptable when I print the photograph? The short answer is that I can’t be confident that the color will print correctly.

For many photographs, color accuracy may not be of utmost importance. Rather, the expression on a face or the emotion of the moment are reasons enough to record the event. However for some photographs, it’s essential that the color displayed on the monitor matches the color print. After all, you wouldn’t want the bride’s gown to have a blue cast.

Since I’m heavily involved with viewing photographs on a day to day basis I want some assurance that unwanted color variation is not going to be a factor when it is printed.

To help solve this issue, I turned to the XRite Company. Coincidentally, their worldwide headquarters is located about a mile-and-a-half from our offices in Grand Rapids. I fired off an email to their sales office and they agreed to send me a review unit of their Pantone Huey Pro to test.

Simply put, the Huey Pro has two jobs to fill: to calibrate the monitor so that it displays “industry standard” colors and to automatically adjust the color of the display depending on changes to the ambient room light.

The Huey Pro is a small stick-like device, about the size of a ballpoint pen. There are tiny light gathering sensors on both the front and the back sides of the device. It connects to either a PC or a Mac with a USB cable.

Before calibrating my monitor, I installed the Huey Pro software from a CD-ROM and printed the 50-page user’s guide.

After calibration (coming next), it sits next to your monitor in a circular stand where it can measure the ambient room light.

Calibration is simple. After plugging the device into the USB port, I start the software which is self-explanatory.

In the photo to the left, I’ve attached the device to the screen. The miniature suction-cups on the back of the device hold it tightly against the screen. As the software flashes different color patterns of varying intensity, the Huey Pro measures the light output to determine how to later adjust the monitor.

The software also detects and asks me to calibrate the second monitor attached to my computer.

With calibration done, the Huey Pro just sits next to my monitor and works quietly behind the scenes. While viewing an image, if it detects a change in the ambient room light, it automatically adjusts the monitor to display the standard colors. The software is smart; it automatically adjusts the color for either of my dual monitors.

Two weeks from now (the duration is user-adjustable) the Huey Pro software will remind me to recalibrate my monitor. Otherwise, I hardly know that it’s there. But I can rest assured, it is faithfully working on my behalf.

How does it work?

Look at the two images below. On the left is a photo as displayed on a monitor without any color correction. On the right is the same photo as displayed on a monitor that has been automatically color corrected by the Huey Pro. The Huey Pro has adjusted the display for both the monitor characteristics and the ambient light.

You can see a significant variation between the two photos. If I rely on the lefthand photo as a proof for subsequent prints then they’ll have a bluish cast. If I rely on the righthand photo as a proof, my prints will be much warmer.

After examining a few dozen similar before and after images such as the ones above, I was surprised at the large variation between the uncorrected and corrected image. So I’m sold on the need to color correct my images.

For me, the Huey Pro provides a very easy way for me to achieve color accuracy. And for $95 (street price), it’s also an affordable way.

I’ve been using the Huey Pro for about two months now on a PC running Windows 7. While it’s also usable for the Mac computers, I haven’t yet installed it on one of our iMacs. I’ll do so shortly and report back soon.


Written by Arnie Lee


Pantone is a wholly owned subsidiary of XRite Incorporated. Pantone is one of the creators of color standards for the printing and computer industry for many years.

XRite provided the Pantone Huey Pro to us for 90 days for this review. Stay Focused has no other connection to XRite. At the completion of the review, we decided to purchase the Huey Pro based on our findings.

The Pantone Huey Pro User’s Guide has a detailed description for printing images based on monitor color corrected photographs. When sending photos to a commercial lab for printing, the information provided by the Huey Pro should be sufficient to insure accurate color matching.

1 Comment »

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Stay Focused Press, simplephototips. simplephototips said: Do you trust your monitor?: Color Calibration with the Pantone Huey Pro As photographers, we spend an extraordin… […]

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