Color Calibration: Canon 5D Mark lll

Calibration Corrections for the 5D Mark lll

In my recent article comparing the color response of the Canon 5D Mark ll to the 5D Mark lll, I showed the calibration adjustments from Datacolor’s SpyderCheckr for both cameras. Today I am focussing on the Mark lll, and what calibration does to improve its color response, so I will limit myself to the Mark lll correction chart only.

Color Corrections for Canon 5D Mark lll from SpyderCheckr

While there are several colors where the combination of hue and saturation adjustments are fairly significant, I will limit my examples to the primary color channels with the largest Hue shift (Green, with Hue -16, and Saturation -4) and the largest Saturation Shift (Red, with Hue +6, and Saturation -15). The first question is: are these adjustments visible in real world images? And the second is: do they actually improve the results in images where they are visible? I selected images from my first test shoot with the 5D Mark lll that showed these adjustments clearly, and which can be used to judge the value of these calibration adjustments.

Limitations of Web Color

The images you will see below were color accurate on a calibrated display. On an uncalibrated screen, or with a non-color managed browser, the results may not be as accurate. However they should still show the degree of difference, even if the colors are not exactly as they would be under color management. So try to visualize what the text describes for color and saturation, and use the images to compare the degree of change, if the actual changes described are not reflected on your screen.

First the Reds

To judge the effect of red adjustments, I selected am image with saturated red flowers, and cropped a section at 100 percent. The red flower petal in the center of the image moves forward from the point of focus, and becomes less focussed in the lower regions. The reds are extremely saturated, and the trained eye sees a color that will be problematic to print as well as having the bleary quality that over saturated colors often exhibit.

5D Mark lll Reds, Uncalibrated

Next we’ll examine a similar closeup from the same image after the SpyderCheckr calibration has been applied to the image. Here the colors look more believable, and show a good deal more color detail, that was lost the the bleariness of the uncalibrated version. The Hue Shift, while far smaller then at the Saturation reduction, also improves the realism of the image, accurately reflecting the transition from magentas to a more orangey red in this type of flower. Its often surprising to see that color correction does not just improve the colors; it improves the color detail, which results in a more detailed image; something we tend to associate with focus and lens quality, when it can actually be an artifact of incorrect color.

5D Mark lll Reds, Calibrated

Now the Greens

Next we’ll move on to the greens, which are a subtler situation, since it is the Hue, not the Saturation, that has the largest adjustment. Here the issue is less one of lost detail, than one of lost color richness. Leaf greens must contain an appropriate yellow component to read correctly to the eye; an emerald green leaf looks as false as the Emerald City, painted onto the Wizard of Oz backdrop.

5D Mark lll Greens, Uncalibrated

Now we’ll compare this with the calibrated green, which has a 16 point Hue shift towards Yellow, and a 4 point Saturation reduction. Here the greens read as much more realistic, with the necessary yellow component, and the slight reduction in saturation to produce photo-realistic foliage. This will be a much more printable green, and much more satisfying in print, as well as the improvement shown on screen.

5D Mark lll Greens, Calibrated

And the Rest

Other calibration corrections for the 5D Mark lll follow a similar pattern, but the effect is reduced for those channels requiring less adjustment. Overall, native color on the 5D Mark lll is very good, but calibrated results are truly excellent.

Personal Preference 

The color corrections shown above are aimed at accurate color portrayal. They are from the Colorimetric option in SpyderCheckr. Personal preference may lean towards emerald green leaves and over saturated flowers; thats fine as artistic intent, but it should occur by intentional adjustment, not by incorrect original coloration.

A Note to Nikon Shooters

Vincent Versace recently requested that I do a color comparison of the latest Canon and Nikon models. As a Nikon shooter, he as always felt that the Canon results were more saturated; perhaps too saturated. The calibration corrections above do tend to lean towards desaturation of the RAW file’s color; in fact there is not a single channel where calibration increases the saturation. I plan to analyze the color of the new Nikon D4 against its predecessor, the D3, and similarly the D800 against the D700. Once I have completed those results, I will be in a position to compare the 5D’s color saturation, and other color characteristics, to those of the D4 and D800. Perhaps the results will reinforce Vincent’s personal impressions. It will be interesting to find out.

A Note on Camera Color

What cabbage leave does camera color come out from under? It has two parents: the camera manufacturer, who is responsible for the hardware, and for the firmware that produces the proprietary file, and the RAW converter developer, who uses their own form of camera profiles to convert that proprietary camera format to a RAW file on screen. At one time, both these were the same parent; and we felt obliged to use the manufacturer’s RAW converter when testing the camera. But today the majority of RAW files, at least those from DSLR and subDSLR cameras, are processed in third party software. And by far the most common of those third party products is the Adobe engine used in Lightroom, ACR, and therefore Photoshop. So when I talk about camera color, I’m speaking of the camera color we are going to get in the real world, where we process our images in Lightroom or ACR. Using another third party RAW converter, or a camera manufacturer’s conversion utility, may produce different results. But given the success I have been having with the Adobe engine and a SpyderCheckr HSL correction set, I am quite comfortable with the color from this workflow, and don’t see any significant reason to be looking at less common or more complex workflows in order to achieve the results I need; especially with Lightroom 4’s much improved capabilities.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: Return to Blog’s Main Page


29 responses to “Color Calibration: Canon 5D Mark lll

  1. Pingback: Color Comparison: Canon 5D Mark ll and Mark lll | CDTobie's Photo Blog

  2. Pingback: Color Calibration Comparison: Canon 5D Mark lll from Different Profiles | CDTobie's Photo Blog

  3. Which Picture Style was used for the test? I have found that color balance in ooc pics is dramatically improved in the 40D and 7D by using Faithful with sharpness +3 and saturation +1 sometimes adding contrast +1. White Balance shift B2,M2. Thank you for your testing. It certainly confirms the disturbingly saturated reds I have seen in some 5D3 pics. I am hoping the issue is as simple as the new Auto Picture Style. My 5D3 is on backorder. If the Auto Picture Style was used , it would be great too see a Standard and Faithful calibration comparison. Any insights into WB shift settings would be appreciated.

    • I never used a camera picture style in my life. Call it snobbery, but picture styles tend to be for doing things that pros do (if they do them at all) in professional editing software. And being a color geek, it just seems like a better tool for the job to build a target-based calibration for the camera, instead of making trial and error adjustments to the camera’s picture style controls.

      Similarly, I do my whitebalance in Lightroom, ideally from a SpyderCube or SpyderCheckr target shot. The only in-camera white balancing I do is to balance to a Cube or Checkr shot to correct the back of camera JPG preview’s white clipping warning, so I can trust it.

  4. Hi David,

    thanks for your testing. I also found (without Calibration equipment) that at least red is over saturated at the 5D3.
    What I understood from your article: you didn’t use any of the 5D3 Presets in LR4 (like “Neutral”, “Faithful” …) – right?
    Does it mean the calibration/correction you’re showing above is based on the “Adobe Standard” profile in “Camera Calibration” ?



  5. Hello,

    Thanks for going to the trouble of calculating and sharing this calibration. I am using your results for my 5D Mark III on top of Adobe Standard and a Linear Point Curve (PV2012 defaults) in LR 4.1RC.

    I think it would be nice to include before/after images (ideally via a mouseover) of a Gretag Macbeth Color Checker chart to show the differences. See
    for Color Checker images in different file formats.


    • GretagMacbeth no longer exists. But I did an animated GIF using a Datacolor SpyderCheckr target for a related article, and the changes, especially in the standard 24 patches you are thinking of, were not very useful. Which is one reason I did not use that method here.

  6. Pingback: Circuitous Conversations » Blog Archive » #86 – Color Grading

    • I appreciate the link, though its interesting that they would spend several minutes on SpyderCheckr in an episode that is officially about Color Grading for movies. That’s part of the beauty of naming the series “Circuitous Conversations”…

  7. Pingback: Circuitous Conversations » Blog Archive » #87 – Finder Frustration

  8. Hi there, Not quite up to scratch with camera calibration but it seems the adjustments you have made were in the HSL panel right?

    I was hoping to adjust the Camera Calibration panel to have some lasting settings for import from 5D Mk III. This panel contains Red, Green, and Blue primary sections with both Hue and Saturation sliders.

    Does this make any sense?

    Thanks for the help,


    • Yes, I understand what you are asking. Our corrections are in the HSL panel, where there are 24 different controls, allowing much more detailed and subtle adjustment than the six controls in the Camera Calibration panel. The other problem with applying corrections at the Camera Calibration panel, is that a Calibration (or Profile, if you prefer) has already been loaded there. So it is ill advised to flood a new correction into an existing body of images, since changing that Calibration can cause fairly radical visual changes to images. However few people have made HSL adjustments to their existing files (partly because there are 24 sliders to deal with there!), so applying a set of corrections to HSL seldom changes settings previously applied. So I can safely create a calibration for a camera I have been using for years, and apply that set of HSL corrections to the entire body of work shot with that camera, without fear of radical, unintended changes to previously adjusted images. There is more to it than that, but thats the short answer to your question.

      • Great work but a few questions:
        I would like to use the camera to do colorimetry – I understand why you don’t like gretamacbeth color samples – but how about munsell color space – how close can you calibrate to munsell color space / samples.
        What breaks in normal camera workflow when you adjust camera profile the way you did? What impact does this have on movie mode? Will it use your ‘profile?’
        Can you make comments about canon limiting their movie output to 4:2:0 color space? They have 14 bits per pixel per primary and reduce it to one color value every 8 pixels. Just to prevent it from competing with real professional movie cameras? I don’t have a way to measure hdmi output color depth – if that is also 4:2:0 canon is intentionally downgrading the color quality both for their codec and external capture. I believe c300 is also downgraded.internally.

      • Nothing wrong with the Color Checker samples, we use a very similar samples in the Datacolor SpyderCheckr. I find that our target and software produces a somewhat more colorimetrically accurate result than the Passport and its software. Not sure, beyond that, just what you are asking. A camera is not a colorimeter, since the light source and camera settings are not fixed, so it produces relative, not absolute color.

        What “breaks” when changing the camera profile under an image, or a few thousand images, is simply the rather radical changes this can cause in colors, making it necessary to recheck and rework each image. Not wanting to do that, I made sure the calibration technique used with the SpyderCheckr was subtle, smooth, and without surprises, so that I could back-apply it to all the images shot with each of my recent camera bodies. Not sure if this addresses your question.

        No comment on the video issues… except that any video app which utilizes the same set of HSL controls that ACR or Lightroom use could also utilize the SpyderCheckr calibration…

      • One.follow up to last question. If you don’t compare for profile neutral with your spyderchecker calibration it leaves people wonderingif you are promoting the software. Of course each camera needs color correction, but maybe canon did a great job with the neutral profile. No data is provided to determine actual improvement from neutral by buying the calibration software.

    • Yes, HSL allows 24 corrections, instead of 6. And is allows much subtler adjustments. I find the results to be more accurate, and very smooth and photo-realistic. And it does not require replacing the camera profile that was under an image when it was previously corrected, which tends to cause excessive, unintended changes that require review and reediting.

  9. Pingback: NEW !!! REVIEW Canon EOS 5D mark III - - Page 2

  10. Extremely helpful. Those adjustments make a huge difference. So, I have two questions for you if you don’t mind. One-Can these settings be locking into lightroom (or photoshop) and applied to each and every image from a 5D3 regardless of lighting, iso and so on? Second-More importantly, I think there may be a small market in this. Unless I’m not as good as using google as I think, I can’t find anyone anywhere offering HSL settings for various camera bodies. I’m sure it would be pricey for anyone who endevoured to sell these settings for various bodies as they’d have to purchase and test them. However, I’d be (and I would think anyone who’s tired of seeing their reds blown to junk) willing to pay for precise settings such as these as opposed to my own “not to bad, sort of works” settings. Oh, and thanks for the demonstration photos once again. Especially the green one which is one of my pet peeves. Not much bothers me more than people showing me their photos with emerald green foliage.

    • Yes, there are methods to create a preset from any settings, and apply them to any number of images, especially in Lightroom, but also with Bridge for ACR/Photoshop users.

      As for “canned calibrations” for camera bodies, yes, that would be better than nothing, but fingerprinting the exact body you are using, not the general model, with who-knows-what firmware version, is the preferred solution. And you may need to do it for various lenses as well, if they produce a noticeable color effect.

      • Ah yes, I forgot. I remember mention that the calibration should be body (and lens) specific. I guess there are some things we have to do for ourselves. Again, this is a great article and demonstrates well how people should make at least some adjustment and how radically those affect the image.

  11. You should mention the lens used for your color calibration, otherwise it won’t be accurate for someone using a different liens than yours.
    Thank you

    • Lenses affect color calibration to differing degrees. With the Canon L-series lenses, the color is quite consistent between lenses, and the same calibration can be used for all of them. Nikon’s Nikor lenses are less color consistent, so may require multiple profiles, for each camera/body combination. But the basic concept is the same in all cases.

  12. I am a newbie and am currently using a 5D3 with a 135mm F2 L lens and an Expodisc for custom WB with CS6 “Adobe Standard and linear point curve” I tried the HSL settings and all I can say is wow, Thanks for sharing Tobie

    • I’m glad you find my results useful. As I stated previously: using the calibration for MY Mark lll on YOUR Mark lll, is likely to be an improvement on no calibration at all, but its generic to the product model line, not specific to your own camera.

  13. Thanks for this. Much appreciated! It will be very helpful. I found this because my reds were just too darn bright and saturated, especially if someone was wearing a red top (did I just say darn?).

    I did think that the result was dependant on lighting conditions, so a difference profile for bright sun, vs overcast vs indoor? also do I have to use adobe standard or can I use camera standard with it? cheers

    • I believe you will find the corrections to be quite global. Feel free to make multiple profiles, but if you simple correct exposure and white balance for the scene (which is best done with SpyderCube, not SpyderCheckr) then your single-profile colors should follow suit.

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