The New Apple iMac May Be Your Next Imaging Workstation

The New iMac (Image Courtesy of Apple inc.)

The Allure of the iMac

As the Apple iMac has evolved into a more attractive device, photographers and designers have been tempted by the increasingly alluring form factor, more powerful processors, and the larger, higher resolution screens. They have asked with each generation of new iMac if it was finally fit-to-purpose for serious image editing and graphics work. Until recently the answer was a resounding “No”. The iMac lacked sufficient backlight dimming to be used in low light level imaging environments, and the screen technology did not offer consistent color and density as the viewer moved side to side or up and down. The glossy screen looked great, but reflected too much light, making it difficult to view subtle images on it unless in a perfectly dark room, and even then, the user’s own reflection on the screen caused problems. So I was obliged to tell users that the only practical way to use an iMac as a quality imaging station was with a second, higher quality display connected to it; which was not the configuration most people had in mind.

The previous generation of iMacs finally included backlight controls that allowed the built-in display to be dimmed sufficiently to be used in low light editing environments. But the screen type still did not offer accurate viewing off-axis, the reflection issue was still present, and uniformity across the screen could still be an issue.

Apple is forever striving to improve their products, and the upcoming generation of iMacs will solve many of the limitations that kept iMacs from being acceptable imaging stations in the past.

The Promise of the Next Generation

The key change to the next generation of iMacs is that they will now include IPS (in-plane switching) screens, to offer excellent color consistency over a very wide viewing angle. The screens should also offer improved uniformity. How much of an improvement will have to wait for testing, but it should be sufficient to allow for imaging uses. And the new iMacs will be individually factory calibrated for precise gamma and white point. Gamma is the tone response curve from black to white, and is responsible for assuring that the screen shows smooth gradients, and accurate brightness for all colors. White point is a global color correction that adjusts all colors to an accurate balance.

These items are two of the three key components in accurate screen calibration. Recent Apple displays, including the iPad3, iPhone5, and 15″ Retina display MacBook Pro all have been designed to produce a very close approximation of the sRGB color gamut. It is a reasonable assumption that the new iMacs will continue this trend.

What This Means to the Graphics User

Having precisely calibrated gamma and white point and a close-to-sRGB gamut in a display means that, even without custom calibration or color managed applications, images in sRGB (the standard for the web, and the color space most consumer digital cameras and smartphones attempt to match) and video using the common Rec 709 video standard will all be displayed correctly. The iPad 3, iPhone 5, and 15″ Retina display MacBook Pro offered this color gamut, but did not have the precise gamma and white point correction the new iMacs will offer, so were reasonably accurate in displaying sRGB and Rec 709 files, but still required calibration to correct the gamma and white point for  professional caliber color display. The new iMacs should be able to do this right out of the box.

Whether custom calibration will improve the iMac display’s initial state is yet to be seen. But the iMac displays will be factory calibrated with a spectro-radiometer, just as Datacolor Spyder display calibrators are, so recalibration over time using a hardware calibrator should be aligned nicely to bring the iMac color back to the same standard it was calibrated to at the factory.

New iMac with Editing Software (image courtesy of Apple inc.)

The Potential Deal-Breaker

There is one factor that may interfere with the use of the upcoming iMacs as imaging workstations. If Apple is so proud of the in-factory calibration of the displays that they write this data permanently to the video card, and do not allow the user to flash updated data from display calibration tools to the video card, then the improved accuracy of the new iMacs will be relatively short lived, and offer no way to keep the device in calibration over time. There is no indication that Apple will break with current open standards for display profiles and calibration data, but it is worth looking into before purchasing a new iMac specifically for serious imaging work.

The sRGB Taboo 

Marketing for wide gamut displays has convinced most serious image editors that sRGB is not a sufficiently large color space for their imaging work. The reality of the matter is that AdobeRGB shares the same Red and Blue primaries as sRGB. The only area where it displays increased color saturation is in saturated Greens. These fluorescent greens won’t be clipped from your files by using an sRGB display, they will simply not show their increased saturation on screen. It is not difficult to live with this display limitation in most types of image editing. Professional image editing is very effective on the Retina display MacBook Pro, with its IPS screen and sRGB gamut. Using the new iMac would offer a larger screen (though not as many pixels) at the same color gamut, and would offer consistency between desktop and laptop for Retina MBP owners.

Other Features Valuable for Imaging

Current imaging processes involve large, high bit files, and demand lots of disc space, lots of memory, fast data access, fast data transfer, powerful graphics processors, and powerful main processors. The new iMacs offer excellent specs in all these areas. Of particular interest is the option to use hybrid drives, where a spinning hard drive and a smaller amount of solid state memory are combined in one virtual disk. More frequently used apps and files will automatically be moved to the much faster solid state  memory, speeding commonly used processes.

Video Editing Looks Promising Too

The features above are all valuable for video editing as well as still imaging. Thunderbolt file transfer speeds, SSD drive options, Core i7 processors, Turbo Boost processor speed tuning, and the advanced NVIDIA graphics cards are of particular value for video editing.

New iMac with Black Magic camera, and RAID drive stack (image courtesy of Apple inc.)

Other Possible Alternatives

The MacPro tower has not had a major overhaul in years. If an update is released, then the advantages of more drive space, flexibility in adding special cards and more memory, and other advantages will make this an excellent machine for demanding processes such as advanced video editing. But these special features will be far less necessary for still imaging.

In the other direction, the 15″ Retina display MacBook Pro is the first Apple laptop capable for serious image editing. It’s resolution of 2880 by 1800 actually exceed the resolution of the new iMacs; but on a much smaller screen. The MacBook offers even less flexibility for user-customization than an iMac, but it offers the advantage of portability. Even more portability is available with the 13″ Retina display MacBook Pro, further compromising screen real estate for device portability, but the 13″ model now being released should have all the accuracy and resolution advantages of the previously released 15″ Retina MBP, just with a smaller screen.

For those who prefer a standalone desktop monitor, for various reasons, including wider gamut, the Mac Mini offers a cost effective single-display solution, though external monitors can be used with the iMac and MacBook Pro models as well. Apple has made it progressively more difficult to calibrate an external wide gamut monitor with recent OS versions, but they have been made aware of this issue, and we expect that they will correct the situation in future OS updates.

Not Just a Prettier Face

No doubt the new iMacs will be the most attractive iMacs ever. And many serious imagers will be tempted to buy one as an imaging machine. Until it is possible to test the new iMacs it is impossible to be sure just how well they will function for such uses. But on first inspection, it appears that they may make a very good image editing system, at accessible price points. Once it is possible to test the new iMacs, a follow-up article will provide further information.

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

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Datacolor Spyder4 Nominated for MacUser Creative Hardware of the Year Award

Datacolor’s Spyder4 has been nominated for a MacUser Award in the “Creative Hardware of the Year” Category. Take a look at the full list of nominees in all categories at:

http://awards.macuser.co.uk/winners/

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Another Milestone for CDTobie’s Photo Blog: 100,000 Page Views

Its been a bit over six months since I started this blog. In the last week, with Photokina news, and with incoming traffic from such sites as ZDNet, Daring Fireball, DPReview, Luminous Landscape, Extreme Tech, NorthLight Images, and MacRumors (all of those just today, actually), I’ve watched the total page views of the blog creep up towards 100,000. Today is the day that the odometer rolled over, to borrow an automotive phrase.

I have very much enjoyed the interaction and connections that this blog has provided, and have settled down to a less frequent, but hopefully useful, schedule of posting, as my time is increasingly taken up by the Datacolor SpyderBLOG, book editing and translations, and other tasks. Thanks for being part of this blog, I hope to continue offering useful information, as the fields of photography and digital technology continue to grow and change.

Map of countries accessing CDTobie’s Photo Blog in it’s first six months.

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

Latest List of Cameras Offering Auto-Focus Micro-Adjustment

Here’s an update to the list of cameras which offer auto-focus micro-adjustment functions.

One reason this is important is the ability to adjust these cameras using auto-focus targets such as Datacolor’s SpyderLensCal. The latest Canon models actually allow calibration at both ends of the zoom range of zoom lenses.

Auto-Focus Adjustment Test Shot

Keep in mind that a tool like LensCal can check the focus on most any camera, but it can only be adjusted by the user if it offers auto-focus adjustment in the camera firmware. Other camera/lens combinations that are clearly out of auto-focus would need to be sent in for adjustment.

  • Canon (50D, 6D, 7D, 5DMkII, 5DMkIII, 1DMkIII, 1DMkIV, 1DsMkIII, 1Dx, 1Dc)
  • Nikon (D7000, D300, D300s, D600, D700, D800, D800E, D3, D3s, D3x, D4)
  • Sony (A850, A900, A99, A77, NEX-7/LA-EA2)
  • Olympus (E-30, E-620, E-5)
  • Pentax (K-20D, K-30, K-5, K-7D, K-2000, K-m, K200D, 645D, K-x, K-r)
  • Hasselblad (H4D, H5D)

Note: There has been quite a discussion on the Nikon D600, with major reviewers claiming it does not offer micro-focus adjustment, and others stating that it does. I have added it to this list based on Nikon’s own specs. The Sony SLT-A99 has also been added, as suggested by a reader, and confirmed in a couple of major reviews.

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

Getting the Most out of Inkjet Printers with SpyderPrint

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I have had a request for a piece detailing the value of Datacolor’s SpyderPrint for recent generations of graphics-grade inkjet printers. Please take a look at the resulting article on Datacolor’s SpyderBlog, if you print your own work.

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

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New-Generation Color Calibrators and Display Gamut Concerns

The latest generation of display calibration products from the major manufacturers use a library of display models to allow them to make more accurate measurements of the gamut of various display types. While this technique increases display calibration accuracy, it can also cause concern amongst users who upgrade from earlier models, only to find that the gamut graph using the new calibrator appears to provide them with a smaller gamut than they were achieving with their older calibrator.

Blue: Older Calibrator. Red: Newer Calibrator

The graph above illustrates this phenomenon. At first glance it would be easy to wonder whether you were somehow “losing gamut” with your newer calibration device.

The reality of the situation is quite different. Both the older and newer calibrators may produce nearly identical results on easy-to-read screen types, but on wide gamut displays or more difficult-to-measure screen types, the newer model is likely to produce more accurate results. These improved results most often mean a reduction in the measure of saturation of the display primaries, especially the green primary, and to a lesser extent the red primary.

This means that the “smaller” gamut being seen when comparing the gamuts of the older and newer display profiles actually indicates a more accurate measurement of the screen. In addition, defining the primaries as less-saturated has the counter-intuitive result of showing colors as more saturated on screen, instead of less.

So if comparisons between your older and newer display calibration tools produces this type of result, rest assured that you are not “losing gamut” but in fact getting both more saturated, and more accurate, color with the newer product.

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

Mountain Lion, Gatekeeper, and Photography Applications

Mountain Lion

Apple’s new OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) operating system for the Mac offers a range of new features, and more parity with iOS, meaning that those of us who switch between iPhones, iPads, and Macs all day long will find fewer differences. This will not be a review of all thats new in Mountain Lion, but instead will focus on one if its larger features, called GateKeeper, and specifically what Gatekeeper means to photographers.

OS Security

You’ve probably noticed all desktop/laptop operating systems ratcheting up security in recent versions. This is a good thing, except where its a bad thing; and bad usually means inconvenient or different. OS X 10.7, for instance, made the User Library invisible, which might keep your parents or your children from doing damage to important files in that location, but it also means you can’t directly access important files stored there, such as ICC profiles. Pasting a line of code into the Console solves that issue, but one still gets the feeling that the playpen is closing in around end users, and we will be allowed to do less and less “under the hood” over time.

Mobile Security versus Desktop Security

iOS is based on the theory that there isn’t really much that should be done under the hood, and the result is an OS that virtually anyone can use, and which seldom needs service or even expert advice when using iOS phones or tablets. But thats not exactly what we’re used to on the Mac. So with each new Mac OS, we will gain more parity with iOS, but with new restrictions in the process.

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper is exactly this type of balancing act. It restricts the types of applications you can load onto your Mac, and where those apps come from. But in order to avoid causing too much backlash from longtime Mac users, Gatekeeper offers three settings. At its highest setting, applications can only be downloaded from the Mac App Store. This offers maximum reassurance to users that they are not loading spyware, malware, or other dangerous stuff onto their computers unintentionally.  But there are many excellent pieces of software not available from the Mac App Store, and software which drives hardware devices is noticeably absent from the Mac App Store as well. So changing the Gatekeeper setting to “high” might be advisable for computers owned by your young children, but it has limitations for those doing advanced graphics and photographic work.

Gatekeeper Defaults

The default setting for Gatekeeper is “medium”. At this setting, Apps can be downloaded from the Mac App Store, and from other locations as well. But only Apps from Apple Certified Developers can be installed without warning bells going off. This means that there is at least reasonable assurance that the App you are installing is not malicious, and offers reasonable peace of mind.

Gatekeeper Settings to Avoid

Setting Gatekeeper to its lowest setting allows apps to be installed even if they are not from a certified developer, and do not include a Digital Certificate. Since there are ways to allow such installations even at the default “medium” setting, there is not much reason to set Gatekeeper to “low”.

What Gatekeeper Doesn’t Do

Gatekeeper does not affect applications you have already installed. So all your existing apps, (even potentially malicious ones) will continue functioning as they always have. And Gatekeeper does not stop you from installing software from an Optical Disc (CD/DVD), since its a download-related tool.

Where Gatekeeper Puts Up Warnings

If you have downloaded an installer for one of your favorite apps previously, and try to install it now that you are running Mountain Lion (and thus have Gatekeeper running) that older installer will not include a digital certificate, and will trigger a warning from Gatekeeper. If your software developers have not kept up with Apple’s new protocols, even currently downloaded Apps may trigger this warning. If this happens, you should double check that the App and Installer in question is legitimate, before you bypass Gatekeeper and install.

How Its Supposed to Work

At the default “medium” setting, Gatekeeper should allow you to install new Mountain Lion-updated installers from all legitimate developers without warnings. Most users will run at this default (few will even know there are alternative settings), and most legitimate software will be digitally signed; so in most cases (or so Apple hopes), end users won’t even know this safety net is in place.

What This Means for Photographers and Designers

The software developers in these fields tend to be quite proactive and knowledgable, so most Mac Apps for graphics and photo uses should be fine. I have already installed Apps using updated Installers from Datacolor and NIK under Mountain Lion with no difficulties. Some of your smaller Apps from the fringe of the industry may be a bit slower to update their products. A note to them letting them know that you aren’t comfortable installing their products until this has been rectified may help speed the process.

The Overall Balance

Gatekeeper does raise the bar and keep malicious software from being installed thoughtlessly, or by accident. It won’t keep all such software off your computer, but given the excellent track-record of the Mac, it should make a safe system even safer. And the occasional inconveniences it may cause are not on the scale that some other Operating System safeguards have caused in the past (anyone remember the constant barrage of verification requests from Windows Vista?) So it seems well worth the effort, for the additional peace of mind.

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