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John's Digital Photography Page

Rev: 08 Apr 2007.


John's personal notes on digital camera (Canon G2), Apple iBook (600MHz, white dual USB with OS X 10.2), iPhoto, etc. These are for my use, but others may benefit. It's all about working around the very sharp edges of a very early (contrary to marketing reports) technology. 4/07: I don't update this page very often, but I have more comment on my blog: iPhoto and Aperture.


Canon Digital Rebel XT

As of 11/2005 this has replaced my G2, which I very much liked. It cost me about $810 with the crummy zoom lens. My review is here. Note in particular I strongly recommend using the advanced configuration menu to change the sync speed for flash photos to 1/200.

Canon G2

Purchased via iBuyDigital 10/02 for about $530. Despite the following criticisms I actually like this camera. You should see what I say about things I don't like. See also Canon G2 links. Be sure to follow the directions for putting the strap on. The first time I put this camera around my neck the strap came apart and I barely caught the camera. (This is one time to read the directions.)

Pro Con
Shutter lag is tolerable if one can get focus lock Focusing. The camera is often very slow to obtain focus lock. This means one presses the #!% shutter button and nothing happens. Manual focus is clumsy and hard to use, so the focus lock problem is serious and sometimes infuriating. Setting to continuous focusing gets rid of the focus lock problem -- by not focusing at all (at least in my testing!). If I want to photograph a moving target, I first get focus lock on a stationery object then wait until my target nears the stable object. Since I've learned more about the enormous depth of field in digital cameras I worry less about focusing.
Good optics, F2 at wide angle. Exposed optics. Uninspiring lens assembly design, silly device for attaching lenses and filters. On the other hand, Nikon is just as bad. In any case I gave up on the various lens protection mechanisms and went "naked". As of year two this works well.
Weak autofocus, useless manual focus. This is the achilles heel of the G2. It took me a long time to recognize this. At 4x6 prints poor focus is not evident, but when blown up to screen size it's painfully obvious. I'd love to use a manual focus option to compensate, but that's unuseable on this camera.
In terms of enlarging images for printing or display on a monitor, I've found focus to be more important than megapixels. It will be a key factor when I buy my replacement for the G2.
RAW Format, OS X file converter. RAW Format: secret specifications. Even worse than Nikon. I'm surprised they get away with this, but most of their serious customers use PhotoShop and they have shared the spec with PhotoShop.
Solid, made in Japan Chunky, and somewhat heavy. The Nikon equivalents are lighter but have smaller lenses.
LCD view panel The worst optical viewfinder ever made. 84% of the frame, and it still tends to chop heads off. I ignore it.
Programmed settings. Inability to save personalized settings. (This is one very nice feature of the G3.)
Macro feature No con, this is quite nice.
CF II support Bundled OS X software is incomplete or of poor quality; Canon refuses to share information with alternative developers. On the other hand the Windows software (installed on Win2K) is even lower quality, with major apps that simply didn't work. Canon needs to get out of the software business (not a core competency), but they need to provide vendors with the specifications needed to support Canon products. Note: using the Canon Windows software one can set a "user name" parameter in the camera. This is a good place to put one's email address.
No SLR vibration, so decent photos at slow shutter speeds! Artificial shutter sound is too loud, even at the quietest setting. Need an optical cue that a picture was taken as well as a much quieter shutter sound. I've come to ignore the crummy viewfinder, so I turned off the shutter sound and just watch the display.
Rapid shoot works well (disable flash) Can't use exposure lock feature if display is turned off.
Can use external flash. Flash exposures are often poor. One gets correct exposure only between about 6 and 12 feet away, otherwise pictures with the built-in flash are either under or over exposed.
  The camera will power down while images are being transferred to a laptop, even when the camera is plugged in. With JPG images I can transfer about 25 before this happens. If you use Canon's software you get a warning dialog from the software, but if you use iPhoto it simply gives an error message and an empty .jpg file is created. Need to disable auto-off during those transfers, or just give up and use a CF card reader.
  Automatic white balance is unreliable in daylight. Fails to recognize overcast light, must set this manually or images will be overly blue.
OS X and Windows versions of remote control and image capture/RAW conver software No OS X version of photostitch application. OS X version of ImageBrowser is not worth bothering with since iPhoto does more things better.
Good exposure lock controls. The exposure lock works well for difficult to expose bright daylight shots (spot exposure on subject then lock) but it requires having the display turned on (which is hard to see in bright daylight!). Also, it's only retained for one shot. I tend to use the Tv settings to get the right exposure, then switch to manual exposure with the correct F stop and shutter speed.
  Flimsy cover for camera power/USB connections. My AC Adapter clearly has a mismatched plug/cord that tends to fall out, I think is a manucaturer's defect. I'm sure they buy generic chargers.
F stop is limited to F8. This would imply limited depth of field for a 35mm camera, but digital cameras with small image capture devices have enormous depth of field. F8 is roughly comparable to F16 on a 35mm camera.

Digital Problems

Digital advantages (all contenders)



iBuyDigital, dBuy, etc

[After the experience @ late 2002 described below, I ordered a Canon Digital Elph 230 from iBuyDigital in April 2003. It was as easy as ordering from Amazon; no hassles, no f/u inquiries, I ordered ground shipping and they shipped 2nd day FedEx but charged me for ground. Makes me wonder how they're making money! So I liked them well enough the first time despite the hassles, and the second time I got great service and no hassles for a great price. The 2nd go round I ended up using the web site, I get the sense their processes have improved.]

iBuyDigital and dBuy are the same company. Despite the issues below, I got what I wanted and I paid what they said. So I like them. In the past few months a trade magazine did an expose of these New York based cut-throat companies; iBuyDigital and its aliases emerged relatively unscathed. They appear to be very sharp customers, but relatively honest.

They make almost nothing on the camera, so they push hard to sell accessories where they do have a margin. I think the sales people are also paid on commission. If you don't like who you talk with, then try again. I think you're best off to research via their site, but order by phone; they have problems with integration of their phone order and their web ordering systems (poor processes). Be sure to write down everyone's name. You should not expect the "freshest" manufactured batch -- they probably buy cameras that weren't selling elsewhere.

Here's the sequence I went through. It worked out in the end:

1. received email requesting confirmation of order
2. called -- told had to order lens extension to fit filter, wouldn't canncel filter order, cancelled entire order
3. several calls and give up unti confirm order is indeed cancelled status
4. called customer service -- confirmed the order was cancelled
5. two more calls until get a calm and efficient salesperson who simply shipped camera with no pressure or nonsense.
6. received another email saying ORIGINAL order needed to be confirmed. Called again, spoke with a woman who said order was NOT cancelled (systems problem -- they can cancel in system, but the printed paperwork is the REAL order ticket and cannot be recalled via a system cancellation). She cancelled it. Confirmeded the phone order was in the system.
7. received camera as promised and was charged the promised amount.


The Canon G2's built-in flash behavior is odd. In my testing in P or auto mode the shutter speed is set to 1/60, the f stop is wide open, and I think the flash intensity may vary to adjust exposure. I've tested using a shutter speed up to 1/250, and I get better results at that speed. The images are much sharper (no motion artifact), the flash seems to sync at this speed without a problem, and the exposure is more accurate than with a 1/60 setting (where ambient light has more of a contribution). The flash seems to generate the same output irregardless of the F-stop, so manually increasing the F-stop seems to just under-expose the image. Not too impressive!

The Canon G2 has a hot shoe, but it's flash support is weak (the G3 is supposed to be significantly better). Even with the approved Canon flash ($250-$400) the flash/camera coordination is bizarre. See 550EX+ST-E2=E-TTL for details. Again, I'm NOT impressed!

With very little knowledge, I bought a $30 Vivitar 560D bounce flash (see warnings below!). This flash is not supposed to support autofocus cameras, much less digital cameras. I set my ISO to 100, my shutter speed to 1/125, and I use F 5.6 to F 4.0 depending on distance, bounce, ceiling brightness, etc. With this setup I get really quite good results. I'm happy, but Vivitar tells me the trigger voltage for this strobe is 15Volts! Canon is said to recommend a maximum trigger voltage of 6V for their camera.

The 560D's trigger voltage is well within the operating range of most cameras, but it is possibly too high for a Canon camera. Old strobes used over 200V (mechanical trigger)!

Additionally, the contacts on the base of the Vivitar 560D don't line up with the G2 hot shoe; two of them are aligned but one is between two of the G2 contacts. In any case the flash switch is very cheap and is constantly being turned to on when the flash is in storage; the AA batteries are then drained. There's no auto-off if the flash to save the batteries if the flash is left on or accidentally turned on.

So I cannot recommend this flash for the G2. On the other hand I give kudos to Vivitar for responding to my emails. It took them a while, but they did it.

Secrets of Powershot Flash Photography is a superb reference that fills in some missing information. It includes a link to Photo Strobe Trigger Voltages.

Here are some other resources to look at

Canon Digital Elph s230

In April of 2003, as a footnote to the purchase of my G2, I bought a Digital Elph s230 for my wife from iBuyDigital. This is a very popular, ultra-compact 3 MPixel 2x zoom camera. I won't do a full review of it, but here are some quick impressions. Overall I'm pretty awed by this camera. My wife took great photos with it, and she is neither a photo geek nor a computer geek. I highly recommend it. (1/05: replaced this with the s410 -- 4 megapixels, very good autofocus, otherwise quite similar..)

Flash Reader: PQI Travel Flash 2.0 USB 6 in 1 Reader

A CF reader is faster than using the camera, saves batteries, and facilitates use of multiple cameras. This is a quick review on one I bought.

PQI USB 2.0 Multi Function Flash Card Reader
Purchased GoogleGear: 80977 PQI Travel Flash 2.0 USB 6 in 1 Reader: $35.50
Manufacturer's site: http://www.pqi.com.tw/eng/ourproduct/Multi Slot.htm

Review of USB 1.0 predecessor device on Tom's Hardware: http://www.tomshardware.com/storage/20021028/card_readers-10.html

Tested: iBook 600 with a 256MB CF card

Macintosh support (per documentation):

GoogleGear web site and external packaging claims Mac 8.6 plus support. Internal package insert and Word (.doc) file on included mini-CD state that only 10.2 is supported (without driver). The insert has the most recent documentation; it states Mac drivers are "under development". As of 4/03 the web site has no Mac drivers for this device, and there's NO mention of Mac support on the manufacturer's site. There are Mac drivers available for download for their older USB 1.0 device.


No problems at all with OS X 10.2.3 and my iBook 600 with a 256MB CF card. This platform does not support USB 2.0, so I could only assess USB 1.0 support. Seems fine.

This is an ELEGANT flash reader. It claims support for Compact Flash (the only thing I tested), Memory Stick, CF I/II and Microdrive, Secure Digital, SmartMedia and MultiMedia Card. It is designed for use with a laptop when traveling but it ships with a very well made USB extension cable for use with a desktop machine.

The device is a very compact, light, rectangle, it occupies about the surface area of two CF cards. It has a short, stubby USB cable that is stored in a rear slot. The rectangular device comes with a very nice "leather" carrying case.

USB 2.0 support is not relevant for most Mac users, though I will use it someday on my PCs. Otherwise this is an unrivaled solution -- a great combination of portable design and flexibility.

Apple iPhoto

Problems: iPhoto 2 through 5

iPhoto has longstanding problems. I knew of them when I started with iPhoto 2, but I took the gamble that the large user community, and the prominence of Apple's multimedia iLife suite, would pressure Apple to improve the product. That hasn't worked. If you're a PC user you should not switch to a Mac for digital photo management, instead I'd recommend Picasa (free from Google). If you're a Mac user, take a close look at iView MediaPro -- though that's a risky choice too (small market, hard for vendor to compete against iLife).

If you proceed with iPhoto, know the risks: (See also iPhoto Links and AppleScript support in iPhoto 2.)

  1. Data Lock - You can check in, but you can't check out.
    You can export images -- though it's tricky to export both originals and modifications. You can't, however, migrate your albums, smart albums, comments, keywords, captions, etc. etc. I thought iView MediaPro would take advantage of this and sell and import utility, but they haven't. So when you use iPhoto, you marry iPhoto.
  2. Reliability & Quality control
    iPhoto has had persistent problems with corruption of its database. The iPhoto cache can become corrupted, requiring a rebuild (Rebuilding the iPhoto Library (shift-option restart))
  3. Library Management and Library sharing
    This is what I'll deal with here.
  4. Pathetic documentation (help file only)
    Buy a book
  5. Varied
    Problems with Exif/PNG header data not being preserved, with ColorProfile handling and EXIF Orientation Tag. (Problems vary depending on version of iPhoto)
    Limited control over "originals" (want to transform to TIFF then edit repeatedly) and when saves occur.

EXIF Orientation Tag

Newer cameras and newer imaging software support the EXIF orientation tag. This metadata is embedded in a JPEG file, and rendering software orients the displayed image based on the tag. So if you hold your camera vertically the image dispays correctly without manual rotation.


Rebuilding an iPhoto Library

I use iPhoto Library Manager. I began getting "not enough disk space" warnings when running iLM, but there was plenty of room. I worked with the superb developer of iLM and eventually decided to rebuild my iPhoto Library. I held down opt-shift and clicked on iPhoto. Rebuilding a Library of about 1180 photos took about an hour. When all was done my photo count had dropped by one but iLM worked again. The problem was in iPhoto, not iLM. A few things I learned about a rebuild:

  1. Date information associated with "rolls" (import sessions) may be lost, resulting in a random sequencing and renumbering of rolls. However rolls that were created by dragging and dropping a folder do retain date and name information
  2. Images that have problems may not be a part of the new library (I lost 1 image of 1180).
  3. I don't know if a Library rebuild will preserve comments associate with a roll. It might!

I edited Apple's "Photo Summary" AppleScript so it simply creates a text file of image file names. If you run this on the new library and the saved older version (I use iPhoto Library Manager 2.0 to switch libraries) you can then run a file diff utility (such as the CVS utility in the Developer Tools Project Builder or one of many shareware apps) to see what's been lost. You can then track down the missing image in the file system and try to rescue it. (This script is pretty simple and it's a hack, if you want a copy just email me.)

Merging iPhoto Libraries (rev. 9/06) (aka: combining, unifying, integrating, joining, importing)

[Update 9/2/06: Be very, very careful with this. As of 9/06 there doesn't seem to be ANY Apple supported way to join Libraries. I think the partial support built into earlier versions of iPhoto may not work as well as it once did. The method I'd used may corrupt iPhoto's Library -- or somehow contribute to complex problems. It is beyond astonishing that Apple hasn't provided a way to combine or merge Libraries -- other than migrating to the still unfinished and agonizingly slow Aperture product.]

The Problem

iPhoto's performance and user interface issues have lead many users to split up their photo collection into Libraries, using apps like iPhoto Library Manager. This is very awkward of course, and for some projects one may wish to reverse this split.

There is no documented support in iPhoto for merging Libraries. Astounding. I think Apple feels that if you need to merge Libraries, you've outgrown iPhoto.

I list the techniques I know of below.


See also:

Issues with Approaches

III. Multi-user account and shared Library

I use my regular and Admin account for this. It seems to preserve titles and comments but not keywords. It does not preserve any of the image/album relationships. I'm not sure if it preserves ratings. Overall, it's pretty marginal. Pogue and Story describe it in their iPhoto book, so it's almost semi-approved. Pogue and Story say one has to correct ownership using IPLM. I haven't done that and it seemed to work, but of course there may be problems ahead.

V. The Read-Only Image with XML File Method DANGER - MAY CORRUPT LIBRARY

[I may remove this from this page shortly. See this blog posting. It may contribute to a complex and subtle corruption of an iPhoto Library.]

This fools iPhoto into thinking you're importing from an iPhoto CD or DVD, but it will work with any sized Library. This method was developed by Nick N as an improvement on an older method I had. My method required one to create a very large temporary image file for each imported library. Nick realized that one could create a single image file with a hardcoded path, and just rename any Library you want to import to match the path.

This method preserves images, image captions, image comments,  user-entered image date and time data, keywords(?) (see note below, may need to reenter keywords once on receiving Library). It seems to preserve roll names and date information, I'm not sure about roll comments. It is possible to preserve album names, but not album comments; in practice it's better to preserve album groupings by using keywords. Album comments must be recreated manually.

The secret is a small XML file that in iPhoto 4 and iPhoto 5 points is at the root of each iPhoto Library on disk or CD. The method is described below:

Creating the Disk Image and IPHOTO.XML file (one-time)

1. Create the IPHOTO.XML file

This is mine. I you use the same convention I use (ImportLibrary is what you name the Library placed in your Pictures folder), then you only need to change "jfaughnan" to your user name.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
<plist version="1.0">

By way of comparison, on the left is the original IPHOTO.XML file iPhoto uses, on the right is the one I use.

060114_2.png (45987 bytes)

2. Put the XML file in a folder called ImportLibrary (name doesn't really have to match, but it's a good convention)

060114_1.png (6596 bytes)

3. Use Disk Utility to create a READ ONLY image from the folder:

060114_3.png (130409 bytes)


060114_4.png (67626 bytes)


060114_5.png (49585 bytes)

5. Now you're done with your onetime image creation work.

Advanced Tip: The above method creates an 8MB image. There's an alternative approach with that creates a 440K or so image. First create the smallest empty image you can -- I specify 1K. It will be read/write. Then copy the XML file to it. Then convert it to read only. It will be under 500K.

Using the Disk Image and IPHOTO.XML file

WARNING: I recommend backing up all libraries several different ways before attempting a merge, and keep the backups forever. You may find out weeks later something very bad happened.

  1. Move Library you want to import into your Pictures folder. Clean it up prior to import (below)
  2. Rename it ImportLibrary.
  3. Mount the disk image you created above (ImportLibrary.dmg)
  4. Start iPhoto. ImportLibray will show up in iPhoto as a mounted Library.
  5. Click on the ImportImage Library. Drag and drop it into the target iPhoto Library's folder tree.
  6. iPhoto will import images, placing them in a folder named after the Imported Library. The number in that folder should match the number in ImportLibrary. The total number of images in your merged Library should match the original number plus the number in ImportLibrary.
  7. Test the new merged Library.
  8. Use Smart Folders and Keywords to create new Folders as desired. Manually enter any Folder comments you wanted to preserve. Compare and review Roll information. NOTE: The keywords you assigned in your ImportLibrary will be seen, but as of iPhoto 4 they will not show up in the current Libraries Keyword List. You can add them manually. They'll work just fine in Smart Folder queries either way.
  9. Complain to Apple about this ridiculous process for merging Libraries. Feel free to reference these instructions. Cheers!

Clean-up of ImportLibrary

Cleaning up the library you're importing will reduce probelms.

  1. Simplify albums, eliminating all you don't need. That way you have fewer albums to recreate. Note which albums have important comments, you'll be able to view these and copy and paste them manually. If you drag and drop the entire ImportLibrary you will need to manually recreate both Albums and Album comments in the new merged Library.
  2. I use keywords to pass Album memberships. I assign a keyword to match the album name, with a unique prefix to avoid "collision" with existing keywords in the target Library. (Example: "2002Library_Slideshow" could be a keyword.)
  3. Review roll information. Let me know if your roll comments are preserved.
  4. Consider running the 'Find Unassigned Images" AppleScript (download from Apple's iPhoto AppleScript page) to locate any images not in albums you wish to assign keywords too.

My Techniques


Printing Photos and Print Albums

I thought printing was a peculiar curse of digital photography, but "Socrates" corrected me:

Printing is the curse of ALL photography and has been for a hundred years. 35 mm. has been the most popular format for probably fifty years. Until very recently (with 4X6 paper), there was NO paper available that matched the 3X2 aspect ratio. We had a choice of 3.5X5 or 5X7 or 8X10. The 8X10 was perfect for a 4X5 view camera used by professional portrait photographers. The smaller sizes were "almost" the 4X5 aspect ratio ...

In the case of digital photography, most sensors follow the convention of monitors: 640:480 = 4:3; on the other hand 35 mm film has a ratio of 3:2. Not quite the same. The most popular print size, 4x6, is a good match to 35mm film, but not to most digital sensors. (BUT, Apple's photobooks expect the 4:3 ratio.) If you print to a 4x6 paper; either there's cropping (most common) or dark bands are seen (better really, but unsightly).

This list of aspect ratios helps clarify the problem:

4x5: 0.80 (view camera and 8x10 prints)
3x4: 0.75 (most digital cameras and Apple's PhotoBook)
5x7: 0.71 (print size)
3.5x5: 0.7 (print size)
2x3: 0.67 (35mm and 4x6 prints)

It turns out that 5x7 prints are mid-way crop between 35mm and most digital. So printing at 5x7 may be a better choice for many digital prints. These are a bit big for many albums, but if one only prints a few images maybe it's not a bad choice.  When working in iPhoto I crop to either 3:2 or 4:3 depending on what works better and whether I expect to print (favors 3:2). I get away with this ONLY because of the "revert to original" option in iPhoto. Since Mac photos print "dark" (gamma problems) always be sure the images are "bright".

When I decide to get prints made for general (not fancy) distribution, I do this:

  1. Make an "album" of prints I want to export. Export them.
  2. Open in GraphicConverter. Use the browser and the "crop for photo service" context menu uption. With this fantastic tool I can zip through 100 photos in a few minutes, quickly cropping for printing. Put images to be printed on CD. If I want more than one copy I just duplicate the images -- that way I don't have to fuss with specifying copy number when printing.
  3. Using BetterHTMLExport 2.0 I create a series of pages of 100x100 thumnails with titles beneath them using the "contact sheet" option. I print 4 columns and five rows on a grayscale LaserWriter; in Safari I set the font very small on my display. The results are quite decent. I put the pages in the front of the album as an index. My photo albums are all standard ring binders with museum grade photo inserts. So my index pages fit in easily.
  4. Bring CD to Walmart or Target. Walmart charges .26/print for decent results. Make "one of everything". It takes an hour for prints. More efficient than upload, mail, etc.

A few other notes and tips ...

  1. Nikon and Canon prosumer cameras have 3:2 aspect ratios, however the new Olympus prosumer line uses 4:3!
  2. When shooting, leave lots of margins.
  3. Consider ordering 5x7 prints if a 4x6 crop won't work (less cropping)

Color Profiles

Most of the people who talk about Color Profiles are hopelessly confused. I know I'm confused, but at least I acknowledge it! The following notes will probably harm more than help. Adam Engst's appendix for iPhoto 2 for Mac OS X Visual QuickStart Guide has a good discussion (superb book, btw.)

Color management is a real mess. It's fundamentally insanely complex, but incomplete, inconsistent, competing, and contradictory software standards conspire to make things even worse. Frankly, I'm amazed we get the results we do! (Probably because the human brain is really good at transforming odd inputs into expected forms.)

See also My Techniques.

General Discussions

From Apple Discussions - re importing and embedding color profiles

You can match your images to the sRGB color space, which is a PC-like color space with a 2.2 gamma. Standard Mac gamma is 1.8, that's why they look darker on a PC. You can either do that or just embed your monitor's profile into the images, but that won't help ... because their web browser may not respect the embedded profile.

1) set your working space in Photoshop to be sRGB, and when you open your images in Photoshop the first time, "match" them from Apple RGB to sRGB. Check the Photoshop color prefs to enable "ask when opening", that way when you open an image it'll ask you what to do with the color info.

or 2) drag your images onto the Applescript app "Match to specific profile", in /Library/ColorSync/Scripts. This will match images from Generic RGB Profile to sRGB Profile. You can drag several images, or a folder of images.

or 3) drag your images onto the Applescript app "Embed display profile". This will embed your display's profile into the images, so any ICC profile aware application may use the profile to display it correctly.

See this Google Usenet thread as well.

AppleScript ColorSync Tools in /Library/ColorSync/Scripts

See also /Library/Image Capture and /Library/Scripts

ColorSync (Mac OS X 10.2)

ColorSync Use

Text in part from Apple's help files.

  1. Displays preference Color panel allows one to match display to a profile. Click on "Calibrate" to launch the Display Calibrator. The Display Calibrator can help you adjust your display to ensure accurate color. The calibrator creates a profile you can select for the display.
  2. Next, open ColorSync Utility and ColorSync preferences and specify color profiles for the capture, display, proofing, and final output devices you use. (Profiles for most devices are automatically registered, so you're probably all ready to go. To see which profiles are currently ready to use, open ColorSync Utility.) [Note: there should be a profile for "generate for web" or "generate for photo service", but there is not!]
  3. Finally, turn on the color management features of your image capture, editing, and output applications. [Note: iPhoto does not appear to support ColorSync.]

More advanced discussion: The following is a lightly edited post by the author of a book on color management. This all fits my much more limited experience.

From: Chris Murphy Subject: ColorSync & Color Management
Real World Color Management by Peachpit Press, ISBN 0201773406
Free Photoshop 7 Printing Tipsheet, on how to avoid double-color management is here

Myth 1: ColorSync is for users. Sorry, but it isn't. It's for developers. ColorSync is a set of APIs for programmers to integrate color management functionality into their applications. Instead of each developer reinventing the wheel to utilize ICC profiles, they can make calls to various ColorSync APIs. It's like pre-written code. This means that application must specifically ask ColorSync to take action. It doesn't happen automatically (at least not yet). The major applications (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat, Freehand, QuarkXPress, and CorelDRAW support ICC profiles either through a built-in engine, or by using ColorSync. Some can use both, depending on user preference.)

Myth 2: ColorSync is the only option for color management, and its what you want to use. The major applications manage color documents for on-screen purposes, but they can also color manage them at print time. ColorSync can be called by printer drivers as well. So it's possible for the application to color manage at print time, and for the printer driver to do it again. Double color management is bad news, and must be avoided by using either application-level color management, or printer driver color management. The trick is knowing how to disable the one you don't want to use, and correctly configure the one you do want to use. Unfortunately, and surprisingly, there still isn't a mechanism for the application to talk to the printer driver and say "Hey buddy, I'm going to do the color management! So don't do anything!" More on this later.

Myth 3: ColorSync is on by default. The major apps use color management to varying degrees by default. But thus far, I haven't seen a single printer driver use anything but proprietary color management by default. Epson defaults to Color Controls>Automatic on OS 9, and on OS X and later Windows drivers they are using Color Controls>Photo-realistic.

Myth 4: Canned profiles (the ones that come with your hardware) are useless. Most of them probably are useless, but not all of them. The most dangerous canned profiles are display profiles. The latest output devices (inkjet printers and color lasers) come with fairly reasonable profiles. They're not perfect, but they've improved in quality considerably in the last 12-18 months. The catch is how to find out how well they work. Most people don't have calibrated/profiled displays, so the behavior of the display is questionable to begin with. Even with a good custom printer profile there would be a screen to print discrepancy. Another common problem is how to configure applications correctly for printing (double color management).

Myth 5: Consistency of your equipment is really good. You might think so, but it really isn't. CRTs will go through 50% of their expected life in 3-6 months. The first 6 months of use are a horrible experience for a monitor. They undergo an enormous amount of change in that time. Monitors noticeably change behavior in a two week period. For practical use, recalibration of a CRT would be once per month. Color laser printers are notoriously inconsistent due to their sensitivity to temperature and humidity. Expect to reprofile often until built-in calibration gets better with consumer level printers. Inkjet printers come with profiles from the manufacturer based on manufacturer ink and paper. Using a 3rd party paper will absolutely change the behavior of the printer, let alone using 3rd party inks - even if the appearance of the ink cartridge or paper surface and color look the same as manufacturer paper.

Myth 6: That you want accurate color. Plenty of people do not want accurate color. They want pleasing color. They aren't the same thing. Some people will prefer the results they get by playing with the controls offered in the printer driver. For example with Epson printer drivers, using Color Controls>Photo-realistic and then adjusting the sliders.

Myth 7: Inkjet printers are CMYK devices. If the printer is not a PostScript printer (or driven by a PostScript RIP), it is considered an RGB output device. This is because the print path from application to the driver, and the screening algorithm used by the driver to convert pixels into dots expect to work on RGB data. If you try to send CMYK data, it's converted behind the scenes to RGB whether you like it or not. The printer driver is responsible for the CMYK (or CcMmYK or CcMmYKk) conversion. [If you use application-level color management at print time (such as from Photoshop's Print with Preview window, under More Options>Color Management), you can convert your CMYK images at print time only to RGB by selecting an appropriate printer/media profile for your printer.]

Myth 8: Color is easy. Color is actually really complicated. It's amazingly complicated. It's just so natural for us that it seems like computers should be able to handle it easily. But the reality is, color models aren't perfect. They can only attempt to predict the color we see because we can't even measure color. We can only measure stimulus (the light emitted from a monitor or light reflected from a print) - but those lightwaves don't become color until they hit our retina, go through a biochemical process, and get interpreted by our brain. That isn't something we can measure - yet.

Other observations: iPhoto 1.1.1 does not use ColorSync. But the printer driver can still use ColorSync. It's just that the results are less than ideal if the application doesn't also use ColorSync (or some other means of using ICC profiles). iPhoto 2.0 does use ColorSync to some degree, but has a couple of bugs that should be fixed soon. Gimp-print drivers do not use ICC profiles or ColorSync because they rely exclusively on CUPS, which currently doesn't use ICC profiles or ColorSync. (If you see ColorSync as an option in the printer driver, you aren't using a Gimp-print driver.)

Photo Scanners

Not really digital photography, but, heck, this is my page. OS X support for scanners is dismal, but VueScan seems to work for many people (see below):

Options for OS X

See Macintosh Products Guide, but don't believe Apple when they say these devices work with OS X. This only means they might work with OS X. I ended up with an Epson 1660 Photo scanner; the software is equally dismal on OS X and Windows. Also, the scanner glass was quite dirty, I had to dismantle the scanner to clean it. I've also set up two people with a Canon CanoScan LIDE 30. I recommend that scanner. The OS X install is poorly document and weird, but it works.

See also




Canon Specific

iPhoto Specific (mostly)


Books and related

Standards for Managing Output and Display Issues

Displaying Images Online

Image Editing Applications

Guides and Tutorials

TASI Advice - Creating Digital Images
Probably the best single web resource on digital images, though it sometimes seems to miss the most important points (data > knowledge). In depth discussions.
Kodak Digital Learning Center
Includes Image File Format Overview that promotes FPX



Author: John G. Faughnan.  The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. Pages are updated on an irregular schedule; suggestions/fixes are welcome but they may take weeks to years to be incorporated. Anyone may freely link to anything on this site and print any page; no permission is needed for citing, linking,  printing, or distributing printed copies.