Sunday, September 14, 2008

Linux Photography: Monitor Calibration

I have been testing various software packages as I try to determine the state of the art for photography under Linux.  One of the first steps for serious photography is working on a calibrated monitor.  On Windows, I used a software solution for some time -- PaintShop Pro's monitor calibration tool.  Using this tool, you use sliders to match the intensity of a square on the screen with a standard square.  This is done with various intensities of red, green and blue.  Each colour can be adjusted independently.  The results of this operation, which takes only a couple of minutes, is saved in an ICC profile which is used by Windows, and by the various photographic applications.

This method is certainly the right price (zero), and is reasonably effective.  However, due to some problems getting good output from an outside print shop, I recently switched to a hardware-based calibration tool.  I bought Spyder3 Pro, which uses a colorimeter to measure the output of the screen.  It is largely an automatic process, only requiring you to manually adjust the monitor's hue to get it within a certain range.  So far, I'm quite pleased with the results.

On Linux, the monitor calibration options seem to be quite limited.  I have found a couple of tools so far, GAMMApage and Argyle CMS.  Both tools are free.

GAMMApage is similar to the tool I used from PaintShop Pro.  In this case, there are only three squares to match, one red, one green and one blue.  The output from the operation becomes an adjustment for the X11 windows system, rather than an ICC profile.  Installation of this tool involves unpacking a zipped tar file, and to run, you simply ensuring that the executable python file is on your path.  It's not a fancy tool, but it works fairly well.  

One drawback on Ubuntu is that I will have to recalibrate everytime I boot my system.  GAMMApage has an option to save the settings on the X windows startup.  However, this fails when I try to run it.

Argyle CMS is a tool that supports a range of monitor calibration hardware, from a range of Gretag-Macbeth/X-Rite hardware, as well as Spyder.  Unfortunately, they only support Spyder 2.  I tried to run it with my Spyder 3, but I didn't even get to first base.  The tool requires some information extracted from the installation disk, and this extraction operation failed on my Spyder 3 installation CD.

So, for the time being, I will use GAMMApage, and see how it goes.  From my experience with PaintShop Pro, I know that this solution is sufficient for much of my work, but in the end, the ability to reliably reproduce images on my printer, and deal with outside companies requires a professionally calibrated monitor, and a solution like GAMMApage is problematic.

. . . Rob Williams