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Is the white balance card enough or would one of these work better? I know there are sometimes certain objects in the environment that I can calibrate against, but I often get worse or unpredictable results.

  • Expodisc
  • Coloright
  • SpyderCube
  • Photoflex QuickDisc
  • Gretag Macbeth Colorchecker
  • More???

Considering

  • Price/Value
  • Usability
  • Results
  • Durability

Note: considered this post already ( Techniques to set custom white balance? ), but I guess I'm looking for specific tools and for your experience on using them -

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2  
It should be noted that a color checking card, like Gretag Macbeth ColorChecker, is for a different purpose than selecting white balance. It is literally for "color checking", a process by which you verify color accuracy or even generate custom camera profiles to render color either more accurately, or more to your taste. It is a more painstaking process than selecting white balance, and generally not necessary unless color correctness is a critical factor of your work. That is more frequently the case in studio or product photography that is for sale or proofing. –  jrista Oct 25 '12 at 1:37

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The range of devices available reflects a certain obsession with white balance amongst photographers, that disregards two key facts about white balance:

  • White balance only really works when all sources of light are exactly the same colour. If you have multiple lightsources then there is no one setting that will give you accurate colours in all areas. Even a person standing on a grassy lawn will be lit by white light from above and green reflected light from below.

  • White balance affects the mood of the scene and therefore accurate white balance isn't always the best choice for a certain image.

Having said that, personally I use a Gretag Macbeth colour checker, as it gives you more than just white balance, it also for example let you check the camera is reproducing skin tones accurately. But I only use it when

  1. I'm in complete control of lighting and reflections.
  2. For some reason I need the colours to be really accurate.

The rest of the time I pick a random neutral-enough object in the scene, or just set the white balance by eye in the RAW conversion.

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"I pick a random neutral-enough object in the scene" - Exactly what I do 100% of the time. –  dpollitt Oct 24 '12 at 16:08
    
If you often use the same camera, you can measure its white ballance ratios for common lighting conditions up front. Digital sensors are quite linear with light intensity, so the only question is the relative weighting of color channels. This is only two degrees of freedom since you can declare one color as 1.0 or any fixed number. For example, I have pre-stored "sunlight" correction for my camera, which works quite well. Cloudy can be different since there are different clouds, but its still surprising how often generic cloudy works most of the time. –  Olin Lathrop Oct 24 '12 at 23:00

The primary problem is that what our human eyes see as 'white' isn't white at all. Our eyes (well brain really) automatically adjust, and we don't really 'notice' the impact of white balance. A white piece of paper may look white to you, but much more like blue to the camera. This explains the need for a calibrated white balance reference: you know that this is what the camera would read as 'white' (grey to you and me).

The second issue of why so many? Because photographers have money, visit web forums and talk each other into buying new gear :)

Many have different use cases, like the expodisc, being simple to use and attach. Others serve a broader function other than whitebalance, like the Macbeth Color checker.

Me? I use a Whitbal. Its calibrated, portable, waterproof (plastic) and extremely durable (very thick plastic).

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