Thursday, October 7, 2021

Which Camera Has The Best "Color Science"?

Also in this issue:

  • Talk to the Beard
  • In the Pipeline
  • Pretty Pictures

Which Camera Has The Best "Color Science"?

Image courtesy Wikipedia

You see the term Color Science bandied around a lot.  The topic is most important to videographers, as it's important to them that all cameras shooting a scene have the same "look", necessitating that all video cameras come from the same manufacturer.

All Color Science really means is "How the camera renders colors" - Sony is famous for being the most accurate; whereas Canon is known for pleasing skin tones.  The rendered output is determined by the Bayer RGB color array sitting on top of the sensor, plus the demosaicing algorithm essential to creating the color image.

Of course this may be common knowledge to many of you.  If you want a good introduction check out this well-explained video by Gerald Undone.  What's not commonly known is this insight about the different filter arrays posited by the editor of Cameracraft Magazine, David Kilpatrick, who had the gall to proclaim that the camera with the best color ever belonged to -- the Konica Minolta 5D!  

What's behind such heresy?  Here's an excerpt from a comment thread he made on a recent Facebook post explaining his proclamation:


• David Kilpatrick

The 7D was superb for colour but the 5D just betters it. After that, the true RGB of the 6 megapixel sensor in KM's implementation was never seen again. Although some tests don't show it to be better than competitors, both those cameras had colour far better than Canon or Nikon, and also better than the Sony A100 of 2006.

 • Gary L. Friedman

David Kilpatrick, I'd like to learn more about that. What was it about Minolta's implementation that made it better?

 • David Kilpatrick

Gary at the time the 6 megapixel sensors from Sony were fitted with an RGB filter pack which normally meant a minimum ISO of 200 - Nikon D70 for example shortly after the KM D7D. The CCD is basically the same silicon, but the filter pack is different. The Nikon has weaker RGB colours, which means more crosstalk between the R-G-B channels, but less prone to white balance problems and colour noise (the extreme would be removal of the RGB filters entirely which results in a BW image and no colour noise at all!). The KM has stronger RGB filters, more narrow-cut, less crosstalk but making higher ISO settings slightly more prone to colour noise, and cutting the base ISO to 100. Canon's APS-C CMOS of the same period uses even less colour density in the filters, their colour was reconstructed from raw the same way an old faded colour photo can be restored. The processing was clever because it managed to make all Caucasian and many Japanese/Asian skin colours look almost the same pink; the D7D in contrast renders a much wider range of flesh tones, and will show tanned, yellow, rubicund and shades. 

Wedding photographers liked the Canon results because all the people in a group tended to look much the same. Remember, a competitor at the time was the Foveon based Sigma SD9. That extracted colour out of almost no information at all and most people ended up looking the same yellow!

Personally, I much preferred the greater colour discrimination and higher saturation (without boosting) of the KM/Sony sensor images. To an extent this has remained a long-term difference between Sony and Canon even in the CMOS era. The A100, 200 and 300 series had progressively better high ISO noise performance and I think a lot of this was down to the filter pack including IR-cut and lo-pass filter fine tuning. The final CCD-based model made, the Alpha 350 (14 megapixels APS-C) has a unique colour rendering which preferred rather exquisite colours at ISO 100 over gaining high ISO low noise - it's best used under ISO 800. From the A500 series onwards, CMOS changed things again and was the origin of the EXMOR series. Colour extraction from raw data has improved so much, with Sony drawing on know-how first from DxO and then from Phase One and I reckon Sony still has an edge over Canon. Others see it the other way round.

 I love surrounding myself with this kind of competence!  Subscribe to Cameracraft Magazine today, and get a dose of David's (and mine - I'm the Associate Editor for the U.S, you know :-) ) experience in every issue!  A healthy mix of photographers' mind games and technical insights you just won't find anywhere else.

Talk to the Beard

One-on-One Photography tutoring via Zoom is now available!  Message me for details.  How would you like to improve?  What feature don't you fully understand?

Am also continuing to do Zoom lectures for photo clubs.  I've even been asked by the Royal Photographic Society to put together a new talk for their needs!  Looking forward to that one.  

Email me at Gary at Friedman Archives dot com to learn more!

In the Pipeline

The Spanish version of the A1 book is finally out!  Feel free to help spread the word, not only of this title but all titles that have been translated into Spanish, French, and German.

Also, version 1.05 of the A1 book (in English) has also been issued.  Email me (Gary at Friedman Archives dot com) if you haven't received your free upgrade already.

Other than that, waiting for the Sony A7 IV to be introduced at the end of October.

In the meantime, I'm also setting other projects in motion:

Also still getting the new studio up and running.  Never a dull moment over here.

From the Archives

The blog has been a little too technical lately.  So here are some pretty pictures:

Sunset at Hilltop - Minolta XE-7

Surfer Dudette - Minolta SRT-101

Welcome Home Desert Storm Parade - Minolta 9xi

Pismo Beach - Sony RX100 III

Singapore - Sony A900

Santa Monica Pier - Sony A77

Welder - Sony A99

Lava Flow in Hawaii - Sony A550

Mont Blanc - Sony A100

Zoomin' in LA - Sony A900

Boston Common - Sony RX100 III

Top of the Space Needle - Sony RX100 II

Illustration Mode - Original Sony RX100

Next month: My attempt at immortality (!). 

Until next time,
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman


  1. I used to shoot Canon and now am totally Sony mirrorless. I like color and the Sony does an excellent job. And since I like color I normally shoot in Vivid mode. Just turns my crank!

    1. We all should have our crank turned every now and then. :-)

  2. Interesting article. I really liked the colors that came from the foveon SD9. My encouraged my twin brother to get the 6mp Konica Minolta years ago. His wife loved it and shot with it for years.

  3. I was partial to the SD9. My twin brother shot with the Konica Minolta 6mp digital camera and loved it.

  4. Hi Gary
    Hope you are well :-)
    I 100% agree with Kilpatrick, miss my KM5D which unfortunately died and the dealer offered a swap to A100….not the same

  5. Still have both (KM5D and KM7D FBF repaired as new), and I use them now and then, yes for the wonderfull colors with my KM 200F2.8.

    1. Where did you get your 7D repaired? Mine still has the "First Frame Black" problem.

    2. I too would be interested in knowing who repaired your 7D. Mine stopped reading cards but I still have it and love the jpegs it produces.

    3. I was really happy, when I risked to buy a "defective" 7D without a battery one day and it was working fine with no "first frame black".
      I could combine the battery and eyecup holder from the previous 7D I had, that couldn't read the CF card (few pins bent). I even tried to fix it myself, but it was crazy difficult. Different size of screws and small plates inside. Don't try to fix it yourself :).

    4. I tried to fix my self because I could see the bent pin but it was an excercise in futility. Do you how to remove the CF card port? I am desperate to fix it? I contacted Precision Camera and Video in Texas to see if they could fix it and they said it's too old. I am going to try B&HPhotoVideo.

    5. @jakke what does FBF mean? Can you tell me where you had your 7D repaired?

  6. I still have my Olympus E-1 from around 2003. Wonderful colours from the 5MP Kodak sensor. Still with Olympus and very happy with the colours, they produce wonderful JPGs.

  7. I have recently gone back 8 or 10 years by selling my MFT gear and buying a Sony A900. When I shot the first images I could see the difference in colour rendering. (I have also noticed the difference in weight).

  8. I tend to be a bug on this but the way digital cameras produce colors has nothing to do with the true meaning of "color science". I wish we would come up with a different term. Color science includes a wide range of physical and psychological factors. Color science in the true sense is, according to the Rochester Institute of Technology:

    "Color science is a fundamental field of science that is dedicated to understanding the creation of colored stimuli, sources of illumination, and ultimately the human perception of color. RIT’s graduate color science degree is designed for students who have a background in physics, chemistry, imaging science, computer science, electrical engineering, experimental psychology, cognitive neuroscience, physiology, or any other discipline that lends itself to the quantitative description of color. At the only university in the nation offering this program of study, you will be exposed to the rich, dynamic field of color science through theory and practical application."

  9. I miss my KM7D. I think I emailed you when it died (it stopped reading cards) asking what would be an acceptable replacement. I don't remember what you said but I ended up with A77M2 and A99M2 which I still have and use. I haven't switched to mirrorless and probably won't, (I turned 70 this year and don't feel need to spend what little dollars I have on cameras), unless both my current cameras die. I am not educated in the technicalities of modern digital photography so I don't have much use for articles such as what you posted in the previous (09/01/21) blog. Nevertheless, I read them anyway.

    1. That's why I included pretty pictures this time. Wanted to be more inclusive.

  10. The KM7D was the first DSLR I bought because I had a number of Minolta lenses from the original Maxxum days. Sadly, I just parted with it (and my KM 28-75 f2.8) before moving to Costa Rica last year. It was either my primary or back up camera for about 8 years. Even with the 6MP sensor, so many of my favorite travel and family images are still from the 7D. I also had the vertical grip and it felt better in my hands than anything I've owned since. It's easy to be overly nostalgic for old stuff - but the images straight out of that camera were beautiful and alive. I seem to fidget much more in Lightroom with my A7R3 and A6600 to get colors how I like them than I ever did with the KM. Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

  11. Tim, I wholeheartedly agree. I almost morned when my KM7D stopped reading cards.

  12. Here is David Kilpatrick's more thorough explanation of the color space differences between cameras from a September 2007 edition of Cameracraft magazine:

  13. The Sony DSCW830 is a budget-friendly and one of the best cameras for amateur photographers. This point and shoot camera comes with a 20.1-megapixel sensor and a Zeiss lens (8x optical zoom). The dimension is 3.6″ x 2.07″ x 0.89″ and weight 4.23 oz (with battery). Moreover, it provides 720p HD video at 30fps with full use of the zoom.

    1. Is that camera even being made anymore? Any of the RX100 cameras beats it easily in terms of image quality and functionality.


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