I went to a small air show on Saturday, and took pictures with both of my cameras: a Canon 20D with a Tamron 17-50, and a Canon 50D with a Tamron 70-200. Take a look at these two photos of a North American P-51 Mustang, then I’ll explain my conundrum.

Since I was on the road, I edited the photos at the hotel on my late 2008 13" MacBook. Then I came home and transferred the edited photos to my iMac (early 2009 24"). The first photo was copied directly from the laptop and has not been edited on the iMac. Compared to the way it displays on the laptop, the photo looks significantly yellower. On the laptop, the colors are blue and silver and yellow, and it is very luminous. But the laptop screen is brighter, and generally whiter. It has a color calibration that I can’t duplicate on the iMac.

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The second one is an edit of the first using automatic color correction in Photoshop Elements on the iMac (not my usual tool, but it was quick for the purposes of experimentation). To me, the second photo comes nearer to the original version that is on the laptop, though the blue is a little heavy. Look at the color of the pavement. On my iMac, the first one has a distinct red/yellow cast to it, but on the second, edited photo, the concrete is gray, as it should be. The sky is also bluer in the second than in the first. But the first photo, when displayed on my laptop, looks fine, if not better.

So, what I’m trying to figure out is how others see the photos. I suppose it’s a bit of a wild goose chase, since everybody’s monitor is different, and no matter what I do on my end the result will be different for everybody who is viewing the photos. One thing that I did discover in this process is that my 20D/17-50 makes “truer” colors than the 50D/70-200, even though both are set on AWB. The 50D, which was used for this attached shot, tends to make the photos yellower (on my iMac), while the 20D does not. I don’t know if that is a function of the camera or the lens or both. I wonder if shooting in RAW will make any difference, since I would have much greater control over white balance, but I think it boils down to an issue with color calibration on the different screens, and the different physical construction of the two displays.

I fear I’m opening a very large can of worms.

You can see all of the shots here, and I’m going to do a dump on Oppo in the next day or two. I think you’ll be able to see how the two cameras deliver such different results. For example, towards the end of the gallery, there are two consecutive shots of a blue biplane with yellow wings (Stearman PT-13). The first, where you see the entire plane, was taken with the 20D and the short lens while the second, a tighter shot, was taken with the 50D and the long lens. The photo of the soldier with the machine gun was also taken with the 50D and long lens. It looks fine on the laptop, but it looks very yellow to me on the iMac and, despite my best efforts, I can’t make it look satisfactory to me. The same is true of the last two photos of the Travel Air 4000 in the gallery. EXIF data should be available for all the shots.

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So, I guess what I’m trying to figure out is whether I should do my best to make the color happy where I see it on my iMac, or if I should worry about how others see the colors, knowing that everybody has a different monitor/calibration and I may be wasting my time. Is it even possible to get the same calibration on the iMac and the laptop? Or is apples and oranges and I’ll never get them to match?