Sizing up the Retina Display with professional photography, color calibration

Sizing up the Retina Display with professional photography, color calibration

Summary: How does the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display fare with a professional photographic workflow? In a series of blog posts, photo pro C. David Tobie evaluated the Retina display MacBook Pro's color capabilities and its basic compatibility with color calibration packages.


Tobie looked at a number of professional issues, such as color gamut, reflectivity (an important consideration for on-screen evaluation of colors in images), viewing angle, brightness and color calibration and profiling issues.

Of course, Adobe Photoshop CS (or any other version) isn't yet compatible with the MacBook Pro with Retina Display.  Tobie offered an interesting side-by-side comparison of images in the Retina-compatible Preview application and Photoshop CS6. He predicted a free update for CS6 but not for CS5.

When Apple announced the Retina display MacBook Pro, one of the applications which they demonstrated with it was Photoshop. But not a release version of Photoshop. The current release version of CS6 opens images at the same size, and the same resolution, as on a non-Retina display MBP. In comparison, Apple’s own Preview app opens images at half the width and height as 100 percent view, and displays all the pixels in the image at that size.

He writes that the Retina gamut is impressive, very close to sRGB, and much improved over the previous MacBook Pro screen. When combined with its other features, the Retina makes a big difference for photography.

This gamut normalization and enlargement will do wonders for using MacBooks for photography work, and will even make advanced image editing possible. Other factors that are improved on the new Retina display will also be important, including its much improved viewing angle, and its reduced reflectivity. The Retina display is, simply put, the biggest advance ever, in laptop screens for photography and video work; and would be even without the resolution increase.

In a post on calibration and photography, Tobie said that the Retina Display fits into the Standard Gamut, White LED backlight category for hardware calibration systems.  

The Retina display is a good citizen, allowing accurate readings of colors for gray balancing, and accurate readings of luminance for tone response mapping. So calibration is very effective on the Retina display, and the resulting “Before and After” demo in the Spyder4 software will show that the uncalibrated state is not bad, but that the calibrated state is indeed better, both in terms of white balance, and densities in images.

I was very interested in Tobie's analysis of the reflectance of the Retina display. He shows an interesting side-by-side comparison between a Retina screen and a standard glass Unibody MacBook Pro, which was shot in a dimly-lit room. The reduced reflectance from the Retina is evident and there's a double-glazed artifact on the Unibody screen.

I have always purchased the matte screen for my MacBook Pros — I hate reflection. And back in the days, I worked at a company that made color-calibrated displays for proofing that came with a black coat to avoid any screen reflections from the clothing the viewer was wearing. But the matte screen is often considered "smeared" by photo pros. Tobie said the Retina was "all good from my perspective."

Topics: Laptops, Apple, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software

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  • Apple Retina display vs HP Dreamcolor

    HP have an optional display for their workstation notebooks called Dreamcolor. Based on their whitepapers, that screen is capable of billions of colors vs millions for the Retina display. Since I haven't found a formal test, and being based only in the datasheets from both vendors, which one will be a better display for Adobe CS and high end photo editing? The high resolution of the Apple retina display or the billions of colors of the HP Dreamcolor?
    • Retina vs DreamColor

      There will always be one PC or another with one better bullet point or another. HP put a lot of research into their DramColor displays, and they have some cutting edge features. But unless you want to do tricks like change gammas or gamuts on the fly (and if you don't know what this means, you don't) then bit depth beyond 8 bits per channel (what you call millions) is not a key user advantage. The DreamColor will also offer a wider gamut, which means it can display more saturated colors than the Retina. But this too is a mixed blessing, and unless distinguishing fluorescent greens and cyans on screen is important to you, then having an sRGB screen will offer more advantages, and more accurate color. And of course the Retina's big advantage is sheer resolution: way more pixels than even a thirty inch display, in a 15.4 inch display. That matters more to most users than excess gamut or bit depth. But needs vary.
      • Re:

        Thanks for your answer. I work in IT, and I'm not involved in design or photo environments. Still, I read about the DreamColor displays and had to ask because I found it to be an interesting technology, same as the retina display.

      • Great response.

        Likewise, it is important to remember that sRGB also exceeds the output of many printers out there (not all but many) though a few will exceed in one color while doing poorly on others. Having he display very close to sRGB is a very good thing given an AdobeRGB color space monitor would have added another 2k to the price.
  • "Close to sRGB" and this is a selling point??

    sRGB is a crippled, narrow, and most importantly, nonlinear gamut originally created by Microsoft and HP in 1996(!) designed to match the capabilities of CRTs and is optimized for home and office, not commercial use. It's seriously weak in the blue-green spectrum and much smaller than the full gamut of colors humans can see. Perhaps you meant esRGB, it's newer, expanded gamut offspring? Serious designers scoff at the weak capability of sRGB and would never use it as a native space, preferring wider gamuts such as Adobe RGB (1998). I hope you're just wrong, because if it's true, I'll wait for a better display. Pixel density isn't everything.
    • Retina Display for IT

      For IT, as for many other data-oriented uses, the biggest virtue of the Retina MBP will be the ability to display far more of your spreadsheet at one time than any other monitor...
      • Umm... no

        So, if the text is so small I can't read it, it doesn't qualify as an advantage.
    • sRGB as Selling Point

      Despite the marketing hype for wide gamut displays, there are a number of reasons why sRGB can be considered ideal for many uses. First, is that it is achievable by most desktop displays. Second is that it is the standard for the web, and is becoming a standard for mobile, web-connected devices, though most Android displays have are still aspiring towards this, rather than actually reaching it. And for typical users, not high-end specialists in scientific imaging etc... sRGB is a simpler way to get reasonable color without special color managed apps, custom calibration, and other advanced functions that typical users can't justify. I use sRGB-sized displays next to very high priced specialty displays on a daily basis, and find both to be quite acceptable for professional photography.
      • You've cited compromise after compromise

        sRGB is designed for 16-bit displays, i.e. "Most desktop displays" as you say. "Standard for the web" is based on the same 16-bit gamut capability (65535 colors, not 16.7 million!). "reasonable color" is the same sort of compromise. The people using these displays--professional photographers, video and film editors and print productions specialists--need to accurately display at least 24-bit color and often 32-bit color, and accurately display on the movie screen, the television screen, and in print. They won't accept a narrow gamut. In fact, that's why many of them have stuck with CRTs and use only IPS LCD displays (as opposed to TFT). These are critical color specialists and will accept no less. If you're seeing the same thing on an sRGB display as on your high-priced specialty displays, I'd imagine you are seeing limited color from the specialty ones--which is an easy trap to fall into because of the proliferation of sRGB as a standard. Personally I have a CRT on my left and a LCD on my right, and I keep my menus on the LCD and my image on the CRT. Both are driven by the same card, and the LCD is brighter, but the color fidelity--even after calibration--is far greater on the CRT.
  • Not required

    I preset the white balance in the camera using a calibration device.
    • And what does camera custom WB have to do with monitor gamut...

      Or even monitor WB? Pray tell you did not waste your money on an Expodisc and not know how to use it.
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  • Emperors new clothes

    Apple sticks an IPS screen in a laptop and it's close to RGB, and it's the best thing since sliced bread.

    Where are the figures, the graphs.

    Have a gander at TFT central, those guys know their stuff. This is nothing but marketing blurb.

    Seriously ZDNet, have SOME integrity.
    • I think the reviewer is just plain misinformed. Apple has never used sRGB

      I think the reviewer is just plain misinformed. Apple has never used sRGB as a color standard. Heck, it was 24-bit for years while the PC industry was 8-bit! And "Web safe" colors was even a subset of that--216 (count 'em!) colors that were common to the PC and Mac gamuts. I'd be willing to bet this is an esRGB IPS screen--and that's something to write home about.
      • ummm, I meant "palettes", not "gamuts"

        I think when real reviewers get ahold of this screen, we'll see some meaningful (and great) specs.
  • New Macbook Pro with Retina Display: Very Disappointing


    ...has been my experience so far.

    It's not exactly the machine that most graphics experts would consider a professional choice, is it?