At a Glance
Monaco Systems says that MonacoDCcolor is "the ideal digital camera profiling solution." After profiling different cameras under different lighting conditions, we believe that although DCcolor is a great tool for building digital-camera profiles -- in fact, it's better than most -- the ideal solution does not exist yet. DCcolor is strictly for professionals. It's not difficult to use, but as with any camera profiler, to fully exploit the program, you'll have to do a lot of work before you even launch it.
All input profilers follow the same general principle -- they compare the captured RGB values of a physical color target with actual measured color values of the target's color patches, and then they build a profile that correlates the two. DCcolor offers more flexibility than some competitors by supporting three targets: the original 24-patch Macbeth ColorChecker and the newer 237-patch Macbeth ColorChecker DC, from GretagMacbeth, as well as the 528-patch HCT, from Hutcheson Consulting.
DCcolor doesn't include targets, so plan on spending an additional $100 to $250.
The Hidden Side of Profiles
MonacoDCcolor is very easy to use. A wizard interface steps you through choosing the target's reference file (containing the measurements of the color patches), loading the capture of the target, and cropping it so that DCcolor knows where the patches are.
Then you click on the Build Profile button, and DCcolor builds the profile while providing some statistics on its accuracy, compared with the known values of the target. In short, the profile-building process is pretty much idiot-proof.
But the success of a camera profile depends on the capture of the target, and countless variables affect that capture -- such as lighting, on-camera exposure and white-balance controls, and the camera's capture settings. If you fail to control these variables, you'll get disappointing results. DCcolor offers some suggestions in its introductory screen and provides a more in-depth discussion in the PDF manual, but it doesn't address the quirks of different cameras and different targets.
For example, we were able to build a single profile for Canon's new EOS-1Ds camera that worked well in both studio and natural light, but our venerable Kodak DCS 460 needed separate profiles for tungsten and for daylight.
Each target has different properties, too. Under the cross-polarized lighting typically used for capturing fine art, some of the glossy patches on the Macbeth ColorChecker DC showed up almost black in the capture. The 24-patch Macbeth ColorChecker produced the most-consistent results under a wide variety of lighting conditions, but the other targets produced better profiles in some situations. DCcolor offers a slider for tonal control when you build profiles with the Macbeth ColorChecker DC, but not with the other targets.
Macworld's Buying Advice
If you're looking for a simple point-and-click solution for camera profiling, keep looking -- you need the knowledge and skill of a professional to get good results from MonacoDCcolor. If you shoot under controlled conditions but spend a lot of time correcting color postcapture, MonacoDCcolor can be a real time-saver. However, profiling cameras can still be inscrutably complex. Be prepared to do plenty of experimenting with variables outside the profiling software if you want to get great profiles.