Musings on Photography

Superstition

Posted in equipment, web issues by Paul Butzi on July 14, 2007

Well, the decision on sticking with Windows or switching to Macs has been made, and Paula and I will be switching to Macs.  This has prompted me to spend quite a bit of time considering how best to navigate the changeover, which machines get replaced first, etc.  Right now it looks as if the first machine to get replaced will be my laptop – the laptop is old, somewhat creaky, and at the same time any snags in the changeover are unlikely to roadlbock anything important.

So I was off to research exactly which Mac laptop I wanted.  Size is pretty straightfoward – I’ve been living with a 13″ laptop and have found the screen too small.  At the same time, the 17″ Macbook Pro is just too big.  Well, if this porridge is too hot, and that porridge is too cold, then this porridge will be just right – settle on the 15″ Macbook Pro.  Decisions about processor speed, memory, disk size and speed – all pretty straightforward.

Then I started pondering about screen – matte or glossy?  A little internet research netted me the idea that the ‘matte’ screen had ‘more accurate colors’.  What would this mean?  Does it mean that matte screen has a wider gamut?  If so, why don’t people say “the matte screen has a larger gamut”?  The glossy screen has a deeper black – doesn’t that make it more accurate?

After some time browsing on the web, I came to several conclusions:

  1. Most of the people expressing their opinion of the color accuracy were just passing on the fact that they had heard, somewhere, that the matte surface screen had more accurate colors.  No reference.  No test results.  No details, just secondhand info.
  2. If there exists objective evidence of the relative color accuracy of the matte and glossy screens, it is not findable on the web.
  3. Few, if any, of the people expressing opinions had ever taken the most obvious step of going to an Apple store, putting a matte and glossy screen laptop side by side, and evaluating them visually, let alone done some objective testing (like profiling the damn screens and comparing the profiles).

Sigh.  So I went to the Apple store, where I talked to the sales staff.  Right away, they asked me “What are you going to use the laptop for?”  And when I answered that, amongst it’s many duties, the laptop would see occasional use for photography, they all instantly told me “get the matte screen.  It has more accurate colors.”  So I asked them exactly what that means.  And the answer was “Well, you know.  The colors – they’re more accurate.  That’s all.”  More accurate unprofiled, or more accurate after profiling with a tool like the GMB Eye One Display 2?  No idea.  

So I stood there, fired up one 15″ Macbook Pro with a matte screen, and right next to it, a mere .5″ away, a MBP that was identical except it had a glossy screen.  They had lots of photos, and I gazed at the same photo on each screen, photo after photo.

And darn it, I didn’t see anything except very slight differences in color.  I’m talking really minor differences.  The difference was MUCH smaller than the difference between the manufacturer’s standard profile and the custom profile generated by GMB Eye One Display 2 for any monitor we own.  I suspect (but don’t KNOW) that these minor variations would be wiped out by actually profiling the screen, which any sensible photographer would do.

My provisional conclusion?  I conclude that the stories about the matte screen having ‘more accurate color’ are, in essence, superstition, repeated ad nauseum, with some untraceable source in the distant past, when in fact there might have been a matte screen which actually had better color rendition than some glossy screen. Either that, or my color vision suffers from the visual equivalent to tone deafness in the auditory world.

This cautionary tale is offered as a reminder that, all too often, we read stuff on the WWW, and it turns out to be superstition, and not fact.

And if someone actually has real, objective data on color accuracy of the currently offered 15″ screens on the 15″ Macbook Pro, for god’s sake, send it to me PDQ because I’m about to order the darn thing.

7 Responses

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  1. Jeff Kohn said, on July 14, 2007 at 12:24 pm

    I don’t know about color accuracy, but I find the glare on those glossy screens pretty annoying. Unless you’re always going to be using the laptop in an environment where you have complete control over the ambient lighting, I definitely prefer the matte screen.

  2. Alex Brikoff said, on July 14, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    Hmm… Jumping ship, eh?? When you first mentioned that you were considering switching to Macs a week ago or so, my first question was “Why??”. You mentioned that you borrowed Rob’s Mac for a few days to evaluate it and take for a test drive, so to speak, and your conclusions were, for the most part, favorable. You also talked about how this is also a good time evaluate operating systems, Mac OSx or Windows Vista since if you stuck with PCs, the next OS would most certainly be Vista. Since Vista is a relatively new OS and taking into account Microsoft’s track record with new operating systems, it is probably due for some Service Packs and Patches while the Mac OSx has been out for a while and is probably more stable at this point.

    So, all this talk about switching machines got me thinking along those same lines. Since I’ll be ready to get a new machine before the end of the year, do I want to stick with my Dells or do I want to switch to Macs? So, last night, I had my buddy, Ralph, (a diehard Macophile) bring his Mac Powerbook G4 over for me to take a look at, since I have not looked at a Mac for literally years, I was initially impressed with OS interface (it looked very XPish and Vistaesque), but that’s where the similarity ended for me. Now, I realize that it’s a different OS and that there’s going to be a steep learning curve with the Mac, but after playing around with it for a couple of hours and struggling to do some of things that are a no-brainer in XP, I came away with somewhat less than a favorable impression. I probably need to spend some more time with it and give it a second shot but, at this time, I simply do not have an overwhelming urge to switch to Macs. So, for now, my feeling is to stay with PCs and eventually go to Vista with my new machine. So, Paul, I’d be really interested in hearing your feelings and impressions about the Mac once you’ve had a chance to use it for a while.

  3. StephaneB said, on July 14, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    I’d go for the matte screen, if only for the lighter blacks. But that’s me, because I print with Piezography and Piezography prints tend to be low contrast and it already is a struggle to match the screen and the print. I think (but I don’t know, as you say) that the problem would be worse with a brilliant screen.

    On the other hand, the last time I checked a MacBook Pro display, the contrast was affected by the angle of vision, making the calibration largely irrelevant. I don’t think any of those screens is suitable for proofing.

  4. Rosie Perera said, on July 14, 2007 at 6:17 pm

    With all this talk about color accuracy, it seems poetic justice that the photo you posted today was black & white. 🙂

  5. Eric Hancock said, on July 15, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    I use a 15″ MacBook Pro most of the time. The screens respond very well to hardware calibration. I imagine the newer, LCD-based screens would also benefit from the much reduced warmup time.

    I chose a matte screen based on aesthetics. I don’t like the reflections that those glossy screens have.

  6. Ann said, on July 16, 2007 at 8:35 am

    You could repeat this post, substituting Canon vs Nikon for Mac and PC, and have an equally fair assessment of the value of most of the www commentary on the relative merits of the two product lines. Too much in the annals of the tribe is written to self-validate decisions already made. Thanks for sharing your decision-making process as it happens. AT

  7. Gordon said, on July 17, 2007 at 9:09 am

    I’m somewhat on the cusp of this decision too. I’ve been going back and forth for several months, particularly now that my laptop is getting increasingly unwell.

    Macs do seem pretty in the store. Aperture has some nifty features. I like the idea of using unix for everything again, with a nice front end.

    The main barriers I have is the previously purchased software on Windows – photoshop, lightroom, other nick-nacks and geegaws. Spyders, built up knowledge.


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