While a colour meter costs a small fortune, a grey card can have a similar practical benefit for a fraction of the price. The Gray Card card from FocusFX.nl is one such gadget. Original called the White Balance Reference Card and sold under the brand name Dynatech this is a plastic version.
FocusFX.nl Gray Card: Features
The card comes in two sizes: a small credit card sized one measuring 5.5 x 8.5 cm and a larger 10 x 15 cm postcard sized option. Both are small enough to fit in a pocket or pouch of a camera bag, but they also come with a lanyard so you can have one conveniently around your neck at the beginning of a shoot.. They have a Neutral Colour and, unlike many grey cards, are made of plastic so they are durable. The manufacturer also claims they are scratch resistant and waterproof.
FocusFX.nl Gray Card: Handling
The postcard sized card is just about right for most applications. You can use it to fill the frame or as a smaller part of the scene. In both cases the card needs to be in the same light as the subject that you want balanced correctly. So, for example, when shooting a model you would have the model hold the card by the side of or in front of her face, and when shooting a landscape you'd have the card in the shade or in direct sunlight, depending which element you want correctly colour balanced. The smaller card would be better for still life and close-up photography, but in such cases you could take a shot of the whole of the larger card. The larger card is just a few quid more and the one I'd choose.
The FocusFX.nl Gray Card must be used on the side where the logo branding sticker is found. This is because the surface is matt grey whereas the rear, although the same colour, has a reflective surface that has a sheen that could affect the results.
FocusFX.nl Gray Card: Performance
I took two shots, one in a studio set using studio flash of an apple on a light neutral background and the other in an office corridor lit by fluorescent light. In both cases the camera's white balance was left on auto and the file format was set to RAW. I took a shot of the card in the same light as the main part of the subject first and then a second shot of the subject.
I then opened the photos in Adobe Raw Converter and produced several versions. The original unaltered version, the auto adjusted one, one corrected using Photoshop's eye dropper in Curves and one corrected using the settings determined by the FocusFX.nl Gray Card test shot. Here's what happened:
|Adobe RAW set to Auto correction of image. The result is dullwith a greeny/blue colour cast.
||Shot processed and then corrected using Photoshop's eyedropper in Curves, taking sample from the door sign.
||Shot processed in Adobe RAW using reference settings taken from FocusFX.nl Gray Card.
|Adobe RAW set to Auto correction of the image. This is slightly warm but not really an issue.
||Shot processed in RAW using the preset flash setting. Clearly too warm.
|Shot processed and then corrected using Photoshop's eyedropper in Curves. The result is fine and in isolation it would be hard to tell if there was a slight colour cast.
|| Shot processed in Adobe RAW using reference settings taken from FocusFX.nl Gray Card. When compared with the Curves adjusted shot to the left there's a slight difference, but which one is right? It's too minimal to worry about.
FocusFX.nl Gray Card: Verdict
This is certainly one of the best grey cards I've used in terms of size and quality. The days of needing a grey card seem to have gone though, unless you still shoot film. or want extremely accurate results It's so easy with quality image editing programs to adjust colour balance using the eye dropper tools or auto presets. If you do shoot irregular subjects where you cannot find a neutral reference point then it would be well worth the small investment. If you shoot on film it's a necessity of you want the best exposures and do your own colour printing or have a lab that can hand print to specific colour instructions.
FocusFX.nl Gray Card: Plus points
FocusFX.nl Gray Card: Minus points
Shots adjusted using software's neutral point were as good
Extra shots waste memory space