But frustrating. Why? Because of color. As in, the color you saw in the scene is not what you see on your computer screen, which is not what you see on your other computer screen or what people will see online or what you end up with from your printer.
Maiko at Shochikuza theatre in Osaka.
There's lots of reasons. Your camera doesn't really capture the "true" color (if you shoot negative film you know just how malleable "true" really is). A printer can't really reproduce all colors your camera can capture or your screen can show; it fudges things outrageously just to give you a vague impression of similarity.
But one frustrating reason is that your screen isn't neutral. Pretty much all screens have a color cast — they're bluish or reddish, or a green tint, or have some odd color shift between lighter and darker colors. And monitors change as they get older. The backlight changes color with age, and the screen pixel colors themselves can change with years of exposure.
So you carefully edit your pictures to look great on your computer. But if your screen is, say, a bit blue, then you will have added extra red to your pictures to compensate for that. They'll look reddish on other peoples screens, and come out red-tinted on your printer. Of course, their screens and your printer have color casts of their own, making things even worse.
You can't do much about other peoples screens. But at least you can do something about your own. Most image-related software today can handle "color profiles". That is, a file that describes how your monitor (or camera, or printer) handles color, and lets the software compensate for it. If you have a good color profile for your particular screen then your software can take it into account. Everything will look "right", that is neutral, as you work with it. It won't fix other peoples screens of course, but at least they get a nice, neutral, well-balanced image without color casts to begin with. It should look better, at least, if not great.
Still, at first glance it looks like a natural color image to most people, and some refuse to believe it's largely black and white until you explicitly cover up the colorized parts. Our brains see the hints of color and fills in the rest by itself.
How do you create a color profile? You use a "colorimeter" — a device that measures the color on a screen, or paper — together with software that takes the measurement and generates a color profile from it. There's a few such devices for sale out there like the Pantone Huey or X-Rite ColorMunki. They work well enough. But the software is not open source, so you're dependent on them to support you in the years ahead. If the company goes bust or they decide to discontinue support for newer OS version your expensive device ends up as a paperweight. They also typically work only on recent Macs or Windows machines.
Enter ColorHug. It's a colorimeter, built as open hardware (schematics and the firmware is available for you), and with open source software for Linux. It's a fair bit faster than other systems, and less expensive too. The developer is gearing up for a first production run, and has just announced an advance order program that gets you a unit at a discount in exchange for helping out with reporting bugs and issues.
This is very useful for Mac and Windows users too by the way. The software is for Linux, but the color profile files are the same for every operating system. You get a bootable CD with a Linux system, so you can boot the CD, calibrate your monitor, then use the profile in your own operating system with no problem. And of course, the client software is open source, so somebody is bound to port it to both Windows and Mac if there is enough interest.
I've sent in my preorder already. Interest seems huge, though, so I can only hope I'll actually get one.