In-camera white balance with WhiBal

If you take photography seriously, even if you’re a camera RAW shooter out of principle, you won’t leave the house without a white balancing tool. Over the past ten years or so, I have reviewed a complete collection. I kept most of these contraptions, even the weirdest ones. Michael Tapes Design’s WhiBal white balance reference cards are amongst the most simple ones to work with. They don’t look weird either.

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WhiBal reference cards come in three sizes: a keyring sized card with a nice S-hook included, a credit card sized card that comes with an S-hook and a lanyard, and the studio sized card. Only the studio card has no accessories as it doesn’t really need any. The credit card and studio sized cards have a resolution target as well as a 100% black (reflective so that maximum blackpoint level may be achieved by observing for maximum glare point and then backing the angle down) and 100% white patch. Except for the keyring card, the WhiBal can be stored in an included white Tyvek sleeve.

WhiBal

The WhiBal cards are thin, but won’t break. Instead, if you handle them really rough, they’ll bend. One of the major advantages of the WhiBal cards is that you can use them under all circumstances. Daylight, tungsten, speedlight: it doesn’t matter, they’ll always get you the correct white balance, provided you hold the card correctly — with our reflections — in front of the lens. To see how well they match a known colour temperature, I tested the cards with a LED lamp that generates light of 3650K.

The WhiBal cards reported this light as 3700K G1. An ExpoDisc used as incident light meter gave me a reading of 3500K G3.

Using a LumoPro LP180 speedlight, the WhiBal cards performed even better. They all reported 7100K M1. An X-Rite ColorChecker Passport reported the same. You could argue the ColorChecker Passport is the better buy as it includes full colour patches. That would allow you to create full colour profiles for your camera.

However, few photographers create colour profiles for their cameras and there’s a good reason why most don’t. It’s a tedious process that needs to be repeated for each and every individual lighting situation. It’s not a matter of just quickly shooting the target, either. Even the ColorChecker Passport system is quite fussy when it comes to the need of even lighting when shooting the target — something which white balancing isn’t. Unless you’re working in a studio, under controlled lighting and in need of very accurate colour shooting like for jewelry, the only difference between white balance devices and a colour profiling reference is the price and the ease-of-use in favour of white balance tools.

All of these tools have their advantages and disadvantages (and arduous fans), but in my opinion and not taking into account the full colour targets, two stand out as superior: the WhiBal cards and the ExpoDisc that can be used as an incident light meter as well. WhiBal reference cards can be had for between approx. €14.25 and €44.60.

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