A new product for removing colour casts and establishing a contrast range when processing files shot as RAW format originals is poised to ship. Called WhiBal, it has been created by software developer and RAW file format proponent Michael Tapes to provide what he believes will be a more usable and effective method of setting a white balance in RAW conversion software.
WhiBal is composed of four small, rectangular cards - one white, one black and two different shades of grey - held together by a grommet in the corner. When fanned out, WhiBal is meant to be dropped into a scene and photographed, then used later during processing of the photos from that scene to set a white balance and, optionally, to set white and black points too.
The dark and light gray cards, says Tapes, are made of a material similar to or the same as Robin Myers' Digital Gray Card, our favourite gray card over the past 18 months because it remains photographically neutral under a variety of light sources and is not easily scuffed or damaged. Assuming its basic characteristics are the same, the potential advantage to WhiBal over the Digital Gray Card, as well as all other physically larger competing products, is that its compact size will make it more likely that a photographer will actually tote it along to an assignment, and then actually use it once he gets there.
Note: Tapes has published an interesting, if geeky, spectral comparison of the neutral patches on various gray cards and test targets.
WhiBal Pocket (with business card for scale)
There are two different models of WhiBal, WhiBal Pocket and WhiBal Studio. Both are comprised of four different cards, attached by a corner grommet. They differ only in their size: each card in WhiBal Pocket is 2 x 3.5 inches, while each card in WhiBal Studio is 3.25 x 6 inches. Both WhiBal models include a lanyard.
The relatively small size of both WhiBal models should make them well-suited to the custom or click white balance function common to RAW conversion applications, which only require a small target area in the photo to set the white balance properly. Those who shoot to JPEG or standard TIFF in the camera, and must therefore set a Custom or Preset white balance in the camera before shooting the actual scene, will probably find either WhiBal model too small. This will be especially true for Nikon shooters, since all Nikon digital SLRs require that the gray card fill the frame when performing a Preset white balance.
For those whose cameras are locked on RAW most of the time, however, WhiBal may well emerge as a great way to establish a white balance, as well as set white and black.
WhiBal Studio (left) and WhiBal Pocket
WhiBal Pocket and WhiBal Studio are available for US$40 and US$50, respectively, direct from Tapes' rawworkflow.com web site. A bundle of the two is US$80. Both models are expected to ship starting on June 14, 2004.
Update, June 14: The WhiBal ship date in the story was changed to June 14, from June 15.