Camera LCD Accuracy

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Today’s Question: How accurate are the colors on a typical camera LCD panel?  Is there a way to readily calibrate the LCD similar to the way that a computer monitor is calibrated?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Camera LCD displays are reasonably accurate, but not perfect. Unfortunately there is not a way to truly calibrate and profile a camera’s LCD display. In general you are only able to refine the overall brightness (and in some cases contrast) of the display. In most cases you will have few (if any) options for adjusting the color accuracy of the display.

More Detail: As a general rule, I recommend that you not depend on the actual image preview on your camera’s LCD display as an accurate indication of the overall tone or color in your photos. For overall exposure I recommend employing the histogram display. For color, your best option is to capture in RAW (rather than JPEG) so you are better able to refine the color in your photos without risking any degradation of image quality.

Obviously it would be helpful if you could use the LCD display on your camera to accurately evaluate all aspects of the images you capture. Unfortunately that really isn’t the case.

When it comes to color fidelity, I have actually found that in most cases the camera’s LCD display provides a reasonably accurate (and in some cases highly accurate) view of the colors in your photos. Fortunately, if you are capturing in RAW this isn’t a serious concern. For video captures or photos captured in the JPEG format, inaccurate color can be more of a challenge. But again, in most cases the color is reasonably accurate on the LCD display, to the extent that you would know if there was a serious problem with the color of your captures.

Tonal values are a more significant concern in most cases. To begin with, the ambient lighting conditions can have a more dramatic impact on your perception of tonal values in a preview image as compared to color values. Also, the brightness (and possibly contrast) adjustments for the LCD display can have a tremendous impact on your perception of overall tonal values in the images you view on the LCD display.

As a result, I highly recommend that you employ the histogram display on your camera to evaluate overall exposure. When it comes to color, it is generally best to treat the LCD display as a general preview that will be reasonably (but not completely) accurate in terms of the fidelity of colors.

And hopefully one of these days we’ll have the ability to calibrate camera LCD displays much as we can calibrate and profile our the monitor displays on our computers.