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April 2014
Issue: September 1, 2013

Review: Fujifilm's IS-Mini

By: Alex Bickel
PRODUCT: Fuji IS-Mini (IS-10) digital color adjustment device

WEBSITE: www.fujifilm.com

PRICE: $1,300

- fast and accurate
- works with LCDs, OLEDs and plasmas
- brightness alerts

When it comes to color grading, you are only as good as the display you are grading on. This remains true, whether you’re coloring your first short film, a commercial for the Super Bowl or a Hollywood blockbuster; if you can’t trust the display, you can’t trust your own eyes.

In our commercial suites at Color Collective, our main display is a 24-inch TV Logic 245W Grade 1 evaluation monitor. Through careful calibration, this display itself is able to accurately display the full gamut of Rec709 without the addition of external LUT profiles. Many times, however, we have six or more clients supervising a session, and lines of sight to the main 24-inch grading monitor become tricky at best.

To solve the line of sight issue, like many other commercial post production facilities, we’ve installed a large plasma screen on the wall for client viewing — in our case, a Panasonic 65-inch 30U. While this client display will never track well enough for grading, it’s crucial that it too be as technically accurate possible so that all of our clients can enjoy the experience. 

CALIBRATION

Calibration of any display involves two steps. Step 1: Profile the display to identify inaccuracies. Step 2: Build a calibration LUT to correct for those inaccuracies. 

Over the years, I’ve tried nearly every combination of profiling software and in-line LUT hardware solutions to apply a calibration LUT. Each has their advantages and disadvantages. In most cases, building a profile involved using software that was developed separately from the devices being used to generate and apply the LUT, which can be slow, with no guarantee of perfect results.

Prior to testing the IS-Mini, we were using a Cine-tal Davio to apply our display profile in-line to the plasma using profiles that had been generated by a variety of calibration software, such as Light Illusion, CalMan and TrueLight. The Davio is expensive (MSRP around $10K), and I’ve found the GUI software to be buggy, so my engineers and I have been searching for a good alternative to the Davio for future build outs. 

IS-MINI

The IS-Mini is a small device that can generate its own display calibration test patches and apply a display profile or creative LUT in-line. It takes an HD-SDI input signal and outputs either HD-SDI or HDMI with a LUT applied. It links to your computer over USB or Ethernet during the profiling and evaluation stage, and can be set as a standalone device after the proper LUT is chosen and applied. 



During our testing, we used two different probes: The X-Rite i1Pro2 and the Photo Research PR-670. All of our tests were done on the Panasonic 65-inch 30U. It should be noted that plasma displays are notoriously difficult to profile because they tend to spike certain colors and their luminance output is actively limited depending on how many pixels are trying to display a signal that is close to peak white.

Our reference display was our hero TV Logic 245W that was profiled and proven accurate using the same PR-670 probe.

Fuji recommends first resetting any display to factory defaults, native color space if possible, gamma 2.4, and whatever color temp is closest to D65 (in the case of the Panasonic plasma’s “warm”). There is an evaluation mode, which tells you where your monitor is off and by how much, and a calibration mode that actually builds a monitor calibration LUT you can apply using the IS-Mini. 

On my first test run, using the X-Rite probe, I was immediately struck by how fast and easy it was to create a profile. The IS-Mini Manager’s software GUI is clutter free and easy to understand. I was up and profiling, including unboxing and wiring, in less than five minutes. The medium cube set, which ran 769 color patches, took less than 20 minutes. A shorter cube of 165 patches takes only five minutes. 

Our first test run of the medium cube resulted in a monitor profile that was a very close color match to our hero monitor, with near perfect gamma, but a slightly red balance overall. 

Since the PR-670 is more sensitive, especially in low light, we decided to run additional profiles. The PR-670 is slower at taking measurements, but still remarkably faster when the IS-Mini is driving the probe than with other software I’ve used (a Windows version of IS manager required for Photo Research). The PR-670 gave us a better color match in the end, but it took us a few tries. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

One issue with the IS-Mini that I hope they change in future iterations is the lack of options in terms of picking target luminance. With our plasmas, we prefer to target a slightly lower peak white output in order to prevent the limiter from kicking in, except for the most extreme cases, like a commercial on a white background. In the current version, it alerts you if you’re display is not outputting a bright enough image, but doesn’t inform you what peak lumens the software is targeting, or the option to target a different value. [Editor’s note: Fujifilm says, “The whole point of calibrating to a standard is exactly that it’s standard. This automated methodology means the IS-Mini is incredibly good at being able to match completely different monitor types and manufacturers.”]

Even so, the IS-Mini is still impressive. At only $1,300, it does a remarkably fast and accurate job of profiling displays. It should work even better on LCDs and OLEDs than plasmas, since they do not suffer from the limiting issue.



Alex Bickel is the Co-Founder of Color Collective in New York City (www.colorcollectiveny.com).