How Important Is Camera Color Fidelity?

In the course of our tests, readers occasionally ask us which camera displays the truest color, but we do not normally specifically test for this, only mentioning it if one model displays extreme issues (blue tint, desaturation, etc.). It also varies from monitor to monitor due to differences in calibration, so it's more complex to pin down.

However, I'm curious. In your everyday experience, how often does trueness of color become an issue? Obviously, if something is yellow and displays as green, it's an issue. However, does recognizing something as "blue" usually suffice? Do you need to know it something was emerald green instead of kelly green?

I depends on the application. It might be helpful when observing money as an aid to identifying counterfeits.

It would also depend on how far off color reproduction is. I've seen instances where the reproduction was just enough off to make the color of clothing difficult to identify. I've also seen instances where reproduction was far enough off to be annoying. Best example: reddish-brown gaming tables coming out pink or purple. This was apparently caused by IR filters optimized for flourescent lighting when used with "hot" low voltage incandescent lighting.

Analog cameras (and some IP cameras) have difficulty with reds. Red-suited playing cards show up as black, for instance. Although it's less of a problem when you can actually see the suit design well enough to identify it by shape, it can be a problem when trying to discern a spade from a heart in lower resolution.

I am curious how often this impacts the buying decision. That I don't hear too often which makes me think overwhelmingly it is a nice to have and that most cameras do an acceptable job here.

Never been a buying issue for us, unless as you say, the color is WAY off, which is usually indicative of a failed/failing camera.

Actually, aside from a failing camera, the only time I've seen color be REALLY off was with a CNB that the customer reported was showing up as very blue. When I looked at it, I realized the problem: the camera - over a restaurant patio - was looking down on a large yellow umbrella that was taking up nearly half the frame, and the auto white balance was being thrown off by that.

Of course, one can usually set white balance manually, although I don't think a lot of people even know what that is, let alone how to do it... the best cameras I've seen for compensating for something like this are the IQEyes, which allow you to set separate exposure and WB areas within a frame (I'm sure others do, just none that I've noticed it in).

Of course, in the above example, you might not want to expend a lot of effort on adjusting the WB, because it would just change again once the umbrella is taken down...

The only time I've experienced color accuracy/rendering an issue is when two different makes/models of camera were installed to look at the same general area. The red shirt in one view was the purple shirt in another. Aside from being irritating, it resulted in no detriment in camera usefulness.

I've never seen an RFP define color fidelity as a constraint in design/purchase.

White balance and IR cut filters aside, poor color fidelity may be indicative of a camera's inability to properly capture and reproduce the midtones in an image. Aside from color inaccuracy, poor midtone reproduction can cause loss of information in an image including facial detail.