I purchased this book believing it was the definitive reference for understanding colour. Twenty years ago it might have been. But time has marched on, and this book is in danger of being left behind. Its treatment of colour technology prior to 1980 is superb, and since I wanted a good understanding of Kodachrome and its characteristics, I came away satisfied in that regard. However, parts of the book go into too much detail about technology that has passed its use-by-date, at the expense of incoming technologies.
The author is obviously an expert in film technology, having been the Assistant Director of Research with Kodak. Being an expert though, doesn't necessarily translate into being a good teacher - and poor editing doesn't help the situation. I came unstuck on page 6 and had to turn to Wikipedia before I could understand the Lippman Method. This is not an isolated example. Here are two others among many:
P204: "If the maximum density of a slide is about 3.0, a fairly typical figure, and the luminance caused by ambient light is 3.0 log units less than the open-gate screen luminance at the same point (a figure representative of good projection conditions), then the minimum luminance for a black would be equal to twice that of the ambient luminance, or 0.3 log units above that corresponding to the maximum density of the film." What Hunt is trying to say is something like this:
"Assuming that the luminance of the deepest black on screen (in the absence of ambient light) is the same as the luminance at the same point caused by ambient light in the projection room, then the combined luminance will be doubled - an increase of 0.3 log units."
P300: "Assuming a visual resolution of 20 cycles per degree (objects of 1.5 minutes of arc in diameter visible), the eye cannot see detail finer than about 5 cycles per mm, so that the smallest object visible would be about 0.1 mm in diameter." What he is trying to say is:
"Assuming a visual resolution of 5 cycles per mm, the smallest object visible would be about 0.1 mm in diameter (half a cycle)."
The latter example is one of many in the book that shows poor editing, in this case using two different units when one would suffice. Poor editing again shows its hand when "micro-meter" and "µm" occur in the same sentence (p301), when "µm" has already been introduced as a shorthand for "micro-meter". It looks clumsy and it is clumsy.
MEDIOCRE PHOTOS & DIAGRAMS
Some of the figures and photos require updating. Fig. 4.2 (p28) is poorly hand-drawn, and the photo on p38 has the look of a 1960's photo in a women's magazine. Poor-quality photos should not appear in a modern book on colour reproduction. They need updating. I wouldn't be surprised if the majority of the photos have been retained over several editions.
TOO MUCH OF THE PAST; TOO LITTLE OF THE MODERN
Sections of the book are devoted to technology that is antiquated. It is, of course, important that such technology be documented, but how much space should be devoted to descriptions of old equipment when there is a dearth of explanation of modern equipment? As each new edition appears, it is probably desirable that some sections be retired, to be replaced by their modern equivalents. Here are some examples where there is too much emphasis on old equipment and not enough on the new:
Pages 219-221: Densitometers (latest reference 1956). Included is this inaccuracy: "...the photocell produces an ac signal which is easier to amplify than a dc signal." That may have been the case in the 1950s; it hasn't been the case since the 1970s when IC op amps were introduced.
Pages 264-270: A detailed description of 1950s equipment used for printing photos from colour negatives. In this chapter ("Printing Colour Negatives"), less than one page is devoted to digital printers (p274) and even that is woefully outdated. A reference to a LaserColor printer, for example, is dated 1979. No mention of mini-labs.
Pages 450-453: Kodak's Photo CD receives more than three pages of detailed analysis. Unfortunately, Photo CD has gone the way of the dodo, replaced by Picture CD. I may be wrong, but aren't both now technological relics?
Chapter 25 ("Pictures from Computers") can be summed up by noting that the latest reference in that chapter is 1985, with most dating from the 1960s and 70s. The numerous images in this chapter may have induced a "wow" factor in the mind of a mid-1980s reader, but in 2011 the images and descriptions are outdated.
Similarly, Chapter 29 ("Colour Scanners") is at least 20 years out of date. What may have been modern-sounding in the 1980s ("The facility with which electrical signals can be manipulated to correspond to a wide variety of algebraic equations has led to the use, in graphic arts processes, of a number of devices known as scanners") comes across now as antiquated. The chapter gives a good rundown of scanners from the 1950s. Fine, if you want history, but of little use for a user in 2011 who wants to learn about colour theory as applied in modern devices. The images on p528 and 538-39, clearly show the age of this chapter; the latter showing as much good taste as a novice let loose with corny Photoshop filters.
Talking about Photoshop: not one mention. I'm not suggesting that this book become a tutorial on Photoshop, but given that every organisation involved in colour reproduction now uses Photoshop to some degree, its non-appearance is further indication of how this book is becoming outdated. I was looking forward to reading the history behind Photoshop's "Unsharp Mask" (a sharpening tool). Unsharp Masks are explained (p247), but not how they relate to their digital equivalents. In a similar vein, I was fascinated by the technique used to obtain reasonable colour balance in the early photo-printing machines, a technique called "integrating to gray" (p265). No mention that a similar technique is available in digital image editors. Photoshop calls it "Auto Colour". History, in a book such as this, should be related to the present wherever possible.
Chapter 10 ("Light Sources") has a healthy stack of information on the technicalities of light sources: their colour temperature and spectral response. However, the section on LEDs is inadequate. LEDs are likely to become the dominant form of lighting, and are increasingly used in photography and movies. This section should have contained a detailed examination of their strong and weak points. All Hunt offers is one paragraph, ending with this unhelpful comment in which he compares LEDs with traditional light sources: "even when red, green and blue LEDs... are used to produce white light, the spectral power is still markedly different." No further explanation, no spectral response graphs. Disappointing, really.
ON A POSITIVE NOTE
To counter the above negative impressions, there is one overriding positive impression: Hunt is an acknowledged expert on film and colour. Those chapters where he deals primarily with the theory of colour and it's practical application in film are definitive. Problems arise when he strays from this area into other specialised fields such as television, modern scanners, digital cameras, and large digital printers. Two examples. First, the HP Indigo digital printer, which is making inroads into the offset printing business, receives a mention by name but with no detail. The Xerox iGen is not mentioned at all. A whole chapter is required to explain how these innovative printing solutions, and others like them, handle colour. Second, the very basis of digital cameras - the Bayer filter - although shown in a diagram (p368), is not mentioned by name. Which is surprising, given that the inventor, Bryce Bayer, worked for Kodak. Hunt surely must have known of him.
The Reproduction of Colour, first published in 1957 and now into its sixth edition, is in danger of becoming a dinosaur. Hunt may have to relinquish his sole authorship role and bring on board specialist writers to handle topics that are barely covered in this book: digital cameras and scanners; large digital printers that are competing with offset; LEDs for photographic lighting; flat-screen TVs that have now replaced CRT screens; DVD and Blu-Ray -- each of which has a serious role to play in our modern colourful lives, but which receive scant treatment here. Some of these technologies have matured since the book was printed, and this could be put forward as an argument in the book's defence. The malaise goes deeper than that - the evidence from the book itself points to a lack of skilled editing (making explanations clear, and knowing when to toss certain topics), a preponderance of explanations of technologies past their prime, and insufficient attention paid to emerging technologies. After six editions, the book is showing its age. It needs a major revamp and the input of new authors.
Around 15% of this book covers either dead technology (those pages should be removed or significantly reduced in content, and replaced with sections on modern technology), or it covers its subject at a superficial level. If you want to learn about colour as it applies to film, there is probably not a finer book. However, if you come to this book (as I did) thinking you have purchased the definitive book about the reproduction of colour in a wide variety of modern devices, you will be disappointed.