Lastolite 'ezybalance' folding grey card

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: They're useful, cheap, and will actually improve your photographs. What else will do all that?

The Long Version: Grey cards and colour references aren't exciting things that photographers get together and talk about. Even dedicated gearheads can be intimidated by digital colour management, and for almost everyone the camera's idea of 'close enough' will be good enough. The more trusting photographers generally capture jpeg images, which institutionalizes the cameras' settings, and raw shooters have a 'fix it in photoshop' approach that leads to bad photographic hygiene.

But the reality is that a vast improvement in colour accuracy isn't difficult, and doesn't need to be a gateway to spyders, profiles, and multi-thousand-dollar monitors. This is easy. Sure, if it's art, go ahead and make everything green. But wouldn't it be best to know for certain what the scene actually looked like first?

I fully confess to being one of those people who shoots in raw and sorts them out later. And I'm not always the most diligent, either. But when colour accuracy matters, I start shooting frames like the one above. I can then select that photo and all of the ones taken in the same light - the ones after it, until the next grey frame - and synchronize the white balance in Lightroom without ever leaving the Library module. Six clicks and each set is done. I can colour-balance an entire shoot in less time that it has taken me to write this paragraph.

For people who shoot in jpeg capture, the sequence is even easier and more important. Point the camera at the grey card, press whatever buttons you need to to set a manual white balance, and you're done. Naturally you need to change it when the lighting changes, but that's true with anything other than the camera-knows-best Auto WB setting.

The main grey reference that I use is a Lastolite ezybalance [sic] folding / collapsible grey card. I have the small standard version, but they also make a waterproof model for dive photography, which I wanted until I saw its price. Their website is unusually useful, featuring some videos on how to use the product, and any gray card will work with the same instructions. For macro and small product photography I'll use one made from cardboard, which I've cut down to fit in the frame, and other times I'll go all-out and use a colour chart. But for general use I really appreciate the easybalance, as it's proven to be durable and the white side is also very handy for acting as a small reflector. It deploys to its full size with a quick flick, and the 12" size that I use is large enough to get an easy reading from. When I'm shooting it's natural to just tuck under my arm, or if I have two hands free I'll fold it and tuck it into my back pocket or camera bag. One of the larger sizes may be better if you need one to gauge the proper exposure, but I don't worry too much about that. After all, if I pay attention to the highlights, I can always fix it in post.

Updated to answer Jigme's question:

There are a couple of ways to shoot a reference frame. The one I use is to fill the frame (with a telephoto like the 35-100/2) by holding the card out at arms-length and trusting my E-3's auto white balance to get the temperature mostly right. (The E-3, like the E-1 and some Nikons, has a separate sensor to evaluate the ambient light.) This is the way to set a custom/manual white balance, but it's not the usual way to use a grey/white reference.

Any other time, such as with a wide-angle lens or with flash, is to include the grey card within the frame without actually taking it over. So when you have the lighting right (for studio flash) just include the grey card in one of the frames, and colour-correct them all from it in post. I typically do this in the last frame of the shoot, and after each major change in the lighting. If you're shooting one of those subjects that I avoid - things that move and talk - get one of them to hold it at some point.

But if you're shooting in mixed lighting, there's not much you can do for 'correct' white balance. All you can do is try to get the look right, which is going to be subjective and personal. A tool like this can be used to get the main subject 'right', but it's one of those times when good judgement is more important.

Carl Weese has written an excellent pair of articles on the subject over at TOP. Here are the links for Part One and Part Two.


  1. It appears that you liked the product; why give it a low score on the concept/execution side?

  2. That's a good question, and the answer may not be what you'd expect: I didn't give it a low mark. A score of "3" (out of five) is a ranking of 'very good', and I only give it to items that I would talk enthusiastically about to a friend. Cora's Pizza (reviewed May 25 2008) got the same 3/3 score, and I eat there almost every week.

    If you see a product with a 4 or 5 ranking, it has completely blown me away; even a rating of 2/5, which is 'average' is still a decent mark. It would be something that I'd use - like McDonalds - but without that extra spark that has people looking for a way to cut the conversation short. You will see plenty of higher ratings here, but that's because I choose what I write about and prefer to review what impresses me the most. It's not a sign of ratings inflation.

    I've seen product-placement magazines with complicated grading systems that result in specific-sounding ratings of "94 out of 100" or something similar, which sounds really impressive - only to read a little sidebar elsewhere that says that a result of 90 out of 100 is an unacceptable product. To me, that seems a lot like watching a game of basketball: why spend all that time adding up all the numbers if the first 80 or 90 are a given? Just play the last five minutes and let me know how it turned out.

  3. Well, 3 out of 5 is a "C" grade. I finished 11 years of school back in Eastern Europe where the grading system is 1 to 5, with 5 being "A". So by you giving it a rating of 3, right away that's an "average" grade, which doesn't really endorse the product. Had you given it a 4/5 rating, that would totally change things.

    4+/5 is even better :)

    In any case, I've just purchased ezybounce today and am still trying to figure out whether it's a good investment. So far in a tungsten-lit room the results are less than average. I will try tomorrow outdoors.

    My biggest concern was the uniformity of color distribution. As I suspected, different areas on the can yield different results if I use an eye dropper in Lightroom to correct white balance. Not impressed at the moment, but then again... artificially lit environments are difficult to capture.


  4. But this isn't school, and it's not a linear system - these are subjective and personal opinions. Arithmetic doesn't enter into it. The same rating scale needs to work for cameras and computer games, washing machines and wildlife. There's no point in pretending that this is anything more than a codification of what I think of the underlying idea and how well its done.

    So it's a big step between each point; 4/5 is 'Exceptional,' the highest that I reasonably expect something to achieve. (See the handy little sidebar.) 5/5 is 'Perfect,' and I take that very literally - even if I can't think of a specific complaint there's no guarantee that it'll be awarded. It's not that specific.

    For setting a grey balance with the eyedropper in Lightroom, slide the loupe to show more and smaller squares (if you haven't already). That will average out the variation by increasing the sampling area. But the variation isn't within the ezybalance, every WB reference seems to produce it - I haven't really looked into why.

    I'd love to hear your further thoughts on the ezybalance, and how much you integrate it into your shooting.

  5. That's why I liked the North American system that used %, thus giving one a wider scale to make a better judgment. 50-100, for instance, would denote everything "positive". However, I am here not to dispute your grading system :) You did clarify that 3/5 is a good score.

    Oddly enough it is hard to find reviews for this product. Since I've never used grey cards before and thought that uniform color distribution would depend on the material of the card itself. EZYBALANCE is made out of some kind of rubber-like material and WHIBAL (the other highly praised alternative) is made out of plastic that, according to the inventor, gives even distribution of color.

    I use Capture NX2 (Nikon RAW software) and it does have an option of making a marquee selection to adjust white balance. So, I just select a wider area and I guess it averages out the values. Going out to shoot some sunny scenes today. For indoors it works OK but obviously tries to give the perfect 18% and that doesn't work for those warm colors that one gets from tungsten lights.

  6. Hi - thanks for the post -- just a quick question -- how do you balance when you use a flash? Does it work the same way>?

  7. Jigme, thanks for the question. I've added an update to the main review to describe how I use it, along with a couple of useful links.


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