Color by Numbers

At the recent medical imaging symposium I bought myself a copy of Daniel Malacara’s Color Vision and Colorimetry: Theory and Applications from the SPIE Press. I managed to read the short monograph on the five hours of flights from sunny, warm San Diego to freezing New England.

It’s not exactly an elementary book, but it covers the mathematical basis of colorimetry. Unlike my article on color vision, Malacara draws upon a lot of research and presents the essential equations of color science — at least those that relate to color measurement.

This is one of the rare books on color vision that leaves the human visual system to the end. In fact, the cone response functions are among the last topics discussed. Instead, this short work of about 150 pages takes a more or less chronological approach to colorimetry, starting with a few fundamentals on colorful light, progressing through basic trichromatic systems (like RGB, XYZ, and xyY) and uniform color systems (such as Munsell, CIELUV, and CIELAB) before ending at color mixing and measurement.

It’s quite a good book for those needing concise definitions and equations. Many diagrams and full-color images complement tables for color matching functions and color transformation equations. In a few places the text is overly terse, and my only wish is that Malacara would have provided a bit more context around some of the equations explaining where some “magical” values come from.

But, all things considered, it’s a work that belongs on the bookshelf of anyone who works with color as numbers.

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