We describe the experimental setup of a multispectral color image acquisition system consisting of a professional monochrome CCD camera and a tunable filter in which the spectral transmittance can be controlled electronically. We perform a spectral characterization of the acquisition system taking into account the acquisition noise. To convert the camera output signals to device-independent color data, two main approaches are proposed and evaluated. One consists in applying regression methods to convert from the K camera outputs to a device-independent color space such as CIEXYZ or CIELAB. Another method is based on a spectral model of the acquisition system. By inverting the model using a principal eigenvector approach, we estimate the spectral reflectance of each pixel of the imaged surface. © 2002 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.