Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
I have put a roof over my head and food on my table as a professional photographer for a decade now. I have shot 100% digitally for the past 7 of those years. I have owned 8-10 computer systems in that time (laptops, desktops, Windows and Mac systems) and at least a dozen different digital cameras.
However, I am almost embarrassed to admit that I have never once done any serious color calibration on any monitor I have owned. I’ve just used the most basic calibration utilities such as the one included with Apple’s OS X. This probably means that either:
I am very good.
I am very lucky.
I have been blessed with very understanding editors and art directors.
In truth, probably all three are true to some extent. That doesn’t excuse anything. As digital becomes more and more the status quo, having a properly color calibrated system can improve the quality of your images and your printing. Color calibration will make it easier to accurately make any color adjustments that your images might need.
So, operating under the “better late than never” motto, a Spyder3 Elite, (compare prices), arrived at my door the other day and I went about making up for lost time.
What’s In The Box:
Datacolor Spyder calibration unit
Quick Start Guide
Installation CD (with serial number on CD sleeve)
Stand for calibration unit
Calibration unit counterweight (for non-suction cup use)
Screen Cleaning packets
2 year warranty
The Calibration Process
The quick start guide is pretty easy to understand. Essentially, you need to install the software (requires Windows 2000, XP, or Vista. Mac OSX 10.3+) first. Then plug the calibration unit into an open USB port. After the unit is plugged in, you start up the Datacolor software. According to Datacolor, while you do have to enter in the software serial number when installing the software, the software is not limited to that original machine. You are allowed to use the Spyder3 to calibrate all the machines in your home/business.
The software itself is pretty easy to use in the default “wizard” mode. First off it attempts to detect your display. In my case it cleverly detected the external monitor I use and not my laptop’s own monitor. You are asked to tell the software what kind of a display you have, choosing between LCD, CRT, laptop, projector (that last one being an option not found on all calibration units). Then it asks you a couple of questions about image adjustment controls on your monitor, then suggests you reset all your adjustments to factory default. Finally, you choose how you would like to use the calibration unit, with the suction cup or without.
This brings me to my main issue with the Spyder3. The suction cup is useless on my matte screen LCD monitor. On a glass CRT monitor, the suction cup works just fine. But on my LCD, it simply will not stay stuck and crashed to the desk twice before I gave up on it. Thankfully, the Spyder3 does not need the suction cup to operate and can instead just lay against the screen. This is accomplished by hanging the unit’s cable over the back of your screen and using the included counterweight to make sure it stays in place. This works well enough, but you may need to tilt your screen back slightly to make sure that the unit lays flat as it it supposed to.
My only annoyance with the Datacolor software is related to the suction cup issue. After choosing “using suction sup” in the setup, then finding out that the suction cup would not work, I could not get back to re-choose “use without suction cup”. There was a “back” button on the start screen, but nothing happens when you click it. I finally figured out to delete my computer’s profile in the “DisplayHistory” folder of the Datacolor software install. Once I did that I was able to do the setup process again and choose “use without suction cup.”
Once properly set up, the Datacolor software did its thing and displayed a couple different color swatches for the calibration unit to analyze. The process took only a minute or so. Once everything is finished, you are presented with a set of example images and the option to switch between the “before” and “after” version to gauge the effect of the calibration.
Initial screen where software attempts to find your current monitor.
Choose your monitor type.
Tell the software what image controls your monitor has.
Same as above.
Suction cup choice. Choose wisely…
The calibration unit at work.
The comparison screen that allows you to see the effect of the calibration.
While my personal results were just fine when using the wizard for my calibration, the Spyder3 has a whole pile of advanced features for those with more particular requirements. If you work in a location that changes in brightness throughout the day, you can set the calibration unit to continuously measure ambient light levels and adjust the monitor accordingly. If you have multiple people working on images in a studio, or use multiple computers to process images, you can use the system to calibrate multiple monitors to the same target. An “expert console” allows you to bypass the calibration wizard and adjust every aspect of calibration to your heart’s content. You can measure spot color off the screen, set reminders for when it is time to re-calibrate, and even keep track of the history of your monitor’s calibrations to watch for degradation in image quality/brightness over the life of the monitor.
Different Spyder Models
There are currently four different Spyder models available. The Spyder3 Elite, (compare prices), is obviously what I am writing about in this article. The others are:
, is the most basic model and does not have any of the advanced customization features of the Spyder3 models. It uses the older Spyder2 calibration unit and is intended for digital enthusiasts who want to get a better handle on color calibration than they can achieve on their own.
, uses the same Spyder3 calibration unit reviewed here but has fewer advanced features in the software package. The Pro version targets advanced amatures and professionals on a budget (or who do not need/want the Elite’s advanced features).
, uses the Datacolor 1005 calibration unit that is specifically designed for those in the printing/publishing industry. While it can be used by photographers, it is missing some of the features that the Pro/Elite units have because those features are not applicable for print production work. For the most part, photographers will be better served by one of the other three Spyder units.
There is a good comparison chart of the four models on the Datacolor web site: Comparison Chart
Given how easy it is to now get accurate color calibration on my monitors, I feel pretty silly for having waited this long to actually get around to doing it. The Datacolor Spyder3 Elite calibration system is easy to use, powerful, and has enough advanced features to keep even the most obsessed pixel peeper happy. The advantage of being able to use the Spyder3 Elite on any monitor you might own (including projectors) is a big bonus in my mind. Aside from a few software navigation peeves and a less-than-perfect suction cup, there is really nothing bad I can say about the product.
Bottom line? I highly recommend the Spyder3 Elite to anyone who works with digital images and wants to make sure that the are looking at the most consistent and accurate representation possible on their monitors.
Where to Buy
You can purchase your own Spyder3 Elite from Photo.net’s partners. Their prices are fair and your purchase helps to support Photo.net.