Review Spyder 3 Express monitor calibrator
Spyder 3 Express – Review
Basic Monitor profiling and calibration
The Spyder 3 Express from Datacolor is their latest display calibrator aimed at people wanting an economic way of improving the accuracy of what’s displayed on their monitor.
This review looks at the Spyder 3 Express on an Apple Mac system, but it works just the same on a PC (inc. Vista and Win7).
Updates – datacolor support Feb ’11 Software at V4.0.1
I often tell people that the single easiest way of improving the consistency and quality of their digital photographs is to profile/calibrate their screens.
This can help graphic designers and artists too, since knowing that what you see on your screen represents what is in your files removes a major source of error.
I also tell people that this stuff isn’t difficult, but then again I do it as part of my job…
The process of profiling involves measuring how your screen performs, and then correcting it with a profile. Your computer and the image editing software subsequently take care of ‘fixing things’ when you are working.
Just in case you are still wondering just what this ‘Colour management’ stuff is, I’ve a very short guide to colour management page that might be of help – it includes links to other articles on this site and elsewhere. There are also links to further information at the end of this article.
The measurement hardware uses the same basic internal sensor as in more advanced versions of the Spyder3 range.
The measurement device goes against your screen during the profiling process – it’s a colorimeter, i.e. it measures colour.
Some more advanced features such as ambient light measurement and more complex profiling options have been left out in an attempt to make a basic high quality monitor calibrator that will not only be easy to use, but provide a good entry point to those wanting to improve the quality/consistency of their work.
The measurement device connects to a USB port on your computer during profiling.
After profiling, you can leave the calibrator in its box until needed again.
You will need to re-profile your monitor every few weeks/months to allow for the natural drift in monitor performance over time.
It’s worth noting that you will need to re-profile your monitor if anyone fiddles with any of the monitor controls.
For best performance when photo editing it helps to work in subdued lighting, and avoiding any direct lighting shining on your screen. With modern LCD screens, it’s often worth turning down the brightness quite a bit before calibrating – whilst I measure my screen brightnesses accurately, I notice that most of my screens have their brightness set to well under half of maximum.
I tried out the Spyder 3 Express on my Mac PowerBook and MacPro with Apple 23″ LCD. Using the Spyder 3 Express on a PC windows system looks very similar.
After installation of the software, I plugged in the sensor and started up the software
Some quick guidelines are provided for setting up profiling.
It’s important you allow time for your screen to ‘warm up’ enough. Half an hour is really the minimum, but I personally wait until it’s been on at least an hour before profiling. If you have a screen saver, you should ensure that it doesn’t ‘kick-in’ during the measuring process, since this will ruin the calibration.
if you’re curious about what’s being set up and why you are doing it, then there are extensive help files provided to explain more, although the Spyder3Express is designed so that you don’t need to read all this stuff.
If you tick the ‘learn about display calibration’ tickbox, there is an extended tutorial shown.
I know some people avoid any techy information, but do try and find time to browse the additional information – it really does help when you understand why you are doing things…
The next setting just tells the software what sort of screen you have.
After that, you are invited to place the sensor against the screen.
The display sensor can hang via its cable, and if you tilt the screen back a little it will stay in good contact with the screen surface.
Note – The software in this shot is an earlier test version and the progess bar below is a slightly different version to the currently shipping software. This is one of the problems in writing reviews just before a product is shipped…
Next the screen flashes a number of colours.
These colours are measured by the sensor to get the information needed to create a monitor profile.
A progress bar at bottom of the coloured area shows progress of the profiling.
It takes a few minutes to complete.
You get a chance to see the difference between your old monitor settings and the new profile, with the ‘SpyderProof ‘image.
I can’t easily show the effect here in a web article, but you’ll usually notice a number of improvements.
Important Note – if you’ve got used to using a badly set up monitor, then it’s quite possible that the correct version will look wrong. just go away for a few minutes and your vision should quickly adjust…
It’s worth noting that a version of the test image is included in the software install. This makes an excellent check for print quality too.
If you’d like more info on this, then it’s included in the application help. We’ve also got full details in our Test Images article.
When all is done, the software lets you know that it has finished.
That’s it – your monitor is now calibrated.
Everything that most people really don’t need to bother about has been avoided in implementing the Spyder3Express software.
Note that this doesn’t mean you are losing out. The default settings the software uses happen to be the same ones I use for my professional work.
OK, I adjust a few other settings, but then again I’m using an expensive print viewing cabinet and a number of other advanced features.
One thing to note is that the Spyder3 software requires activation with your serial number – this worked very quickly in the software I was testing, however if your computer is not connected to the internet there is a simple manual process.
Once completed, it’s worth noting down the code (I write codes like this down on a post-it note that goes in the box.)
There are a few preferences you can set for the software.
The default settings are 6500K and gamma 2.2 , but you can use native temperature if you want (I used to use this on older laptops)
As with most aspects of the software, most people don’t need to know or adjust this, but it’s nice that the choice is there.
You can also set how often the software will remind you to recalibrate – don’t set ‘Never’.
I often get asked for suggestions about learning more about the nuts and bolts of Colour Management.
My usual suggestion is Bruce Fraser's Real World Colour Management. My own copy is well thumbed. It's my first port of call if I'm asked a question and I feel I don't quite understand an issue well enough to be absolutely sure of an answer.
Check latest price/availability from AmzonRWCM 2nd Edition RWCM
See some other books Keith has on the shelf, on our Books Page
If you’ve gone to the trouble of getting a calibrator, then at least use it correctly, and that means re-calibration, even if it’s only every couple of months.
I’m always very wary when I come across software that has been ‘simplified’ for a more general audience. The usual result is something that has been dumbed down so far as to be annoying if you have much additional knowledge about the subject.
Fortunately the Spyder3Express provides all the basic calibration functionality that most people would need, in a simple and easy to use package.
It does what it sets out to do, and I hope it brings colour management and some of the benefits it can give to a wider audience.
The quality of the profiles on the equipment I tested were more than good enough for my own personal use.
If you’re wondering why you should consider one of the more advanced Spyder options, then my own personal reasons would be, multiple monitor support, precise luminance adjustment across multiple monitors, projector calibration and profiling and more detailed reporting and monitoring of display performance.
As I said, most people wanting basic calibration just wouldn’t need this sort of detail.
Buying the Spyder3 Express
We make a specific point of not selling hardware, but if you found the review of help please consider buying the Spyder3 Express, or any other items at all, via our links with Amazon or B&H
Amazon UK link / Amazon Fr / Amazon De
Amazon USA link / Amazon Canada link
It won’t cost any more (nor less we’re afraid) but will contribute towards the running costs of our site.
Before calibrating your monitor on an older Windows PC system, you should check to see that Adobe gamma is turned off if it was installed. We’ve got a short guide to removing Adobe Gamma that might be of help.
Monitor calibrator with support for LCD and CRT screens.
Gamma 2.2 and choice of 6500K or native white points.
Manufacturer details: Datacolor
- Mac OS X (10.4 or higher)
- Windows XP 32, Vista, Win7
- USB (ideally a direct connection)
- Colour monitor resolution 1024×768 or greater
- 16-bit video card (24-bit recommended)
- 128MB of available RAM
- 100MB of available hard disk space
Declaration of interest – Keith was asked to look at beta versions of the software and hardware before its final release. Northlight Images has no commercial relationship with Datacolor and regularly tests equipment and software for a number of different companies. See our review policy for more information.
Spyder products feature comparisons
Information from Datacolor:
Spyder3 V3 vs V4 software features (May 2010) – S3Elite V4 review
Product features (late 2009)
Never miss a new article or review - Sign up for our Newsletter (2-4 a month max.)
Enjoyed this article?
For information about printers, paper reviews and profiling (colour management) see the Printing section of the main printers and printing page, or use the search box at the top of any page.
All colour management articles and reviews are indexed on the main Colour Management page - please do let Keith know if you've any questions, either via the comments or just email us?
Some specific articles that may be of interest:
- Why don't my prints match my screen? A short article showing why there is more to getting your prints to match your screen, than just calibrating your monitor. It's the vital first step, but you do need to consider some other factors for best results.
- Why are my prints too dark - some basic suggestions to this common problem.
Articles below by Keith (Google's picks for matching this page)