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spyder 3 express display calibratorSpyder 3 Express - Review

Basic Monitor 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).

Elsewhere, we've detailed reviews of the Spyder 3 Elite and Spyder3Pro as well, which you may find of interest when comparing features.

Updates - downloads
Feb '11 Software at V4.0.1

Monitor Profiling

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...

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... or try at Adorama

Spyder3express colorimeter

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.

What do you get

The measurement hardware uses the same basic internal sensor as in more advanced versions of the Spyder3 range.

spyder 3 express display calibratorThe 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.

Using the Spyder

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

the display calibration process

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.

choice of display type

After that, you are invited to place the sensor against the screen.

positioning sensor for screen calibration

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.

sensor mounted on display for calibration

  • 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.

measuring display colours

  • Note - you can see some moire fringing on the display. This can be of use for micro-adjusting autofocus on cameras which allow it.

A progress bar at bottom of the coloured area shows progress of the profiling.

screen calibration measurements

It takes a few minutes to complete.

measurements completed

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...

Spyderproof image showing how calibration has worked

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.

profile completed

That's it - your monitor is now calibrated.

Additional features

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.

activation options

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.)

activated software

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.

monitor calibration preferences

You can also set how often the software will remind you to recalibrate - don't set 'Never'.

recalibration warning settings

Color Management bookI 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 Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

RWCM 1st Edition RWCM
RWCM 2nd Edition RWCM

Other Amazon sites
Amazon France / Amazon Germany / Amazon Canada

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.

That's it - if you're looking for a more complex solution then do check the Spyder 3 Elite and Spyder3Pro reviews I've written.

Conclusions

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.


Amazon.de Spyder 3.0 Pro
Amazon.fr Spyder 3 Pro
Buy at the #1 Photo SuperStore
Buy new at B&H
Datacolor Spyder3Express Color Calibration System
Buy new at B&H
The Professional's Source | Since 1973

Note...
Before calibrating your monitor on Windows PC systems, 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.

Summary

Monitor calibrator with support for LCD and CRT screens.

Gamma 2.2 and choice of 6500K or native white points.

Spyder3express colorimeterManufacturer details: Datacolor

Requirements

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

More Info

Spyder products feature comparisons

Information from Datacolor:

Spyder3 V3 vs V4 software features (May 2010) - S3Elite V4 review

review of spyder 3 pro S3E info Review of Spyder 3 Elite V4.0
Gamma choices 1.8, 2.0, 2.2, 2,4 Unlimited Unlimited
Colour temp. 5000K, 5800K,
6500K, Native
Unlimited Unlimited
Ambient light measurement X X X
Multiple display calibration X X X
ReCAL - Recalibration assistant X X X
StudioMatch, multiple display targeting X X
Front projector calibration X X
Expert console X X
Software-based brightness control X
Luminance adj. automated for Mac X
Iterative grey balance option X
Compare & chart display gamuts X
Maps display evenness X
Graph & compare display's tone response X
Charts white luminance & contrast X
Compare various monitor (OSD) settings X

Product features (late 2009)

     
   Review of Spyder2 express Spyder 3 Express review  Spyder3 pro review  Spyder 3 Elite review  Spyder 3 print review
Target User Home user & digital imaging enthusiast Home user & digital imaging enthusiast Serious & professional photographers Professional photographers, photography
studios and professional users of all kinds
Photographers, fine art printers, production professionals
Measurement Device Datacolor Spyder2 Datacolor Spyder3 Datacolor Spyder3 Datacolor Spyder3 Datacolor 1005 Spectrocolorimeter
Gamma Choices Fixed (2.2) Fixed (2.2) 4 choices: 1.8, 2.0, 2.2, 2.4
(16 target combinations)
Unlimited choices, user defined Unlimited choices, user defined
Colour Temperature Choices Fixed (6500K) 2 Choices 6500K/Native 4 choices: 5000K/5800K/ 6500K /native
(16 target combinations)
Unlimited choices, user defined Unlimited choices, user defined
Custom Targets     Yes, unique custom choices
(NTSC, PAL/ SECAM, Cineon, L-Star)
Yes, 3 levels of colour targets, plus extended gray targets
Embedded Ambient Light Sensor/Desktop Cradle   X X Desktop cradle /calibration tile
Aperture Size 14.5mm diameter 27mm diameter 27mm diameter 27mm diameter 7mm diameter
Ambient Light Measure   X X N/A
ReCAL, Recalibration Assistant   X X N/A
Expert Console     X X
Custom B/W Luminance Control     X X
Display History Utility     X N/A
SpyderProof Interface   X X X
Multiple Display Calibration   X X N/A
Studio Match     X N/A
Front Projector Calibration     X N/A
Gamma Curve Editing     X X
CheckCAL, Calibration and Profile Check   X X X N/A
L-Star* Workflow Option     X X
Custom Curves Capability     X X
PreciseLight Functions     X X
Hi-Bit Profiling Option       X
Precision Gray Axis Algorithm   X X X X

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The views in this article represent those of Keith Cooper.
Keith is always happy to discuss matters raised in his articles. You can Email Us Email Us
Northlight Images prides itself on its independence when giving advice. We do not sell hardware or software and have no direct commercial links with any of the software or hardware vendors that may be mentioned here. See our Review Policy for more information.

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