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Spyder 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).
Updates - downloads
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Amazon.com or Amazon.co.ukRWCM 1st Edition RWCM
RWCM 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
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
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.
Monitor calibrator with support for LCD and CRT screens.
Gamma 2.2 and choice of 6500K or native white points.
Manufacturer details: Datacolor
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)
Available at Amazon.com
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
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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