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Monitor calibration, with ambient light measurement
The Spyder4Pro from Datacolor is the third item in their current range of monitor calibrators that we've looked at.
As monitors have changed, from the big CRT displays we were using in 2004, through to LED LCD displays, large gamut monitors and OLED based displays, the technology needed to accurately profile and calibrate them has been adapted and refined.
In this review, Keith looks at the new Spyder4Pro package for monitors (includes multiple monitor support).
The examples shown here are using Apple Macs, but the software generally works in the same way on Windows PC machines.
The Spyder4Pro is the 'midpoint' of the Spyder4 range.
You can even improve your TV display setup with the Spyder4TV/HD
Looking at a picture on your monitor, how do you know that the colour green you are seeing is the one recorded by your camera?
If you send your photo files off to a company to produce prints for you, then how can you be sure that the colours that they see will be the same as you see?
Is 'pure' white on your screen a reliable or accurate representation of white? Is it too warm (yellowish) or too cool (bluish).
How do you know that the shadow detail you can see in pictures is really there in the files? If your monitor shows detail of shadows in your photos as too light, then you might be tempted to darken them during editing.
If you send this darkened image off to be printed, then there is every chance that the shadows that looked fine to you on your monitor will be too dark when you see the resulting prints.
Editing images on a monitor that hasn't been profiled and calibrated is effectively building your editing work upon foundations of sand.
There are a lot of things you can do to improve the situation and be more confident that what you see on your screen is a good approximation to what your camera captured.
The first and most important step is however, calibrating your monitor.
I've written several articles on this site which go into more detail about aspects of printing and colour management.
If you've a Spyder 3 Pro running V4 software, then the biggest difference with the new package is in the sensor. This from Datacolor:
I'll run through the basics of using the software here, some more details can be found in the Spyder4Express review (basic monitor calibration only) and the top of the range Spyder4Elite, which adds projector profiling and numerous specialist features.
The device is supplied in a display pack and includes
The top of the unit has a sensor for measuring ambient light levels, whilst the counterweight can be slid along the cable to balance the weight of the sensor when using it.
Ambient lighting is an important factor in getting best results from your system and is probably the biggest contributor, after overly bright monitors, to the question we often get asked 'Why are my prints too dark?'.
This is the number you should use if you install the software on another computer.
It's worth noting that the installer checked for updates before running, so I was spared that minor irritation of installing software, only to find shortly afterwards that I need to install an update.
I tested the Spyder on my MacBook Pro and Mac Pro Desktop / Apple 23" LCD.
The measuring device sits in a holder if you choose to enable ambient light measurement. In the Elite model, this is also used when you use the device for projector calibration.
Mouse over the image to the right to see how it fits.
Upon starting up the software, there are a few initial checks.
If you're not sure about some of the features, then it's worth checking out the software help, which is both well written and comprehensive.
The type of system you are calibrating needs setting.
The software will note your display type, and if known, will set various options for you. If it's a less common model, you may also be required to note what sorts of controls the display is fitted with. In the preferences, there are also options for dealing with small netbook displays.
For my Apple 23" monitor and MacBook Pro, everything is controlled by the software, so I didn't have to enter any of this information. For my second monitor on my Mac Pro, I set it to a generic LCD type, with fluorescent back lighting (it long predates LED backlights).
Now we get to the calibration process, where there are also shorter 'check' type measurements available if needed.
The Spyder3Pro offers several options, although the defaults will work fine for most people
The brightness can be left as-is (native) or set to typical values for CRT or LCD displays.
In this instance I'm starting off with a 'Full' calibration.
The screen will display a number of coloured patches which the sensor measures.
The difference between what the software send to the screen and what is measured, is the information that the software uses for calibration and building your monitor profile.
The whole process takes about 5 minutes.
After the measuring process, the profile is created for your screen.
If you have multiple screens on your computer, then a profile is created for each one.
The profiles are saved in the default location for your particular computer system.
This is where you can also set a reminder for re-profiling your monitor
After saving, you have the 'SpyderProof' option to see how the profile has altered the look of your screen.
Actually it's much less noticeable than this - our eyes adapt very quickly, so the uncalibrated version looks much more white, than my camera sees it (same white balance settings for each image)
If you run the software again, it offers a different calibration settings screen.
It can tell that you already have a suitable profile, so offers the options of seeing if it's still valid, or running a quick calibration update (ReCAL - about 2.5 minutes)
I ran the check, and it quickly decided that all was well
Expect some small variation between measurements - if those numbers mean something to you, then you might want to consider the more advanced Spyder4Elite, which has screens full of such detail available if you look for them.
The Spyder Utility
A small program is run at your computer's startup, which handles ambient light measurement, ongoing profile quality checking, and can be used to directly launch the Spyder4Pro software.
If you have other people using your computer, it performs the useful function of seeing if anyone has altered any settings.
I'd note that the sensor has quite a wide area of measurement, so it picked up the strong lighting off to one side, in the photos above.
There is also an option to display aspects of the gamut of the screen you have just profiled.
This allows comparisons between different profiles too.
I'd suggest that you take these displays as illustrative, rather than conveying any deep quantitative significance.
The software includes an option for taking quite a few different measurements of your screen.
I've used this with the Spyder4Elite to check the best initial setup for profiling a projector, but find it of less use with well behaved modern display devices.
Whilst they can give interesting information about your monitor and its settings, I'd suggest that if you find this sort of stuff particularly useful, then you should have the more advanced Spyder4Elite, and should consider getting out more... ;-)
Quick and easy to use, allowing me to set up and profile multiple monitors and display types.
All the profiles I created were perfectly acceptable for my day to day use.
For more advanced users, who need to accurately set monitors up to known states (luminance or colour temperature for example) then the additional features of the Spyder4Elite will be of use. The Elite also uses some slightly more advanced profiling options, which may benefit users with better quality monitors (see the features comparisons later).
Buying the Spyder4 Pro
We make a specific point of not selling hardware, but if you found the review of help please consider buying the Spyder, 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.
For many users however, unless you also have a projector to set up, then the Spyder4Pro should give more than enough options.
I should point out that the basic internal sensor design is common to all Spyder4 models.
Like all the ambient light measurement features that I've looked at (in numerous reviews over the years) I'm less than convinced of their real life use, but it's there and it does things if you want ;-)
The measuring device is also supported by various third party software that you may find supplied with very high end monitors.
I'm hoping to be testing one such wide gamut monitor in the next month or so and will definitely include the Spyder 4 in the testing.
This review first published in April 2012
If you've any questions or comments - you can discuss this article in its Google+ thread
Monitor calibrator with support for multiple monitor systems and projectors
Manufacturer details: Datacolor
Comparing the Spyder 3
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.
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