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Spyder2express review

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Spyder2express

Review of the ColorVision (datacolor) Spyder2express monitor calibrator system



The economical version of ColorVision’s range of Spyder monitor calibrators is the Express.

This colorimeter based monitor profiling and calibration software works for both Macs and Windows PCs.

spyder2express

Monitor Calibration

The colour management market is becoming [2006] more mainstream, with lower priced products encouraging more people to look into improving the colour of their displays (it helps with black and white too…) Manufacturers are producing more economic solutions too.

Keith has been looking at the Spyder 2 express to see how well it works and how easy is it to create your icc monitor profiles.

There is also a brief discussion showing how you can use a single monitor device like the Spyder2express to calibrate multiple monitor systems.

Spyder2express Updates (2012)

  • 2012 – The current version of this device is looked at in some detail in Keith’s Spyder4Express review
  • 2009 – Spyder3express announced – uses latest Spyder3 sensor
  • March 2009 – software is updated to remove slight colour casts on some LCD monitors. An option to use either 6500K or Native WP is available. Other minor updates to software for compatibility.
  • 2008 We’ve added a feature comparison table including the Spyder3Pro and Spyder3Elite

Calibrating your monitor

How do you know that a particular colour red on your monitor is correct? If you send me a picture, then how do I know I’m seeing what you did?

Spyder 2 expressIf you are completely new to colour management you might also want to look at the very short ‘What is Colour Management’ article I’ve written.

The place to start with Colour Management is your monitor. If it isn’t displaying accurate colour, it’s difficult to get your prints right and even less likely someone else will.

Initially you should adjust your display by eye to get good brightness and contrast. There are various software tools that can help you in this (see the Viewing Page in the Info/Resources section) but these are at best a partial solution (they rely on your eyesight for one thing).

You need a hardware device of some sort that will make the adjustments for you. The software that comes with the device builds an icc monitor profile which are used by your operating system (MacOS or Windows for example) or software (such as Photoshop) to produce an accurate display.

Will the Spyder 2 express make my monitor match my prints? Maybe … I’ve written a short article on how it will help, but why you need to consider some other factors as well.

What do you get?

Spyder 2 express in boxThe pack contains the measurement device (a Spyder colorimeter connected via USB), a CD and a multi language installation guide. The device is actually the same Spyder colorimeter that you get with the Spyder2PRO, giving the potential of software upgrades in capability.

The sturdy USB cable has a moveable counterweight attached.

The weight can be slid along the cable, so that when the Spyder is being used on a LCD screen, the weight can hang over the back.

You only stick the device to CRT screens with it’s three suction cups – with LCDs, gravity is your friend … it also doesn’t leave marks on the screen or risk damaging it.

As with all colour management equipment, it helps to keep it stored away from dust and dirt. Since the box is not the easiest to open and re-use many times, a re-sealable plastic bag might be worth finding.

The product is also bundled with Adobe Album Starter edition – (Not much use for me since it is PC only :-)

Using the Spyder2express calibration software

Installing the software is pretty straightforward. You run the installer from the disk and the application is there ready for you to use.

Note – as ever, I’m looking at the Apple Macintosh version of the software, but the Windows version is functionally the same.

Right from the start, it is clear that the application has been written with some care, aiming it at people who may be completely new to monitor profiling software and colour management.

The software also installs a comprehensive 88 page PDF user guide, which is well worth looking through, even if a lot of the info refers to more advanced functions in other Spyder products.

If you click on the help button at any time, a help screen pops up giving you useful and relevant information.

Spyder 2 express software start up screen

Software start-up screen, with help window

Much of the help is organised so as to immediately answer your most likely questions, but also provide additional more detailed information if you want to learn a bit more about what you are doing (and more importantly -why-)

The Spyder 2 express offers a relatively limited range of options, but the software is the same as you use with more advanced Spyder profiling solutions. This occasionally means that the text is not quite right for what you are doing.

choosing monitor type

Monitor type

In the screen shot above, the text refers to a ‘Gray Balanced Calibration’ checkbox, but there isn’t one.

Now I’d just ignore it, since I’ve also got a Spyder 2 Pro (review) and happen to know that this checkbox is an option in the Spyder 2 Pro advanced preferences, but remember, this product is aimed at people new to colour management.

Fortunately errors like this are few and far between…

Once you have selected your device, you must select ‘Continue with these settings’ before moving on.

settings

Settings

The default setting for an LCD monitor is Gamma 2.2 and native white point (CRTs default to 6500K and 2.2, which is also a pretty good choice for general purpose use)

It just so happens that this is the most likely setting I’d use for my Apple 23″ LCD anyway :-)

You need to tell the software what controls your monitor has, so that it can help you make the right adjustments

monitor controls

Monitor controls

set black luminance

Setting black luminance

Any adjustments you need to make are clearly explained, with more detail in the help pages

black luminance settings help

Above: The help page for Black Luminance

baffle attachment

After this, you are ready to go.

For LCDs you make sure that the filter/baffle is in place.

This device ensures that the light that comes from your LCD screen that is measured, is seen perpendicular to the screen. It gets round the problem that many cheaper LCD screens vary considerably in both colour and brightness when not viewed square on to the screen.

For CRTs you remove it to reveal the suction cups that (optionally) hold the device to the screen.

The software will illuminate part of the screen with different colours, which the sensor will measure.

This measurement data is used by the software to build up your monitor ICC profile.

The good sized sensor head also limits the risk of ambient light getting in and affecting your profiling.

sensor positioning

A small window appears on the screen to show you where to position the sensor.

In the pictures below you can see how the device is used in practice.

I decided to test the Spyder2express on my old CRT as well as my laptop and main desktop machine.

The Spyder2express does not support dual monitor setups, so you can see the Mac menu bar at the top of each screen that is being profiled, indicating that it is the ‘primary’ display.

I’ll show some of the results later, but as you can see there was no problem using the Spyder with any screen I tried.

CRT monitor calibration

CRT profiling – note the baffle next to the laptop

sensor on CRT

Stuck to CRT

sensor on laptop screen

Laptop calibration – note tilted screen to help keep sensor in place

laptop sensor position

Resting on LCD screen (with baffle in place)

At the end of the process an icc profile is generated and saved with the name ‘Spyder2express’

new monitor icc profile

Profile created and saved.

PDI test imageLastly there is a test image displayed that you can use to see the differences -before and after- profiling.

It’s actually the same PDI test image that ColorVision use for helping you test printer profiles in the PrintFIX PRO.

The software installs a 7″x10″ (240dpi) Adobe98 profiled version as part of the standard install.

It’s a very useful image for all kinds of testing purposes (see my PrintFIX PRO review for more information on this aspect).

The main preferences set the recalibration warning time.

I’d normally suggest every 2 weeks or every month is good enough for most people.

recalibration warning setting

For PC users the prefs are available via a drop down menu at the top left hand side.

spyder2express win PC prefs

Image courtesy of Walt Bilofsky – thanks

Conclusions

The Spyder2express was very easy to use, and with only a few minor glitches, the dialogues and help system should enable almost anyone to set it up and improve the quality of their colour.

I liked the way that a wide range of potential users have been considered when writing the software – just because a product is aimed at a particular segment of the market does not mean you have to dumb it down excessively.

The profiles looked fine on all of the displays I tested.

Profile Info

Opening the profiles in Apple’s ColorSync Utility (it’s in the utilities folder) shows some interesting differences between two profiles generated for my Apple PowerBook 15″ and my old 21″ CRT (taken out of the cupboard to test – I’d forgotten just how heavy it is – that’s why it’s on the floor in the pictures :-)

Note – If you are wondering what some of the numbers and diagrams below actually mean, you might want to have a read of my “Why don’t my prints match my screen?” article. It has lots of links to resources on the web that go into all the details.

The image below shows the range of colours (gamut) of the CRT — if you move your mouse over the picture you can see the reduced range of colours you get with the laptop screen.

In each picture Spyder2expressCRT refers to the CRT and Spyder2express refers to the laptop.

Gamuts – for more information on this topic you might want to read my article on matching prints to screens

In the picture below, I’ve shown the range of colours that my big Apple LCD monitor can manage, it’s noticeably bigger than the old CRT – it’s also brighter and much sharper and cost a lot more…

Apple 23 inch LCD monitor gamut

The default white points for CRTs and LCDs are different (6500K and native). Notice how the whitepoint in the diagram below moves (mouse over the picture). This shows how my own laptop is a slightly warmer screen at it’s unadjusted (native) setting.

Whitepoints – X marks the spot

More than one monitor?

With the Spyder2Pro I can select which monitor to profile in a multi-monitor setup. This is not available in the Spyder2express.

I created profiles for each monitor individually in an attempt to directly assign them via the Monitors preferences. Unfortunately the profile name is fixed at Spyder2express. On a Mac, the software profiles whatever screen is displaying the menu bar (see the pictures above)

Profiles also have internal names which do not have to have the same name as the file name, so to try different profiles for each monitor, I had to alter the internal names as well. I used the ColorSync utility to change the localized description strings to a different name, and saved the profile with a new name too.

The screen shot below shows how I managed to get two Spyder2express files active at the same time.

Dual profiled monitors on a Mac

OK, this is a bit of a kludge, but it does mean you can get a dual monitor system profiled :-)

Dual monitors on Windows?

I’ve written a short note covering various dual monitor profiling issues with Windows XP. I’ve not tried renaming profiles with the Microsoft Color Applet mentioned there, but I’m told that it should suffice. — Thanks to Bob Frost for this info.

Serge Cashman has sent me this screen shot of the Color Applet being used to rename a profile – thanks

monitor profile name editing Win XP

We’ve been sent some more detailed instructions on how to do this on a PC.

Do remember that you will have to go through the procedure each time you calibrate, and that just because your PC video card supports two monitors doesn’t mean it will allow you to have both profiled at the same time.

The Spyder software on PCs (particularly the new Spyder 3) ensures that profiles are correctly loaded on PC systems at all times.

Whilst the ‘fix’ we’ve described will work, it is prone to being ‘undone’ by some applications.

Look on it as a temporary fix until you get proper dual monitor support, and certainly do not rely on it in a production environment for calibrating other peoples’ screens.

Summary

A good solid approach to making monitor profiling easy for anyone.

A sensible choice of default values shouldn’t cause the novice user too much difficulty.

Truly helpful help, which even includes information as to -why- you are doing things.

Comparison of different ColorVision Spyder products

Features Spyder2expressSpyder2 SuiteSpyder2Pro
(Keith’s Review)
Monitor CalibrationBasic Advanced Professional
Monitor Gamma/Temp ChoicesFixedMultipleUnlimited
RGB Control Calibrationnoyesyes
Front Projector/Ambient Light (Keith’s Review)nonoyes 
Printer ProfilingnoYes (software based)Yes (software based)
Bundled SoftwareAdobe Album Starter Edition (Win only)ColorVision PrintFIX Plus (Keith’s Review)ColorVision PrintFIX Plus
Free Technical SupportUnlimited Unlimited Unlimited 
List Price$99 $169 $279

For a comparison of all the various Spyder options (as of late 2009), there is this info from Datacolor.

Spyder products feature comparisons

Information from Datacolor:

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

review of spyder 3 proS3E infoReview of Spyder 3 Elite V4.0
Gamma choices1.8, 2.0, 2.2, 2,4UnlimitedUnlimited
Colour temp.5000K, 5800K,
6500K, Native
UnlimitedUnlimited
Ambient light measurementXXX
Multiple display calibrationXXX
ReCAL – Recalibration assistantXXX
StudioMatch, multiple display targetingXX
Front projector calibrationXX
Expert consoleXX
Software-based brightness controlX
Luminance adj. automated for MacX
Iterative grey balance optionX
Compare & chart display gamutsX
Maps display evennessX
Graph & compare display’s tone responseX
Charts white luminance & contrastX
Compare various monitor (OSD) settingsX

Product features (late 2009)

 
  Review of Spyder2 expressSpyder 3 Express review Spyder3 pro review Spyder 3 Elite review Spyder 3 print review
Target UserHome user & digital imaging enthusiastHome user & digital imaging enthusiastSerious & professional photographersProfessional photographers, photography
studios and professional users of all kinds
Photographers, fine art printers, production professionals
Measurement DeviceDatacolor Spyder2Datacolor Spyder3Datacolor Spyder3Datacolor Spyder3Datacolor 1005 Spectrocolorimeter
Gamma ChoicesFixed (2.2)Fixed (2.2)4 choices: 1.8, 2.0, 2.2, 2.4
(16 target combinations)
Unlimited choices, user definedUnlimited choices, user defined
Colour TemperatureChoices Fixed (6500K)2 Choices 6500K/Native4 choices: 5000K/5800K/ 6500K /native
(16 target combinations)
Unlimited choices, user definedUnlimited choices, user defined
Custom TargetsYes, unique custom choices
(NTSC, PAL/ SECAM, Cineon, L-Star)
Yes, 3 levels of colour targets, plus extended gray targets
Embedded Ambient Light Sensor/Desktop CradleXXDesktop cradle /calibration tile
Aperture Size14.5mm diameter27mm diameter27mm diameter27mm diameter7mm diameter
Ambient Light MeasureXXN/A
ReCAL, Recalibration AssistantXXN/A
Expert ConsoleXX
Custom B/W Luminance ControlXX
Display History UtilityXN/A
SpyderProof InterfaceXXX
Multiple Display CalibrationXXN/A
Studio MatchXN/A
Front Projector CalibrationXN/A
Gamma Curve EditingXX
CheckCAL, Calibration and Profile CheckXXXN/A
L-Star* Workflow OptionXX
Custom Curves CapabilityXX
PreciseLight FunctionsXX
Hi-Bit Profiling OptionX
Precision Gray Axis AlgorithmXXXX

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.

More colour management and printing related information

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 information is indexed on the main Colour Management page.

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.

 


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