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Datacolor Spyder 3 Elite review – Version 4 software

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Spyder 3 Elite review – Version 4 software

Monitor and projector calibration, with ambient light measurement

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The Spyder 3 Elite is a good monitor profiling package that I’ve often used on equipment here at Northlight.

Recently, Datacolor have announced a new release (V4) of the software that does the calibration and profiling.

Whilst very similar in operation to the original software supplied, it adds a number of features aimed at improving the quality of calibration and profiling, and others aimed at more advanced users wanting to quantify aspects of their monitor’s performance.

s3 elite and stand

There are free upgrades for certain recent purchases and the software is available as a paid upgrade ($19) for S3Elite users and as an update package for Spyder3Pro users who might want the additional functionality to use with their existing sensor. See the Datacolor website for the up to date details.

This review covers some specific aspects of the new software, and offers a general overview of the calibration/profiling process. There are more details in our original Spyder3Elite review.

The examples shown are using Apple Macs, but the software generally works in the same way on Windows machines (Win7 is supported).

Updates – downloads  Feb ’11 Software at V4.0.2

Available from Amazon USA | Amazon UK

Monitor Profiling

Spider 3 Elite monitor calibratorWe’re often asked about monitor calibration, particularly if it’s really worth bothering about.

Well, if knowing whether what you see on your screen is an accurate version of the colours in an image is important, then it’s a vital first step in getting better results, whether printing your own work, or sending it to others.

It won’t magically make your prints match your screen, but it should help improve things.

I’m going to assume that if you are reading this review then you’ve probably decided you need some form of calibration…

However 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. There are also links to further information at the end of this article.

The Main Changes in Version 4

If you’re just looking for what’s new, then Datacolor suggests that these are the main improvements:

  • Iterative Grey Balance Option
    More accurate grey balance algorithm. This gives you the better grey calibration for your display.
  • Software Brightness Control
    Allows owners of iMacs and other displays with limited brightness controls, to work with these displays in lower lighting level environments, and to match them to other displays.
  • Automated Brightness Adjustment
    Users no longer need to adjust front panel controls on Apple Cinema Displays, iMacs, MacBooks or PowerBooks. All brightness adjustments on these screens are carried out automatically by the Spyder software.
  • Monitor Quality Analyser
    Tools to help find out just how good your display actually is. Aids comparison with other displays using maps of screen uniformity, allowing determination of which areas of your screen are precise enough for more demanding work.
  • New Display Graph
    Allows comparison of the gamut of multiple displays with one another, as well as to standard colour spaces like sRGB and AdobeRGB.

Spyder 3 sensorI’ll address some of these in more detail, but the automated brightness settings and better grey balance are the most noticeable improvements in my day to day use of the Spyder3 Elite.

What do you get

The Spyder 3 range all feature a similar measurement sensor.

It’s a USB device that measures the brightness and colour of the light coming from your screen.

The ‘Pro’ and ‘Elite’ versions have an additional sensor on the top to measure ambient lighting conditions.

Note that whilst such measurements can be used to suggest monitor settings during setup, the Spyder3 Elite does not alter settings while you work – this is a good feature of the Spyder3 Elite IMHO.

It’s shown to the right, sitting in the cradle, supplied for pointing the Spyder at a screen for projector calibration, and ambient light measurement.

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?’

In fact, asked so often that we’ve an article covering just this issue “Why are my prints too dark?

The software installs easily and has a basic web activation system which provides you with an activation key, linked to the sensor serial number.

Note that this does not restrict you in using the sensor on just one machine – there is functionality (StudioMatch) in the software specifically aimed at getting a collection of monitors closely matched.

Spyder3Elite software V4 – monitors

I tried the Spyder out on my Mac G4 PowerBook and Mac Pro Desktop / Apple 23″ LCD. I also attached my Sony projector to the laptop for a quick test of projector profiling, which I’ll cover later.

As you start, there are reminders of the preconditions for good calibration – if you don’t tick the boxes it won’t proceed (the next button is greyed out). This only occurs the first time of using the software – after that, the screen appears as a reminder.

spyder startup options

You can also jump to specific parts of the process (note that the button is now active).

calibration stages

I’d certainly suggest that users go through the ‘guided’ process when first using the software, rather than assume you know how it will work (I do this too ;-).

The easiest method is just to use the ‘step by step’ method.

profiling workflow

Studio match is for setting multiple monitors (on different machines for example).

monitor matching with studiomatch

Remember that even identical monitors can vary in performance after some use, so there is a limit in just how similar you can get things to look.

If you know what you want to do, then you can always just use the ‘expert console’ to set the parameters to use.

calibration settings - expert console

If you’re updating your V3 software then there is little difference here, but if you are new to profiling, you’re probably wondering how to set all these options?

Fortunately there is the ‘step by step’ mode…

I’ll go back to the easy process for the moment.

The software can do a quick check of your calibration, or a full calibration (from scratch).

If you have previously calibrated your screen, then there is also a quicker ReCAL calibration mode.

spyder 3 V4 calibration settings

There are options to alter settings, such as Gamma (L* and other specialist options are available).

gamma settings

Colour temperature can be set – I use the default 6500K.

colour temperature settings

Lastly, there is screen brightness.

I work in relatively dim lighting so have my monitor at 100 cd/m2 – this works well with my old Apple 23″ monitor and hard/soft proofing.

screen brightness

Unless you are working in very bright areas (and accept the problems it can bring) then going much over 140 is brighter than I’d want.

One nice feature of the new software is that it can communicate with some monitors and alter settings for you – with some Apple Macs it can also alter brightness via software, which makes it much easier to set a screen such as my cinema display to the level I want.

With my smaller 2nd monitor, there is an on-screen menu (OSM or OSD) for altering settings – The picture below shows where I’m being asked to set the colour temperature (this screen is not presented for the Apple display). When calibrating, the software will allow you to adjust all connected monitors.

set screen presets (OSD)

The nice thing is that the software walks you through all the options and offers sensible default values for most settings.

You don’t -need- to know what is going on. Though I’d say that it helps, but then again I do a lot of this stuff.

One feature I’ve long applauded in Datacolor’s software, is the provision of extensive and relevant help.

This just to get you started..

spyder 3 help about colour management

I notice that help is provided in a fresh window, rather than in a browser window as before (the black on white text is also a bit easier to read).

Most topics also offer additional information, which is well worth reading if you want to find out more about colour management and why you are doing things.

application help

Once everything is set up, it’s time to put the sensor on the screen and let the software do its work.

placing sensor for calibration

I just hang the sensor over the screen and use the counterweight to stop it sliding.

screen colours during calibrationI also tilt the screen back slightly, so as to ensure that the sensor is laying flat on the screen.

The screen will then display a range of colours and greys – this is what the sensor measures for the software to work.

After a while the process stops and you are prompted to save your new monitor profile.

The profile will be saved in your default location (on Mac or PC)

It’s worth noting that the default location for profiles is now in the user area, rather than in an admin one. Thus if someone else uses the computer with a different user account, then your profile will not get used. This default can be changed via the main application preferences, so as to make the profile available for all users. I can see why this was done, but if you are calibrating machines for multiple users, you should be aware of this.

After the profile is created, you can see the difference between before and after calibration, via the ‘SpyderProof’ display.

This is actually a very good test image. If you click on any individual image, it is enlarged, so you can see differences more clearly.

SpyderProof test image

I use this image as part of our printer testing (it’s included in the Spyder software install), and Datacolor have kindly allowed us to host a copy of the image (and interpretation information) See our Test Images page for more info.

It’s quite difficult to show the changes you are likely to get, but I’ve included the two photographs below from our previous look at the Spyder3 Elite. Move your mouse over the image to see the difference that calibration makes.

Original ImageHover Image

Note that this is the earlier 3.0 version of the software, so the screen layout is slightly different.

Original ImageHover Image

Version 4 of the software did produce noticeably smoother greyscales on the laptop display and the Apple 23″ cinema display – not huge differences, since they were fairly good to start with, but noticeable when looking at a smooth greyscale ramp in Photoshop.

I looked at the software running on a laptop, and with a projector attached (We’ve not got a CRT in the office any more to test).

setting display type for calibration

The main difference with the laptop is that I just run it at full brightness. It’s an older display and getting a bit dim,

laptop calibration

I’ve no glossy screens or large gamut displays to test, but Datacolor assure me that these pose no difficulties for the software and sensor.

If you are still using the Spyder 2 range of calibrators, then it’s probably time for an update if you move to a modern high performance LCD monitor.

Using the Spyder – projectors

I tested projector profiling using a Sony VPL-CX21 XGA projector connected to my laptop – once again the software is very similar under windows.

The base unit is needed to hold the sensor pointing at the screen. It has a 1/4″ standard tripod mounting underneath.

spyder 3 base unit

Once again you can just follow the on screen instructions for projector calibration.

projector calibration settings

You may want to alter the controls on the projector.

setting and controls for projector calibration

test setup for projector calibrationFor this test I’m just using a large white box as a screen – not ideal, but I’d lent out my main projector screen.

The photo is from a Canon 1Ds3 RAW file and I’ve white balanced it to the laptop screen.

With this particular projector I’ve experimented with lots of different settings and found that adjusting it to look good ‘by eye’ first meant that the calibration worked much better.

Your own projector will have its own quirks and best settings.

It might also help here, using the advanced analysis tools to work out just what the various settings on your projector actually do.

I’ve found that setting up the projector in a darkened room with a good screen is good enough for the majority of locations where I use the projector.

If I was doing anything relying on critical colour then I’d recalibrate for that screen, but just why would I be doing colour critical work using a projector?…

The sensor needs pointing at the screen – yes that does include its own shadow.

The shot below, shows the sensor mounted on a small tripod device and positioned in front of the screen.

For serious use, I’d suggest a bigger screen, so the shadow is not such a large proportion.

projector calibration testing

The whole screen changes colour for measurement.

This is an improvement over earlier versions of the software, which I’m told didn’t fully cover the whole screen for newer HD projector screens.

screen measurement

At the end of the process, you have a profile to use with your laptop.

On the Mac, the correct profile is automatically selected when I use the projector, but some PC laptops may support an external screen, but only allow you to have one active profile working at a time, so you can have -either- the laptop screen or the projector calibrated at any one time.

Note on dual monitor calibration of windows systems

Display gamut

If you’re curious, then after calibration you can have a look at a display of the gamut of your screen.

profile information - gamut check

Here, it’s showing that my Apple 23″ display is a pretty good match for the sRGB colour space.

You can compare multiple profiles, such as this comparing the laptop and projector.

First up, the projector vs. sRGB – roll over the image to see how much smaller the G4 PowerBook screen is.

Original ImageHover Image

All very interesting, but more for interest sake than anything I’d make use of (other than in a lecture about colour management)

If you were still unsure about just how much your visual system adapts to changes in colour temperature, look at this photo I took when testing the projector profiling.

The image is white balanced to the screen (6500K) – the room lighting is a tungsten bulb. Move your mouse over the image to see the photo balanced for tungsten lighting (~2800K).

Not something you normally notice when using your laptop at home?

Original ImageHover Image

There are a number of more advanced measurement features available in the software.

Advanced features

As I mentioned, you can choose to dive straight in to the ‘expert’ mode and set things such as white point, gamma types and colour temperature.

Most of the time you would have little need for additional controls, but the software provides settings are for matching various output devices such as film recorders. You can even create your own tone response curves as well.

If you open the Curves Window (select Curves from the Tools menu) you can view the shapes of the various curves as you select them in the menu.

curves display

There are history options that allow you to chart monitor performance over time. Lots of numbers to digest if you know what to do with them.

Many of the new advanced features in Version 4 reside in an additional piece of software that gets installed: “Spyder3EliteMQA” (Monitor Quality Analyser) …this is automatically launched when needed.

Some of these tests take a while, since you need to move the sensor around the screen.

You select which tests you want to run and off you go…

advanced analysis setup

I’ll just show the uniformity test here.

The measurements are first taken in the top left corner

uniformity testing - start

These are followed across and down the screen, giving nine sets of measurements

uniformity testing

Depending on the design and size of your screen, the bezel/surround may make positioning of the sensor more difficult than at the centre. I just tilted the screen back a bit more to keep the sensor in good contact with the screen.

After this, you can see a text based output screen, showing different levels of deviation from the centre, at different brightnesses (the uneven display brightness is not constant)

screen uniformity test results

Or you can look at a graphical representation.

advanced testing results

Note though, that the contour chart is based on just nine data locations, so those nice smooth contours are displaying an element of artistic license – the variation is clear though.

Further gloom about the quality of my display is provoked by a nice uneven tone response curve.

monitor tone response analysis

The values are recorded, so you can go back and see how your display gets worse over time.

The point to remember is that the more you look at this sort of stuff, the more likely you are to be concerned about your monitor.

Color Management book

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 Amzon

RWCM  2nd Edition RWCM 

See some other books Keith has on the shelf, on our Books Page

There are areas of use where details are very important – chances are that if they (really) are then you will know all about this sort of stuff already and know how to interpret it (and not just as a way of scaring budget holders into stumping up for your new monitor).

It is worth noting that a lot of these tests can, with patience, enable you to find the best initial settings for your monitor’s OSD controls.


The Spyder3 Elite package was pretty good as it was, so what is there that you should consider upgrading for?

The key difference I noticed was the iterative grey balance – this was most noticeable on my laptop, but even the Apple Cinema display showed a perceptible improvement in a couple of areas of a smooth greyscale ramp.

The other differences amounted mainly to ease of use features, such as not having to try and tweak the brightness of my display via a control panel, while I’m running the software.

My second monitor is a quite old LCD with a range of PC oriented display options via its menu (OSD) – it now looks better and more even than it did before. This display is only for palettes and the like, but is now quite close to my main display (both at ~100 cd/m2).

To my mind, the jury is out on the wider usefulness of the advanced features – this is probably because I don’t really have need of the levels of information provided. Then again it’s nice to have them there, and most importantly, they don’t get in the way of the average user who just wants a good solid and reliable calibration system.

Don’t Panic!

My own monitor is shown to be less than optimal – does this worry me?

Not really, since the sort of work I do does not -require- the utmost (lots of $$$) in display quality. I will be looking to replace it, but then again I’m probably replacing my camera and large format printers before then.

Don’t let analysis of your own monitor get you down – remember too, to be wary of ‘advice’ from people who sell monitors and expensive add on calibration software (such software has its uses but they are IMHO frequently oversold for most users)

As I now expect from Datacolor’s products aimed at this market, the help system is both comprehensive and genuinely helpful

In fact, the most concise explanation I could come up with for the advanced features is this from the help…

  • The Gamut test will determine your display’s colour gamut, and graph it on the CIE xy graph of the range of human vision. The version of this tool included in the Profile Overview screen allows the gamuts of two different monitors to be compared. The version in Advanced Analysis is designed to save display gamut information for later use, or for printing with other test results.
  • The Screen Uniformity test checks the consistency of your display in nine sections of the screen, at various luminance levels. This data is then graphed in false-colour images to make the uniformity information available in a visual form. Many users are surprised to find that their display is not as uniform as they assumed.
  • The Tone Response test measures the response (gamma) of the monitor and plots a graph comparing the measured tone response to standard gamma curves. If your monitor has a control for selecting different gamma settings, you can measure all of the different settings and then find out what is the actual gamma that the control sets. This helps you to select the best setting of such a control before calibration.
  • For example, a monitor may have a setting in its On Screen Display (OSD) for Gamma with choices “Gamma 1” and “Gamma 2”. You can run the Tone Response test and measure the display in both of these settings. When the results are plotted you may find that “Gamma 1” is actually Gamma 2.1 and “Gamma 2” is actually Gamma 1.9. If you were then going to calibrate the monitor to Gamma 2.2 you would know that setting this control to “Gamma 1” would be the best choice since it is closer to the desired 2.2 target value.
  • This test also measures the display’s colour temperature at different brightness settings. This lets you see if adjusting the Brightness control affects the White Point or not. For example, some monitors exhibit a constant White Point in the 25% to 75% range of the Brightness control setting, but the White Point rises or drops at the extreme settings of the control.
  • The White Level and Contrast test produces a spreadsheet of data at a range of display brightnesses. This information can be used to determine how bright your display is at minimum and maximum settings, how much lighter display black is at brighter settings, what your display’s contrast ratio is, and how that varies at different brightnesses, plus colour temperature values at different brightnesses, as both x, y values and K values.
  • The OSD Settings test measures Brightness, Contrast, and Colour Temperature values at different mode settings available on your display for comparison.
  • Some displays have a setting in their OSD that allows selecting various ‘modes’ for the monitor to run in. For example, this control might have choices between “Text”, “Game” and “Movie”. This test will record measurements of the screen characteristics at each setting and then display a chart of the information. This allows you to select which one of these settings you want to use.

A good upgrade for the price (free or $19 depending on what you currently have and when it was bought)

If you are looking to buy a good and easy to use calibration system for your monitors, then the Spyder3 Elite V4 is currently difficult to beat.

Buy the Spyder3 Elite from

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

Buying the Spyder3 Elite

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
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. Spyder3 Elite Spyder3 Elite


Monitor calibrator with support for multiple monitor systems and projectors

Manufacturer details: Datacolor


  • Windows XP 32/64, Vista 32/64, 7
  • Macintosh OS X (10.4 or higher)
  • USB
  • Colour monitor resolution 1024×768 or greater
  • 16-bit video card (24-bit recommended)
  • 128MB of available RAM
  • 100MB of available hard disk space

Version 4 of the Spyder 3 software is available with new purchases of the Spyder3 Elite.

There are a number of upgrade options available for owners of other Spyder3 products.

If you purchased a Spyder3Elite package or a Spyder3Pro to Elite Upgrade after January 1st, 2010 you can get the upgrade to Spyder3Elite 4.0 for free.

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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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 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)


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