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Datacolor Spyder 3 Elite – Review

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Datacolor Spyder 3 Elite – Review

Monitor and projector calibration, with ambient light measurement

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The Spyder 3 range is an all new profiling and calibration package from Datacolor. This review looks at the Spyder3 Elite version which includes multiple monitor support and the ability to calibrate projectors.

Spyder 3 elite

We’ve had Spyder monitor calibrators here since the original Spyder, and in this review, Keith looks at what’s new and what the package can do.

May 2010 – Software updated to V4.0 – we have a full Spyder3 Elite 4.0 review

Monitor Profiling

I often get asked about monitor calibration.

Apart from questions about specific products, one of the most popular questions is ‘Why should I bother?’

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.

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.

It includes links to other articles on this site and elsewhere.

Spyder3There are also links to further information at the end of this article.

What do you get

The Spyder 3 range features a new design of sensor, used to measure light from your monitor (LCD/laptop/CRT) or projector.

The top surface of this USB device has a sensor for ambient light detection and a blue indicator light (more of these later)

The package also contains some screen wipes and software CD, along with a stand for the sensor that is also used when calibrating projectors.

spyder 3 elite calibratorAs you can see from the pictures (I hope ;-), some real effort has gone into making a device that looks nice when sitting on your desk.

spyder3 package

Spyder3 Elite package

However, much as that might appeal to some potential users (and it will ;-), what about the actual sensor itself?

The underside view shows the sensor (behind the holes) that measures the light that comes off your screen, in order to carry out the calibration and profiling process.

You can also see the (removable) suction cap, one means of holding the sensor in place during measurements.

spyder 3 sensorThe new Spyder 3 sensor is larger (27mm diam.) than the Spyder 2 to get better and more repeatable readings from screens.

The light measuring area has gone from 165 mm2 to 372 mm2, while the measurement accuracy is stated as going from 0.0035 (x,y) in the Spyder2 to 0.0025 in the Spyder3 (figures from Datacolor)

Calibration and times have also fallen, and there is now a new ‘recalibrate ‘ option

I don’t like giving spurious numbers for timings, which depend rather a lot on the particular computer you are using, but my feeling is that calibration times (on my Macs) are about two thirds of the Spyder 2, and the recalibrate option is about half the full calibration time.

The software is installed from the CD. You get two different applications, the Spyder3Utility and the Spyder3Elite application itself.

The Utility is intended to run at start-up and enables realtime ambient light monitoring and access to the main application. It also offers an optional confirmation that all the elements of your calibration are in place and set up correctly.

I’ll have more to say about this later, but since it’s run at start-up, from the Mac dock (there’s a selectable option to run any dock item at start-up) I was able to deactivate it quite easily if needed (just quit from the dock). Windows users have to jump through slightly more hoops, but features such as knowing that ‘all is well’ are often much more useful when setting up colour management on PCs

Using the Spyder – monitors

I tried the Spyder out on my Mac PowerBook and G5 Desktop / Apple 23″ LCD.

I don’t actually have a good quality CRT monitor round any more, so it was just with LCD screens.

All the screenshots here are Mac based.

However, the software works almost identically under windows (vista 32/64 included – check the Datacolor site for latest OS support).

After firing up the software and entering your serial number, the software checks for connected monitors on your system.

In the example below, it has detected my main display, which during this test, was the only one connected.

I’m not going to go through all the detailed steps (they are very easy to follow in the actual software) but will show some specific examples of what the software does.

new monitor detected

If this wasn’t the first time I’d calibrated this monitor then I’d have the option of checking the accuracy of the current profile or recalibrating.

recalibration option

If it’s the first calibration then you need to tell the software what sort of monitor or display you are using, since the content of subsequent screens only displays steps relevant to your particular screen.

In the example below I’ve selected LCD.

display type

You then select which adjustment option your screen has (if any).

This includes backlight adjustment, along with brightness/contrast controls.

If your screen has more controls then they can be selected and adjusted at this stage.

This is a one-off process, since in future, all you choices are remembered for any screen or device you are using.

There are several other calibration options available. Most users will find you can just accept the defaults.

These include:

spyder certification

Certification – monitor if everything is alright.

Spyder ambient light compensation

Ambient light compensation – pick your calibration setting based on ambient lighting. This effectively pick slightly warmer (lower colour temperature) settings if you are working in very dim lighting.

Do note that this is most definitely not the same as the ‘Alter my profile when the light changes’ ‘feature’ found in some other calibration products – this one actually has a potential use.

Although off by default, the ambient light feature is worth trying, if you were wondering if your working conditions were too bright (this is actually so for a large number of people)

There is also grey balancing for calibration (useful to turn off for DLP projectors).

grey balanced calibration

Note that ‘Help’ button on each screen.

It really is useful, and has simple and more advanced advice on what the various options really mean

For example, under ‘certification’ it tells you just what it actually does

spyder help

These are the things checked (if you want … the default is off)

  • The profile assigned to the display by the operating system is a Datacolor Spyder3-created profile
  • That profile was created with Spyder Certification set to ‘on’
  • The LookUp Table (LUT) currently loaded in the video card is the LUT from that profile
  • Ambient light conditions are the same as when the display was calibrated
  • The display has been recalibrated within the time limit specified in the Spyder Utility’s preferences
  • The display has been run through full calibration within the time limit specified in the Spyder Utility’s preferences
  • The computer has been turned on for at least the time specified in the Spyder Utility’s preferences

Another program from datacolor with help that is actually helpful…

Taking measurements

To make measurements, the sensor needs to be in contact with the screen.

spyder screen attachmentYou can either use the suction cup (good for CRTs) or remove it.

There is also the small weight on the lead to counterbalance the sensor if you don’t use the suction cup.

The weight on my sample was a little tight on the thin cable, so do be careful if you need to move it.

In the laptop shot below, the weight is behind the screen.

Although it is suggested that using the suction cup with LCDs is OK, my own preference is to use gravity, by just tilting the screen back a bit and removing the suction cup.

put sensor on screen

After this, the screen goes through a number of colours, in order to measure what output your screen produces.

This process takes a few minutes.

Original ImageHover Image

You can use the SpyderProof option to make use of a number of test images to see what difference the calibration has made.

spyderproof 1

You can click on any image to enlarge it….

spyderproof 2

Clicking again enlarges the selected image, and a further click goes back to the full set of images.

The images themselves are actually of quite high resolution and would make good test images, however I notice that they do not have any embedded profile information, making the colour ones somewhat less useful for this purpose. However I’m informed that they are in the Adobe98 colour space, so you could tag them with a profile (assign, not convert)

There is an actual example of the changes in how your screen looks before and after calibration in the Conclusions section of this review.

At the end of the calibration process, you are prompted to save the profile created.

Whilst I test all kinds of equipment and need to know what profiles were generated with which device and settings, I’d suggest that unless you are experimenting, you do not need to give each profile you create, a new name every time…

profile naming

Note that altering any monitor settings after calibration will mean you have to re-calibrate.

end of calibration process

Using the Spyder – projectors

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

The projector was identified as a new monitor and the basic setting of 2.2/Native was selected for calibration (I’ve found that this ‘native’ whitepoint sometimes gives better results on laptop screens as well)

The base unit has a 1/4″ standard tripod mounting underneath

spyder 3 base unit

Just follow the on screen instructions for projector calibration.

preparation for projector calibration

The device needs to be about a foot in front of the screen, with the sensor looking at its own shadow -not- into the projector, since you are profiling the combination of projector and screen.

sensor positioning

A cross hairs is projected to help line things up

screen placement

Then it’s on to do the calibration (the whole screen turns different colours).

The initial calibration is best carried out in darkened surroundings. There is an option to create several versions of the profile, after measurement. This creates one for ‘dark’ conditions and two others for different lighting levels.

That’s it – just as simple as doing a monitor, and the differences are usually quite noticeable.

Do note though, that applications like PowerPoint are notoriously bad at handling colour, so if you need accuracy then use an application that respects colour profiles in images.

One other thing to remember – many 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

Advanced features

For most users, the default Spyder3 settings really are good enough.

However if you want to experiment (or have a genuine reason for custom settings) there are lots of additional features of the software (do read the help files)

You can for example, match two devices. This allows you to alter calibration settings so as to maximise the chances of images looking similar on two different displays.

In this case I tried matching a large LCD screen and a projector.

Not something I’d personally expect to do for any real use, but you might want to match two projectors for a demo/exhibition

matching displays

If you don’t like the ‘Wizard’ approach to settings, then you can use the ‘Expert console’.

Lots of things to fiddle with… :-)

expert options

You can use all kinds of test targets and settings.

settings options

You can select a more precise white point if you want

precise white point

Not many of these will be the slightest real use to many users, but if you do need the adjustment then it’s there.

Notice the LStar setting above, this is an addition to the Spyder options and gives a calibration that opens up the shadows a bit more.

Some of the other settings are used for matching various output devices such as film recorders. You can even create your own tone response curves as well. Just click the New button to create a new curve to your specifications.

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 screen

You can also get more info on your calibration results.

detailed info

If you are really keen, you can monitor your monitor’s steady decline over time with the Spyder history option.

graph of calibration results

Not quite as pointless as it might seem – a sudden dip could give advance warning of some impending failure.

Of course it also comes with more detailed numbers should you need them ;-)

table of calibration results

More than enough to keep the real colour geeks happy ;-)


monitor calibratorThe all new Spyder3 is simple to use and gave very good results on the half dozen screens I’ve tested it on over the last few weeks.

It’s faster than the Spyder 2 and had no difficulty in calibrating a projector, even when I used a beige coloured wall as a screen.

The Software is easy to use with comprehensive help information, and should give no difficulties for those wanting basic calibration of monitors and projectors.

Two examples below, show the changes from calibrating my laptop (move you mouse pointer over the image to see the changes after calibration.

Do remember that this is a web page and colour management on the web is pretty much nonexistent. As such these images are intended more to give an idea of the changes, rather than any accurate comparison. However they are genuine screen photos – I’ve left the Spyder3 in place for comparison.

Original ImageHover Image

Note the changes in mid tones and highlights.

Original ImageHover Image

The sensor actually looks rather good too, which I take as part of Datacolor’s research into what sells kit to certain markets ;-)

Spyder 3 sensor - litFor more advanced users there are a wealth of options and customisation. features.

OK, hands up — who really needs to make all those adjustments? … No, I said ‘really needs’ :-)

The fact is that for almost any user of the device, the default settings are more than good enough – the defaults are sensibly chosen too.

I’ve only a few minor personal quibbles after using the device for a while…

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 Amazon

RWCM  2nd Edition RWCM 

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

The Spyder3Utility is great if you want to make use of the ambient light monitoring features (I didn’t) or if you like having a varying blue light flashing somewhere just off where you are working (I didn’t)

It allows monitoring of certification, which if you are using a PC, might be of use – I use a Mac all the time and it just isn’t anything that would ever bother me.

So, given I only intend to get the calibrator out of the desk drawer once every few weeks, the utility does not get activated on my Mac — I do like the fact that I have a choice.

Another minor gripe is that the Mac installer insists on installing the folder of software inside another folder called ‘datacolor’.

Fortunately it only takes a few second to dump this and tidy things up (note to Datacolor – I know who you are, I don’t need empty folders on my computer to remind me ;-)

Note added – it seems other Datacolor software will make use of this folder to install, and make use of shared resources – however I still prefer my colour management applications where I want them in my folder heirarchy (probably another Mac user thing ;-) :-)

There are quite a few changes over the old Spyder2 (still perfectly good by the way)

Comparison of S2 vs S3 (figures from Datacolor)

Spyder2 Spyder3
Physical Dimensions (cubic in): 29.3 18.4
Accuracy (x,y typical): 0.0035 0.0025
Light Measuring Aperture (area): 165 mm2 372 mm2
Initial Calibration Time: 7 minutes 5 minutes
Re-Calibration Time: 7 minutes 2.5 minutes
Ambient Light Detector: NONE Embedded
Desktop Cradle: NONE Provided
LED Status Indicator: NONE Provided

spyder 3 elite and mac laptop

For a comparison of all the various Spyder options (as of January 2008), there is this info from Datacolor.

* Note that the Spyder3Print (full review) is the new version of the PrintFIX PRO. We have a full review of the PrintFIX Pro. If you have a PrintFIX PRO, then do note that the free software update for the Spyder3Print package will work with your existing spectrocolorimeter.

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 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


  • Mac OS X (10.3 or higher)
  • Windows 2000
    XP 32/64
    Vista 32/64
  • 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

Price (from Datacolor) $279 (Inc. 2yr. warranty)

Note – If you own an older Spyder there is (until Jan. 20th 2008) a discount upgrade programme – details at the ColorVision web site

Declaration of interest – Keith was asked to look at beta versions of the software and hardware before its final release, but Northlight Images has no commercial relationship with ColorVision.

See our review policy for more information

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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