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Datacolor Spyder5Elite review

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Datacolor Spyder5Elite review

Monitor and projector calibration, with ambient light measurement

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The Spyder5Elite from Datacolor is the latest in a line of monitor calibrators that we’ve looked at over the years.

In this review, Keith looks at the new Spyder5Elite package (with info about the Pro and Express versions)

Update:Feb 2017 – The optional Spyder5Elite+ software upgrade package is reviewed.

spyder5 elite

The Spyder5Elite is the most advanced version of the Spyder5 range, adding projector profiling and a wider range of custom profiling and display analysis settings to what you get with the Spyder5 Pro.  The testing was carried out using Apple Macs, but the software generally works in the same way on Windows PC machines.

We've reviews of many Datacolor products. See the Datacolor Category in the dropdown menu at the top of the right column.

There is a full comparison of the different monitor profiling packages from Datacolor in the summary section of this review

Spyder5 Elite at B&H | Adorama | | Amazon UK
Spyder5 Pro B&H | Adorama | | Amazon UK
Spyder5 Express B&H | Adorama | | Amazon UK
Spyder5 at Wex (UK)

Spyder5 Products comparison

Monitor calibration

When you look at a picture on your monitor, how do you know that the colour blue in a sky you are seeing, is the one recorded by your camera?

If you get your image printed by a third party printer, then how can you be confident that the colours they see if they look at your image, will be the same as you see on your monitor?

What about the colour white on your screen? Is it an accurate representation of white? Is it too warm (yellowish) or too cool (bluish)

spyder 5 and base plate

How do you know that the shadow detail you can see on the screen will appear in prints? If your monitor darkens shadows, then you might be inclined to lighten them. If you send this lightened image to be printed, then there is every chance that the shadows that looked fine to you on your monitor will be too light when printed.

Editing images on a monitor that hasn’t been profiled and calibrated leaves all your editing work built on foundations of sand.

There are many 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/profiling your monitor.

There are lots more articles I’ve written, which go into a lot more detail about printing and colour management.

The Main Changes with the Spyder 5

The most obvious change from the Spyder 3 and 4 devices is the new measuring device, or colorimeter

Spyder 5 calibrator top view

The old version was hardly flimsy, but this one just feels more solid.

The base detaches, and acts as a counterweight for when you hang the colorimeter over your screen to take measurements.

spyder 5 sensor cover

The measurement sensor is behind that fine grille.

The base also keeps dust out when not in use – treat it well and the Spyder 5 should give many years of service. The sensor has a soft pad around it, so should not mark any screens.

If you look at the top of the picture you can also see the 1/4″ standard tripod mount thread. You can use this when using the Spyder5 Elite to profile/calibrate projectors.

Datacolor themselves list the key features of the Spyder 5 Elite as:

  • Spyder5 calibrates your monitor to an industry colour reference standard to ensure on-screen colours are accurate, greys and whites are consistent, shadow and highlight details are protected, and skin tones are true-to-life.
  • Spyder5 is quick, easy and interactive, for use on laptops, dust-ups and front projectors.
  • Guaranteed colour accuracy with the industry’s only patented 7-detector optical engine, making photo editing easier and providing better print matching
  • Spyder5 delivers up to 55% improved tonal response at low luminance levels versus Spyder4, resulting in more accurate shadow detail and smoother gradients.
  • Compact, to fit on any screen size, and portable, with a built-in lens cap to keep optics clean.
  • See “Before and After” results of your calibration on either preset images or on your own photos (with Pro and Elite).

Given my previous experiences with using the various Spyder products, which have always worked very well, I was keen to see how the new sensor would perform.

What do you get

The device is supplied in a well made cardboard box and includes:

  • Datacolor Spyder5Elite colorimeter
  • Welcome Card with software download link and warranty registration
  • Software Serial Number

Keep the box – it makes for a good way of storing your device.

The whole process of using the Spyder5 Elite really is as simple as the step by step guide below

quick setup guide for spyder 5 elite

The front of the unit has a sensor for measuring ambient light levels.

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 needs downloading and activating, linked to the sensor serial number, so don’t lose that card that came in the box.

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.

I get a lot of questions about the ‘right’ settings to use for screen calibration, and although I know some ‘experts’ disagree, I take the view that you should start with the default settings offered, and only look at changing them once you know -why- you want to change them.

The Spyder5 Elite is the model with most options in the software, but I realise that some people may get it just for the fact that it offers calibration of projectors, and not worry about all the other stuff.

The latest software continues in Datacolor’s tradition of offering really useful help functionality, and as I’ll show in some of the screen shots below, quite a bit of information about -why- you might want to use a setting or feature.

Spyder5Elite software – monitors

I tried the Spyder out on my MacBook Pro and Mac Pro Desktop.

The software is distinctly user friendly, and designed with the knowledge that many users may only fire it up every month or so to calibrate (or just check – it’s quicker) their screen.

spyder 5 elite software startup screen

There a few things to make sure of before starting

startup settings for calibration process

Even with modern LCD monitors, it’s best to leave them powered up long enough to ‘warm up’ – they do drift a bit.

Note the side help panel – this updates as you move your pointer around the screen.

interactive help option for profiling

First up – what to do…

workflow selection

For many users, the simple assistant or ‘Wizard’ based approach is just fine – I’ll show some more advanced features later.

My Mac Pro has a second 14″ screen (over 10 years old) that is only 1024×768 resolution. I don’t use it for much more than tool menus and other things that clear up space on my main monitor.

It is smaller than the minimum screen size specified for the software, but by making sure the side help panel was collapsed I was able to use it perfectly well, and it calibrates just fine. There is also an option in the software preferences to’show netbook controls’ which helps use a small screen.

choosing monitor for profiling

Once everything is ready to go, I start by selecting the type of display I’m using.

The software can identify and directly control some newer monitors, but my older kit here needs manual selection.

There are some notes for use with projectors later

selecting monitor and display type

As I mentioned, you can look at more detailed help information at any point in the software.

detailed help options for software

If you know what you’re doing, then there is a quick way to jump to particular settings or options that are available.

shortcuts for software options

I might want to choose a specific set of settings for my monitor – you can save your own if they are not here.

preset calibration options

If you choose a more advanced view then options are displayed in a meaningful way – as ever, help is available, or you can take the approach that if you’re not sure what something is, start with the suggested values…

advanced calibration settings

The device has a light measuring sensor on the top that can be used to get an idea of how bright your surroundings are lit.

You can use this to suggest an appropriate screen brightness setting.

instructions for measuring ambient lighting

results of room lighting measurementI work in fairly low lighting conditions, but the suggested settings are not what I’d choose.

In particular, my older monitors do not give particularly good performance at a low colour temperature such as the 5000K suggested.

5000K leaves a monitor that looks very warm and yellow to most people.

There are areas of use, particularly in the printing industry, where such settings may be appropriate, but not for most photographers like myself.

For my own monitors 6500K and 100 cd/m work better, so I keep the settings I’ve chosen.

If your room is so dark as to have settings such as these suggested, I’d take it as a hint that you should address lighting levels in your work environment.

Similarly, if your room is too bright then the suggestion to push the display brightness upwards could well lead to dark looking prints (screen brightness being a prime cause of this).

Room lighting levels really do make quite a difference.

If you don’t have control over the levels, then be aware that your editing and evaluation of images could be adversely affected.

Note: On some Apple Macs, there is an option in the monitor preferences to auto-adjust screen brightness with ambient lighting levels. Turn this off, since any adjustment of screen brightness by the system (or other people) will effectively break your profiling efforts.

setting desired screen brightness

If you’ve never calibrated the screen before, then some extra measurement stages will occur, but if you are just checking a calibration or recalibrating a previously calibrated screen, the some data won’t have changed, so the process is a bit quicker.

The colorimeter needs to be in contact with the screen to measure it.

setting up measurement sensor

With my particular monitor, I need to manually set brightness to match a given value.

You’ll get this white screen … the colorimeter is hanging in front of it.

measurement screen for setting maximum screen brightness

For this screen, I’ve the brightness control on the other monitor – newer screens may be controlled directly from the Spyder software, so you don’t need to adjust anything.

screen brightness adjustment

After setting the brightness, your screen will flash a number of colours whilst the software measures the light coming from the screen.

It’s this difference between what light the software tells the screen to produce and what light the device measures, that forms the basis for building a monitor profile/calibration.

measuring colours on the screen for calibration and profiling

The measuring process takes a few minutes. after which the software can go ahead and create a profile.

I give profiles specific names, since I’m always experimenting with different kit and software, but in reality, there is no need for this, just take what’s offered.

saving profile created by spyder software

Whilst in some environments it may be important to re-profile quite often, monthly is fine for most people, unless you have other people using your monitor who are likely to change settings.

Profile creation takes a short while.

profile naming

A basic check of how your monitor looks before and after profiling is available – if you really want to, then you can use your own images here (Spyder5 Elite only).

spyderproof - checking the results of profiling

That’s it, your monitor is profiled – far quicker than it’s taken to read so far…

Expert Mode

If you go to the ‘expert mode’ you can configure all your profiling options in one place.

settings for profiling - expert mode

One area where the new sensor made a visible improvement was in shadow detail for my old Apple monitor.

Switching grey balance to the ‘better’ option increases calibration time but works for my old monitor. Just how this will be when I replace it with a newer one, is something I’ll have to check.

grey balance options

As I mentioned earlier, there are different ways of running the calibration.

multiple calibration options

There are other settings that may be of use for you…

different display gamma settings

My ‘standard’ settings are present in the expert console, so it’s a quick way of running the software.

different groups of settings

You’ll note that I use 100cd/m rather than the default 120. That’s really just because I work in relatively low lighting levels. It’s also had the side effect that my monitor has aged very well.

The Spyder Utility

A small program is run on start-up, which monitors a connected Spyder 5 and will alert you when light levels change or re-calibration is due (or someone has messed with your monitor settings). You don’t need to keep your sensor plugged in if you don’t want ambient light measurement (and a warning if it has changed significantly).

Personally I remove the Spyder Utility from the start-up items on my computer, since I’m always doing a lot of test work, often for new products, and want to keep a relatively ‘clean’ machine for such work. The Spyder5 software works just fine without it.

I keep my Spyder5 out of the reach of dust and coffee spills in its box in my drawer.

Studio Matching

With only one computer I use for any serious editing, I’m not that bothered in matching it to any others in the office.

However, subject to the variation between different types of monitors, the StudioMatch system will help you keep monitors looking more similar. Remember though, that you can have two different monitors accurately calibrated, that don’t look the same.

I can adjust the screen of my laptop as much as I like, with any screen calibrator, but it will never fully match my main monitor.

studiomatch settings

StudioMatch will help match brightness, whitepoint and gamma.

Or if like me, you’ve a lesser used monitor sitting beside your main one, you can manually tweak its setting to get a closer match.

spydertune options

This definitely goes against the principle of using the sensor to take measurements, but is there if you want it. I’d still say that manual adjustment like this should not be used for any display where colour accuracy is important.

My 2nd monitor used to have a lightly warmish pink tinge to darker greys which I’d happily correct with this, but the latest Spyder5 sensor and software have produced a much closer match without the need for any additional adjustment.

Display gamut

Look at the blue and red triangles below. These give an idea of how large the range of colours is that you can display on a particular monitor. Both are well down on the range associated with the Adobe98 colour space, but the blue is smaller than the red.

This suggests that my second monitor has a smaller gamut – it just can’t display the same range of colours. As such, with a brightly coloured image you’ll never get a perfect match. With greyscale and less saturated images, any match could be closer.

mapping display gamut

Using the Spyder – projectors

I tested projector profiling with my Sony LCD based projector. With projector profiling you don’t set a luminance – you want it as bright as it will go (OK, a reduced brightness setting on the projector may well extend the life of your bulb).

I also set the projector to its native whitepoint – in a darkened room, your viewers eyes will adapt to see white on the projected image as white.

For my own projector, the Spyder sensors (S3 and S4) and software have always given the best calibrations in terms of smoothness and detail. The Spyder5 Elite once again gets the job for this projector (it’s the one I use for many of my talks and lectures).

Despite what you might think, the sensor is placed in front of the screen, so its shadow is in its field of view.

sensor placement for projector

More advanced features

There are a number of additional features in the Spyder5 Elite software that may be of interest to advanced users.

Something you might want to try, if you’re really curious, is the full set of display analysis tools.

display analysis options

There are also some specific tools available

One is a colorimeter tool, is included to take measurements of particular colours on the screen. What may well be of interest for people looking at a more advanced proofing setup is that you can use it to measure light sources.

Here’s the results from measuring the light in my PDV viewing cabinet. Note in particular, the Kelvin reading of 5723K.

colorimeter tool

I could (if I had a better monitor) reduce my chosen whitepoint to ~5700K and probably get a better match between my screen and prints. I’m going to assume however that if you’re going to these lengths, you know the potential pitfalls and benefits.


Buying the Spyder5 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.


Spyder5 Elite at B&H | Adorama | | Amazon UK | Wex (UK)

The Spyder5Elite offers the widest range of options of the Spyder5 range (see below).

It’s the ideal choice if you need to calibrate projectors as well as monitors, or you want the flexibility offered in its range of profiling options, such as specialised setups for video editing.

The new sensor feels more robust and with its improved sensitivity at lower light levels should make for improved consistency and reliability. I’d expect to see this new sensor appearing with many high end monitors, which often have their own dedicated software.

What I always find refreshing about the Spyder software is the attention to detail, in offering interactive and more detailed help information. It’s easy to use for beginners and experts alike – there were no aspects of it that annoyed me from a usability point of view.

This is always a good sign, since in the past I spent several years doing usability research and consultancy, so have a very low tolerance for badly designed software…

The integrated tripod mount and clip-on base unit/counterweight make for a device that’s convenient to store, and it’s good to see packaging that is OK to keep for device storage.


Monitor calibrator with support for multiple monitor systems and projectors.

The user guide is available as a PDF

  • Windows 7 32/64, Windows 8.0, 8.1 32/64
  • Mac OS X 10.7, 10.8, 10.9, 10.10
  • Monitor resolution 1280×768 or greater, 16-bit video card (24 bit recommended), 1GB of available RAM, 500 MB of available hard disk
  • Internet connection for software download
  • USB port
Spyder5 functionality for different versions


Spyder 5 express
Spyder 5 pro
Spyder 5 elite
Designed for Hobbyist photographers seeking a simple monitor color calibration solution Serious photographers and designers seeking a full-featured and advanced color accuracy solution Professional photographers, studios, and calibration perfectionists seeking ultimate control of their color workflow
Price (MSRP)
Spyder5 Colorimeter
Spyder5 Colorimeter
Spyder5 Colorimeter
4 Step Process, Interactive Help
Wizard, Interactive help, Advanced Features Wizard, Interactive Help, Expert Console, Suite of Expert Features
Calibration Settings
Fixed (2)
16 Choices
Unlimited choices, user-defined, and Rec.709 for videography
Multiple Monitor Support
Laptops, Desktop Monitors
Laptops, Desktop Monitors
Laptops, Desktop Monitors, Front Projectors, Studio Match Assistant
Before & After Calibration Evaluation
Standard Datacolor Image
Standard Datacolor Image, Imported User Images Standard Datacolor Image, Imported User Images (Full Screen Mode)
Room Light Monitoring
not available
3 Ambient Light Settings
5 Ambient Light Settings
Fast Recalibration Option
not available
feature available
feature available
Display Analysis
not available
Advanced including Screen Uniformity
Spyder 5 express
Spyder 5 pro
Spyder 5 elite
Gamma Choices
1.8, 2.0, 2.2, 2.4
Color Temperature Choices
5000K, 5800K, 6500K, native
Custom Targets
not available
not available
Spyder5 ColorimeterNTSC, PAL/SECAM, ITU-R Rec.BT.709, ITU-R Rec.BT.2020, Cineon, L-Star*
ICC Profile Support
ICC 2, ICC 4
ICC 2, ICC 4
Multiple Display Calibration
feature available
feature available
feature available
On-Screen Interactive Help
feature available
feature available
feature available
Front Projector Calibration
not available
not available
feature available
Room Light Measurement
not available
Re-calibration Wizard
not available
2.5 min
2.5 min
Expert Console
not available
not available
feature available
Custom B/W Luminance Control
not available
not available
feature available
Display History Utility
not available
not available
feature available
SpyderProof – Before & After Calibration Evaluation
feature available
Imported User Image Imported User Image + Full Screen
not available
not available
feature available
Gamma Curve Editing
not available
not available
feature available
Continuous Profile & Calibration Check
feature available
feature available
feature available
L-Star Workflow Option
not available
not available
feature available
Curves Import Function
not available
not available
feature available
Improved Gray Balance
not available
not available
feature available
Web Activation & Automatic Update Checks
feature available
feature available
feature available
Spyder 5 express
Spyder 5 pro
Spyder 5 elite
Color Sensor
7 Filter/Detector
7 Filter/Detector
7 Filter/Detector
Aperture Size
27 mm
27 mm
27 mm
Encapsulated Optical Module
feature available
feature available
feature available
Integrated Tripod Mount
feature available
feature available
feature available
Sensor Lens cap
feature available
feature available
feature available
Initial Calibration Time
5 min
5 min
5 min
Recalibration Time
not available
2.5 min
2.5 min
Mounting Methods
Lens cap Counterweight
Lens cap Counterweight
Lens cap Counterweight or Integrated Tripod Mount
Physical Dimensions 2.73 in.(L) x 2.93 in.(W) x 1.71 in.(H) 2.73 in.(L) x 2.93 in.(W) x 1.71 in.(H) 2.73 in.(L) x 2.93 in.(W) x 1.71 in.(H)
Computer Connection
Hardware Warranty 1 Year (for countries of the EU, the period is 2 years) 1 Year (for countries of the EU, the period is 2 years) 1 Year (for countries of the EU, the period is 2 years)
Comparing with the Spyder 3/4

Spyder 4 and Spyder 3 comparisons

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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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