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Spyder 3 Pro – Review

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Datacolor Spyder 3 Pro – Review

Monitor 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 Spyder 3 Pro version which includes dual monitor support.

We’ve looked at it on an Apple Mac system, but it works just the same on a PC.

Spyder 3 pro

Elsewhere, we’ve a detailed review of the Spyder 3 Elite as well, which you may find of interest when comparing features (there is a feature comparison in the conclusions section of this article).

Monitor Profiling

A lot of people ask me ‘Why should I bother about calibrating my monitor?’

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.

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. There 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 display (LCD/laptop/CRT).

The key features of the Spyder 3 Pro are listed as: (info from Datacolor)

  • Intelligent Ambient Light Control: Automatically measures ambient light in the room.
  • Sixteen Calibration Target Choices: User-selected white point and gamma combinations give users the flexibility to use the photo industry standard, or options to best match their working conditions.
  • Spyder 3 Pro sensor and standFast ReCAL Option: Reduces calibration time by more than half allowing users to recalibrate on a more frequent basis.
  • SpyderProof Function: Enables users to evaluate calibration in before and after modes using four quadrants of images targeting: Saturated Colors, Skin Tones, Gradients and Black & White. It also makes it possible to zoom in on any photo to analyse highlights, shadow detail, colour or tonal response.
  • Real-Time Calibration Monitoring: Ensures display colour is accurate through ongoing background checks of calibration and profile settings, providing instant notifications when changes are required.
  • Multiple Display Calibration: Calibrates all displays within a user’s system through the Spyder3 colorimeter.

The sensor is a new design (compared to the old Spyder 2) that comes with a stand.

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.

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

spyder 3 sensor - undersideThe 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.

If you’re curious as to what’s behind the sensor aperture, then this cut-away shows the seven coloured filters used.

A reading is taken through each one to decide what colour your screen is showing.

spyder 3 internal view

The software is installed from the CD. You get two different applications, the Spyder3Utility and the Spyder3Pro 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. The optional checks are particularly useful for PC users where it is easier to have different aspects of your system’s colour management messed up by other applications.

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
  • 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…

Using the Spyder

I tried the Spyder 3 Pro out on my Mac PowerBook and G5 Desktop / Apple 23″ LCD. Using the Spyder 3 Pro on a PC windows system looks very similar.

To start with the software checks what monitors you have connected. In this case just the one.

detect display type

It’s spotted the old monitor profile I was using at the time and offers me the choice between checking that the existing profile is OK (a shorter process) or recalibrating.

At 48 days old, it’s time to recalibrate (I normally do this every 3-4 weeks)

calibrate display or check existing calibration

First, decide what sort of display you are using.

The projector option doesn’t work for the Spyder 3 Pro (I’ve discussed it in the Spyder3Elite review)

select type of display

I’ve selected LCD.

Next some information is required about the particular controls your monitor has (if any)

identify types of monitor controls

Also the colour controls (if any)

monitor menu colour options

With not many controls on my monitor, I just get to check the luminance.

set white luminance

Note that with the Spyder3Pro, you do not get the option to set an absolute level. This is perfectly good enough for many users, but if you need absolute settings then consider the Spyder3Elite.

As ever with Datacolor software, there is genuinely helpful ‘help’ available. It opens up in a web browser and is comprehensive enough to cover most issues.

help screens

You can now choose the settings for your calibration.

I’ve shown all of them here, but you could just pick the default, or use the ambient light measurement feature via the SpyderUtility to suggest a setting for your particular room lighting settings.

calibration target settings

Non grey balanced calibration may suit some types of display (not common so it defaults to on)

grey balance option

It’s at this point you can use the ambient light detection feature suggest a setting (this defaults to off)

It’s important to note that this feature is -not- the same as the ambient light feature in the Pantone huey. That one varies your display depending on room lighting (not something I’d want) whereas this one uses the lighting to guide initial choices.

ambient settings

Your settings are displayed, to confirm, before proceeding

settings confirmation

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.

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.

The dialogue below appears when you first use the software (you can change it later, via the preferences)

attachment options

I’ve chosen not to stick the sensor to my screen. This means the sensor is shown the correct way up on the calibrations screens.

sensor placement

Place your sensor against the screen and start the measurement process.

A series of coloured patches are shown and the sensor measures the light coming from your screen

profiling process

After a few minutes you get to save your profile

screen profile name selection

After this you can use the ‘SpyderProof’ page to see just how much difference the profile has made to your display.

SpyderProof for calibration checking

You can zoom in to any of these images and see the differences.

That’s it – your monitor is now calibrated.

If you have multiple monitors then you can go back and recalibrate the next one.

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 older windows systems

Additional features

For most users, a simple run through the calibration process is all that’s needed.

One useful feature is being able to do a quick check of the validity of an existing profile, by the ‘CheckCAL’ process right at the start.

Here I’m looking at a profile only made an hour or so previously.

calibration check

A shortened calibration cycle gives you a check on whether the profile is still relevant

calibration measurements

Don’t be too picky when checking those numbers, some slight variation is to be expected.

The software preferences allow you to choose the type of ICC profile produced


and to decide how often (if at all) the software will remind you about profile age

recalibration time preferences

All quite straightforward and, as ever, with well written help information easily at hand.


spyder3Pro packI’ve tried the Spyder 3 Pro on several screens and it gave good consistent results.

It’s faster than the Spyder 2 and very easy to use. The defaults are well chosen and meet the needs of the majority of potential users.

Note – If you think you need more advanced profiling software. I assume you know quite a bit about colour management already? If not then I’d suggest you may not really need any more advanced features than you get in Spyder3Pro or Elite. That’s not to say more advanced software isn’t of potential use in some areas, it’s just that most people who think they need more probably don’t ;-) … I can say stuff like this since I’m not trying to sell you any profiling kit or software ;-)

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

I’ve collected together some information from Datacolor that should help compare their current products.

First, the new sensor…

Comparison of S2 vs S3 (figures from Datacolor)

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

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

For a comparison of all the various Spyder options (as of May 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

The Spyder 3 Pro has most of the functionality many users would need for calibrating monitors.

I have a Sony projector that I use for presentations and lectures, so the ‘Elite’ functionality is very useful. If I didn’t need that, then the ‘Pro’ package would fulfil my everyday working needs.

One other area that the Elite makes a difference is if you need to calibrate several different systems to be as similar as possible.


Monitor calibrator with support for multiple monitor systems.

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)

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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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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