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The Spyder 2 Pro – monitor calibration made easy

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The Spyder 2 Pro – monitor calibration made easy

ColorVision’s latest version of the Spyder is a definite improvement

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If you’re moving into colour management, then you’ve probably been told to start with your monitor.

Review Background. Keith has used the original Spyder for some time and in this review looks at some of the advantages of the new offering from ColorVision.

spyder 2 PRO

The latest version of the Spyder 2 Pro now supports digital projector calibration – this is covered in a separate review. See also our Spyder2express review.

Updates:  We have reviews of all the newer Datacolor Spyder products too.

Why do you need to sort out your monitor?

There is really only one place to start with Colour Management – your monitor.

If it doesn’t actually display accurate colour, it’s difficult to get prints right and even more so getting anyone else to produce them accurately.

At it’s simplest you should adjust your monitor 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 Gallery section) but these are at best a partial solution (they rely on your eyesight for one thing).

I’ve used the original ColorVision Spyder for some time now, for calibrating my main monitor (a 21″crt).

It works well and gives good consistent results, although the two part software solution (PreCAL and OptiCAL) does seem a little clunky sometimes.
I’ve also noticed problems with some LCD screens, where the greyscale performance in particular was less than inspiring.

The recent announcement of the Spyder 2 and it’s all new software looked as if it might well improve the situation, without having to spend more money on some of the other solutions on the market.

I decided to see how much had changed…

  • Will the Spyder make my monitor match my prints?
    I’ve been asked this several times and have written a short article on how it will help, but why you need to consider some other factors as well.

What does the equipment do?

There are two main aspects of getting your monitor set up correctly:

Firstly, how do you characterise the actual performance of the display. For example…

  • How red is bright red
  • What colour is displayed at R=127,G=127,B=127 (should be a mid grey)
  • How linear is the brightness output with changing input values

This is ‘Profiling’ your monitor

Color Management bookI 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  or 

RWCM  1st Edition RWCM 
RWCM  2nd Edition RWCM Other Amazon sites
Amazon France / Amazon Germany / Amazon Canada

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

Secondly, making the monitor perform as a ‘standard’ device

  • What gamma do you want to have (I use 2.2 for my displays now)
  • What colour temperature do you want (I use 6500)
  • What black and white point luminances do you want

This is ‘Calibration’

It’s worth remembering that you are actually measuring the whole monitor/display card combination, since some aspects of monitor display can depend on the capabilities of your video card.

How does it work?

The examples below are all on Apple Macs, but the software is supplied for windows PCs as well (Windows: 2000, XP. Macintosh: OS X 10.2+).

It is also important that the sensor just measures what comes from the screen, so avoid bright lights (like the flash I used to take the pictures :-) and make sure that the monitor has been on long enough to stabilise (an hour is suggested).

Installation consists of running the installer on the CD, then you plug in the USB measuring device and fire up the software. The sensor measures the light coming from the screen when the software displays various colours and greys. At it’s simplest, you just follow the default settings and instructions and you end up with a profiled screen calibrated (in the case of my 23″ LCD below) to a Gamma of 2.2 and a temperature of 6500.

There is a weight attached to the lead that you can slide along the wire and balance the weight of the sensor. In the picture below, it is behind the screen. With LCDs you use a filter attachment and the sensor lays flat against the screen, while with CRTs the filter unit comes off to reveal small suckers that hold the scanner in place.

Spyder 2 Pro on an Apple 23" LCD

Measuring device on an Apple 23″ LCD display – the screen is tilted back so that the sensor makes good contact

After running the checks, the software shows the PDI test image (available here) and allows you to see the difference that your new settings have made. Do remember that if there has been a lot of adjustment, the ‘new’ settings may look a bit odd, especially if you have been using the monitor uncalibrated for a while. This is perfectly normal and very quickly you won’t notice it.

comparing profiles

Test image allows comparison of settings

So, that was it … I’d just set up my monitor. The greyscale in particular looked very smooth. There have been reports that the large Apple LCD has a smoother greyscale if you use the display’s ‘native’ temperature rather than 6500. I tried this and the differences were minimal. It might be worth checking your own LCD displays with this option, unless you specifically need a cetain setting.

Now to do my laptop – this had not been very good at all with the old Spyder – but then I never use the laptop for critical work.

Just as easy to run and the greyscale was now without the slight colours that I’d noticed when trying out the old Spyder.

Spyder 2 Pro on a laptop

Calibrating a G4 Powerbook

The software certainly seems easier to use, not that the old version was difficult, just this one seemed to do everything it needed without fuss.

I took the device round to my old CRT. This is starting to show signs of it’s age and compared to the new Apple 23″ LCD looks soft and dim. Removing the LCD filter I stuck the sensor to the screen – it didn’t fall off- and ran the software. Quite a few more options were available since the CRT has many more controls. The picture below shows the CRT’s own adjustment menu (below sensor), where I’m adjusting the individual colours to balance them (upper right window) This was part of the PreCAL software in the original Spyder package.

The process was not difficult to follow, and there are numerous help screens available at most stages. One thing you can set is how often the software will remind you to calibrate your monitor. I have mine set up to remind me every two weeks, but you can choose your own settings — I know some people who do it every day!

Spyder 2 Pro on a CRT

Setting up a CRT

So I’d managed to calibrate all three main monitors I use in less than an hour, and that included installing the software. Subsequent recalibration is quicker, unless you need to reset brightness/contrast settings as well. It is worth mentioing that if you (or anyone else) make -any- adjustments to the monitor then the calibration will need to be repeated.

custom curveI tend to use the three machines for quite different uses and rarely at the same location. This was one reason that I was happy to accept the defaults values for calibration. If I’d got half a dozen monitors in a single office I’d probably be much more keen to have them calibrated to consistent values so that people moving work from one machine to another would see the same view. More advanced modes of the software allow you to customise most settings for the particular task and hardware you are using.

For example, this gets more important if you are using special lighting for proofing, and need to work to much higher levels of accuracy.

Most of my photographic work is not so colour critical, so the default 6500,2.2 settings were fine.

Custom targets and curve adjustment allow you to reproduce all kind of set-ups, but … if you are going to be making use of the advanced settings, you should already have quite a lot of colour management knowledge — if not then I’d suggest you take the time to learn about it…

Target settingsIf you know why you want ITU-R Rec. BT.709 then by all means use it, otherwise it’s probably best to stick to the defaults :-)

The sensor can also be used as a colorimeter to measure screen colours and can handle the calibration of multiple screens on the same computer.

The range of solutions

The package I’ve been looking at is the Spyder 2 Pro. At the moment it also comes bundled with nik Color Efex Pro 2.0 Standard Edition, PANTONE colorist, and ColorVision DoctorPRO.

It includes a site license for calibrating all your monitors (Mac and PC)

The picture below shows my old Spyder and the new Spyder 2 Pro. The new LCD filter (top) is much easier to fit than the old one. Not shown are the LCD balance weights, once again the new solution wins on simplicity

The only thing not improved is the box– I rather like the old cloth covered black box

new and old colorvision spyder

Old and new Spyders

ColorVision also offer simplified calibration hardware and software that might better suit other users.

The table below is taken from ColorVision info (you should check their site for the latest prices and details of bundled software).

Features ColorPLUS Spyder SpyderPRO
Price $119 $169 $249
Target End User Anyone printing photos at home, digital imaging enthusiasts Advanced Amateur, Prosumer or Designer Professionals and Semi-Professionals
Calibrates CRT and LCD Displays YES YES YES
Operating System    
Software ColorPLUS PhotoCAL
(site license)
(site license)
User Interface Wizard Wizard (with options) Wizard & Progressive Dialog
Adobe Software Album SE Album Album
Choice of Gamma Preset 2 Unlimited
Choice of Whitepoint Preset 2 Unlimited
PreCAL Function NO YES YES
Custom Targets NO NO YES
Curve Manipulation NO NO YES
Colorimeter Tool NO NO YES
Reporting NO NO YES
Matching Different Monitors to Same Target NO NO YES
Precision Mode NO NO YES
30-Day Money Back Guarantee YES YES YES
1-Year Spyder Warranty YES YES YES
Free Technical Support YES YES YES
Free Software Upgrades YES YES YES

Update – as of Autumn 2009

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 Spyder4 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.


A solid, easy to use bit of kit.

The Amazon link to the right goes to the current equivalent, the Spyder4Elite

Just when advances in monitor technology were beginning to show up some of the deficiencies in my old Spyder, along comes one that is both easier to use and more accurate.

The grey scale improvements are particularly welcome, given the amount of black and white photography I do.

As ever, I’d advise you to do some research of your own before making buying decisions, but I’m more than happy with the results I get with the new Spyder.

It never was difficult to use, but the attention paid to interface design in the new software is welcome.

A very capable device … even if I still prefer the box that the old one came in… :-)

Update – after several weeks of use I decided that the display on my Powerbook was slightly better at ‘Native’ settings, and the Apple 23″ was fine at 6500.

As I said, I don’t usually use the Powerbook for critical work…

Feature matrix updated (Mar. 2006) after our review of the Spyder2express ($99)

Note – 2008 – The range has been further extended, but the Spyder 2 Pro is still a worthwhile bit of kit, and very good value for money.

If you’re reading one of our older reviews because you’ve been given some equipment, do note that not only may there no longer be software supporting the device, but it may work less well with newer LED backlit and wide gamut monitors.

Features  Spyder2express
(Keith’s Review)
Spyder2 Suite Spyder2Pro
Monitor Calibration Basic  Advanced  Professional
Monitor Gamma/Temp Choices Fixed Multiple Unlimited
RGB Control Calibration no yes yes
Front Projector/Ambient Light (Keith’s Review) no no yes 
Printer Profiling no Yes (software based) Yes (software based)
Bundled Software Adobe Album Starter Edition (Win only) ColorVision PrintFIX Plus (Keith’s Review) ColorVision PrintFIX Plus (Keith’s Review)
Free Technical Support Unlimited  Unlimited  Unlimited 
List Price $99  $169  $279

Update 2012 – New reviews of Datacolor’s latest Spyder4Express and Spyder4Elite

2008 – We have a similar tables covering the Spyder2express, Spyder3Pro and Spyder3Elite

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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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