Whether you are a serious photographer, retoucher, or a just a color-perfectionist, calibrating your monitor is should be an essential part of your photographic workflow. I myself shoot fashion and commercial photography in Los Angeles and I know that it is important that my monitors’ colors are very accurate.
I’m sure a lot of you share my sentiment that the factory default monitor profile that comes with the monitor aren’t exactly the most true to color. One of the reasons why is because the lighting condition and color temperature of the room will affect how your eyes will see that monitor. That is why it is important that the color calibration device not only can calibrate your screen, but can also analyze the ambient lighting in your room.
Does the Spyder 4 Elite have what it takes?
UPDATE: After thinking about it overnight, I decided to upgrade my rating to 5 out of 5 because the Spyder 4 Elite did really do its job. How fast you will get your display calibrated correctly will depend on how old your screen is, but overall once it’s done, all five of the monitors that I tested look good. I tested the Spyder 4 Elite on five monitors: My Acer 4820TG-780S laptop screen, My LG22LG30 HDTV monitor, my friend’s iMac screen, a Gateway LCD monitor, and a Westinghouse LCD monitor.
Three displays calibrated without a hitch – the Acer laptop, the iMac, and the Westinghouse monitor. The LG HDTV monitor and the Gateway LCD had problems getting the correct calibration and I had to tweak the initial adjustments on the monitor a little bit more. It seems that the older and less high-end the monitor is, the harder the calibration seems to be.
I love Spyder 4 Elite‘s StudioMatch multi-monitor calibration that allows you to fine tune each monitors independently to match each other. That helped me adjust my monitor to match the laptop screen a little bit better and really makes it easy to use my laptop monitor as my second screen for Lightroom and Photoshop. Now I can put all my Photoshop panels and Lightroom Grid on the second screen and keep my first screen relatively clutter-free.
Oh, and here’s a cool kicker for you Apple fans: The Spyder 4 also calibrates your iPhone and iPad. But unfortunately, no love for Android users like me. Hopefully it’ll be something they can implement in the future. If the Spyder 4 can calibrate different manufacturer’s computer monitors, it should be capable of calibrating different Android phones, right? That said, I couldn’t test out those Apple products because I don’t have them (gasp!).
So if you are not familiar with the way the Spyder 4 colorimeter calibration system works, here is a quick overview:
In the package, you get the software on CD and the hardware that dangles in front of your monitor. This Spyder works in tangent with the profiling software in reading how your monitor is showing the Red, Green, Blue, White, and Black colors compared to its own database of those colors. The Spyder 4 unit works by being placed on the screen of a monitor with its sensor sitting right on the monitor itself. The software then displays the different colors and makes the adjustments with the graphic card and monitor profile to compensate the differences in color. It’s a fairly straightforward process, like driving a car without knowing how an internal combustion engine work.
The inside look to Spyder 4’s Color Sensor Engine
The main differences between each models is the amount of fine-tuning and calibration comparison that is available. While the Express only measure the screen with one ICC profile standard, the Pro and Elite can also measure the ambient light, calibrate more than one monitors, and have an option to recalibrate. The Elite then adds fine-tuning capability in the form of SpyderTune, and the ability to also match multiple displays’ screen via StudioMatch. If you are a professional or uses two monitors at the same time that has to match each other, I’d suggest the Elite. It’s worth the extra money. If you are operating on a less demanding level, the Pro is fine. I want to say that the Express is good enough, but honestly, the ambient sensor is worth the upgrade.
The step-by-step instruction is pretty simple, and for the most part, easy to follow.
The first screen goes over some of the things you have to do before starting the calibration, like making sure your display has been on for at least 30 minutes.
You then choose what type of display that you have, who makes it, and if there are some extra technology in it.
With all that info, Spyder 4 recommends the parameters that you should set your display to.
If you choose to use the ambient sensor test, you will do so here. After it reads the ambient light and how much it will affect your display, the program will give a suggestion on how bright your screen needs to be. I like this feature, but if there is a lot of ambient light and your monitor doesn’t have enough brightness range, it can screw with your result.
And now you put the Spyder on the monitor to begin the actual display measurement.
Once that is done, you save the profile and choose when will be the next time that you want to calibrate again.
The Spyder Proof is great because you can really see how different types of photos will look before and after calibration. There are a range of things you can see from each of the photo, from skin color to saturation to even the tonal range of black and white photos. You can literally spend a good half hour just looking at each one. The Elite also has that SpyderTune and StudioMatch that allows the fine tuning and matching of multiple displays. Like I said before, I love this feature!
Finally, you can see how well your display matches up with sRGB, NTSC, and AdobeRGB. The Apple iMac‘s screen sure does a great job with sRGB.
Despite some setbacks and extra adjustments, all five monitors are now properly calibrated and the result is very noticeable. My friend noted that on her iMac, all this time the her display showed a slight green tint to it. Take a look at her calibrated vs. uncalibrated view:
The ability to calibrate the iPad is also very important if you use it as your electronic portfolio to show off to your prospective clients. If you work so hard to get those colors right on your computer, the last thing you want is for your iPad to inaccurately display your photos.
My one year old Acer 4820TG-780S laptop’s screen, the Westinghouse LCD and my friend’s iMac calibrated accurately on the first try, but my LG 22LG30 22″ HDTV monitor that doubles as my main monitor took several tries. In fact, the first couple of attempts looked overblown in highlights and a tad warm. Luckily, after setting my monitor to cool prior to calibration and kinda cheating with the ambient test by angling the unit a little away from the front of the monitor, I was able to get a proper calibration. I think that maybe my 4 year old HDTV monitor is not as flexible and really put the Spyder 4 to the test. The 2 year old Gateway monitor ended being calibrated much cooler than normal, despite it being set to the factory default. I changed the monitor color to cool temperature and then was able to get a correct calibration. Of course, in the end, the Spyder 4 still did a great job calibrating it correctly.
Another factor that will affect how well your result will be is how much ambient light is in your room. If the ambient sensor reads it as HIGH, which is actually not a lot at all, older and cheaper monitors may not be able to go bright enough.
So all in all, I really do like the Spyder 4 Elite. I may have had problems with it with some displays, but in the end, the result came out pretty darn good. Now, some of you, including me, will have to face the fact that you may have to upgrade your monitor because it can’t actually handle the parameters that the Spyder 4 set up as the correct calibration. So is the Spyder 4 absolutely essential?
Well, you may be able to get away with using Windows or Apple’s monitor calibration, or a third party application to get pretty good results, but you’re pretty much eye-balling it during the calibration process because you won’t have a hardware sensor that can really measure the colors and ambient like the Spyder 4 system.
I have to say for me, as a working professional fashion and commercial photographer, the Spyder 4 Elite is an important investment. Now I just gotta upgrade my monitor =)
The Spyder 4 can be bought at Amazon.com for $114 for the Express, $169 for the Pro, and $249 for the Elite.
Joe Gunawan | fotosiamo.com
Joe Gunawan is a commercial and fashion photographer based out of Los Angeles, California. Check out his work at fotosiamo fotografie