Datacolor Spyder4Elite Review

The datacolor_spyder4elite is a device (and a system) for the color calibration of your video monitor. It can be used with LCD, LED, OLED and CRT displays and is even capable of color calibrating your iPhone and iPad (via a downloadable App). With additional software it can also be used to calibrate HDTV systems.

Basically it consists of a sensor which sits on the screen being calibrated. The sensor can measure both room ambient light levels, and, using a calibrated 7 color sensor, the brightness and color characteristics of your screen. It does this by displaying a series of differing brightness greyscale, red, blue and green patches on the screen during the calibration operation.

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The Sypyder4 is very easy to use. The supplied software which takes you step by step through the process. One note here. I ran the supplied software and calibrated both a laptop LCD screen and my CRT screen. The laptop looked fine, but the CRT looked green every time I tried to calibrate it. Turns out it was a software issue. Downloading the latest software update from the Datacolor website cured the problem.

Datacolor recommend that the screen be on for at least 30 minutes before calibration starts. Then, with the Spyder4 plugged into a USB port, the software first asks a few questions, such as what type of screen is being calibrated (CRT, laptop, LED etc.). You can choose between a recalibration (updating and earlier data set), a calibration check (to make sure nothing has changed) or a full calibration if this is the first time you are calibrating a particular screen. You can choose a gamma setting (2.2 is recommended for Windows systems), a color temperature (6500K is recommended) and a brightness level.

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Note that the options available do depend on which version of the Spyder4 package you have. There are three versions, the Elite ($249.99, which is the version I’m using for this review), the Pro ($169.99) and the Express ($119). All three use the exact same sensor and differ only in the number of software features available. If you click on the illustration on the left you can see the different features of the three different software options. The Express give you a basic calibration with gamma 2.2. and color temperature 6500K.and produces an ICC 2 profile. The pro ads choices of several gamma and color temperature settings and adds support for ICC 4 profiles. It can also calibrate multiple displays and measure ambient light levels. The Elite software has all the bells and whistles for photographers and videographers running multiple displays in a studio setting. It can calibrate projectors as well as displays and offers a higher level of customization and control.

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After the initial setup, the program then asks you to place the Spyder4 sensor on the screen in a area that is marked out. From that point on everything is automatic. Over the course several minutes color and greyscale patches are displayed on the screen where the Spyder4 is located. The Spyder4 analyzes the color and brightness of these patches and creates a color calibration profile which contains the corrections needed to change the displayed colors to the reference standard in the calibration software. An initial calibration takes around 5 minutes, but a recalibration cuts that time in half.

At the end of the calibration the software presents the results. How detailed the results are depends on the version being used (Elite, Pro or Express). With all versions you can see the color range of your monitor compared with sRGB or AdobeRGB as well as NTSC for TV displays. The Elite software also provides a numerical readout of the calibration data including such items as CIE xy values for primary colors and white point, along with brightness and gamma. In my case, my CRT monitor covers 90% or the sRGB color space and 72% of the Adobe RGB colorspace.

All versions provide a selection of test images which can be displayed and you can switch between calibrated and uncalibrated displays to see just how much difference the calibration procedure makes.

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The monitor calibration is stored as an ICC profile and loaded via the resident Datacolor software each time the computer is booted. If you want to turn off the calibration for some reason, you just right click on the Spyder icon which can be found in the Quick Launch Toolbar at the bottom of the screen with Windows PCs. In the popup window which appears there are option to turn calibration on and off.

Of course a calibrated monitor is just part of a fully color calibrated system. The printer must also be calibrated via a printer profile and the printer software must be aware of the calibration and able to use the data. For an overview of color management, see the article by Jay Kinghorn here – http://www.photo.net/learn/digital-photography-workflow/color-management/

Conclusions

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The Datacolor Spyder4 system is easy to use even for a beginner at color calibration like me. It pretty much walks you through the process step by step. The Elite software allows you to delve deeply into the process and adjust everything manually, but that’s not something everyone will want to do.

As I mentioned earlier, there are three versions of the Spyder4, the Elite, the Pro and the Express. It’s my guess that for anyone who just wants to color calibrate their monitor and generate an ICC 2 profile, the datacolor_spyder4express would be just fine. It doesn’t give you a lot of options (Gamma is fixed at 2.2, Color temperature is fixed at 6500K), but for basic work you don’t need them. The datacolor_spyder4proadds more choices (Gamma 1.8, 2.0. 2.2 or 2.4, color temperatures of 5000K, 5800K or 6500K), ICC 4 compatibility, multiple monitor support and ambient light measurement. The datacolor_spyder4elite throws in everything you can think of including the ability to calibrate HD TVs and projectors. You can see a chart comparing the three versions here.

If you buy the Express, you can update it to the Pro or Elite by buying a software upgrade from Datacolor. Similarly you can upgrade from Pro to Elite.

System Requirements

The Datacolor Spyder4Elite is compatible with Windows XP 32/64, Windows Vista 32/64, Windows 7 32/64Mac OS X Panther (10.4), Leopard (10.5), Snow Leopard (10.6) and Lion (10.7)

A Color monitor with at least 1024 × 768 resolution, a 24-bit video card and a powered USB port are also required.

Where to Buy

datacolor_spyder4elite. From the Datacolor website: Spyder4ELITE features a patented, full-spectrum 7-color sensor that can accurately characterize a variety of wide gamut and normal displays. Spyder4ELITE software lets you use the same sensor to calibrate your computer, TV, iPad, iPhone and projector. No other calibrator has this capability. The fourth-generation sensor uses double-shielded filters for longer life and better performance…

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    • What do you think of the ColorEyes Display Pro software that now also comes with the Spyder4 as a bundle, but also can be purchased alone -- is it better from what Datacolor includes with the hardware? (especially for iMac users!)

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    • I don't know much about it since I didn't get a copy to review and I'm working with a PC system. Looks quite expensive and unless you need the extra hardware support I doubt there's much additional functionality in there that the average amateur would need. Perhaps it has some added functionality for professional users.

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