Color is all around us: our entire world is made up of myriad colors in a multitude of shades and hues. Creating color photos, graphics and movies is now a central part of our digital lives and it’s key that colors remain consistent when moving from our computer screens, through to digital displays for proofing, and onwards to color printers or even color projection. And this is where color calibration comes in. If you’re a digital photographer or a graphic artist, it’s essential that you can rely on your computer’s monitor to show as accurate a representation of color, shade, and light as is possible.
In order to make sure that a screen is a faithful representation of the colors you are seeing on it, frequent color calibration is essential, and in order to do this, you need some sort of monitor calibrating device. This is where something like DataColor’s SpyderX comes in.
I’ve been in the business of reviewing and using monitor calibration devices for around 20 years, way back in the days when Gretag MacBeth was the byword for color. Since then the market has rationalized a bit with a mergers between Gretag Macbeth and XRite, but DataColor has also built its name as a trusted brand in color calibration market, with a range of devices from quick and easy tools for consumers, all the way up to the most sophisticated kit for industrial color calibration in the manufacture of pigments and textiles.
The latest monitor calibrator from DataColor is the SpyderX, a very affordable device that can calibrate a screen, or even a digital projector, in around two minutes, thanks to some clever software and a new lens-based color engine that’s right at the heart of the Spyder X device.
Calibrating a screen using the SpyderX couldn’t be easier. There are two versions available: SpyderX Pro and SpyderX Elite, and they both use exactly the same hardware. The only difference between the two versions is the software. SpyderX Pro is aimed at digital photographers and it can be used to calibrate multiple monitors so that you can calibrate your desktop and your laptop, and be sure that the color is consistent between them. The slightly more expensive SpyderX Elite package includes the facility to calibrate front projectors and also bundles StudioMatch, a system for creating a color target that’s shareable between multiple devices.
Getting started with SpyderX is a simple process of installing the software on your PC or Mac and making sure the screen has around 30 minutes to warm up and settle. Then you need to plug the SpyderX into one of the computer’s USB ports (it’s best not to use the SpyderX via a USB hub) and then remove the lens protector and place the device over the space shown on your computer monitor by the SpyderX software.
Before measuring the display, the SpyderX software will ask a few questions about the type of monitor or screen you are using and it will prompt you to adjust the brightness levels to make sure it’s at the correct setting. The SpyderX keeps measuring the brightness until the correct level is achieved. The SpyderX will also measure the ambient light in your workspace, and let you know if it’s too bright for accurate image editing.
Once the set-up questions and brightness adjustments have been made, the Spyder X software starts calibrating your display by showing a range of colors at various levels of brightness as it carefully measures the changes. Normally, on most monitor calibrators, this process can take quite a while, but the SpyderX zips through the measurements in around a couple of minutes. This is important if you’re calibrating a screen on a weekly basis, as that time soon adds up. Of course, you don’t need to recalibrate quite so often by some designers and photographers like to make sure there’s no shift, especially when working on important projects.
Once the measurements have been made, the software shows you a screen with a button that enables you to compare colors before and after. I was surprised by how much my iMac’s screen was out. I’d grown accustomed to it being quite a bit too cool, and the adjustment made by SpyderX made the whites look much more natural and the details in the shadows were better and the whole image was less harsh.
So why does this matter? Well, color consistency is certainly better on digital devices than it used to be now that there are LED monitors and universal color spaces. But strangely enough, although the SpyderX is great at nailing accurate colors, I think it’s other big strength is the way it adjusts the display so that it gets shadows and highlights properly balanced. There’s very little point in using a package like Photoshop or Lightroom to lift shadows or tame highlights if your screen isn’t accurate. It’s like editing with a blindfold on. You may as well just tweak some random settings. This is where the SpyderX really helps, and it can certainly make for far better edits on images before they get sent to your printer or online photographic service. It’s also essential for getting the mood in monochrome images right, or when working on graphics with logos, etc.
Although the color system used by a color printer is based on CMYK and a computer monitor uses RGB, a properly calibrated monitor and printing using the correct color space and printer color profile means there’s a much better chance that the photo or artwork turned out by your printer will match what you were seeing and editing on screen.
Verdict: The build quality of the SpyderX is exemplary for the money and the software is a huge improvement on the older DataColor Spyder package. The superfast measuring that SpyderX offers makes it so easy to do a quick calibration any time you like, and you will find yourself doing a measurement more often, and that brings far more consistency to image editing. If you’re serious about digital photography then the DataColor SpyderX is a no-brainer for the money and makes adjusting images for skin tones, sunsets or even blue skies, a much more consistent process.
SpyderX Pro: €179 / £159 / $170
SpyderX Elite: €279 / £249 / $250