Evaluating and processing your images on a non-calibrated display is simply a bad idea. Each display shows colors slightly (or significantly) differently, and each needs to be calibrated to the standard. Using a hardware calibration system such as the Datacolor Spyder4 Express, Pro & Elite Display Calibration Systems makes this task easy and precise.
I had been using a Datacolor Spyder3 Elite Display Calibration System that I purchased retail over three years ago when Datacolor's marketing company offered to send me a Datacolor Spyder4 Elite just prior to this product's announcement. I was very pleased with the Spyder3 Elite and wasn't sure that I wanted to spend the time upgrading to the 4, but said "sure". I needed to get a new display calibration system review on the site and this model was my first choice of such products. Accepting the Spyder3 Elite would obligate me to commit the time required to complete this review. This move has turned out to be an especially good one for my setup. I'll explain why later in this review.
Installing the Datacolor Spyder4 Elite is simple. Load the CD, plug in the hardware colorimeter device and then run the Spyder4 software.
After validating the software with the provided serial number, a wizard walks through a series of steps as shown below. Click through each step as most are self-explanatory. I'll then review some of the steps below. Note that displays should be fully warmed up (30 minutes?) before being calibrated - or used for critical image processing.
Step 5 shows the same step as 4, but with the additional options available after the first calibration is completed.
At step 6, the Datacolor Spyder4 colorimeter is placed in an included stand for ambient light measurement. Note that many displays will need to have their brightness adjusted to a very low level if being used in a dark environment.
At step 8, the Datacolor Spyder4 Elite colorimeter is hung on/against the front of the display within the outline provided by the software. A counterbalance weight allows the device to hang suspended. Note that the position of this weight on the wire can be adjusted for proper balance for the setup being calibrated.
At this point in the process (with RGB controls enabled), the software displays red, green and then blue colors for the colorimeter to evaluate for brightness. The display's RGB controls are then manually adjusted and re-tested using the update button until the R, G, and B channels are level within the small window provided.
When the RGB graph is correct (as shown in step 10), the continue button initiates the brightness test. Since the display brightness level is reported on step 10, I usually have this task completed by this point in the process. Note that I am calibrating to a brightness of 120 cd/m^2.
Pressing the continue button on step 10 initiates the automated full calibration procedure. This process takes several minutes (go take some pictures or something) as various colors are displayed and read for accuracy by the Spyder3 Elite colorimeter.
When step 12 completes, the Finish button is the only available option. After clicking Finish, a prompt to save the newly created display ICC profile is provided. I use a display model and date as part of my ICC profile naming convention. The saved and loaded ICC profile tells your system how to display accurate colors. Another prompt sets a reminder for recalibrating the display. I usually set this to 30 days.
Step 15 lets you see the before and after calibration difference. Note that if a high quality display is nearly dialed in after adjusting the RGB controls, there may be little difference in these before and after displays.
Step 16 gives you analysis results pertaining to the capability of your display. I am currently using an NEC MultiSync 2690WUXi2. This grade of NEC display is a very good choice for critical imaging.
I mentioned earlier in the review that I already had the Datacolor Spyder3 Elite Display Calibration System prior to receiving the 4. And that it worked very well. Here is Datacolor's list of highlighted improvements in the Spyder4 including options/tests not shown in this review:
The first bullet is the one that stopped me. 26%? Really? Hard to believe. Still skeptical, I moved forward with the Datacolor Spyder4 Elite installation and evaluation. At step 10, I had to make an unusually large adjustment to my RGB settings - which were already adjusted when recalibrating less than 30 days prior. I thought this large adjustment seemed unusual, but I forged ahead as instructed.
What I discovered, after fully calibrating the display, is that the new RGB settings were noticeably better. I see less change in the step 15 before/after comparison and colors are now much better in non-ICC-aware applications such as the current-at-review-time version of Internet Explorer.
Datacolor is a global leader in color calibration tools. I have been relying on the Datacolor Spyder3 Elite since 2008 and foresee myself using the Spyder4 Elite for at least as many years.
There are three versions of the Spyder4 to meet various needs and budgets. From Datacolor:
Spyder4 Express is a cost-effective colorimeter that quickly calibrates monitors, tablets, TVs and projectors right out of the box.
Spyder4 Pro is ideal for those that want more control over light and color management, offering ambient light measurement, and the ability to calibrate multiple devices.
Spyder4 Elite offers the highest level of customization. Developed for professional photographers and others who must match colors in extremely fine detail, the Spyder4 Elite enables users to deeper analysis of display quality, and the ability to calibrate professional workflow targets with L-star tone response curve.
You can spend a great deal of time post-processing your images to perfection. But if you are not working on a calibrated display, you might be wasting your time - or worse, you could be adjusting your images to be incorrect. With the Datacolor Spyder4 Elite, calibrating a display is easy - giving you confidence in your photography workflow.