Monitor calibration, it seems to be a hot button of conversation with photographers.
"I have an iMac, I don't need it" I hear said all too often, or "My pictures look great online"
Calibration is often misunderstood and certainly under valued, for me it is one of the most important elements after the photo has been taken, let me explain......
For years I had taken my pictures for printing and been disappointed with the results, images too dark, colours were off and generally looking a bit of a mess.
It had to be the printers fault, It couldn't have been my fault surely ? I had spent time carefully getting the right white balance and my picture looked vibrant and punchy on the screen, it had to be the printers at fault.
It wasn't, and it almost certainly never will be.
This is where correct monitor calibration comes in and once you have done it you will never ever be without it again.
So why is your expensive new computer monitor fresh out the box all wrong I hear you ask ?
Well each manufacture runs a colour profile that they find pleasing too the eye, some companies warm up the display by a great deal, some cool it down, Some add more contrast than you can imagine and some will saturate the life out of it but the biggest one by far is the screen brightness and this without exception is always ramped up.
Monitors will also degrade over time, more so with bulb based rather than LED ones but it still happens to LED monitors and needs to be corrected if you want to deliver consistent good results.
The Apple iMac 5k Retina display for example is one of the best looking monitors out there and it does a pretty good job of making your photos look fantastic BUT make no mistake this is not a neutral profile displaying, It is a manufacturers profile that is built for visual impact, not for colour accuracy.
This is where monitor calibration comes in to play and the masters of it, Datacolor have been putting out clever devices for years.
I had in the past used a Spyder 3 for calibration and to be honest it frustrated me, it was quite slow and it didn't always save the profile and to be honest I had almost stopped using it due to this frustration.
I had heard good things about the latest model the Spyder X Pro and I decided to dig a little deeper and find out more about it.
The more I read and looked at reviews the more I felt it had moved on since the days of the Spyder 3 and really fancied an upgrade, Especially as I am running a Canon PROGRAF PRO 1000 printer which as a 12 ink system has the ability to get colours absolutely spot on.
The decision was made to get the Datacolor Spyder X Pro version which was priced at £159.99 at the time and it seemed a lot to lay out initially but my opinion was soon to change.
The latest model has undergone a redesign and its crisp white colour scheme was much better looking than the darker older models in my opinion.
There were two different models that were there for consideration, The Datacolor Spyder X Pro and the Elite.
The differences between the two are actually quite major but the Elite had quite a lot of features that I didn't feel I needed at the time so I opted for the very highly specked Pro model instead.
It arrived and I opened it up to have a look, The packaging was neat, clean and reminded me very much of an Apple product as it looked very stylish and of a premium.
The Spyder X Pro itself was a fairly small triangular shaped item with a trailing lead to plug in via USB on your monitor.
The instructions were very clear and simple to follow, you register and download the software which has had a major upgrade since I last used the Spyder 3 and I instantly felt happier about it as it was always my biggest gripe.
The instructions stated that the monitor needed to be on for 30 minutes before using the Spyder X Pro and as much as I was itching to get calibrating I waited it out even if it was tough !
The Spyder X has an exceptionally handy feature of taking the ambient light levels in the room to include in its calibration which is fantastic for me as I had previously always tried to process images at the same time of day with the curtains closed and a neutral light bulb to give the same light levels.
Now I was able to simply process whenever I wanted by simply calibrating the ambient light, A real nice innovative feature that gave me confidence I had purchased a really good product.
Time was up and I followed the on screen instructions and expected the usual long wait while it ran its cycle, This was where the game changed.
After the Spyder X Pro took the ambient light reading it gave me a brightness target to reach on the monitor, As suspected it was way too bright and after bringing it down to within the recommended values I could see where some of the print problems had occurred.
It's worth saying here that the first time you calibrate a monitor you will be thinking maybe it is too dark simply because it's not what you're used too BUT you get used to it very, very quickly and you will be glad you did.
I followed the onscreen prompts and hung the Spyder X Pro over the screen with the lens facing the monitor and it started to run its colour cycle.
Previous calibrations had taken sometimes up to around 10 minutes, The Datacolor Spyder X Pro was completely done in under 2 minutes, YES UNDER 2 MINUTES !!
I was so shocked I thought I must have done it wrong, But this wasn't the case. The new software is simply fantastic and paired with the new device it just breezed through it and presented me with a before and after calibration chart, The difference was VERY clear to see.
My monitor had indeed been running a much cooler colour temperature and therefore I would have been adding warmth to my images to make it visually correct to the scene, but not on the print.
The new profile was saved under a name of your choosing so you don't overwrite any of the native profiles.
I decided to run a test print after the new calibration profile had been installed, the difference was simply night and day. The colours were true to screen and the images were no longer too dark as the brightness on screen was corrected and the image adjusted accordingly.
To say I was impressed was an understatement, Years of frustration now completely gone thanks to the wonderful Datacolor Spyder X Pro.
It's not often that you find a product that really does change the game but trust me, this one does.
The speed and the accuracy are simply unrivalled and dare I say it, I actually look forward to calibrating the screen now whereas before it was a real pain to do.
The frequency of which you do it can be set on your Datacolor software too as it flashes up a reminder at the desired time, a handy and neat little touch.
As it happens I now calibrate my screen before any print job to make sure its at its very best and results have been consistently accurate and print customers have been overjoyed with their art work.
The Spyder X Pro has become so valuable to me that I would have happily paid double the price as it has cured a ongoing problem and I simply can't recommend it highly enough.
Im kicking myself for not buying it earlier, I now have calibrated my lap top, my home studio and even my work computer so I know it will be consistent across the board no matter where Im working.
One of the features that makes this such a good experience is the fact its so simple to use, You don't need to have any experience of colour management as the Datacolor Spyder X Pro software does everything for you, it is very intuitive and makes recommendations for you so there is no need to wonder if you are doing the right thing plus it won't overwrite anything so you can always revert back at anytime.
Is there a downside to this device ? Well yes maybe, It has changed my perception of colour so much that I have decided to rip my website to pieces and start again by going back to each image and reprocessing them in order to make each image colour correct and display how it was meant to be seen.
But obviously this isn't really a downside, just a time consuming process but one I'm happy to do as I simply couldn't see it before hand, Datacolor Spyder X Pro had opened my eyes.
Now I realise this is an absolutely glowing review and some of you will be sceptical, But I am genuinely thrilled with this device of which was paid for with my own cash and is in no way connected with Datacolor or any other retailer, Its simply the honest views of someone who absolutely loves this device and appreciates the vast difference it has made to my photography in general.
Couple this with a monitor that produces a full RGB spectrum like those offered from BenQ and Eizo and you will be in a marriage made in heaven in terms of the accuracy you can achieve in your prints.
I had a couple of questions for the Datacolor team just to satisfy my own curiosity and to see if a profile could be copied from one monitor to another etc and found them to be exceptionally helpful and friendly with a deep knowledge of the product and colour management, you can't put a price on good product support so this was yet another very welcome bonus and confirmed Datacolor as a company were an extremely good choice.
VALUE FOR MONEY 10/10
So this is the first time I have ever awarded any product full marks, that's how much the Datacolor Spyder X Pro impressed me, It has become indispensable in my work flow now and I can't believe I went so long without one.
If you ever intend to print your work then you simply have to have one of these, they make all the difference to your work. Even if you don't intend to ever print I still urge you to get one simply because it will change how your work looks online to others and vastly improve it.
Datacolor I salute you, the Spyder X Pro is the new benchmark and an absolute game changer.
As always, Happy shooting.
You may enjoy this video which features the Datacolor Spyder X Pro is use and details my print work flow.