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Review: Datacolor Spyder4Pro

by Mike Pouliot on 02/09/2012

So, the holidays are over. If you’re a frequent reader of this site, then you most likely asked for some photography related equipment as a gift from friends, family, and loved ones. Whether it be a new lens, new camera, new computer or just a bunch of accessories, you need to get the most out of your gear. One piece of gear that is constantly overlooked by many enthusiasts (and some “pros” too) is a good screen calibration device. In this post we will take a look at Datacolor’s Spyder4Pro screen calibration device.

The Datacolor Spyder4Pro

The Spyder4Pro is Datacolor’s mid-rage Spyder device and it is priced to match those of it’s competitions. With advanced controls and the ability to calibrate all types of computer screens (LCD, LED, CRT, etc.), the Spyder4Pro should cover almost any photographer’s needs.

Tech Specs/Details

  • Automated Color and Brightness Calibration
  • Full-spectrum color sensor
  • Single sensor calibrates multiple displays
  • Improved accuracy and stability – The fourth-generation Spyders have double-shielded color filters for even closer match to CIE color standards and improved long term stability. Average accuracy is up 26% and consistency between Spyder units is 19% better.
  • Fast Re-calibration Assistant – The ReCAL feature makes it quick and easy to recalibrate your display to compensate for changes over time.

System Requirements

  • Windows XP 32/64, Windows Vista 32/64, Windows 7 32/64
  • Mac OS X Panther (10.4), Leopard (10.5), Snow Leopard (10.6) and Lion (10.7)
  • Color monitor with at least 1024 x 768 resolution
  • 24-bit video card
  • Powered USB port

Why You Should Care About Screen Calibration

For most of photographers, color management is not something we have consciously integrated into our workflow. So why do it?

Well, doing something as easy as calibrating your screen can save you time in post processing but more importantly your images will have better color accuracy and a more consistent look and feel to them. Over time, our computer’s screen (LCD, LED, CRT, etc.) can change how color is displayed. Your computer thinks it is displaying color correctly, but what it is actually displaying to you may be something completely different. This is where a calibration unit comes in. A calibration device, like the Spyder4Pro, takes a reading of what the screen is actually showing and it creates a profile to adjust the colors where needed. I guarantee you will be astonished by the results the first time you calibrate your monitor.

Some of you out there may say, “I soft proof my photos before I have them printed, I don’t need no stinking calibration device.” Well, if you are one of those people, I would say yes, you are correct…PROVIDED you never want to display your photos online. Even if you are soft proofing with your print shop’s profiles, their profiles may not be ideal for displaying on the web. Having a calibrated monitor means what you see while you are editing is going to be what everyone else sees on the web. Check out this article for more on soft proofing if this term is new to you.

Now, the next thing I hear ear everyone saying is, “Why should I calibrate my monitor if everyone looking at my photos using an uncalibrated screen?” This is a good point, but I still find it worthwhile. Yes, your images may look slightly different to each individual user but all of your images will be consistent. If your photographer have a certain look or style, you want that look/style to be consistent throughout your photographs. If your screen is ever-changing, it will be hard to keep that look/style consistent.

Personally, I find that the biggest benefit of a correctly calibrated screen is the ability to work in a controlled color environment. This means the photo you edited last week looks exactly the same today. There was a time when I went months without calibrating my screen. After I finally calibrated my screen, I had to go back and re-edit all of the photos that I had taken during this time because they had drastically changed after my computer’s display had been calibrated. That sucked.

Yikes, that was quite the rant. Okay on to the Spyder4Pro.

In Use

Over the past year or so, I’ve used a handful of calibration devices. Most of the units on the market today are relatively easy to use but the Spyder4Pro is one of the easiest I’ve worked with. Once you install the software, you simply plug in the device, start the program, click a few buttons and you’re done. Some other units on the market are extremely versatile and can do much more than the Spyder4Pro, but they also expect the user to have some color management knowledge (e.g. gamma, white balance, luminance, etc.). While it’s good to understand all of these terms and how they affect your display, I doubt most people will ever need anything beyond the basics. The Spyder4Pro allows you to easily adjust these settings if you so desire, but you can also get great results using the standard settings

Below are the steps required to calibrate a screen using the Spyder4Pro:

1. Install the included software

2. Plug in the device and fire-up the program

3. Once the program opens, you are presented with a checklist to run through. Simply read through each item and move on to the next step. One thing to call out here, under the “Display Controls” section things do get a bit technical. Essentially, what you need to do here is ensure that your monitor is set to it’s factory settings. If you own a laptop or a Mac, you shouldn’t have to worry about this step. If you can handle getting through this section, the rest is a breeze.

4. The next step is the actual calibration process. The software will guide you through the process which is really quite easy. Simply hang the device on your monitor (which is made easy by the included adjustable counterweight) and make sure the device sits within the marked area. Once you hit “next”, your computer’s screen will start to flash a series different colors (see second photo below). The device knows what these colors should look like and it compares what it actually sees to these values.

5. Once the device has finished, all you need to do is name your profile and you’re done! That was easy! (Don’t sue me Staples)

6. The next screen is may favorite, it shows you the before (uncalibrated) and after (calibrated). I promise that you will be shocked the first time you go through this process…the difference can be quite drastic.

7. For those of you that are color geeks, the next two screens are for you. The first is a profile overview where you can compare your new profile to that of some standard profiles like AdobeRGB. There is also an option for advanced analysis (see second image below). This screens allows you to pull reports to analyze different settings of your display (contrast, gamut, tone response, etc.). This stuff is beyond me but it’s nice to know that it’s there in case you ever decide to become a color geek.

Conclusion

Regardless of what brand or model you use, if you are serious about digital photography, some type screen calibration device should be part of your normal workflow. The Spyder4Pro does not have all of the bells and whistles that some other devices on the market may have, but what it lacks in features it makes up for in ease of use. The results I obtained while using the Spyder4Pro where VERY similar to that of my current calibration device which is a good thing as I’m quite happy with my current calibration unit. If you’re looking for an easy-t0-use calibration device that delivers constant results, the Spyder4Pro should definitely be on your list.

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