Review: Datacolor SpyderX Elite (Their Best and Their Most Behind Product Yet)

The Datacolor SpyderX Elite is mostly the same product as its predecessor with a few major improvements.

If you were to ask most journalists, editors, and photographers about how often they calibrate their computer displays, I’m positive that the answer would be never–though the Datacolor SpyderX Elite should give them a number of reasons at least to consider it. The most recently updated product from Datacolor includes a few big design changes and deviations from the previous products. For the creatives who have been using the Spyder units for years, you’ll be happy to know that it operates mostly the same. But in terms of future proofing and reaching out to a newer generation of creatives, there are some obvious and glaring problems with the new Datacolor SpyderX Elite. A number of competitors have popped up in the most recent years to include pretty revolutionary features to the genre of products. But what’s perhaps the Datacolor SpyderX Elite’s biggest problem is the displays that they’re catering so hard towards.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • I like the design with the lens addition
  • White matches lots of Apple’s products
  • Works more or less the same
  • I like the fact that it now has soft proofing and Tablet preview
  • ReCalibration is incredibly fast
  • This is the fastest Spyder yet
  • I had concerns about the lens getting dirty and affecting calibration, but those were put at ease

Cons

  • Old USB style
  • No Bluetooth connectivity
  • It’s still mostly the same product as before
  • Software could use a serious graphical and design update

Tech Specs

Your best bet at checking out Datacolor’s website with all the pertinent information. We searched around the web and it was sort of difficult to find a concise listing of specs.

Ergonomics

The Datacolor SpyderX Elite is mostly the same product that many of us have been used to when it comes to the ergonomics. It doesn’t really look like a spider anymore, but the long cord helps with giving the illusion that it has a silk thread that it’s tethered to.

Open the Datacolor SpyderX Elite up and you’ll find this sensor/lens. The lens is new to the design–and in my opinion helps with accuracy and the speed.

Build Quality

When you hold the Datacolor SpyderX Elite, you’ll feel that it’s similar to many of the previous products. In fact, if you didn’t hold them each and every day in your hand, then you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the new Datacolor SpyderX Elite and the previous Datacolor Spyder5 in a blind test. The Datacolor SpyderX Elite is about the size of a small piece of citrus fruit with the exception of the massive cable that comes with it. Said cable is to help the Datacolor SpyderX Elite cater to a number of different screens.

When I was first briefed on the Datacolor SpyderX Elite, I was told about the new lens on the product. I was concerned about this because the design of this lens is similar to that of a camera’s. I really wondered if it would need a protection filter or anything like that. Instead, those concerns were put to pasture when I saw that the lens is pretty well protected and like the previous sensor before it, rarely ever needs to be unsheathed.

Ease of Use

For the most part, the Datacolor SpyderX Elite stayed on the desk in my office tethered to my iMac from 2015. About once a week or so I took ambient light measurements, which tells you whether or not you’re editing in what Datacolor deems to be an ideal environment. Also around once a week, I did a recalibration of the display. There’s a difference between a full calibration and a ReCal. The full calibration doesn’t take very long–in fact I’m very pleased to say that this is the fastest Spyder I’ve ever worked with and is true to the company’s claims. It’s a major breath of fresh air. The ReCal is even faster.

To do each, Datacolor requires that you connect the Datacolor SpyderX Elite to your computer and go through a process where it gathers information about your display. Then during the calibration itself, it will ask you to adjust certain things like the brightness of the display. To do a calibration, your brightness will need to be at what Datacolor deems to be an ideal level. Then it will calibrate and you’ll be able to see what the Datacolor SpyderX Elite did by doing a switch between the uncalibrated and calibrated versions. Each time I did it, I saw different things. Sometimes Datacolor made my display warmer and more green. Other times it was warmer with more purple. Rarely did it ever try to make the display cooler.

Before you do a calibration, it’s important that you let the monitor warm up for around a half hour with use. Then you can calibrate.

“The full calibration doesn’t take very long–in fact I’m very pleased to say that this is the fastest Spyder I’ve ever worked with and is true to the company’s claims. It’s a major breath of fresh air. The ReCal is even faster.”

Datacolor’s approach is all well and great in a consistent, lab-like environment. If you’re a professional colorist, retoucher, editor, etc then you should find the Datacolor SpyderX Elite to be invaluable to a certain degree. Basically, it’s very much designed for a workflow where the creative is tethered down to one spot pretty much permanently. So if you’re in an office, a studio, etc where you’re working on a desktop, then you’re pretty much in what Datacolor seems to deem as an ideal environment. But the truth about the modern creative is seemingly a tougher pill for the company to swallow.

The modern creative, journalist, photographer, etc. probably doesn’t always work tethered down to one place. Many of us use laptops and don’t work in any sort of situation where Datacolor would consider it ideal for photo editing. The light in the cafe a few blocks down from my apartment is very different from the light in my office. I work with a special lamp that helps with my vision while in my office because of the way that the natural light barely comes in from the two windows. My walls are white and my furniture leans more towards the browner side of things. In the cafe a few blocks away, there is a ton of natural light, they have cream colored walls, and their wooden tables combined with their tungsten lighting affect my eyes and everyone else’s in a different way. In the bar where I hang out at while doing work and connected to their Wifi, the main doorway tends to offer a ton of natural light coming from a single direction. But at later hours and under their Edison bulbs, I see my screen again in a completely different way.

“Datacolor’s approach is all well and great in a consistent, lab-like environment. If you’re a professional colorist, retoucher, editor, etc then you should find the Datacolor SpyderX Elite to be invaluable to a certain degree. “

Then let’s get into my travels: when I go to hotels the desk tables are in many different places that have much different lighting. The lighting in a hotel in New Orleans is far different from one in Barcelona and significantly different from a suite in Oregon. From what I’ve gathered over the years, Datacolor tells me that I shouldn’t be editing in places like these; but the truth about the job is that I absolutely have to. It’s imperative in today’s world to be fast–it’s why I shoot digital to begin with. So what happens is that the displays and the Datacolor SpyderX Elite doesn’t always tell me that where I’m editing is an ideal environment.

This all brings me to a bigger and ultimate point: folks who don’t calibrate their displays (and that’s probably most) will probably never see or care enough about a difference. But the truth is that the difference is indeed there. When I look at the edited images of some of my staffers, I can tell that their displays are calibrated differently than mine.

Where this absolutely comes into handy though is with the Datacolor SpyderX Elite’s ability to add tablet and phone profiles. For example, I can use soft proofing and rendering to see what my images will look like on Android and Apple devices. For the growing number of us who really don’t do a lot of work on a computer but instead work from a laptop, tablet or their phones, this is pretty huge.

But there again comes a big problem. Many of the latest devices use the latest USB ports, and the Datacolor SpyderX Elite doesn’t. It’s an old school USB style port that’s big. Want to connect it to your new Macbook or Surface book? Then you’re going to need to use an adapter. I guess that’s standard in life now, but it would have made much more sense for the Datacolor SpyderX Elite to be bundled with an adapter or to have one built in the way that some LaCie devices that I’ve seen do. Direct connection to a tablet or phone would also be really nice, but that’s not possible from what I’ve seen.

What could’ve solved this? Bluetooth connectivity. With so many devices able to transmit a lot of information via Bluetooth, a lot could have been done to make the Datacolor SpyderX Elite even more future proof for at least a few years more. That would be totally in line with their release model anyway.

Back to the good news: for anyone that really wants to do what the Datacolor SpyderX Elite is really designed for: which is calibration of your device, you’ll get a more than satisfactory job done. In fact, you’ll fall in love with the Datacolor Spyder system all over again due to the speed–which was the biggest drawback of the previous versions. You’ll also get a lot of information about your display that you can use if you print a whole lot. Newer displays have been covering more and more of the AdobeRGB spectrum–which is very important to us as we print a whole lot. This will also help with ensuring that your profiles are sent to the printer when you print.

Conclusions

If you’re a creative that works while on the move, then the Datacolor SpyderX Elite might not be for you. If you’re like most of the staff at the Phoblographer who use a laptop while on the go and then have a desktop at home, then having it tethered permanently to your desktop could be the best decision you make. The calibration is fast, it’s pleasing, and it will help you to get better colors. But the full fruition of those colors will only really be experienced if the folks that you’re sending your images to have their displays calibrated in the same way that you do. Then it depends on lighting and all. Displays in and of themselves in the past few years have been getting better and better with calibration built in. Folks also do their own calibrations–our Copy Editor Mark usually has his iPhone display set to the warmer glow that we all see when it becomes bedtime. My iPhone is set to high contrast mode with bigger icons because I’m legally blind. Paul’s is pretty standard. So no matter what, it’s very difficult to see images the same way unless the two devices are calibrated and look the same. Thankfully for the most part, most folks simply just use their displays in the way that it is out of the box.

But then in that case, what’s the point of calibration, you ask? That’s why the Datacolor SpyderX Elite is perhaps best for desktops still–but the truth is that many of us are moving away from desktops and the industry is trying to veer folks away from them anyway. Lots of readers of this site don’t even really use their computers at home anymore. They instead reach for tablets in their household.

Then there is the issue of creatives who travel and are constantly on the road.

So should you go for the Datacolor SpyderX Elite? If you print a whole lot, heck yes–it’s pretty much an item that I’d consider essential when coupled with a good printer that I’m sure you have. If you’re tethered down to a workstation, then it probably wouldn’t hurt all that much to use one. Editing images on my iMac has helped with more accurate and better color rendition when it comes to editing and then porting for WordPress. Most folks read our website on their phones, and on every phone that I’ve seen our images look pretty good.

But then there are really big things that Datacolor should have done, like incorporating Bluetooth and using a newer USB standard.

The Datacolor SpyderX Elite receives four out of five stars. Want one? They’re only $269 on Amazon.