NOTE: Wether or not you see this on your monitor the way I do mine is dependent on lots of factors beyond my control. So look at this as a mere example of what is possible.
Rarely is a simple accessory as misunderstood, misused and misapplied as the ubiquitous gray card. While almost every photographer I know has one, few know how to use it.
Once the digital era erupted we saw white balance cards and even black cards come onto the market, to help take advantage of the post-processing software’s ability to do color balance and exposure correction.
Frankly, every solution I’ve ever seen comes up short or isn’t applicable to every workflow. Until now that is.
Somebody at Datacolor is “wicked smart” as my old Granny used to say. They’ve come up with a small, portable, relatively inexpensive tool that does it right called the SpyderCube .
The Datacolor SpyderCube is a tool that you can (and should) use to calculate color balance and exposure calculations.
The SpyderCube supplies spectrally neutral white and gray surfaces facing the primary and secondary lightsources, plus true black (using a black trap) and card black, and specular highlight capture. By using SpyderCube under the same lighting conditions as your photos, you can optimally adjust all the photos in RAW conversion using the information the SpyderCube shot provides. In this review I’m going to kill two birds with one stick. I’m going to both review the SpyderCube and teach you how these devices SHOULD be used.
Let’s start with the gray side of the cube. You use the gray side of the cube to establish color balance. Only, because this is a cube and TWO sides are gray, you can select the side which faces the primary light source – VERY nice touch. That’s the side you should use when you’re in Aperture, Photoshop, etc. Get the software’s white balance tool (usually an eye dropper or pointer of some sort) and touch it to the gray side of the cube that’s closest to your MAIN light source. BAM! You’ve got perfectly accurate color balance.
So now you’ve used the SpyderCube to take care of color balance. The rest of the product’s features are geared toward helping you correct exposure.
Let’s start by talking about that little chrome ball on the top of the SpyderCube. That is BRILLIANT. Here’s why. Most photographers would use the white sides of the cube to either set color balance (wrong) or to set the white point (reasonable.) But the problem is, you can set the white point according to a white card in the scene and still have over-exposed highlights, AKA blinkies! How? You didn’t control the specular highlights. They are often hotter than the whitest white in the scene. Using the chrome ball, you can figure that out. The white sides of the cube are then used to define the highlights in relationship to your catch lights.
The gray face of the SpyderCube is a genuine 18% gray – really. This is important because the so-called “18% gray cards” I’ve seen at most photo stores vary widely in their interpretation of 18% gray. In fact, most savvy camera store buyers won’t carry more than one brand of gray card because if they did, and you compared them side-by-side, you’d see that no two are alike. The SpyderCube is a genuine 18% gray that you can count on and can use to measure your midtones.
Now let’s get to the black side of the cube. There are really two blacks here. There’s a black trap where the blackest blacks go to live. These are blacker than the hearts of mean IRS agents. This is absolute, no detail black. And it’s nice to have that measurement IN THE SAME LIGHT as your gray and white tones.
Some post-processing software includes a black level eyedropper. Use that tool to click the black trap. Now you have set the REAL black. The black area around the trap can be used to judge the rest of your exposure’s ability to hold shadow detail in relation to the black trap. COOL!
The SpyderCube was one of the things I saw at PMA that really impressed me and after testing it, I can say it is going to be a permanent addition to both my camera bag and my studio. It will make both color balance and exposure a snap, and it won’t add 20 pounds to my aching back like every other gadget I come by lately seems to do.
There are a few other things you should know. The SpyderCube comes with a built-in tripod socket so you can mount it that way or use the built in cord to hang it just about anywhere. (We tested it using a Joby Gorilla Pod and it worked perfectly in that application.) Datacolor includes a nice little pouch for you to store the SpyderCube in so it doesn’t get beat up. They offer a one-year warranty and the retail price is $59. It could be a few bucks cheaper but if you value your time (and I do) it’s worth it.
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