(Editor’s Note: A special thanks to our partner Datacolor for helping us to bring more information about color calibration to you.)
For years, I was uncertain of how to approach monitor calibration. I was trusting of my iMac 5K‘s screen, and knew that it got me (what I thought were) pretty good results. But after reading more and more about the benefits of calibration, I decided to bite the bullet, going with the Datacolor Spyder5ELITE+.
Why I Chose to Calibrate
As I’ve developed as a photographer, I’ve printed more and more of my work. Recently, I returned from a trip to Ireland. I wanted to print some of my favorite photographs for hanging in my home office. What’s more, I have the goal of entering the annual ArtPrize competition in 2018 and knew that my prints would have to be top-notch.
Why the ELITE+?
First and foremost, I wanted to match my iMac with my MacBook laptop in terms of color. While I don’t regularly process my photos on my MacBook, it’s handy to have while traveling. Secondly, I really wanted my calibrator to adjust as my room’s lighting changed. While I have some overhead lighting in my home office, I do have a large window that, depending on the day, can provide a lot of extra light.
Once I un-boxed the Spyder5ELITE+ unit, the process was pretty simple to get started. I installed the Spyder5 software and then hooked up my Spyder5 device to my iMac’s USB port. Then, I ran the software. It gave me a checklist of things to do prior to starting the calibration process, like resetting my display colors, contrast, etc. One thing it didn’t recommend was turning off automatic brightness in System Preferences, which I recommend for consistency sake.
From there, I hung the Spyder5 over the top of my monitor as shown in the opening photo in this post. It asked me if I wanted to adjust things like the gamma level, brightness or white point. But there’s also a hidden Advanced Settings menu — which lets you turn on room light switching.
Finally, the calibration process was under way. You see a series of individual colors start, and then it’ll pause so you can adjust your screen brightness. Using the brightness keys on your keyboard, you might be able to get within four percent of what it wants. But, an easier way is to use the Displays panel in System Preferences, and use the slider to adjust your brightness.
Once you’ve taken care of the brightness adjustment, the colors will continue, taking you through red, green, blue and different white and black levels.
Seeing the Difference
Upon completion, you can play around with some test images (or load your own) to see the difference between your non-calibrated display and your calibrated display.
For me, the difference was clear. You can see in the above photos that the grid on the left (uncalibrated) had a lot of over-contrasted colorings. The toning seems a bit off. But the one on the right (calibrated) was warmer and more evenly toned. My display was initially too cool, meaning, my photos would have too many blue aspects in them. Spyder5ELITE+ warmed up my monitor a but, creating a much more stable tone to work with. I left my Spyder5 on my desk so that it could take into account the different room lighting levels as it changed throughout the day. The change was seamless, and it worked very well in my tests. The key here is to make sure you aren’t covering the Spyder5 device with any shadows from your monitor, which I initially experienced with my iMac.
As I went back to work on my photos, I was shocked at some of the results. The colors looked much more natural and clean-looking. I wondered why I waited so long to calibrate my monitor! The calibration process takes about 15 minutes total, from plugging in the device to finish. If you’ve already got a calibrator, you’ve taken that first step. But having features like room light management and display matching were must-haves for me. Right now, you can upgrade to the Spyder5ELITE+ for just $139 until the end of August, so it’s a no-brainer!