Datacolor contacted me a few months ago about a new color calibration product they were releasing. After meeting with their PR team over a conference call, they sent me a pre-release SpyderX Elite calibration system to test. They did not compensate me for this review, nor do they expect anything specific in return. I’ve written this review as a service to our audience and as a guide to those who might use this equipment in their own workflow.
I highly recommend the SpyderX Elite and can confidently say that it does an excellent job of calibrating my monitors. It competes at the same level as the other calibration systems in the industry and is a high-end tool for professional photographers and videographers.
Datacolor released two calibration systems in February 2019. One is the SpyderX Pro that retails for $169.99 and the other is the SpyderX Elite that retails for $269.99. My tests were with the SpyderX Elite which allows advanced calibration on multiple types of computer displays and video projectors.
For more about using SpyderXElite, head over to http://goto.datacolor.com/learnaboutspyder5elite
The SpyderX Pro and Elite colorimeters both use a new lens-based color engine for calibration. Datacolor claims that this technology significantly increases precision, color accuracy, and low light capabilities. Datacolor also claims that the SpyderX is the easiest-to-use monitor calibration tool ever created by Datacolor.
Calibrating your computer monitor is one of the most important steps you can take for producing great images, beautiful prints and/or stunning video. Knowing that your monitor is showing you accurate colors gives you the confidence to publish your content across the spectrum of visual media.
I have been using screen calibration tools since I started digital photography back in 2003. I think I have used calibration tools from every company in the marketplace, including systems from X-rite, Pantone, Datacolor as well as their subsidiaries over the last 15 years. Additionally, I’ve been printing on large format printers and inkjet printers for quite sometime and have also been teaching printing workshops for almost 20 years. Most recently, I’ve been using the X-Rite i1Display Pro and ColorMunki systems for my laptop screens and desktop monitors. X-Rite makes great equipment, so I’m basing my review of the Datacolor SpyderX against another titan in the industry.
SpyderX Pro vs. SpyderX Elite
The Elite model does everything the Pro model does (calibration, multiple monitors, ambient light measurement, etc.) but also allows for expert-level calibration options. These include:
- Video and cinema calibration targets
- Soft proof of print output
- Display matching across all of your studio monitors
- Visual fine-tuning for side-by-side display matching
The Pro model is designed for serious photographers who want a fast and easy-to-use calibration solution. The Elite model is for professional photographers and videographers who want maximum control over their color workflow.
Software installation and SpyderX setup
Start by opening the product box and note the website for the installation software. Type the link into your browser and download the installer package (Mac or Windows). At the end of the install, you’ll receive a notice that the software was successfully installed. This process takes just a couple of minutes.
Once the software is installed, it stays open and active in your system tray.
Then, plug in the SpyderX to a USB port on the computer.
Launch the SpyderX software from the system tray, note that it is called SpyderXElite or SpyderX depending on the version you purchased. Follow the prompts that ask you to enter the serial number in order to receive your personal license code. After all the data is entered and your product is registered, the software will launch, taking you to the main screen.
If the software is closed, then launch the SpyderXElite (or SpyderX) software from the system tray. Choose what you want to calibrate: Display(s) or printer/tablets.
Follow the checklist to make sure your monitor is warmed up, your ambient lighting conditions are adjusted properly, the display controls are zeroed out, and the SpyderX is connected via USB.
If you are using multiple monitors, choose the monitor you want to calibrate. In my case, I am going to calibrate my Dell P2715Q 4K monitor.
Tell the software what type of display you are calibrating, whether it is a desktop, laptop or project. As a side note, the SpyderX system will calibrate retina monitors, 4K monitors, other high-resolution monitors and standard HD monitors.
Indicate what brightness and color temperature controls your monitor offers. In my case, the Dell P2715Q has a brightness control option, so I selected that.
Choose the display technology from the drop-down menu. There’s a guide that helps you figure out what type of monitor you might be using.
Tell the calibration software what workflow you’ll be using. You have three choices here:
- Step-by-step: This walks you through each phase of the calibration process.
- Studio match: This helps match all of your monitors as close as possible.
- Expert Console: Puts all the controls on a single screen.
Setup the Calibration Settings:
- Pick what type of calibration you’ll be doing. If this is your first calibration, then choose FullCAL. If you’ve already calibrated at least once, then choose ReCAL. If you want to quickly check the accuracy of your current calibration, then choose CheckCAL.
- Choose your Gamma. I recommend Gamma 2.2.
- Choose your White Point. I recommend 6500K.
- Set your brightness. 120 cd/m^2 is recommended.
Place the Spyder unit face down on the desk so no light enters the screen sensor, then click the Next button. This step uses the ambient light sensor on the back of the SpyderX to measure the ambient light brightness. In my case, the system determined that the ambient light was very high, so it recommended making a change to the monitor brightness from 120 cd/m^2 (candelas per square meter) to 200 cd/m^2. I chose to accept the settings, but I also know that if I use the monitor at night when the ambient light levels are lower, I should change the brightness back to 120 cd/m^2.
Place the Spyder on the display and run the calibration sequence. Be sure to use the counterweight on the back of the monitor. You might also need to slightly tilt the monitor backward so the SpyderX lays flat against the screen.
While running the sequence, the system will first assess the brightness of the screen. If overall brightness is too low or too high, then it asks you to increase or decrease your screen’s brightness until you reach the target. In this specific case, I’m targeting 200 cd/m^2, but I recommend most people target 120 cd/m^2 for darker office spaces.
After setting your brightness, the software runs through an entire sequence of colors to measure colors, white point and contrast. At the end of the process, the software makes a new monitor profile so the colors and contrast are set to industry standards.
Name and save your new profile. I like to add the date to the naming convention so I can see in a file browser when the last profile was completed. Also, set your calibration reminder to be anywhere from 1 month to 3 months. Datacolor recommends recalibrating every two weeks but in my experience that’s probably a little bit too frequent. I think about once per month is just fine.
After the calibration is complete, the SpyderProof screen will appear. This allows you to compare before/after views on your monitor by clicking on the Switch button. In my case, my old profile resulted in a blue cast, which meant that I was probably adding too much warm hue when post-processing my images in Lightroom or Photoshop.
The final screen is the Profile Overview. Here, you can compare your monitor’s performance with other profiles you’ve created and with standard color spaces like sRGB and AdobeRGB.
Things I like about the SpyderX Elite
- The setup and installation process is a breeze. After set up, it takes less than two minutes to calibrate your monitor so, I’m pretty pleased with the speed of the tool.
- Running the calibration is simple and straightforward. All the steps and settings are well-explained and clear. If you do need help, there’s a real-time help wizard on the software screen that gives information about the step. It also has a live hyperlink to take you to the Datacolor website for more detailed assistance options.
- The SpyderProof window allows you to use the standard set of images, or you can use your own image to compare your monitor before and after the calibration.
- I love the data analysis screen in the Profile Overview step. It allows me to compare my current monitor’s performance with other monitors I’ve calibrated. This is helpful to understand what colors I can see on the monitor vs. what colors are hidden because of a limited color space. In the case of my Dell P2715Q, it displays 98% of sRGB colors and 77% of AdobeRGB colors, which is what I expect. However, what I didn’t know (and this is what the SpyderX revealed) was the monitor is capable of displaying more green hues than is represented in the sRGB color space.
- The profile management utility is very easy to use. It allows the user to pick and choose which profile you want for a particular monitor. This is helpful when you are working on different projects. For example, when preparing image for print, you can use a darker profile to better match your monitor for the printer you are using. Or, when working on website development, you can choose a brighter profile to better match what the general public might see when viewing the website.
- Once you’ve calibrated your monitor, SpyderX Elite has a special feature called SpyderTune that allows you to further tune and adjust the settings for your own preferences. The adjustments are to white point (blue-red and purple-green) and Gamma (lower-higher). In general, I don’t recommend making change is here until you know little bit more about your system and how these changes might impact your prints. But it is a really cool feature and I will use it when tweaking my monitor to specific printer models or commercial printing labs.
- The SpyderX Elite allows unlimited calibration setting choices including TV and video standards. I think that’s pretty cool since a lot of what we do now appears on HD and 4K large screen TVs.
- The SpyderX device has a 1/4″x20 threaded nut that allows you to mount it on a small stand for ambient light monitoring. This is a cool idea and makes it easier to keep an organized desk area. Kudos to Datacolor.
Things that need improvement
- Setup was easy, but there are a couple little bugs that cropped up during the process. At one point while setting up the SpyderX calibration tool, my Bluetooth mouse and keyboard stopped tracking properly. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but it was immediately after plugging in the SpyderX calibration tool to my USB port. I am using preproduction Datacolor software for this review, so I’m going to chalk it up to preproduction code. Hopefully, the final software version fixes this issue. After the software install was complete, my mouse and keyboard started working properly again.
- If you use the drop-down “Shortcuts” menu in the SpyderX Elite software to jump to a different module of the utility, it isn’t easy or intuitive to get back to the Welcome screen. On numerous occasions, I had to close the software and start it up again. Not a big deal, but I kind of wish the GUI (graphical user interface) allowed easy navigation back and forth, especially after accidentally clicking on the wrong module. For normal calibration and recalibration operation, the GUI works elegantly.
More commentary and overall summary
Since I use multiple monitors in my workflow, I take a slightly unique approach to screen calibration. My preference is to calibrate one monitor for photo/video work but leave my second monitor much brighter for general work. I use this second monitor to assess what the rest of the “uncalibrated world” might be seeing on their monitors. When creating websites, YouTube videos or other digital items, I will view the final product on my calibrated monitor and my uncalibrated monitor to make sure it usable in both scenarios.
Overall, I’m very impressed with the SpyderX Elite screen calibration tool. Seriously, it is one of the easiest to use but most sophisticated screen calibrators I’ve worked with. I love all the professional customization options available and also love the fact that I can use simple modes when I’m in a hurry.
I think the prices are competitive and appropriate. The SpyderX Pro retails for $169.99 and the SpyderX Elite retails for $269.99. Whether you are an amateur or a working pro, I confidently recommend the SpyderX Elite and Pro systems for your digital workflow.
As always, let me know if you have any questions about this article. Feel free to comment below, contact me on social media or send me an email from my website.
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