Colour Management – Review of the Spyder3Express

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The Problem

I first realised that my monitor wasn’t up to the job when I joined PhotographyCorner as a Premier Member and started participating in the Premiere Projects. I found other members were commenting on photos as having wonderful colour, but they didn’t look all that good to me. Of course I didn’t comment - that would not have been polite!

Then I found as I got further into the black art of photography that an even blacker art of colour management existed and it was an important element to obtaining truthful images on my monitor. Not only representation on the monitor but the printed image. If adjustments are made to an image on an ‘out of whack’ monitor it’s difficult to get prints right and even more so getting anyone else to produce them accurately.

There is really only one place to start with colour management - your monitor. At its simplest you should adjust your monitor by eye to get good brightness and contrast. But the eye is fallible in terms of repeatability of colour results - what you see through your eye is corrected by your brain and particularly when there is a changing light environment it is very hard to replicate the same colour from one you have seen earlier. Try it! Open up your favourite photo editing software and pick a photo that has a fair tranche of one colour, say the side of a car, kitchen cupboards, whatever. Now change that colour to any shade of the same colour - don’t cheat and note any numbers or other indicators as to what colour you are producing. Save and close the file, wait 5 minutes and open up a new version of the shot and try to reproduce that same colour by eye. Then view the two versions together - I bet you’ll have a variance.

So here’s the rub, how red is that bright red, what colour is displayed at R=127,G=127,B=127 (should be a mid grey)? Your monitor doesn’t know! It is guided by your video card and believe it or not most manufacturers don’t get colour standards right. Not to mention that it is impossible to manufacture monitors so that they react exactly to same to commands from the video card (that is monitors that can be afforded by working stiffs like me!). The card needs a standard to work to so that your monitor reproduces colours to a standard.

The Solution

That’s where my Spyder3Express from Datacolor comes in! I’ve used it for some time now for calibrating my monitor (a 23” Samsung SynchMaster XL2370). It works well and gives good consistent results.

Spyder3Express Colour Management Tool - Image 1

The way the Spyder works is that its programme asks your monitor to produce a series of colours, measures them against a standard and then installs a ‘profile’ to your video card so that when it is asked to produce say a mid grey, the card’s output is varied so the colour that ends up being displayed is a corrected colour - one that is produced to a standard. In other words the profile calibrates the video card to make the monitor perform as a ‘standard’ device.

How Hard Is It?

The routine to calibrate the monitor is simple. After installing the software it is a matter of either hanging the reader by suction cup or by counter weight to the correct spot on your monitor.

Spyder3Express Colour Management Tool - Image 2

Then you need to satisfy a number of conditions, like the monitor being warmed up for at least 30 minutes, having it in the conditions you will be using it - like if you sit in a dark room when you edit your images then that condition should be replicated for the calibration sequence and resetting your monitor to the factory standard.

That is really it! The software will put the monitor through a sequence of colour displays and the reader will, well, read them and the software will build and install a profile for your video card. Each time you start your computer the profile will be loaded for you.

Spyder3Express Colour Management Tool - Image 3


I haven’t experienced any with either the software or hardware of the Spyder. But here are a couple of tips:

  • Forget the suction cup for anything other than a glass CRT monitor, it’s messy on a LCD - and I’m not sure how robust the LCD screen is to vigorous cleaning!
  • It is not always easy if like me you use your monitor in both daylight and night with a dull light from behind. If you can’t standardise your monitor’s environment then pick the condition for calibrating that it will be used in most and reserve that time for critical colour editing - like that next CCC entry!

    Is That It?

    No, not by a long shot! There are many more things one can do to improve colour management including depriving yourself of many dollar bills to purchase a full on professional monitor, and there is whole other world of printer profiles that I haven’t even touched on yet! But, like most things, there is one step that almost gets you there and many smaller steps that get you closer to perfection but only by degrees. The purchase of a Spyder is that important first step that is almost a total colour management solution - not quite, but close.

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