DIYP Reviews the DataColor Spyder5CAPTURE Pro Suite

Sep 18, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

DIYP Reviews the DataColor Spyder5CAPTURE Pro Suite

Sep 18, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Spyder5CAPTURE Bundle

When DataColor announced the Spyder5CAPTURE Pro package a few weeks ago, I had to get my hands on one. So we had a chat with DataColor and they sent one over for me to check out. The whole bundle includes four of DataColor’s popular calibration and profiling tools. There’s the SpyderLENSCAL, the SpyderCHECKR, SpyderCUBE and Spyder5ELITE.

My current workflow comprises a mix of X-Rite and Lastolite tools. A ColorChecker Passport, the i1 Display 2 and an Xpobalance. They’ve served me extremely well, so the Spyder5CAPTURE Pro suite has a lot to live up to. The DataColor setup does, however, offer some very distinct advantages over my current system, which we’ll get to throughout the course of the review.

So, let’s have a look at what’s in the box.

Actually, before we go inside the box, let’s talk about the box itself. It’s a proper hardcase, and it’s beautiful. The biggest problem I have with my i1 and ColorChecker Passport is finding somewhere to store them safely when not in use. If I leave them out in the open, they gets dusty. If I pack them away in a bag or a box somewhere, I’ve forget where I put them.

This case has nice neat foam cutouts for everything it contains and it’s definitely not going to blend in and get lost on a shelf.

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So, anyway, inside the case.

SpyderLENSCAL

First up, we’ve got the SpyderLENSCAL. This is one of those tools I’ve been meaning to get for a couple of years but always seem to forget about. I’ve recently acquired a couple of Nikon D7000 bodies for behind the scenes videos and stills on shoots. The purpose is to document the shoots for myself and for posts here on DIYP. Having now tested a bunch of my lenses, the AF is definitely way off on a few. So, the time to get a SpyderLENSCAL was most definitely now.

There’s not much to say about it other than it performs its task admirably. I’ve tried a few DIY options in the past, and they invariably get bent out of shape pretty easily and quickly. Ok, so you might only need to use it when you first get it, and then maybe every year or two when you pick up a new lens. Perhaps you can deal with just printing one off the Internet each time. To me, that’s still a hassle and a lot of wasted time. The SpyderLENSCAL is always ready to go and they don’t get much easier than this.

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You open up the SpyderLENSCAL and perch it on top of a tripod. You could also use a light stand if you’ve got one with some kind of ball head. The SpyderLENSCAL has a built in bubble so you can easily see when it’s level. Then you put your camera onto another tripod and place it an appropriate distance away from the other.

You’ll want to level out your camera, too, and make sure it’s at the same elevation as the SpyderLENSCAL. This way, your sensor is parallel to the front with the focus target. You’ll also want to make sure that any in-camera or lens stabilisation is turned off.

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The quick start guide suggests setting them at a similar distance to that which you’d normally shoot with the lens you’re calibrating. This might be a problem with some lenses, if you normally shoot quite far away. The SpyderLENSCAL may not be large enough in the frame to give you a good idea of how far out of focus it may be. So, sometimes you might need to move a little closer than you normally would.

Make sure you have good lighting so that you get good contrast. Autofocus on your target using the viewfinder (not liveview), and then take a shot. Review the shot, and see if things line up as they’re supposed to. If the markers in front or behind the focus target are sharp and the focus target isn’t, then you know that you need to adjust. Tweak, take another shot, see how much it difference it makes, and if needed, tweak again.

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The beauty of this whole lens calibration thing, though, is that you only  need to do it once for each body/lens combination. Then it’s done. Set it and forget it, as they say. Things can creep a little over time, but that’s usually a sign that there’s something very wrong with either your lens or your camera. At that point, recalibrating is the least of your worries. It’ll likely need a service.

Sure, if you have several bodies and a whole bunch of lenses, then the whole process can take a while.  I’ve got 7 Nikon lenses that I use regularly. With the addition of the two D7000s, I now have four bodies I’ll be regularly using those lenses on. That’s 28 combinations to calibrate.

All in all, it was an easy experience. Far easier and quicker than the DIY solutions I’d attempted in the past. Yes, those DIY solutions did eventually work, but they were much more hassle, and still largely based on guesswork & hope. With the SpyderLENSCAL, it was quick and very simple.

SpyderCHECKR

Of all the tools contained within the box, this is the one I felt had the toughest job when it came to impressing me. I’ve been using the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport (from here, I’m calling it the CCP) religiously for a number of years now, and it would take a lot to replace it in my bag.

I often shoot in outdoor wilderness locations. Surrounded by trees, rocks and flowers of all manner of colour. Even if you have the correct white balance, colour casts from the environment can easily throw things off. So, camera profiling in each of these different lighting conditions is an essential part of my workflow.

The SpyderCHECKER is much larger than the CCP. It certainly won’t fit in your pocket, with a size resembling something more like an iPad. For comparison, here it is next to the ColorChecker Passport and ColorChecker Passport Video (review here).

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The larger size and a couple of design choices do offer some significant advantages, though. The first is the way that it unfolds. If you were to think of the SpyderCHECKR as a book, the two “pages” fold out a short distance away from the spine. In essence, the spine essentially becomes a handle onto which your subject can safely hold the device.

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One of the biggest problems I have with the CCP and newer portrait subjects is that they don’t realise how important it is to not touch the colour swatches. So, rather than hold it delicately at the edges like you’re supposed to, they hold it between the thumb and two fingers of one hand. This causes oils from their skin to touch the swatches. Even if you show them how to hold it, it takes a few tries for them to figure out how to do it without touching the swatches.

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With the SpyderCHECKER, no such issues. You can hold the spine when you pass it to your subject, and they simply take it from you by holding the spine themselves. This alone can shave valuable time from your shoot, as you don’t have to explain how to hold it. But it also increases the longevity of the swatches.

One other major advantage to the SpyderCHECKER is that on the bottom it contains a 1/4-20″ tripod socket. Neither the CCP nor the full size ColorChecker have such a feature, which makes it very difficult to use without an assistant or human subject. But now… now I can mount it on a tripod or a light stand anywhere.

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This makes things very handy if I want to be all set up before my subject arrives. Also for when I’m not photographing humans at all. As well as people, I photograph a lot of animals. If I do have an assistant or another person in the room, they’re usually too busy wrangling animals to hold a colour chart. Being able to mount it on a light stand, or even a pocket tripod makes life very easy.

This versatility, though, is for nothing if it cannot adequately profile my cameras. So, how does it compare?

Pretty good, actually. The SpyderCHECKR and the CCP work in slightly different ways.

The CCP generates a camera profile, which corrects everything in either Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw before you start making any adjustments. The SpyderCHECKR creates a Lightroom, ACR or Phocus preset to adjust the Hue, Saturation and Luminance sliders for each of the colours. This then allows you to apply those changes to your images in your raw processor.

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The beauty of the SpyderCHECKR is that it isn’t dependent upon having a raw file, whereas the CCP is. In fact, the SpyderCHECKR doesn’t even read raw files. Essentially, this is the process.

  • Export your raw photo of the SpyderCHECKR to JPG
  • Load the JPG you created above into the SpyderCHECKR software
  • Generate your profile for LR/ACR/Phocus
  • Load up LR/ACR/Phocus and apply that preset to your raw files

Then you carry on working with your images as your normally would.

Working this way is kinda cool, though. If you accidentally screw up and set your camera to JPG (come on, we’ve all done it at least once), or you actually shoot JPG intentionally then you can still make reliable corrections to your images. Of course, it’s going to shine best if you are shooting raw, but at least you have the option. With the CCP, you don’t. It only works with raw files.

This method also has the advantage that your settings are easily distributable. If you send your raw files off to collaborators with sidecar XMP files, all the corrections are right there in the XMP. With the CCP, you also have to send along your camera profiles, which are a little trickier to transfer and set up.

Will it replace the ColorChecker Passport in my bags? No, I don’t think so. It will be accompanying it, though. The advantages I mentioned above about the spine and being about to mount it on a light stand, those are still there. So, for the next few months, I’ll use both side by side, and see which I end up using the most.

Ultimately, I don’t think you can go wrong with either. The ColorChecker Passport and the SpyderCHECKR are both amazing at what they do. It’s basically going to boil down to personal preference and which fits into your workflow better. Well, unless you use Phocus or choose to shoot JPG regularly, in which case the SpyderCHECKR is a no brainer, get it.

Sidenote: The SpyderCHECKR is also one of the supported colour match targets in DaVinci Resolve. I haven’t tested this out yet, but I shall be doing next week during filming at Photokina.

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But, wait, there’s more! As well as the correcting the colour, the “pages” inside the SpyderCHECKR can be flipped. The frame that holds them in is magnetic. So you can just pull it open and flip the pages. On the back of each page of colour swatches is a large middle grey panel, and a set of contrast swatches. The back sides of both panels are essentially identical (they’re actually a mirror of each other).

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If you don’t need to use the whole 48 colour swatches, you can swap the left side over to the grey scale swatches. This lets you quickly and easily preset your white balance in camera, as well as your exposure.

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As both DaVinci Resolve and the SpyderCHECKR app support using only 24 colour swatches, this is a great setup. It completely eliminates my need to use the Xpobalance at all. It’s probably how I’ll be keeping it configured the majority of the time.

SpyderCUBE

The SpyderCUBE also essentially replaces my Lastolite Xpobalance in this setup (had it not already been replaced by the SpyderCHECKR). But it goes a couple of steps further, too.

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It’s a little cube that you can either suspend from something, stand on something, mount on top of a tripod or light stand, or even mount on top of the SpyderCHECKR. The SpyderCHECKER has a spring-loaded retractable 1/4-20 screw thread on top of it to which you can attach the spyderCUBE.

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Much like the Xpobalance it helps you to set your contrast. And also like the Xpobalance it contains black (which is really shadows), white and middle grey swatches. The SpyderCUBE has an additional “black trap”, which represents absolute black.

It also has a small chrome ball on top to reflect the scene around it toward the camera and helps you analyse catchlights. You can quickly see what may be reflected in your subject’s eyes, for example, if you shoot portraits. It will also allow you see where you might have blown out reflections, too. The chrome ball may or may not be all that much use to you, depending on what you shoot. For portraits, though, it can be very useful, especially if you’re setting up before your subject arrives.

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Spot meter off the grey bit, take a shot, look at the histogram and see where the black, shadow, grey and white spikes are. Check the catchlight in the chrome ball. Adjust, take another shot, and you’re good to go. Quick, and simple.

You can see in the image above, that you also get an idea of how your highlights and midtones will look on the shadow side of your subject. This is great if you’re trying to balance multiple light sources. Say, sunlight with flash fill, or two lights in a studio. You can very quickly tell in one shot if you need to raise or lower your fill light power.

I’m just not sure about it, though. It does perform its task admirably. I really do want to like the SpyderCUBE, and the black trap is a very nice feature, but I do worry that it’ll become easily lost. DataColor do include a lanyard for it and pouch in which to keep it protected from the elements, which is very cool. But, I just know me.

That it perches right on top of the SpyderCHECKR is also great, as is the loop at the top. And if it’s sat on top of the SpyderCHECKR on a light stand, or hanging off my tripod with its loop, then fine. But if it’s not on the SpyderCHECKR, and I just whip out the SpyderCUBE to have my subject hold it alone, then I’m the kinda guy who could definitely misplace it (I’ve lost count of the number of radio triggers I’ve lost on location).

I’m going to stick with it, and use it, though, but I fully expect I’ll lose it within a few months. I hope I’m wrong!

Spyder5ELITE

The last Spyder monitor calibrator I’d owned was the Spyder2Express (boy, that was a while ago). After switching over to a dual monitor system and discovering that my Spyder didn’t support multiple monitors, I was in the market for a new device.

This was when I switched over to the i1 Display 2. It ticked all my boxes, gave me colours that matched my prints just that little bit more than the Spyder, and it was a hair less expensive than the equivalent Spyder2 that supported multiple monitors. The Spyder3 came out about a week after I bought the i1.

There’s not really much to say about the Spyder5Elite that we haven’t already said before. We posted a very in depth review on it last year, and my findings pretty much concur with JP’s. If the last two links weren’t a big enough hint, click here to read JP’s full review.

I tested it on IPS displays (HP LP2475w), as well as TN panels (A mix of generic and LG 22-24″ monitors). I used it both on Windows machines and on a Mac with a Cinema display. The only trouble I ran into was on one of my machines using an HP LP2475w IPS display with an Nvidia GTX760 graphics card.

In the interests of fairness, I went through DataColor’s regular customer support section through the website. I wanted to see how quickly and thoroughly they responded to help requests, as an issue popped up. I emailed very light at night, and there was a reply waiting for me when I woke up the following morning. The reply contained several possible suggestions and tips to try and one of them solved my issue completely.

The problem wasn’t a fault of the Spyder. Nvidia’s software was overriding the graphics settings that the Spyder was trying to apply, throwing off the colours and brightness drastically. As soon as I removed the Nvidia software and just went back down to the basic driver, everything worked great.

Other than that, it performed beautifully, and has gotten a couple of my cheaper monitors far closer to accurate than my i1 ever did.

One thing I haven’t had a chance to try with it is yet projector calibration. I don’t have a projector. I do have access to a rather nice one, but scheduling hasn’t allowed it to happen in time for this review. After I get back from Photokina, though, I will be testing that out.

Spyder5CAPTURE Pro

Ok, let’s go back to the kit as a whole. It really is the perfect package. Everything in it is useful, and everything in it performs its task extremely well.

Some might argue that it’s “almost perfect”, because it doesn’t include anything to calibrate or profile a printer. But I don’t think it makes sense to include a printer device. Not many photographers are printing themselves in a serious capacity. Sure, some are, but they’re not the majority. Most either don’t print at all, or they just use pro labs (who already have well calibrated printers with profiles available to download).

So, printing aside, it basically covers everything from acquisition to final digital output. From there you can send it directly to your client or over to a print lab.

Pros

  • It’s basically everything you could need for calibrating and profiling your whole workflow.
  • The case is solid and allows you to store everything dust-free when not in use.
  • The 1/4-20″ sockets and threads on the SpyderCHECKR and SpyderCUBE are invaluable.
  • Flippable pages in the SpyderCHECKR are genius. 24 colour + grey scale with a bit white balance target is awesome.
  • Calibrating your lenses is a doddle with a solid build chart & built in bubble level for accuracy.
  • Spyder5ELITE does a great job of calibrating monitors of all different quality. It won’t get cheap ones perfect (because they can’t be perfect), but it gets them pretty close.
  • The included Spyder5ELITE also allows calibration of projectors.

Cons

  • Spyder5ELITE software doesn’t always place nice with Nvidia drivers
  • This is probably just in my head, but I worry that the SpyderCUBE could get easily lost on a location shoot.

Conclusion

Is it worth buying? If you don’t already have a screen calibration device, then this kit is definitely worth looking at. If you’re looking to upgrade or replace an existing device, or you need to profile projectors and can’t with your current device, then it’s worth looking at.

These are the costs of the components bought separately

That’s a total of $421.

The Spyder5CAPTURE Pro kit is only $269.99, which includes all of the above, along with the hard case to keep it in.

If you were to buy everything except the Spyder5ELITE, you’d still be looking at $222. Which means you’re essentially getting the Spyder5ELITE and case for only $47.99.

$269.99 is a special introductory price, though. After September 30th, it goes to is regular retail price of $369.99. Still, even at the regular pricing you’re still saving $51, and you get the free hard case. Definitely worth it.

So, if you’ve been thinking about getting camera profiling and lens calibration hardware, then it’s worth getting. Even if you do have another screen calibration device, at that price, it’s a very inexpensive upgrade or backup unit.

I’ve been extolling the virtues of a calibrated, profiled, and colour managed workflow for a long time. When your cameras and monitors are all seeing the same colours, you know your final result is going to look good when it’s sent off to the print lab. I use several different labs for printed products that I sell to clients, and if I order different products from each of them containing the same images, I know everything is going to match.

Much like Nikon vs Canon, the DataColor vs X-Rite argument will largely boil down to personal preference and personal work. You really can’t go wrong with either. But the price on this bundle makes it an absolute steal.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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