What is color? That is a physics question that will require a team of scientists much smarter than me to answer. What I can answer fairly well is what is accurate color? Hint: It’s not what your camera sees, or what your display shows you. If anything, it’s quite far from it.
Datacolor is a company that specifies in making sure photographers have accurate color. This includes both color charts and screen calibrators. Naturally, their products are very precise and are meant to provide reference to industry-standard hues that we know as red, green, black, white, and more. Being a commercial photographer, accurate color is important to my workflow as it gives me peace of mind when someone comes back saying colors look funny on their iPhone 3Gs.
It was interesting to take Datacolor’s products and see how they can help me, a professional fashion photographer, get accurate colors. Having put them through hell and glory in the past few weeks, I’ve got a mix of comments to say. I’ve reviewed both the SpyderCheckr and the SpyderX. This allowed me to get accurate color from end to end, not only in one spot. I’ll jump in straight away and say that if you were to buy one of these two, I’d suggest the SpyderX Pro, however, if you can, make sure you have a color reference for the photos too, as that will help massively. Certain materials (leather, velvet, latex, etc) change hue under different light conditions, so it is important to know what is red and what’s not.
I will review the system Datacolor created with these two products as well because the accurate color is both camera and display dependant.
Getting to Grips
Setting up is one of my least favorite parts when I get new gar. It can be quite time-consuming. So, I value a product that is easy to get to grips with and crack on with using. While this sounds lazy, in fact, it just saves time and allows me to focus on what I love most: photography.
Both come with a dedicated piece of software designed for them. In order to install the app, you need to enter the serial number, which I assume also registers the product on your account.
The first time you open up SpyderX software it prompts you to activate using the serial number. It is helpful in telling you to do basic preparation before you calibrate your monitor. This includes warming it up, ensuring no direct light is hitting it, and checking monitor settings to ensure accurate results.
The software for SpyderCheckr likewise requires a serial number to activate and from there prompts to import a picture of the device.
Using SpyderX Pro
You need to configure your display parameters before commencing calibration. This includes selecting the type of your Backlight. The software is useful in providing guidance on what type of backlight you may have, however it would be great to see that automated to some extent. For example, much of the Dell, Eizo, BenQ, Apple range can be cataloged with the type of backlight determined. This will enable the software to automatically identify the display allowing for even faster calibration, and fewer mistakes.
There are three options: full calibration, recalibration, and check of your current calibration. Most of the time you want to opt for a full calibration. After all, it doesn’t take too much time, just over a minute.
Using the SpyderCheckr
This is a lot less complicated. There are three pieces of software integrated now: Phocus (Hasselblad’s software), Lightroom, and Adobe Camera Raw. The most efficient way is to import a photo of the SpyderCheckr into lightroom and choose to edit it in the SpyderCheckr software. This will prompt you to align target color patches ultimately creating a color profile you can then select in lightroom. The same applies to Camera Raw.
It is important to keep your SpyderCheckr in the exact same lighting conditions as the target image. As you may know, certain colors and materials appear different under different lighting conditions. Moreover, cameras have discrepancies between shot to shot, same with lights. For example, Bowens lights become warmer throughout the day. Hence, if you shot on 3 different cameras and 5 different lenses throughout the day, you can mitigate all the discrepancies in your pictures by using one of these.
I wish the Colorcheckr software was also integrated with Capture One. Being a Capture One user myself, I find it a lot better than lightroom. This was a real bummer for me, and there isn’t an easy workaround. I am sure though that creating such an ICC Capture One profile is no different or harder than one for Capture One.
As for the filmmaking side of things, I’m not a true expert on that. I suggest watching this video to get a grasp of potential problems you may face as a filmmaker with the SpyderCheckr
SpyderX comes with a USB-B port. While this may be bog-standard for most users, the move to USB-C is already 6 years in. This entails using a dongle for Mac users. It would be great to see a SpyderX Pro with USB-C connectivity.
The cable length is plenty to calibrate a full editing suite of several monitors without having to plug out or find an extension, a nifty strap will keep this long cable in one place if you’re like me and only have 1 huge main monitor for editing.
The colorimeter itself has an outside sensor to measure ambient illumination which helps with accuracy a lot. The main part: the color-measuring lens is protected by a lens cap that doubles as a counterweight. A ¼ thread allows SpyderX Pro to be mounted on light stands and other grid equipment. Personally, I’m not sure about the usability of that.
It’s quite large for what it does. It’s a good thing, as it allows for better positioning in the frame. Although it’s plastic it still feels sturdy. Magnets allow it to lock in when closed thus preventing unnecessary wear. The color charts themselves have two sides, one with small square swatches, and the other side has a grey card and five-step references from pure white to pure black. Another useful feature is the FadeCheckr. If you had prints up on walls for any period of time you will know that they will fade after some time. I was surprised to not see a Fadecheckr on each side of the card. If I turn the card around, I no longer know how used my color references are. There are two ¼ mounts, a female at the bottom, which allows the whole thing to be out on a stand, and a retractable male at the top, which lets you put a cube on the checker. The cube has further references to pure black, specular white, and even a sphere for CGI.
As a professional fashion photographer, I am very heavily reliant on accurate color as I sometimes use rented lights, cameras, modifiers. All of this means inaccuracies in the final product. I loved using the sypderX pro, and it seems like a great option for anyone looking for just color accuracy. The Elite version is more advanced, however, most photographers will rarely need those features. Would I buy a SpyderX Pro myself? Yes absolutely! For $169.99, it is a no-brainer.
As for the SpyderCheckr ($168.80), things are not so clear-cut. Although it has a variety of useful features, the problem with Capture One integration and suspected color inaccuracy that other reviews pointed out make it a less useful product. I’d stay away from the SpyderCheckr if you don’t use the Adobe products of Phocus. Here my choice would fall closer to X-Rite products which do things Datacolor doesn’t. I would not buy a SpyderCheckr for my professional workflow.
What do you think of these products? Does color calibration sound like a gimmick or something that is useful? Have you used Datacolor Products before? Let me know in the comments!