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Product Review – Spyder3 Elite From Datacolor

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Color calibration is a process that allows you to adjust the colors of one output device to match another. The Spyder3 Elite is a sensor that is used to profile monitors of various types. These include LCD, CRT, and projectors. When they come from the factory, most monitors display very approximate colors. To get accurate color representation, you either have to have a very good eye for colors, or use a monitor calibration tool.

The Spyder3 Elite is the latest product from Datacolor for monitor calibration. I have used the Spyder2 for a couple of years and have been really pleased with the results for the price range of the product, and so I wanted to see what the new Spyder3 Elite brought to the table.

What does it take to run the Spyder3 Elite? Either a Windows 2000, Windows XP, Vista, or Mac OS X (10.3 or higher), a USB port, a color monitor with 1024×768 or greater resolution, 16-bit video card (24-bit recommended), 128 MB RAM, and 100 MB of hard-drive space.

Click for larger imageSo what is new with The Spyder3 Elite? The  color engine now has 7 detectors which results in much better performance especially when calibrating LCD displays. It is focused more toward photographers and by having a larger sampling area results in more accurate color calibration. It has user defined choices for white point, gamma, white luminance, and black luminance that allow you to tune your calibration to various details such as shadow, studio light, lightbox matching, and destination output device. There is even an expert console where power users can bypass the step-by-step wizard.

Well first off, especially if you are working with monitor calibration. It is not something that is just done once and then you move on. Because of changing conditions, a monitor can go out of calibration over time. So it is recommended that you recalibrate every 2 to 4 weeks. The process of automatic calibration could take a while; although it took only 10-15 minutes, at times it seemed like it took a half an hour. Most of it is automatic, but it still meant that you had to make the time and you could not use your system while it was being done.

The first thing that I noticed was how much faster the Spyder3 Elite was. While I still had to make the color adjustments which are a manual process, the rest of the automatic portion went by in about 5-10 minutes and the recalibration was even faster. That made it so much nicer.

The device also, while becoming smaller in size, has a larger light measuring aperture which helps it take more accurate in measurements. It also has an ambient light detector so while it sits in its cradle on your desk; it measures your ambient light and adjusts your display accordingly.

What do you get with the Spyder3 Elite? Primarily you get the sensor and the software that installs, and sets it up. I know that it is simple touch, and its real use is for calibrating projectors, but the little holder makes the sensor look nicer and more functional when sitting on your desk.

To get started, you put the CD in your computer and it installs the software; do not plug in the sensor until told to do so. Once the software is installed, you plug in the sensor and you are ready to go.

When you launch Spyder3 Elite from the tray, it detects the monitors that you have on the system and you are asked if you want to calibrate them. You are then asked what kind of display it is; LCD, CRT, Projector, or Laptop. There are a few more questions that you can select the defaults for. There is also help if you have any questions in which you can get the "short" or the "long" answer depending on your level of expertise.

Then you are asked to place the sensor on the screen and to click the continue button. After a little bit of time, depending on the type of monitor that you have and the type of controls that it uses, you may be asked to make some corrections to color levels. Once those are within a certain tolerance, the rest of the calibration process is automatic. Once it is done you are then presented with the SpyderProof screen in which you can see how the monitor looked before and after calibration. You are good to go till the next time. There is a setting in the software to trigger a reminder on when you need to recalibrate your monitor.

SpyderProof - Click for larger imageThere are two things that I really like about the new Spyder3 Elite. First, the speed is wonderful. Calibration is one of those necessary evils and the less time I have to spend on it the better. Second, I like the control that this offers me. I don't think that most people will take advantage of all of the control, and they will be successful if they just used the defaults. The only annoyance that I found is that with a second monitor attached to my system as a secondary screen, Spyder3 Elite occasionally declares that it found a new monitor and wants to calibrate it and I don't.

All in all I think that the Spyder3 Elite is a good product for the price. I know that there are more expensive systems on the market that are geared for professionals in the industry. But if you are looking for a product that can make your images look like what you would see in real life then is definitely worth your time and consideration.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.
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