Color Me Crazy – A Datacolor Spyder5ELITE Color Correction Tool Review

March 9, 2017 at 6:54 pm by

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As with most online internet forums, Tech Support Forum is a volunteer based forum. All of our content is free of charge and provided by contributors who work freely. In return, you, the reader, get access to premium grade content and support without having to pay a dime.

In the grand scheme of things, this is quite helpful when you’re reading a product review or in desperate need for computer support. The content is clear, understandable, and professional, which, hopefully, has you coming back for more. However, trying to make a living off volunteering is quite difficult, therefore, many of us here at TSF have our everyday jobs that keep our internet access going.

Our jobs allow us to further our knowledge and offer better solutions to our users. In my case, unsurprisingly, I work in the Information Technology field where I am a part of a plethora of different IT-related projects.

The place at which I work is an online retailer that sells products on major retailers’ websites and our own websites. With that comes keeping track of orders, inventory, and, most importantly, ensuring that every single product has a professional image attached to it.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and when selling a product online, that saying couldn’t be more true.

When you’re shopping in a store, it’s easy to see what you’re purchasing. Is the red shirt really the one you want? Does the gray design on the front make sense or is it too subtle? When shopping online, you really don’t have this luxury. You get a few online pictures that show the product, but when it arrives it doesn’t look anything like that picture.

When a new product arrives and needs a product image taken, it first takes a visit to the photo studio. The photo studio sets up their lighting, actors, and other necessities, and eventually takes a product image. Afterwards, this image is sent over to a designer who uses Photoshop to edit the picture. Then, an editor does a brief look over to ensure everything is in order. Finally, the image is uploaded to the website for the customer to view at home.

That is a best-case scenario, where the image is shown to three people on three different monitors. There are other times where multiple people are shown an image on their PCs as well. While this doesn’t sound troubling, it can be a huge nightmare.

Not every monitor is the same; even if it has the same model number. Every monitor from every manufacturer varies ever so slightly in color. If you were to take side-by-side production line monitors, one may have a warmer or cooler color tone then the other.

Therefore, when transferring a product image to at least three different people, the colors can vary significantly which can cause impurities when shooting the photo, editing it in Photoshop, and giving it a final look over before it’s uploaded to the website. One person may want the light red highlights boosted and then the designer goes back into Photoshop to adjust the incorrect red hue, even though it looks okay on their monitor.

What’s needed is a tool that can sync people’s monitors to the exact color code that it should be. #FFFFFF is white in hexadecimal, but your monitor may be actually showing #FFFEFE. It may not seem like a major difference, but when it comes to editing, it’s a severe problem. Therefore, by calibrating a monitor for perfect color accuracy, you’ll have an accurate idea of what red highlights to boost when you come in contact with the product image.

There are a few major brands in this color calibration market, but one of the most well-known is Datacolor. By using a hardware component and matching it with sophisticated software, you too can see what your monitor is really capable of.

Welcome to my review of the Datacolor Spyder5ELITE monitor calibration tool. Throughout this review, I will be discussing the setup, functionality, and my final thoughts of the product. A special thank you to Datacolor for providing this device for this review.

Setup

Monitor color calibration is not something that is new to me. At my place of work, I have used a different brand and product to calibrate those monitors. What I have noticed is that the calibration is not done only by the piece of hardware, but works in tandem with the software.

By reading the value given by the hardware unit, the software can detect exactly what hexadecimal color value is being displayed versus what is being shown on the monitor and then adjust accordingly.

Datacolor offers their Spyder5ELITE software for both Windows and Macintosh computers. Being that the software is included with your purchase, the software installer is a smaller install that shouldn’t exceed 500 megabytes.

Once you’ve downloaded and installed the software, you will be asked to go through an activation process. The software will ask you for the device serial number, followed by some personal information such as full name, phone, and email.

Asking for the device serial number for each software installation seems reasonable as it’s the software that is the powerhouse here, but asking for personal registration information every time I install the software on a new computer gets old fast. This tool was used exclusively on my personal machines and each time I had to enter my name and email. It’s more tedious than annoying, but if I had to install this software in a business the additional time of registering the device would rack up. An account login that has all of my information would have been more ideal.

After activation, the software is ready for its first calibration. The Spyder5ELITE is capable of a lot of different functions. One of which is the ability to calibrate desktop monitors, laptop displays, projectors, and even printers so that what you see on the screen is what is printed.

Calibrating my display will be mentioned below, but once a monitor has been calibrated, a lot of new menus or shortcuts within the software become available to you. A monitor can be recalibrated, the current accuracy of the calibration checked, or a full calibration of a monitor performed.

Following that, the software allows those who wish to tinker; tinker by giving access to the expert console. Here, white points, gamma, luminance, and calibration options can be tweaked to the user’s exact liking or need. Then, to offer even more expert settings, there’s the SpyderTune menu. Furthermore, on the StudioMatch menu, users can fine tune multiple displays to match as closely as possible.

When everything is all set, Datacolor gives you 16 different test images that you can compare and contrast against calibrated and uncalibrated.

This tool is extremely powerful and allows for some precise editing to get the monitor just right. Something that I am fond of is that the software allows a user to color match multiple monitors. So, if you have multiple users with the same monitor setup and in the same room, you can copy settings over to another. It puts everybody on the same page. I will go into further detail in the next section.

Finally, something to remember, is that the software will create an ICC calibration profile which is then loaded by the operating system to set the correct color profile. The software does not need to be running for this to happen, but recommended to leave open so the monitoring tools remain on.

On Windows PCs, you will notice a slight delay from when the ICC calibration profile loads and adjusts the colors. Mac users do not have this delay.

Functionality

The process to calibrate a monitor is fairly straightforward. I began with my Samsung SE370 27” monitor only to find out that the software asks for the monitor to be on for at least 30 minutes before calibrating. This gives the monitor a chance to warm up.

To begin, you’ll be asked for the manufacturer of your monitor, followed by the model. The model of the monitor is just a reference to name the color profile at the end. Afterwards, a step-by-step guide walks you through the entire process with tooltips at every stage.

Unlike other color calibration tools, the Spyder5ELITE has the ability to measure the amount of light in the room by using an upward facing light sensor. By measuring this value, the software can detect whether or not there is too much or too little light in the room. This is used to find the best brightness setting for your monitor and a profile is created for a specific brightness.

Mentioned earlier, while the software does a lot of the work, it works in tandem with the physical hardware unit. This unit is a small and well-built sensor that allows the software to read the value being displayed on the display. By using an array of little ‘eyes’, the sensor can record the incoming value from the monitor. This sensor is covered by a protective cap, which protects the sensor array while not in use.

This protective cap doubles as a weight when positioning the sensor onto your display. When it’s time to calibrate, the sensor needs to be placed directly in the center of the screen for the best results. In my case, I ended up tilting the monitor backwards and adjusting the weight appropriately so that the sensor lies flat on the glass.

First, the software will detect the luminance that your monitor is outputting. Being that this tool is focused for photographers and Photoshop designers, the optimal brightness setting is 100-120 cd/m^2. The software will ask you to lower the brightness to approximately this level. While it’s not required to go down to this brightness, a luminance of 180 cm/m^2 is recommended for a general calibration, which I ended up using.

Now that the room light has been measured and the brightness is set, the software will begin going through a set of different RGB values. Something to note here is to make sure that your cursor is far away from the sensing area; otherwise, the sensor will read the white of your cursor.

The entire calibration process is about five minutes long and it’s mesmerizing watching it calibrate the display as it fills your screen with all sorts of different colors. At the bottom of the calibration process, you’ll find a progress bar to let you know how long things will take.

Once the software has finished calibrating, the screen will remain white with black text blinking at the bottom, indicating that it has finished. You will then be asked to save the color profile so that the software can recall it and load it during bootup.

A personal favorite of mine is the after-calibration analysis. I color calibrated a lot of different monitors of mine, mostly from Samsung and Asus. What’s amazing to me is that on my personal machine that has two monitors of the same model number (SE370 23” & 27”), the uncalibrated values were far different. As I said in the introduction, same brand, same model, two totally different results.

I’ll let the result pictures speak for themselves.

The burning question is how much better did everything look on the screen? How I went every day using the old colors before calibration, I will never know. Skin colors, food colors, and generally everything was seriously improved in almost every way. Humans and food were the most noticeable as they were closer to life while other objects were more vivid.

I think the most breath-taking thing from this color calibration tool is not how everything looks so colorful and vivid, but how off my colors really were. Writing these reviews are done in Microsoft Word 2016, not something that many would believe needed to be calibrated. However, after calibration, the harsh blueish-white from the Word background turned into a yellowish-white which is a wild difference. No longer am I staring into a harsh blueish-white light and it’s far easier on the eyes.

Interestingly, with the Spyder5ELITE, there is the before and after feature that is built right into the taskbar icon for Windows. By right-clicking the icon, you can choose to either turn on or off the calibration. I can honestly say that when you do change it to off, you will ask yourself how you worked with the old color in the first place.

In the same right-click menu, you can also choose to begin a new recalibration. Datacolor recommends that monitors are recalibrated every two weeks, but unless there are major changes in your environment, I personally find a minimum of once a month is okay for most professionals. In my case, I get a reminder for recalibration in six months, but then again, I am not editing photos in Photoshop every day.

The things that I would want to change on the Spyder5ELITE are minuscule in the grand scheme of things. Things such as a longer USB cable, a stand that can connect to the built-in mounting hole, and a little heavier weight to ensure that the Spyder5ELITE lies perfectly flat on the monitor.

In the end, the Spyder5ELITE is a user-friendly tool that can be operated by anyone, even if they aren’t a part of the IT department. The software works with very few flaws to it and the quick right-click menu to take room light measurements or to turn off the calibration is a thing to have, although, my favorite part of the software is that it just works without any interaction.

My Final Thoughts

If you work with any sort of computer based editing, whether you print off pictures, edit photos for a website, or are a designer, then this is a serious investment for your setup. I would say that for $279, the Spyder5ELITE easily beats out the competition, of which I have used several for work purposes. The easy-to-use software with helpful tooltips, compact hardware device, and feature rich product gets my stamp of recommendation. Then, with the performance of changing the colors for 100% sRGB accuracy, it feels good to know that what I am seeing is spot on to what it should be. If you do happen to purchase this model, then take note of Datacolor’s Adobe Creative Cloud Free trial.

To go even further with additional features, Datacolor does offer an upgrade package from the Spyder5ELITE to the Spyder5ELITE+. For an additional $29.99, the ‘plus’ model throws in features like automatic room light adjustment, softproofing, and 1-click calibration.

For those who may wonder if this device is worth using for personal use, perhaps if you are a gamer or general computer user. Even if you are not a professional designer, I would still recommend picking one of these color calibration tools up. It makes a world of a difference especially for adjusting the whites on the monitor. If you do not need all of the bells and whistles of the Elite, then Datacolor offers a Spyder5EXPRESS model at $129 which will do very similar things for the general consumer. See this image to compare all of the models.

Buy it now:

© 2017 Justin Vendette

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  • Nice Tool for computer based editing.Designing new products have become lot more easier than the traditional methods these days.

    • I totally agree! I still continuously use this product today and love every bit of it.