Why a Datacolor Spyder Needs to Be Top of Your Shopping List

Why a Datacolor Spyder Needs to Be Top of Your Shopping List

Monitor color calibration is a desperately boring activity to undergo, let alone discuss. However, if you're a photographer who wants to get serious about their work, it's utterly paramount.

Early on in my photographic endeavors, when I was armed with a Canon Rebel XT and a kit lens, I took a landscape which Flickr made their homepage image for a week. I maintain the image is unambiguously crap, but at the time I was pleased with the photograph and elated with the recognition. So much so, I decided to have it printed for my dear Mother who had told me how much she'd like it on her wall. I researched the best print company to go with and separated with my hard earned coins to have my artwork made. It arrived at my front door and I excitedly de-robed it to marvel at its beauty in physical form. It was underexposed by about a stop (a problem for another article), but worse, the foreground was green. That'd have been ideal had my foreground been grass, but it wasn't, it was rapeseed which is yellow. I furrowed my brow and debated a print error before dejectedly placing it in my loft, where it remains in the dark; a lonely relic of my days uncalibrated.

As the years rolled on, I realized the error of my ways and begrudgingly invested in a Datacolor Spyder5. I love Datacolor and their Spyder range is for all intents and purposes the industry standard for anyone working with colors on a monitor. Nevertheless, parting with my case to buy one of these little robots was neither exciting nor welcome. However, no purchase in my career has had a more important impact on my work.

A large portion of my work for several years has been commercial photography, with a strong focus on watches. Anyone working with any sort of product photography will tell you of the essential nature of accurate colors; colors that have been very carefully chosen by the design team of that product. This is even more crucial when the product is in the fashion arena and the colors are not only carefully selected in the design phase, they are often thematic and part of a brand's identity. Needless to say, there is no room for inaccuracy, particularly when that inaccuracy is sheer laziness on the photographer's part.

Well, yes fine, product photography must have accurate colors, but it isn't crucial elsewhere in photography is it? I'm sorry figurative convenient questioner, but it is. Landscapes, architectural, sports... they all need true to life colors, but even portraiture. It goes without saying that fashion and beauty photography require perfect representation of all the colors on display and high-end retouchers take it very seriously indeed, but even photojournalistic or ordinary portraiture too. I believe it to still be true that one of the highest commendations for a photographer today is being printed in a respected publication. If your portraits have their colors off and your subjects have a slightly green tint to their skin, or a little too much magenta in the whites of their eyes, you've got little to no chance. Monitors and even printers can vary in how they display your images, but you have to make sure that your primary workstation is color true north.

Laura Mvula by Robert K Baggs

A Datacolor Spyder5PRO is such a small investment for such a crucial and large return and it will add a level of professionalism to your work that is essential for anyone working in the arts who is aiming high. Presently they have a sale on and if, like the younger and more naive me, you've been avoiding spending out on one, it's time to pull the trigger. The sale is only on until April 9th, 2018 and applies to a Spyder5PRO, camera calibration color passport, and two different bundles saving up to $200.

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Previous comments

Achieving colour accuracy from capture to view is an extremely complex task requiring expertise and time to get spot on. Expecting any one device to profile extremely accurately with no editing of the profile is optimistic. Close yes.
The idea is to produce an image file in a defined, device independent, colour space like Adobe RGB. When displayed the file is modified using a device (monitor, printer etc.) profile to compensate for the characteristics of the device and possibly the environmental factors, light & colour in the room, as well.
When you consider the complex variations in this workflow and the organic variations of the viewer it's no wonder that some experience a less than optimal outcome.
My thoughts are that it is better to profile than not. At least you start from a consistent baseline, tonal and colour, and if you find this to be inaccurate then edit the profile to compensate. I have on more than one occasion been thankful for running a calibrated workflow when I have had a client raise colour issues.

Mokhtar Chahine's picture

I do see the benefits of your workflow. I like it.

The real differences in experience are from the various monitors being used by the viewer. Each manufacturer of monitors sets them up to display color differently, cell phone manufacturers do the same.

An example. I am sure everyone has gone into a TV store and seen a bank of TVs all playing the same show, but the colors of the show look (really really) different on each TV even though they are displaying the same exact image. Some look really red while some look very blue or green. This is because the TVs have been set up to display the colors differently. It is the same thing with monitors, cell phones, laptops etc. You never know how your photo will appear on different devices because all the devices have been set by their manufacturer's to show colors differently--usually more vivid and warmer than the original image was.

The only real way around this is to calibrate your own monitor so that you have a "standard" and repeatable output and that will appear the same way on another monitor that has also been calibrated. Since most (I would bet it is over 99.9%) monitors are not calibrated there is not much hope that you will be able to control what your image looks like "in the wild".

More importantly, if a client indicates that an image doesn't look right on their monitor, you know what you need to do to change it--except that when they go to their bosses monitor it will look different again.

Also your image will look correct if you have calibrated your monitor when you or a print-shop print it out (if you also calibrate the printer/paper).

The bottom line is that if you don't calibrate your own monitor to accurately depict colors then when you edit colors and tones in the images in Lightroom you are really at the mercy of how crappy your own monitor displays colors. With an un-calibrated monitor you don't know if the image you are seeing on the screen is bluer, redder, greener, etc than the actual image you took.

Eckhardt Kriel's picture

Pity the sale is for customers in the US and Europe. Does not cover Canada!