Why You Should Be Calibrating Your Monitors

A color calibrator was perhaps the best non-photographic photographic purchase I've ever made. If you're not calibrating your displays, this helpful video will show you exactly why you should reconsider that.

Coming to you from Aaron Nace of Phlearn, this video examines the topic of color calibration and why this is an especially important issue for photographers. If you're sending files to clients, posting your shots online, or making prints, having your monitors calibrated for both color and brightness can save you quite a bit of headache down the road. Although Nace mostly talks about consistency between his multiple displays, even if you only own one, you still should want that display to be accurate for when you have to send your files elsewhere. What makes a calibrator so helpful is that it sets your monitor in response to the ambient light in your environment; so, if your lighting is a little yellow or a bright compared to average, your monitor will be adjusted to compensate. I personally use (and Nace recommends) the Datacolor Spyder system, recalibrating my display every few weeks. It only take a few minutes (I just make some tea while I wait), and it keeps everything consistent. If you'd like to learn more about them (and see their awesome promotion that ends this month), check out our recent article.

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Chad D's picture

just remember profiling a junk monitor won't do anything :) profiling only gets the thing as good as it can kinda like tuning up your car? won't make your Hyundai a Porsche :)

good thing monitors like cameras have gotten better over time so you can get a decent monitor for around $500 and a top line can be had for just under the 1k mark in the 27 inch size

some monitors with built in from factory like the NEC PA using multiprofiler have been deadly accurate the whole life now with no profiling ;) you can profile and check but its been dead on !!! very impressive and where monitors should be going in the future for the high end (again have a puck and check but the days of weekly checks and redo are going away IMHO )

Chad D's picture

agree on hyundai not being junk they are great cars for the money :)
meant them as two separate things :)

bad writing on my part :) junk monitor meaning a $99 special :)

or using car as analogy
you cant make an everyday car a super car like a Porsche or Ferrari

hope that makes more sense ;) hahahaha

Bill Peppas's picture

not entirely true.
Even a crappy monitor will see a great difference ( actually, it will be night & day ) compared to not calibrated.

Some "crappy" monitors can even get very close to a dE value of 3 on average which is actually pretty good for most people who just enjoy photos and aren't doing professional color-critical jobs.

Chad D's picture

some say buying a Porsche is a waste and their Honda does just fine ? which is fair and true BUT just because someone does not see any difference does not mean it is not there !

the backlight is the same the panel is the same the electronics are the same etc..
all you did is adjust it sure you will see a difference but it will never have the accuracy the shadow detail edge to edge etc..

a 20-300 kit lens is great for some people for others its not worth anything :) all relative

gaming monitors are for that if I was a gamer I would want one :)

some think paying more than $500 for a lens is a waste?

and bottom line some people can see the difference some can not but its there :)

agree for some that is good enough again ultra zoom on a P&S style camera is a great kit for some :) but this is a photo forum talking about profiling and paying X to profile a junk ultra cheap monitor is silly put the money into a better monitor and that uncalibrated one will beat the calibrated $99 kinda special

Bill Peppas's picture

Replying just to reply ?
I guess you haven't paid any attention to what I posted.

For starters, while you may play the "pro" card ( yes, I too have a professional grade monitor, but that's not our subject here ), every monitor out there benefits a little to a whole lot from a proper calibration.
For most people an average dE2000 of 3 is considered great.
It isn't the best case for a premium gallery or a high quality print for a magazine/advertisement board, but it is pretty good for the majority of amateur and hobbyists photographers out there.

Personally, I wouldn't mind having a terrible in terms of color gamut & reproduction TN panel monitor calibrated from an average dE2000 of 10 and a max dE2000 of 15 down to an average dE2000 of 3 and a max dE2000 of 7.

I calibrate high end cinema projectors, high end home cinemas ( projectors & TVs ) and photographer's and publications monitors, I even do it for fun on crappy monitors and laptops of my friends and customers, I've calibrated a whole lot of monitors, projectors, TVs & printers with professional equipment ( spectroradiometer + colorimeter combination that cost a little over 12k$ ) and I've seen what kind of difference it can do even for a poor man's monitor.

I certainly wouldn't deter people from having their monitors calibrated, even if they do not belong to the "exclusive" high end color grading monitors club.

Rex Larsen's picture

Sad to see Fstoppers, Alex Cooke, Aaron Nace and Phlearn, squander their editorial credibility to market one brand of monitor calibrator.

Alex Cooke's picture

Not sure why you think that is, Rex. I wasn't lying when I said I own one and I think it's great.

Anonymous's picture

The before image on the thumbnail looks like a screenshot from Ozark.

Michael Yearout's picture

Alex: Good article and advice. And yes I use the Spyder system. I think it is one of the best out there. And no I'm not being paid to say this.

Michael Miley's picture

Any thought about testing with another brand for comparison? I've been told that ColorMuki is the best and I'd like a side by side test if possible. Thanks for the tutorial.

Lee Christiansen's picture

I find the built in calibrator on my Eizo CG2420 is more accurate than my X-Rite, i1 Pro... and that's one of the best available.

I must admit, I haven't found anything that equates to the Eizo performance after test driving several of the leading brands under test conditions.

I'll agree with Chad in that a low grade monitor will still be a low grade monitor - even after calibration.

There are issues to consider such as stability, uniformity, tonal smoothness and low IPS glow performance which are often neglected in preference to easily promoted, but less significant things like gamut range between sRGB and aRGB

Rex Larsen's picture

The fact that I need to explain my comment is a bit of a head-scratcher. Consider changing the headline to make it clear it is a story promoting one brand of calibrating product ( that just so happens to match the ad) or add "sponsored content" to the story header. Is there only one calibrator on the market ? Are there different price points for products ? How might they compare ?
The piece is pure content marketing and it does readers and editorial standards a disservice. Imagine an article about the benefits of monolights that only mentions the Profoto brand, and only in a purely flattering way.

dale clark's picture

I have used the colorMunki system for years and find it excellent http://xritephoto.com/colormunki-photo

Thanks for the great article!!

Not talking about color spaces of the actual photos here, just my monitors view of what I am editing:

This is what I am scared of - I have a wide gamut BenQ ARGB monitor (has 100% SRGB mode and 99% ARGB Mode,both calibrated)

ARGB mode is more saturated/red skin tones on my monitor than SRGB, naturally.

So, I'm thinking.....If I edit on an ARGB monitor I'm editing to look good on the ARGB monitor.  (removing red skin tones, excessive saturation that ARGB produces, that doesn't appear on the SRGB mode) But if I edit this photo to look good on an ARGB, then switch to the SRGB mode, SRGB looks green and desaturated (because I took out all the red that seemed to appear in ARGB mode)

My audience and most of the average world can only see SRGB likley, so to them it likely looks dull and desaturated, correct?

Or even  "converting to sRGB" ill see a huge difference?

– the only way I see to fix this if I want to use my "fancy new, expensive, ARGB monitor mode" I would have to have an ARGB edited copy that looks good on my ARGB monitor mode, and then another copy that I have to touch up add red and saturation back in) for Web/SRGB, and most average persons monitor - or else my clients are going to be like WOW we look like hulk!- sort of like I am having to soft proof for clients/ web/rest of world.

And if I have no other use for the ARGB version, other than it looking good on MY monitor, is there a point? ( I don’t yet print in ARGB, most labs I have found request SRGB, ill start that adventure after I nail this first one down )

It sounds like, while I will edit in Adobe RGB, ( to preserve the color range in my photo and not clip them and have them be gone forever) I should keep my monitor set to SRGB so it’s a "what you see is (closely) to what you get for my SRGB printers and web viewing/client viewing) But my image still retain their color profile integrity if I want to print in ARGB later down the road.

This way I am not removing all the red that appears in my adobe RGB mode on my monitor, then it looking wonky/green to everyone else on their SRGB screens because I removed all the access red I see on my screen. Make sense? thoughts?