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Spyder5ELITE+ Snap Verdict
The Spyder5ELITE+ is DataColor’s top flight monitor calibrator and features a set of easy to use tools that will ensure that your images look as good off screen as they do on. One click calibration, soft proofing and StudioMatch makes the Spyder5ELITE+ one of the most complete solutions out there.
Colour management is rarely at the top of the list when it comes to imaging ‘house cleaning’. But however much we like to ignore it, it’s an integral part of the digital darkroom, so much so that most common imaging issues can be directly attributed to bad or even no colour management.
In the past calibrating your monitor correctly was a long drawn out process and much of the finer adjustment was left to the eye – no wonder then that few of us got it right. However, these days there are plenty of solutions out there that will quickly and automatically calibrate your monitor for you.
The Spyder5ELITE+ is one of a growing number of fully featured calibrators that will enable you to ensure that your monitor’s colour is correct without the hassle. The ELITE+ is one of three packages produced by Spyder with each aimed at a different level of photographer.
The best part of the DataColor approach is that the hardware is the same and it’s just the software that differs with each release, the three models are EXPRESS, PRO and ELITE+. This means that if you start with the EXPRESS then you can in time upgrade to either of the other two versions.
The Spyder5ELITE+ comes in two parts, the hardware that drapes over your monitor, and reads the illumination and the software that analyses the results and adjust the monitor to display the correct brightness, colour and contrast.
Unlike many cheaper monitor calibrators, the Spyder5ELITE+ packs in a variety of advanced features that will appeal to the high-end club photographer as well as professionals.
The entire setup process is fast and straightforward with the software being installed, the Spyder5ELITE being plugged into a spare USB port. Then all you need to do is follow the onscreen instructions and then pretty much leave the software to handle the rest.
Once the software completes you can then save and install the profile that has been created. Next, check the before and after view and set up the software to remind you to recalibrate at regular intervals.
Adjusting your images’ colour, contrast and tone through Lightroom or Photoshop may get your images looking great on screen, but it’s difficult to always know how they will look once they’re output.
In the past, once you’d finished your editing images then the usual destination would have been the printer, but now we also have to worry about mobiles, other computers and of course tablets.
The Spyder software includes a feature called SoftProof that can be used once the monitor has been calibrated. This feature simulates how your images will look on any printer and device and means that you can be sure that they will always look the way you want them to on any home printer, online printer mobile or tablet device.
Automatic Room Light Switching
Room lighting can be a real issue when it comes to image enhancement as different lights emit different temperature light. The effect of that light on the colours displayed by your monitor can be huge. If you’re working under a traditional tungsten light bulb, for example, then the light produced is warm.
This warmth will influence the colours on your monitor and in turn you’ll adjust them to correct it. Whilst they might look fine on screen initially, when you switch off the light or switch lighting you’ll probably notice that the colours seem to shift.
Automatic Room Light Switching enables you to set up several profiles for the different lighting sources that you may use in your digital darkroom. One for during the day when the room is lit by sunlight and another for in the evening when you light the room with artificial light.
As long as you have the Spyder5ELITE+ attached it will ensure that the monitor’s profile is adjusted to correctly match the ambient lighting which it reads through its ambient light reader.
Speed is often a high priority with any process that isn’t directly associated with the job in hand. DataColor has created the 1-click calibration option that quickly enables you to calibrate your monitor with… a single click.
Profile Management Tool
One issue that many photographers have is that they have a main computer in the studio/home and a trusty laptop that follows them around on shoots.
Whilst the laptop may always be with you, most of us end up sharing our main machines with others, usually family members who like nothing more than fiddling with the brightness and contrast settings.
The Profile Manager enables you to set up different profiles for different uses. One for image enhancement and another for watching movies or game playing.
When you want to change the profile manually, all you need to do is launch the manager and select the preset that you’ve previously stored. If each member of your family has a different login then the profile can be assigned at login, making the whole process far more streamlined.
Most photographers will have more than one computer, usually one in the studio/office and a laptop that they carry around with them.
The StudioMatch feature enables you to get each monitor calibrated so you know that they’re all displaying the same colours.
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Build quality and handling
Monitor calibrators are pretty simple in design and really there is very little to the Spyder5ELITE+.
The unit itself is made from good quality plastic and the protective lens cover clips in place securely protecting the unit when in transit.
Datacolor has made sure that although it’s simple, the Spyder5ELITE+ has a few small design flares that help with the operation of the calibrator. For instance, on the base surrounding the lens, there’s a foam pad that helps protect the monitor when in calibration is being carried out and creates a simple light barrier.
When the device is in place, the lens cover acts as a counterweight on the USB cable to hold everything in place. This is helped by tipping the monitor back to give better contact.
The only real addition to the design that I would like to see is a cable tidy, as although in the studio the Spyder remains plugged into the machine and ready to go whenever a tweak to calibration is needed, I would usually have the Spyder5ELITE with me to calibrate my laptop monitor when out on a shoot.
Some type of simple cable tidy would just have helped to keep things neat in the kit bag.
When it comes to handling, the design works well – simply plug it in, drape over the monitor, let the software do its thing and you’re done.
As the calibrator has the auto features it needs to remain plugged into the computer. I would think some type of mount would be a good idea along with a suggested position so that you know it’s reading the light from the correct place for that feature.
I had a tendency to move the calibrator under the monitor which could incorrectly switch the profiles. Once I positioned the calibrator in a better place this was no longer an issue.
The software interface is incredibly well laid out with simple instructions to follow in order for you to calibrate the monitor depending on what it is you’re wanting to do. In our case, photography, where we need to ensure colour, contrast and tone are all correct for output.
The initial setup process and calibration is straightforward and I found it went without a hitch. There really is very little that you can do corrupt the process.
The different processes all work, showing the SoftProof and how images will be displayed on different devices as one of the most useful features.
After the initial calibration, I set the calibrator to remind me to recalibrate once a month. After that time elapsed the alert appeared each time the machine booted, and disappeared once I’d run the quick one-click calibration.
The most useful feature I found during the test was the StudioMatch which enabled me to basically sync the displays of desktop and laptop computers. In the end, this has help cut time in processing and also made me more reliant on the computer when checking images on location.
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After monitor calibration, it’s usually possible to see a difference on-screen, especially the first time. As time goes on and you get into the routine of calibration, the difference between the before and after view gradually fades so that it’s harder to see a difference if any.
What you do start to see is fewer failed prints as you adjustments in Lightroom translate far better to print, with colours looking richer and containing more tonal detail than pre-calibration prints.
This is due to the monitor more closely representing what will be produced on paper. Because of this and the obvious difference between the illuminated surface of a monitor compared to the reflective surface of paper, the brightness of the monitor after calibration may seem a little dull.
Because of this, I created a series of profiles, imaging, video and general. Each of these I could quickly switch between in the profile manager.
The design of the profile manager is a little clunky with a list of profiles that has your’s mixed in. Although thst means you can switch between yours and the industry standards, I’d like to see a more modern user-friendly version with fewer options as an alternative.
The real test of the calibrator is to see how the output of images and video are when files are adjusted by eye on a non-calibrated monitor and then on a calibrated monitor. The results were pretty marked with the calibrated monitor enabling far closer correlation between the display on the monitor and the printed image. Although there was still a difference because of the medium, they were far more closely matched than on the uncalibrated adjustment.
[nextpage title=”Verdict” ]
Monitor calibration is often overlooked and getting the message of calibration out there, it would seem, is also a challenge.
Every pro photographer knows the importance of calibration and either does it themselves or has someone pop around and do it for them.
Having worked in publishing for years, I’m used to having such a person coming around and calibrating monitors at regular intervals, not doing so would usually spur the wrath of an art editor somewhere in the building and this would shortly be followed by the calibration and a stern talking to for forgetting to call them in.
This message doesn’t seem to make it through to the consumer end of the market though. I spoke to a selection of photographers from a couple of local clubs and they all seem to have a technique that they read about in a magazine some twenty years ago. I can categorically say that whatever that technique was, it seems to have faded in time.
Today there is absolutely no excuse to not calibrate your monitor. OK, even the base level Spyder5EXPRESS seems quite expensive, but when you weigh up the difference it makes to your prints, both printed and online, the investment is definitely worth it.
The Spyder5ELITE+ is excellent, it does exactly what’s needed, calibrate your monitor, in fact, all of your monitors.
Features such as StudioMatch, Profile Manager and Auto Profile switching all work well and offer a complete solution to your monitor calibration.
There are however a few small niggles, my main one being that there is no cable management. I’d also like to see a slightly more attractive, user-friendly interface for the software.
Ultimately the Spyder5ELITE+ calibrates your monitors, enables you to preview your images to check how they will be displayed across multiple devices and also ensures that all of your monitors are displaying the same.
The ELITE+ version is aimed at the pro or high-end enthusiast, and for those people the price and features are perfectly tuned. For enthusiasts, there is the cheaper Spyder5EXPRESS which uses exactly the same hardware or the Spyder5PRO, again the same. For each, it is just the software that changes which means that anyone can start with the EXPRESS and upgrade as they need.