David Saffir: Datacolor Spyder4 Review: Software (Pt. 2 of 3)
Jul 2012 10

Spyder4ELITE software is unique – it operates in what Datacolor call “Step-by-Step Assistant mode (a type of Wizard), which consists largely of two series of functions, and in Expert Console mode, in which the software is highly customizable on one screen, and adaptable to a range of working situations. This article segment provides an introduction to some of the more important screens, and some new features, that you will see during the calibration and profiling of your display.

The opening screen provides a “pre-flight” checklist, which helps the user make the most of the technology. Note suggestions about warming up the display (this stabilizes color response), lighting conditions, display controls, and correct connection for the Spyder device. Take note of the advice provided under Display Controls: in most cases, it is best to reset the display’s controls to their default settings, color temperature to 6500k, and to appropriate brightness level.

The next screen allows the user to choose the Step-by-Step Assistant, Studio Match (multiple displays), or Expert Console. Its best to run the Step-by-Step assistant at least once on each display before attempting to use StudioMatch, so that the app will already have initial information about your displays.

The next screen shows choices among calibration types. The user can run through a brief quality confirmation or completely re-calibrate. Even at this level, Datacolor provides important options, as the user can tailor Gamma, White Point, and Brightness settings.

The settings shown here are a good place to start. Further options can be accessed from the Advanced Settings button on-screen.

Once the Spyder4 is placed on the display, the software will automatically cycle through a series of color patches:

Expert Console

Alternately, if you choose the Expert Console path, you’ll find that a number of options open that provide a higher degree of control or customization of calibration:

Red numbers, 1-7, have been added here to tag key controls. Number 1 indicates a drop-down menu that selects the display. Number 2 contains a series of pre-sets – for example, the item selected would target gamma 2.2, 6500k color temperature, and luminance of 120 cd/m2. (Note: I normally use 5800k, as most of my printing uses fine art/watercolor papers, and my workroom has low light levels. My luminance is set to 100). If calibrating a projector, set the white point to “native”.

(FYI, The “Shortcuts” button jumps you to other screens.)

If you enable “non-gamma” in the drop-down menu, it changes to “curve”. Here, you can use a menu pre-set such as L-star or Cineon workflows, or create a custom curve. These can even be adjusted by color channel.

I won’t get into the fine details here, as this is an advanced topic that deserves a dedicated article.

Luminance, option Number 4, is usually left in “Measured Mode”, and values here are set by the software. If, however, you are running displays side-by-side, you may be able to use Visual mode to fine tune black luminance to bring them together. For the most part, this holds true if your on screen controls include the rare “true” black luminance adjustment. Beware: many controls labeled this way are limited to control of overall screen brightness.

On the topic of White Luminance, quoting from the Datacolor documentation: “Native White Luminance is seldom the most appropriate value for displays, except for laptops …. or projectors. You may define a Target White Luminance …… if multiple displays are being tuned to a single target. In that case enter those values and continue; or select the target containing these values. Otherwise …. activate the Ambient Light Tool, to determine an appropriate White Luminance Level.”

Appropriate luminance value is quite important to our work as photographers – first, it may affect our perception of on screen color, but perhaps more important luminance level can determine how well we can see shadow and highlight detail. This is important in post-production processing, in achieving a good screen to print match, and in the end maximizing quality in the final print. After all, you can’t edit effectively unless the display is on-target.

Number 5, Options, provides controls for Calibration, Ambient Light Compensation, and Spyder Certification. The first two are self-explanatory, the last is generally left in the “off” position. If you want more information, you can find it in the on-screen help.

Unlike many other on-screen “Help” tools, this facility is written in highly-understandable language, and is closely tied to context of current workflow – you’ll find that it is quite easy to find what’s needed, the explanations and clear, and actionable.

Number 6 activates the Spyder4 to measure ambient light. Number 7 provides a menu to turn Gray balance calibration on/off, or to activate iterative calibration. Gray Balance Calibration can be set to off, for no gray balance, on, for single pass balancing of grays, or to the iterative setting for improved accuracy in gray balance calibration. This can be particularly important in producing rich, neutral grayscale in black and white printmaking.

The software can provide you with a basic analysis of results. In this case, a wide-gamut display was calibrated, and its color gamut exceeds 100% of Adobe 98 RGB. Many printers of recent manufacture can produce color gamut very close to, or equal to Adobe 98 RGB – they are a good match for a display calibrated to this high standard. I’ve certainly come to appreciate the ease of use this affords.

The View Info tab shows this floating window:

Once calibration is complete, save the profile. It’s a good idea to re-name the profile each time a cycle is competed; I normally use display name and current date. In some cases, such as varying ambient light conditions, you may want to calibrate/profile to different standards; name the profiles accordingly.

Next, use this screen to evaluate results. The button at the lower right allows a switch from calibrated view, to uncalibrated. This permitscomparison of high and low saturation areas, black and white, etc. as calibrated, compared to their uncalibrated state.

An interesting new feature is called “SpyderTune”. This tool permits adjustments in White Point, Gamma, and Brightness.
One could use this to adjust results for a single monitor, but it is in many cases best to use it to tweak two displays to a better match – for example, you’ve calibrated both, but one is just a bit different than the other. One could also use it to tweak results so that the screen results more closely match your viewing box. (YMMV!)

As you can see, Spyder4 Elite is a highly flexible, and if required, a very sophisticated tool. I feel it can meet the needs of a wide range of photographers and imaging pros, working in almost any environment. The user interface is simple and intuitive, and I find the Help screens to be among the best in our field – it’s quite easy to find what you need, and the explanations are clear and actionable. See the conclusion of Part 1 of this series for my impression of results.

In the next and final segment, I’ll review more of the advanced features of the Spyder4 Elite solution, and describe its benefits in a number of working environments.

David Saffir is a commercial and fine art photographer and printmaker, located in Southern California, and a well-known speaker at workshops and conferences across the US.