David Saffir: Datacolor Spyder4  Review (Pt. 1 of 3)
Jul 2012 06

The Datacolor Spyder4 series of display calibration devices have been released. There are three models: Spyder4EXPRESS, Spyder4PRO, and Spyder4ELITE. Spyder4EXPRESS is designed for photo enthusiasts, and offers automated color calibration at a very affordable price point. Spyder4PRO is intended for more advanced photographers, calibrates multiple monitors, and provides Monitor Quality Analysis (MQA) tools. Spyder4ELITE is designed for pro photographers and imaging pros, has advanced multiple display tuning, advanced MQA, advanced error reporting, and more.

I’ve found the Spyder4 Elite to be a superb tool for use in my color workflow. My primary display is a 24” HP Dreamcolor LP 2480zx. Spyder4ELITE calibrates this display beautifully, providing rich, controlled color with smooth gradients and transitions. Color fidelity is excellent, and I’ve found that screen to print match is so good that I rarely, if ever, feel the need to make proof prints for color, contrast, detail, or density.

The device is remarkably easy to use, and the accompanying software is fully-featured and quite straightforward in design. The user interface is well thought out and on-screen layout is clean and accessible. It can operate in nearly full-auto mode, or it can be adjusted and customized to nearly any demanding technical situation.

While all the new versions of the Spyder family offer significant improvements and enhancements over their predecessors, I’ll focus on Spyder4ELITE as the most fully-featured and versatile of these solutions for photographers and imaging pros. I’ll begin with a brief review of the characteristics of the device, and continue with some discussion of the impact of these improvements. This article is the first of a series of three; the second article will address selected, important Spyder4ELITE software features, and the third article reviews a number of advanced features.

Spyder4 incorporates a large-aperture 7-channel sensor to maximize performance. It works with wide-gamut, LED displays, and emerging display technologies. It is adapted to desktop and laptop displays, iPad/iPhone, and projectors. It is factory calibrated to see color as they eye does, and it covers the color spectrum in more detail than 3-channel RGB systems commonly used in display calibration devices. It also offers advanced, multiple display tuning – quite useful for studios and workgroup environments.

Spyder4 uses a three-leg design to help it lay flat on the display for greatest accuracy, and incorporates a wide-aperture sensor with a honeycomb diffuser to remove angular sensitivity to color. The design includes a tripod base, which doubles as a desktop stand.

Spyder4 is significantly more accurate (26%) than its predecessors, and is more precise (19%). (Accuracy refers to the “degree of closeness to a target value”, and precision refers to repeatability or consistency in measurement.)

I feel that these ongoing improvements in performance are critical in today’s world of color management – many of us own, or are considering purchasing an upgraded display – these offer improved performance in many areas, most noticeably in color gamut, backlight technology, and color accuracy – particularly over time. We really do need improved calibration devices to manage these displays to their full potential.

In my view, the Spyder4ELITE offers a unique level of flexibility – one that should enable photographers and imaging pros to create “color-friendly”, customized working environments inside and outside the studio. I particularly like the adaptability offered across differing types of flat-screen displays and the inclusion of the iPad and iPhone – in my own work, I use these mobile devices all the time in my interactions with customers and potential clients – quite useful to show color that is credible across platforms. In particular, I have found that a color-managed iPad is a very effective demo and sales tool.

On my wide-gamut display, I see very smooth gradations and transitions, including high-contrast areas. Shadow/highlight detail is excellent, and there is no hint of the oversaturation sometimes seen on these devices. In my fine-art work, I shoot mostly landscapes, and I push the limits of my medium-format digital camera – and I do not feel that my calibrated display is holding me back in viewing or editing my work. In fact, these improvements have made my work sessions easier, including reduced fatigue, and more effective.

In my next article in this series, I’ll discuss the improved software that drives Spyder4ELITE, and review its unique features and benefits.

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.