Monday, June 29, 2015

Product Review: Spyder 4PRO

Can DataColor’s Spyder 4PRO take the sting out of colour calibration, giving you both accurate colours and crucially, peace of mind? Let's take a look...
Colour calibration is more important than you'd first think. In the world of digital design, you can illustrate amazing images; but if the colours are off, what looks great on your screen could appear a garish mess of colour for everybody else. Or you could find that your subtle details all disappear into darkness on other peoples monitors, or worse still, on the printed page, where it can never be corrected. 
While you can try to avoid these disasters by attempting to manually calibrate your colours, this process can be arduous, frustrating and most importantly, inaccurate. And lets face it, there are plenty of more fun ways to waste your time at a computer.  It’s a much better idea to use a colour calibrator, like DataColor’s Spyder 4PRO. 

Full Review after the jump...

The Product:

The Spyder 4PRO is a Colorimeter which you apply to your screen to let it take measurements of light from the room. Living up to it’s namesake, the Spyder literally hangs down your monitor via an adjustable, weighted USB cord to keep the Colorimeter in place like a spider dangling from a thread. DataColor have refined the Colorimeter devices in recent years; they are is much more compact than they used to be, easily fitting in your hand. The only gripe I have about the peripheral is the cord could do with being a bit longer to make life easier. You may have to move your computer and display closer together to get the cord to reach between them. It’s not a deal breaker, but could be an inconvenience depending on how your desk is set up.
The Spyder has a cradle to rest it in when you’ve made your calibration, that allows the light sensor to measure the ambient light of the room in order to make changes to your screen, reacting to real-time changes in the environment, so if the sun comes out the Spyder will compensate for the sudden added glare.
The Spyder 4PRO is compatible with LCD screens, laptops and even old CRT monitors (remember them?) and supports multiple monitor calibrations, making it far more valuable than its cheaper counterpart, the Spyder 4 Express, which only lets you calibrate a single display. The only thing the Spyder 4PRO doesn’t cover is projectors; for those you’ll need to purchase a Spyder4 Elite.

The colour calibration process:

Don't worry, I won't bore you with all of the dry details about choosing gamma settings,or which of four white points you can choose, as the calibration wizard makes it all perfectly clear. I'll just give you a brief overview of roughly what to expect when you use the Spyder 4PRO.
You begin, as with most peripherals by installing installed the drivers via a DVD which helpfully provides a link to the website with the latest drivers should you prefer to use those. It's always nice when a lot of the legwork is done for you.
After the drivers have been installed, you connect the ambient light monitor via USB and the Spyder will take light measurements of the room you're in. It's a really useful feature that ensures you get accurate colours no matter how the weather outside affects things. It's one of the advantages over manual colour calibration.
The program then starts up the calibration Wizard, which asks you various questions about the monitor you're calibrating. Fortunately the calibration wizard gives you the option to say "unknown" when identifying the various aspects and controls of your monitor which is really helpful; it's much better than either taking the time to search for an answer online, or incorrectly guessing what the native white point is. Nobody enjoys googling serial numbers to find out mundane technical specifications. At least, I hope they don't!
The "identify controls" section customises itself to whatever sort of monitor you are using; it will ask you different questions depending on which model you have selected. This is a very nice touch as it ensures you're not answering questions about controls and options that you don't have on your monitor which helps to avoid confusion and time wasting.
There is a small niggle here: you can't return to the identify controls stage; you have to close down the application and start it again.
The reason this is a nuisance links to the only real criticism that the Spyder 4PRO has: the more controls the Spyder knows you have, the larger the chance of an inaccurate calibration comes in.
It's a genuinely curious effect that has plagued previous iterations of the Spyder devices. When left to its own devices, the Spyder will knock the calibration out of the park, giving you amazing results first time. When it asks the user to get involved you're suddenly trying to correct gamma levels way beyond the limitations of your monitor. In one test on the Wacom Cintiq 21UX, I got to a stage where the Calibration Wizard instructed me to adjust the brightness until the image looked correct and I could only lower the image to what appeared to be the "nuclear blast at ground zero" setting. Our advice is to lie to the Spyder and deny having any controls on your monitor, sit back and let it work its magic.
When you let the Spyder do all of the heavy lifting, the results are genuinely phenomenal.
We tested the Spyder out on a dual monitored iMac 27" OSX version 10.8.5 (Mountain Lion) as well as OS X 10.10.3 (Yosemite) and an old model Cintiq 21UX as well as a dual screened Windows 8.1 PC with  and the results were frankly brilliant. In the past, as an illustrator I've calibrated many monitors by eye; it's not a fun process and the results can be frustrating (I've struggled with calibrating iMac's by eye. for hours, and even then I was still unhappy with the final result. ) The Spyder 4PRO finishes its calibration in minutes.
When the calibration is finished after just a few minutes, (the waiting time for the auto calibration has been significantly trimmed from perevious models) you can view just how wrong things were with your original settings with the immensely satisfying "before and after" button that switches the newly fixed calibration with your original disappointing version. It's basically the Spyder 4PRO's way of showing off how clever it is, but you'll be impressed instead of irritated by it's smugness. You'll probably switch back and forth a few times in amazement. Go on, you know you want to.
You also have the option to leave the light monitor plugged into your monitor so that it can adapt your calibration on the fly should you want to. 

Conclusion: Ignoring the minor frustration that you are encouraged to input as much detail as possible when the Spyder 4PRO will perform much better without your interaction (and that you need to close and re-open the app to get the Spyder to forget the settings you told it you could control manually so that it will do the job for you) the Spyder 4PRO is outstanding and is fully recommended for all designers, artists and pretty much anyone that uses a monitor!

Verdict: Highly Recommended!

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