In the days when I was a student studying photography & digital imaging, our lecturer always emphasised the importance of a properly calibrated screen and the impact it would have on our prints. I never really bothered with having my screen calibrated though, first because when I was a student I simply couldn’t afford to have it done, and secondly I found all the talk of colour charts, gamma, light measurement, colour temperature and profiles really off-putting. I’ll admit it; I love technical stuff – but only to a point. I have always preferred to go through life relying on my own five senses instead of getting hung up on the technical aspects of my passion. When Wex Photographic asked me to test and review the Colorvision Spyder 3 Express, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to shake off my preconceived notions and give the thing a chance.
I dubiously opened the package, half expecting to be bombarded with a box covered in buzzwords and promises to make my screen come alive with colour! Thankfully there was none of that, just a simple straight to the point statement; “Get the most from your monitor”. Okay, so this is starting well, I thought. I tentatively sized up the box and squared up to it, senses alert in case it was trying to lull me into a false sense of security. My system was in fight-or-flight mode, I was prepared physically and psychologically and I scanned my environment looking for the enemy. I didn’t find one, the box was very friendly and appealing and I immediately dived inside to meet my new friend.
There isn’t much in the box, which is a good thing for a newbie to screen calibration. I wanted this to be as painless as possible. Inside you get the software CD, a quick start guide, a cloth to clean your screen and of course the little Spyder. I found the CD and popped it in to start the process. For some reason I couldn’t get the CD to auto run, which isn’t a major problem and I’m not about to throw a tantrum over it, but I might just pout a little. Instead I navigated to the file on the CD and got the installation started that way. It’s very straight forward and you can’t really go wrong as the installation gently guides you through the process with ease. Once the program is installed, the calibration starts. It asks you a few questions about what type of screen, laptop, LCD or CRT you have and whether it’s in the optimum position – it’s all very helpful stuff. It’s best to do this in a semi subdued lit room; I do all my editing in these conditions to get the most out of my monitor and prevent eye strain. The software will tell you when to plug in the Spyder and it puts guides on your screen to ensure you place it in the right spot. On the wire there is a counterweight so that the wire goes over your screen and the gadget doesn’t fall off. The only negative was that the counterweight on the wire was very tight, at first I wondered if I was doing it wrong, and was conscious of damaging the wire, but don’t worry, just pull it firmly to the position you need, it’s quite sturdy. The Spyder 3 Express then does its magic as the screen goes through a series of colours whilst the LED on the Spyder flashes blue. From start to finish it took less than 5 minutes and holds your hand the whole way through.
At the end you are presented with a series of pictures in your new, now calibrated view. Initially I found it difficult to notice any difference, that is, until I “switched.” There is an option to switch back and forth so you can see what you had before. I was shocked at what I had been looking at, I kept switching back and forward in rapid succession and I found it quite difficult to get used to the new screen. Before my screen looked washed out and had a green cast but I had obviously got used to it, not knowing any different. After the calibration, I noticed a more magenta and almost sepia colour on my screen and I instantly disliked it. I got up and left the screen for a bit so that my eyes could get a break. I went back to the computer about 30 minutes later and struggled to see what my problem had been! A short break away from the screen readjusts the eyes and you look it fresh when you return. I opened a few images in Photoshop and I found that the colours appeared more vibrant and rich – and I discovered some lovely tones in black and white photos that I never knew existed!
Deciding that I really liked my new friend I tried it on my LCD monitor, hoping to see similar results. Going through the whole process for the second time was again very quick and painless. This time though, when the screen was going through its little disco and flashing different colours, I got up and left the screen to do its business, returning when it was finished. I highly recommend getting up and giving your eyes a break, otherwise you’ll probably feel like turning the calibration off and going back to your old ways!
I got a few prints done, trusting that the Colorvision Spyder 3 Express had done its job. To be honest I didn’t really expect much – I’ve got used to getting prints back from the lab and being disappointed with the results: too dark, colour casts etc. I’m glad to say that following the calibration I got back a lovely set of black and white prints from my travels in New York and a great colour portrait. The tones, colours, contrast – everything was just delicious and for the first time, I have been really chuffed with a set of prints.
I have been using the Spyder 3 Express for a few weeks now and it continues to run in the background with no problems whatsoever, gently reminding you when a recalibration is due to keep your screen looking peachy. I’ve got it running on my laptop and my LCD monitor and have been really happy with the results. It just gets on with the job with no fuss at all. It did what I needed it to do without confusing me along the way. No buzzwords and complicated terminology – it does exactly what it says on the tin, I mean box, and gets the most out of your monitor. Don’t feel like you’re missing out due to its simplicity and lack of complicated manuals – the software simply doesn’t need it. I think this little gem is opening up colour management to a new audience and I for one can certainly see the benefits. At the price it’s not likely to break the bank and it’s a nifty bit of kit that could get overlooked – but I am fully converted and highly recommend that if you’re serious about photography, digital imaging or even if you are just tired of getting back disappointing prints, then give this a go. It’s so easy to use that anyone can do it and to top it off, it’s cute!
|Ease of Use||10/10||It holds your hand and doesn’t abandon you|
|Design||8/10||Sleek, sturdy and cute all in one – however counterweight a bit tight|
|Practicality||10/10||Give it a try if you’ve never calibrated before, you’ll be converted!|
|Performance||10/10||Delivers exactly what it says it’s going to|