the introduction of the MC-7 colorimeter towards
the end of 1999 ColorVision has become synonymous with high quality yet affordable
monitor calibration and profiling. However, before getting down to discussing the hardware and
software options available from ColorVision it's worth spending few
moments reviewing why we should even bother to use them.
So what are these software and hardware tools actually doing? I'm sure your reply will be
along the lines - "to
calibrate the monitor, stupid". If that was your reply
then I'm sorry to say you are only partially correct. Let me explain!
"Calibration" is actually the process of setting a
device (in our case the monitor) to a known or fixed behaviour/state. One
example being gamma 2.2 at a white point of 6500K. But that's it,
calibrating the monitor doesn't say anything about the monitors
"actual" capability in terms of what colours it can or
cannot display. Every monitor is unique, so consistent colour from
monitor-to-monitor cannot be achieved by calibration alone.
In order that we may determine a monitor's actual
colour handling capability it is necessary to "Characterise"
or "Profile" the monitor. To characterise the monitor
we measure and record a range of colours. The data recorded is then
saved as an ICC profile, which describes the colour capabilities of the
monitor. Once we have characterised our monitor we can use it too its
Adobe provide a tool with Photoshop that enables the above
processes to be carried out, and in the main many will find
"Adobe Gamma" to be more than sufficient for their needs.
Nevertheless, the human eye isn't exactly the most accurate
measuring device, and is especially dependent upon stable ambient
lighting conditions. A much better option would be to use software
that allowed a hardware device to be used for measuring, and this is
were ColorVision's PhotoCAL 2.x and
The original monitor Spyder was announced at Seybold San Francisco in late
August 2000 and was the replacement for very popular MC-7
colorimeter. The one I used for this review arrived in mid November 2000
and boy is it different from the MC-7 that I had already been using.
Appearances mean little,
although my first thoughts were,
if this device works as well as it looks; then heaven help the opposition.
Spyder colorimeter is a LOT faster than its predecessor, and due to a completely redesigned underbelly
(rubber skirt) it's supposedly no longer susceptible to the ingress of ambient light to the
sensor window. The MC-7 worked best in a darkened
room or when the sensor was covered during the measuring process.
I think that even with the new design there may still be merit in doing
this, there's really no point in taking chances. However, my own experience
would suggest that the Spyder's susceptibility to light ingress is no
worse than any other model of monitor calibrator I've used, and is
certainly NOT the fault of the new design. From a technical
Spyder colorimeter uses 8 silicon photo detectors made up of 7 filtered sensors
and 1 neutral luminance sensor. It uses the now common Universal Serial
Bus (USB) so compatibility with most modern PC's and Mac's is assured.
One important point
regarding the original Spyder is that it is not suitable for use with LCD type
displays, however this has recently been rectified.
A new version of the Spyder was announced
by ColorVision at Seybold San Francisco in September 2001. This new
Spyder unit has been designed for use with both CRT and LCD type
Both PhotoCAL and OptiCAL have been updated to include the
facilities required to calibrate LCD type displays. The screenshots
used throughout this review have been updated to reflect the new
software versions, however, as at time of writing this update I have
not had the opportunity to evaluate the new Spyder.
My new LCD type Spyder
arrived April and after a few weeks testing it on both LCD (Apple
Cinema display and CRT) I can report that ColorVision certainly seem
to have cracked the LCD calibration nut. The new Spyder comes complete
with a weighted hanger arranged specially designed to suspend the
device over the face of the LCD. It is also worth pointing out that
the filter attached to the underside of the Spyder MUST be
removed when calibrating CRT type displays. This may appear to be a
statement of the obvious, but sadly it appears not to have been
obvious to some users.
PhotoCal is the less expensive of the two monitor calibration/profiling packages available from ColorVision.
The version discussed below includes the software and Spyder colorimeter at
$174, although an LCD/CRT version can also be purchased at $284.
PhotoCAL is compatible with both the PC and Mac platforms. Users of
Microsoft Windows 98/98SE/Me, 2000 and XP should find that it runs
with out any problems.
The program itself is quite easy to install and runs via a simple wizard process, much like
Adobe Gamma. Each stage is fully explained in the Wizard window and
are provided in the form of a "PDF User Manual". Do make sure
the Spyder colorimeter is connected before beginning the
process of calibration and profiling.
The Spyder colorimeter is the key to making an accurate profile for
This device is quite compact and "sticks" to the face of the screen using
three suction cups. The user should ensure that the surface of the monitor
is cleaned before beginning calibration. The LCD version uses a special
harness to suspend the Spyder over the face of the display and so
avoids the suction cups damaging the surface.
The screenshots used below are based on the PC Windows version of PhotoCAL, but the process is virtually identical on the Mac.
If there is any difference in operation I have not yet seen it. However, one
thing to be careful of, make sure that you have disabled the Adobe Gamma
"Extension" on the Mac or remove Adobe Gamma Loader.Exe from the Windows Startup folder on
the PC (use the Explorer search facility to search out instances of
this file on Windows 2000 systems).
Having introduced the LCD/CRT version of the Spyder ColorVision has also revamped
PhotoCAL. On startup PhotoCAL 2.7 will ask the
user to decide upon the monitor type, e.g. CRT or LCD. The screenshots
used below are all based upon a conventional CRT type monitor. If the
user makes the wrong selection the software will provide a warning to
that effect upon carrying out the luminance measurements, of which
more in a moment.
Selecting the Monitor Type
Having selected the appropriate type of monitor we begin the
serious work of profiling it. Selecting the gamma is pretty simple, although
we shouldn't assume that we must choose gamma 1.8 for a Mac and 2.2 for the PC.
Read the user manual and screen tips for further information on
choosing the optimum gamma. Mac users choosing gamma 2.2 will probably
notice that the desktop and icons appear quite contrasty. If you're
calibrating an Apple LCD type display I recommend that you choose 2.2
as this is closer to the Native gamma for Apple LCD's than 1.8.
In this step the user chooses their preferred colour temperature. Generally
whether using a PC or Mac it's now common practice to use 6500K. This setting provides a slightly cooler or
blue white than the old standard of 5000K. Apple LCD users should
choose 6500K as this is the value to which most high-end LCD's have
Adjust the CRT monitor contrast to its maximum value; however, be
prepared to return to this step if the measured luminance value
exceeds the optimum of 95 cd/m2.
Actual measurement of the White luminance value takes place at
Step 6 below. Setting the white luminance value too high will shorten
the life of your CRT type monitor. With LCD type displays the white luminance
value can be MUCH higher without any detrimental effect. Apple LCD displays
only allow adjustment of the Brightness control which actually
works like a Contrast control on CRT displays - set it to
around 50% (Apple default value).
As with Adobe Gamma it's still necessary to make your brightness
control adjustment by eye. However, PhotoCAL uses 4 black patches, it's only when all four are
just visible that you can tell the system is at
the correct level of brightness. I have found this method far easier to
work with than the method used by Adobe Gamma and certainly much
easier than the methods employed in similar products.
CRT Only - Adjusting the Black Luminance value
determines the Black luminance value and it's especially
important with CRT's that it isn't set too low or high. Setting the black luminance
level isn't so important if using an LCD type monitor; actually with
many it isn't even possible.