C. David Tobie has been involved in color management and digital imaging from their early days, developing affordable color solutions, and teaching users how best to utilize them. Photographers know him for his writing and tech editing of textbooks and periodicals including Mastering Digital Printing, and Professional Photographer magazine, and his seminars on color and imaging at photo expos and workshops around the globe.
The new SpyderX from Datacolor looks promising, with its lens-based color engine and new sensors, but I wanted to do a few tests of my own, to get a sense of the speed and accuracy improvements I was hearing about.
Just running it through a basic calibration made it clear that the speed was significantly faster; faster than any other colorimeter I’ve used. So, my first test was to run similar calibrations on the same screen with both Spyder5, and SpyderX. The first graph below shows the time that the actual calibration process takes with each.
Yes, this means that SpyderX is four times as fast as the last generation of Spyder. It took a moment for the implications of this major speed increase to become clear to me. Calibration will certainly be less of a chore. Users, particularly in the video fields, whose screens are fixed in a vertical position will be very pleased that they only need to hold the calibrator tight to the screen for less than a minute, rather than several. That task gets old very fast, particularly with multiple monitors. Calibration of projectors before presentations will be fast enough to justify, even in front of a room full of people arriving for the show. Running multiple calibrations at different hardware settings in the monitor’s On-Screen-Display menu will allow you to find the most optimal settings; this was always true, but too time consuming to bother with for most users. And that wonderful array of Display Analysis tests that the Datacolor software offers (which, depending on the test, could take a large number of measurements) will be much faster as well, meaning more users will run them, and get a sense of the state of their display, and how it changes over time. So, the speed increase of SpyderX is a big win.
But speed is often balanced off against accuracy; it would be possible to configure any calibrator to read more quickly, but usually at a significant cost in measurement accuracy. However, SpyderX shows significantly improved accuracy in all tests I have run, as well as increased speed, so that’s the best of both worlds.
Which brought me to yet another question. Measuring darkness with a light-meter of any kind is always a challenge. So, building smooth correction curves all the way down to black when calibrating a display has always been a challenge for colorimeters. I often describe this process as being similar to trying to land an airplane at night, without lights; it’s bound to be a bit rough, and with a big bump at the end!
This meant I wanted to try to see what the actual near-black performance of the new Spyder was, and compare that to the last generation; a very tricky operation. I started by taking a reference device measurement of blacks and near blacks on a quality graphics display. Then I measured and recorded the luminance values that both SpyderX and Spyder5 gave for black, and for near black values. This would be similar to the low end of the correction curve that would be applied to your display after calibration. Here are the results.
It’s easy to see the difference; and clearly the darkest tones are being mapped more smoothly with SpyderX. And that bump at the end has simply disappeared; a perfect landing. I could not be more impressed with these results. This means more accurate display of deep shadow areas, and, depending on the monitor involved, potentially more dynamic range, or less black clipping. Such changes are very difficult to emulate in a sample image, as these values simply read as black in all but a controlled viewing environment, but the improvements are useful to advanced users creating images for print output.
There are limits to the testing that can be done without an optics lab. I believe the examples above are the most relevant and meaningful end-user tests that I could manage, and the results are quite amazing. I’ll be interested to see the response of others to this new colorimeter as it hits the market.