C O N T E N T S

Intro

Two Kits

  Hardware

  Software

Calibration &Amp; Profiling

The Workflow

Why Not

Our Series

Next

SpyderX Capture Pro
Adorama | B&H

SpyderX Studio
Adorama | B&H

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Datacolor's Two Color Management Kits Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

Datacolor
Color Management

Two Kits

SpyderLENSCAL

SpyderCUBE

SpyderCHECKR

SpyderX Elite

SpyderPRINT

Conclusion

7 November 2019

In June, Datacolor introduced two SpyderX tool kits, the $400 Capture Pro and the $500 Studio.

The original tools were sold individually but this year Datacolor decided to offer them in small metal cases.

Over the years, we've acquired all of these tools in various stages of their development. Some, like the SpyderCUBE, have been around unchanged for a while. But some, like the SpyderX Elite, are new. And some, like SpyderPRINT, are improved.

In this seven-part series, we'll look at each tool individually to see what problem it tackles and we'll show you how it worked for us. You may not need all of the tools but a few of them are indispensabile to a reliable color workflow.

TWO KITS

The kits consist of metal case that contains the hardware tools.

But the tools require software that is not included in the metal box. Instead, you download the latest version of the software from the Datacolor site. A small note is included in the box to point you to the site, although the URL it suggested was not correct for our kit.

Capture Pro Kit. From camera to screen.

Studio Kit. From camera to print.

Also not included in the case is any kind of documentation. Again, the Datacolor site provides excellent videos (which we'll embed in our pieces) as well as User Guides (which we'll link to as well).

Hardware

Here's our list of all the tools in both kits and the issues each tool targets:

AT A GLANCE
Product Function Capture Kit Studio Kit
SpyderLENSCAL Fine tune autofocus on dSLRs
SpyderCUBE Reference white balance and contrast
SpyderCHECKR Reference lighting conditions for color
SpyderX Elite Measure transmitted and reflected color
SpyderPRINT Profile in and paper combinations

So which kit do you need?

You can think of the Capture kit as ideal for anyone who does not print while the Studio kit is particularly useful for anyone who makes prints, particularly on fine arts papers.

Each tool is available separately, as well. We'll give you affiliate links for any tool you may wish to buy outside the kit.

You can add a SpyderLENSCAL and SpyderCHECKR to a Studio Kit to complete the set of tools for $690 but completing the Capture Pro Kit is a more expensive upgrade path at $744 because you have to add the SpyderPRINT.

Software

The SpyderLENSCAL and SpyderCUBE don't themselves require a Datacolor software utility although you do use your image editing software to evaluate what they report. But the other tools rely on Datacolor software like SpyderX Utility, for example, which uses the data the SpyderX Elite acquires to create profiles.

Here's a table showing the software used by each tool:

SOFTWARE COMPONENTS
Product Software
SpyderLENSCAL Autofocus Micro Adjustment on your dSLR
SpyderCUBE Your image editing software
SpyderCHECKR SpyderCHECKR utility software
SpyderX Elite SpyderX utility software
SpyderPRINT SpyderPRINT utility software

Datacolor utilities system requirements for both macOS and Windows are:

  • 1280x768 monitor resolution
  • 16-bit video (24-bit recommended)
  • 1-GB of RAM
  • 500-MB disk space
  • USB port*

* The SpyderX has a USB A plug compatible with USB A through C adapters for USB C ports.

In addition, macOS requires OS X 10.10 through 10.14 and Windows requires Windows 7 32/64, Windows 8 32/64 or Windows 10 32/64.

Supported languages include English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese and Korean.

Contents. The card contains the serial numbers for the hardware and the URL for the software.

You'll also want access to the Internet to be able to download the latest versions of the Datacolor utility software for any particular tool. We'd even skip loaded the accompanying CD, although it did check for an update before installing.

CALIBRATION & PROFILING

Color management involves both calibrating and profiling, two processes that are easily confused in digital photography where calibration often includes some adjustment and profiling tends to refer to creating ICC profiles.

Definitions are helpful in straightening out that confusion.

When we calibrate something, we measure it. Measuring compares a real world value to a known standard. You extend a tape measure down a six-foot board to find its actual length, for example. Calibration reveals how accurate the real world value is. Six feet may really be a quarter inch less. White on your monitor may be a bit blue.

When we profile something, we record the deviation between the data we have measured and the known standard so values that are off can be corrected. When we apply or activate the profile for a device, the values are adjusted to more accurately match the standard.

To put it simply, to calibrate something is to measure it and to profile something is to adjust it.

Here are a few examples:

  • To calibrate a monitor is to measure its characteristics. You measure how bright it is, its color temperature and cast, how red its red is, how green its green, how blue its blue, how each hue varies as it is displayed darker or lighter.
  • To profile an ink and paper combination is to adjust color data to the limitations of that combination, for example. So a particular skin tone could be accurately reproduced using the ink set a bit differently than the raw data being sent to the printer would use because the profile takes into account what happens to the ink as it is absorbed into an uncoated fine art paper.

It should go without saying that measuring is required before you can make any adjustments. Or to put it another way, calibration is required for profiling.

But it's tempting to skip measuring and just try to make adjustments. Our prints come out a too dark so we change the brightness of our monitor. We fly by the seat of our pants -- and wonder why we can't get there from here.

Measuring is certainly a little tricky. It requires knowing what the value of a target actually is and comparing some device's recording of that target to the known value to measure the deviation from the ideal.

The values of each square on the SpyderCHECKR, for example, are known entities not just a palette of colors. If you didn't have the values, the chart itself would be useless because you wouldn't know the deviation. You'd just see red isn't captured very well or purple is strangely off.

THE WORKFLOW

The devices used in your image workflow are each worth measuring, from your lens to your camera's sensor to your monitor's display to your ink and paper combination. Each of them renders the data you have captured.

When you take an image from the moment of capture to final output, the data recorded when you press the shutter button gets passed along to several different devices you must be able to trust to represent the data accurately.

It all starts with that shutter button.

Half-way pressing that button engages autofocus. But if you're shooting with a dSLR using phase detection to autofocus, focus may be off. You can't fix that in post production. The only way to correct that shortcoming is to enter a correction for that lens in your camera's micro autofocus adjustment. SpyderLENSCAL can tell you what adjustment to make.

Whether you are shooting JPEG or Raw determines how much data you are recording. And while you can certainly edit JPEG images, you are significantly restricting your options.

But even that data is unassociated with either tonal or color standards. That's where the SpyderCUBE and SpyderCHECKR come in, providing measured standards for tonal values and color values so you can map what your camera captures to known values.

What you see on your monitor when you do that, however, is subject to the properties of your monitor. Even if you apply a SpyderCHECKR color profile to your image, an unprofiled monitor will display misleading color information. That's where SpyderX Elite comes in, profiling your monitor.

And your image editing software must support profiles so all those adjustments are actually used to show you the image your are editing.

Finally, when you issue the Print command, your data is once again interpreted, this time by how the ink set and paper combination render it. You can optimize that by profiling that combination using SpyderPRINT.

By calibrating the capabilities of all these devices in the workflow, you can profile them to deliver the closest equivalent possible to the data your image file contains.

That doesn't mean you'll get an exact match of your screen display on your printer. That isn't possible. Transmitted light can exhibit a much wider gamut than reflected light.

But it does mean you'll get the most credible equivalent, which is the name of the game.

And that will save you a great deal of time, effort and grief. And even money.

WHY NOT

There is, however, one good reason not to embark on this adventure. And a little story illustrates it.

Some time ago, we spoke with the late photographer Richard Benson about his method of making photographic prints.

Both of us used to operate printing presses. He ran a Miehle and we ran a Webendorfer. These single-tower offset presses lay down one color at a time -- cyan, magenta, yellow and black -- to build a full-color image.

He used a similar process to make photographic prints on his Epson, which he had modified to guarantee perfect register on multiple passes. Our Canon Pro-100 and Epson R3000 actually provided excellent register out of the box, we discovered when we tried his method ourselves.

It's a tricky method detailed in his book North South East West and, while we've long planned to discuss it, we'll leave that for another day.

What interested us in that conversation that is worth bringing up here has to do with calibration and profiling. Benson admitted he didn't do anything other than apply the built-in system utilities to profile his monitor by eye.

In the early days, before we had colorimeters and spectrometers, that's how we standardized our displays. Why did he still rely on that?

Because, he said, what mattered to him was not the monitor display but the print. He was adjusting his values on the computer much as he would the ink flow on a press. What he evaluated was the print, much as he had the press sheet.

That's the only reason to avoid color management tools and even then some rudimentary profiling was essential. So if you think you don't need these sort of things, think again. Without them, your devices are lying to you.

OUR SERIES

Being in the enviable position of being able to put these tools to the test, we're launching our Datacolor Color Management Series with this article.

Over the next few weeks (which can mean months in reviewland), we'll look at each of these products in turn as they would come in the workflow cycle. We'll provide a compact At a Glance table of product information, including documentation and demo videos, as well as price and affiliate links. And in the body of the piece we'll show you how to use each product, walking through a real-world application.

NEXT

In the next installment, we'll begin the series with a fresh look at the SpyderLENSCAL.


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