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Datacolor SpyderX Elite Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

Color Management

Two Kits




SpyderX Elite



30 April 2020

We've been reviewing monitor calibration (and profiling) solutions for decades now. And every time we start a new review, we feel we have to argue the benefits of it. For some reason the word never seems to get out that a calibrated monitor can help you produce better images because it isn't lying to you.

One reason we suspect nobody is listening is the proliferation of gorgeous screens off the desktop. We mean those stunning tablets and phones that are our constant companions.

We don't calibrate those, do we? In fact, their little operating systems can't even apply a custom profile, although once in a while, you'll run across an app that can employ one.

But they are indeed calibrated. At the factory. "Every Pro Display XDR undergoes a state-of-the-art factory display calibration process on the assembly line to ensure the accuracy of the P3 wide color panel and the individual backlight LEDs," Apple asserts.

In fact, the company goes into further detail:

Pro Display XDR is calibrated using laboratory grade instrumentation, consistent with and traceable to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The display is warmed up in an enclosed chamber and measurements are performed at a normal incidence to the display center. In addition, the factory calibration process enables sophisticated built-in algorithms to accurately reproduce a variety of color spaces used by media workflows today, including sRGB, BT.601, BT.709 and even P3-ST.2084.

And given the relative stability of today's screen technology compared to the CRTs of the past, that calibration doesn't drift too much before the device is replaced with the latest and greatest iteration.

That calibration is important even on phones. It promises that what you see on your phone is what your friend sees on theirs. For images, that means the same color, the same detail in the shadows.

In an ideal world, every monitor would be calibrated.

So once again we find ourselves pointing out that calibration isn't optional. Calibrate your monitor is good for you.


The facts are simple.

Out of the box, different monitors may not display color data the same way. One may be a little warm, another cold. One darker than the other. Here's a simulation of what can go wrong:

And, as monitors age, color may shift.

You may not notice it because our brains adapt to these variations, making what we know to be white (like snow) look white. That uncalibrated version of the image above will look fine to you after a moment, in fact. But if you can compare the truer rendering to the uncalibrated one, the difference is painfully obvious.

The rendering doesn't change the color data in your file. But you might change that data based on what you see. Both images in our simulation use exactly the same color data. So if you made the blacks deeper and removed the green tint from the uncalibrated image, you would pervert the data in your image file significantly.

Editing the same image on different computers can, consequently, be frustrating. But even trusting the edits on one computer to print or display on other monitors as you expect can also be frustrating.


The solution to this Tower of Color Babel is to use a device to measure what tones and colors your monitor can produce and turn that data into a profile that standardizes and optimizes the display.

Product SpyderX Elite
Kit SpyderX Capture Pro
SpyderX Studio
Standalone $237.82 at B&H
Problem Monitors do not display color uniformly but vary from one to another. And, as they age, color shifts. So no matter what the data in your image file indicates, the actual on-screen color may deviate -- and significantly.
Solution SpyderX is a lens-based colorimeter controlled by SpyderX software to create a profile that tunes display color, brightness and contrast to more closely represent image data. It's ambient light sensor can adjust the profile for current light conditions.
Documentation Landing Page
Warranty 90 days

Calibration's job is to do the measuring. It determines:

  • What actual colors are the red, blue, and green channels of the monitor displaying?
  • How does the brightness of each channel vary as the pixel value is changed from 0-255?
  • What color tint is evident in pure grey values?

Once the software knows how the display is behaving, it can correct it in several ways. Those may include loading correction curves into the video card or sometimes the monitor itself to produce a smooth tone curve and neutral greys. This step also adjusts the monitor to the gamma setting and color temperature that you want.1

With the display producing smooth tones and neutral greys, the software can create a color profile describing the display's color characteristics. When applied, the profile will correct how the monitor renders color and tone.

On calibrated monitors using custom ICC profiles, images will be consistently displayed as accurately as possible.


With the SpyderX colorimeter, Datacolor makes it possible to read color patches on the screen, compare the reading to the value it knows it has displayed and create a profile to more closely align the display to the value.

The latest version of the Spyder colorimeter is a lens-based design that provides quick readings and can optionally monitor ambient room light to adjust the profile accordingly.2

The company provides two versions of the SpyderX: a Pro version and an Elite version. The two Datacolor kits both include the more extensive Elite version.

Both models support:

  • Calibration of multiple displays
  • Adjustments for room light changes
  • Before/after comparison of display calibration

But the Elite version adds:

  • More tools to check the quality of your display
  • Unlimited combinations of gamma, white point and brightness
    (Pro supports just 12)
  • All-in-one calibration control panel
  • Calibration targets for motion work
  • Soft proofing with print output preview
  • Digital projector calibration
  • StudioMatch standard for all displays
  • Precisely tune side-by-side displays


In the Box

Details. Mouse over or tap for captions.

  • SpyderX sensor
  • Welcome card with link to software download and warranty information
  • Unique serial number to activate software
  • Link to online demonstrations, user guide, videos and support

System Requirements

  • Windows 7 32/64 and above
  • Mac OS X 10.10 and above
  • Monitor resolution 1280x768 or greater
  • 16-bit video card (24-bit recommended)
  • 1-GB of available RAM
  • 500-MB of available hard disk
  • Internet connection for software download
  • USB 1.1, USB 2.x and USB 3.x
  • USB A plug, also compatible with USB A-to-C adaptors for use in USB C ports


Using the SpyderX to calibrate a monitor and create a profile is very easy.

When the software prompts you, you separate the two halves of the device3 and position the lens-based colorimeter over the target on your screen. Your screen is protected by soft material on the lens side of the device. To hold it in place, you use the other half of the device as a weight that hangs down the back of the screen holding the colorimeter in place. You can adjust the position of the weight by sliding it along the USB cord.

Because this SpyderX uses a lens to read the screen, you should take care when putting it down. Don't, that is, angle it on the weighted base where the edge of the base might scratch the lens.4

The calibration software displays a series of color patches at various intensities which the device laying on the screen measures. When it finishes the readings, it creates a profile which you can immediately activate. The software also lets you compare the calibrated and uncalibrated displays.

The whole process is completed quickly and the profile applied to your monitor automatically.


There's a bit more to Datacolor's SpyderX software than you might think. In addition to its calibration routine, you can fine tune the profile and run a series of tests on your monitor to analyze it.

SpyderX Elite Software. Fine tune your profile.

SpyderX Elite Software. Test your monitor's capabilities.

The calibration software has several modes itself. You can build a profile from scratch or very quickly update an existing one. And you can use either a step-by-step process or an expert mode (with every option on one screen).

Expert Mode. Set all the options on one screen.

Those are nice touches we really appreciated.

The slide show below walks you through the step-by-step process, including the calibrated/uncalibrated comparison and profile overviews for sRGB and AdobeRGB comparisons:

slide show

Screen Shots. Click the thumbnail to walk through the software slideshow.

Mounted on our laptop's screen and ready to read the color patches, the SpyderX Elite looked like this:

SpyderX Elite. Ready to read the screen.

And here it is during the calibration process as it reads one of the many red fields5 from dark to light that the software displays:

SpyderX Elite. Measuring a series of reds, greens, blues and neutrals displayed on the screen.

Comparing the calibrated display to the uncalibrated state is illuminating but to really test the accuracy of a profile, we view an edited image on another profiled system plus an iPhone and iPad (both calibrated at the factory, remember). If they all look the same, we know the profile is valid.


We created several profiles over several months to test the SpyderX. We have three observations to make: one concerns a launch issue, another native display profiles and finally a note on the profile created.

Launch Issue

We exchanged 17 messages over several weeks with Datacolor's European support team trying to resolve a peculiar problem with the software.

Our initial contact was very prompt, particularly given the different time zones. But the diagnosis of the problem was incorrect and the suggestions to resolve it failed to address the problem.

Support staff in general proceeds from the assumption that the problem is user error in one form or another. And we didn't identify ourselves as a reviewer, just a customer.

Our policy is to try everything we can on our end to resolve a problem before reporting it to support. In this particular case, nothing worked so we reported the issue to support.

So what was the problem?

After the Welcome window was displayed, SpyderXElite used 100 percent of the CPU with Activity Monitor reporting it was "not responding." We had to Force Quit the application.

Support suggested it was a folder permissions issue. But we had been able to install and launch SpyderPRINT software from the same directory. Nevertheless, we checked and reported to them that the permissions on the directories they cited were as required.

We also removed and reinstalled the software, always the latest version from the site. But we had been running the latest version.

The key factor, which we mentioned to support at the start, was that this was our second installation of the software. We had previously installed the software and registered the SpyderX hardware on another computer whose monitor we had successfully profiled.

It was only when we tried to use the device and software on a second system that the software hung on launch.

We believe the software was not responding because it couldn't register the already registered hardware device (which has to be connected prior to launching the software). We suspect this was a problem on the Datacolor servers that was resolved during the weeks we were discussing the problem with support.

But we're speculating about that.

What we can tell you is that failing to get the Datacolor software to launch, we installed DisplayCAL, a free calibration and profiling tool that supports the SpyderX as well as the XRite ColorMunki, X-Rite i1Display and other devices.

We were able to launch DisplayCAL without any problem and calibrate the monitor, creating a profile. It wasn't as fast as the Datacolor utility and used smaller color patches but kept us awake with amusing sound effects.

We have no hesitation in recommending it.6

Oddly enough, after we created a profile with DisplayCAL, the Datacolor software was able to launch and create a profile as well. We suspect that was merely coincidence, but who knows.

Native Display

If you've ever seen black boxes in your browser where an image should be rendered it was likely because the monitor profile was not supported by your browser.

This is especially true of Safari on macOS. And the fix is to visit the Display System Preferences to pick another profile (one of Apple's). That will banish the black boxes from your browser windows.

So it's important that a profiling tool create profiles that are supported by browsers.

Oddly enough, the profile Datacolor's software created is not recognized by the system as tailored for the particular display. In the screen shot below, you can see it's in the second group, not the native display group above the line:

We're not sure what little tidbit of information is missing in the Datacolor-generated display but if you find your browser displaying black windows, switch to one of the profiles above the line to resolve the issue.

And you can also see in the screen shot above that the DisplayCAL profile7 is recognized as a native display.

The Profile

On both of the systems we ran the Datacolor software, we had difficulty achieving a profile that improved the display characteristics of our monitor. That surprised us because our previous experiences with Datacolor produced profiles we have relied on for years.

These Datacolor-generated profiles simply failed our multi-device test. Images looked different on the profiled screen than the other properly-profiled screens. So it wasn't just us.

The good news is that we were able to fine turn the profile using that option in the software. We needed a small Gamma adjustment and a bit bluer, less green tint to deliver a neutral viewing condition.

There's even more good news, though. DisplayCAL produced a pleasing native profile without any fine tuning. So if Datacolor's profile doesn't quite work for you, you can always build a profile with DisplayCAL.


We were disappointed in only one thing about the SpyderX Elite.

We liked the new hardware a lot. Of all the Spyders we've used (and we've used them all), this one is the best.

And we continue to like the design of the software's process and user interface. It guides you through the process clearly and step by step with plenty of help to clarify things.8

The only problem we had with the package was the profiles it created. They suffered a cast (typically greenish) that we couldn't abide. And it wasn't recognized as a profile for this display.

Oddly enough the DisplayCAL software using the SpyderX Elite came through on both counts, delivering a well-balanced and native profile.

We're dropping a corner for the failure to deliver a better profile without fine tuning but it isn't a deal breaker considering there are a couple of very good workarounds.

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