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monitor calibration equipment

Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
edited December 2010 in post-processing
Jennifer Yu asked:

I follow your blog(s) because I love your aesthetics and find your information to be incredibly helpful on lighting in general. I really appreciate people who both do their work and share their knowledge well (that's you). I recall an older post where you had moved to an Apple 24" LED. I inherited one from my better half recently when I upgraded my Mac tower. My question is what calibration hardware device do you have or recommend for calibrating the Apple 24" LED monitor?

Thanks a lot. I don't make studio equipment purchases often, but when I do, I try to use your affiliate links.

all the best,



  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    edited January 2011
    Hi there Jen ...

    I use the Spyder 3 Elite Display Calibration System at this point.


    Neil vN
  • I was just looking into buying a calibration system, but they seem really, really expensive for what they are. A lot of photo books talk about them... I guess my question is are they really necessary? I'm expecting you to say yes, but was kind of hoping you could explain why it's worth $180. Thanks!

  • @debrawallace ...you can get one cheaper...the Spider3 express is something like $69 at B&H(link located at right of screen here(you're welcome Neil).

    The one he put up is a better version due to features it has. But the most important thing is to calibrate your monitor so you are seeing accurate colors. Then you can get prints that look much more like what you had on screen.

    Yes it is "absolutely" a must. When you get it, toggle off and on the calibration in the Spider menu and it will shock you at how far off your monitor is from true accurate colors.

    Its like cameras, golf clubs, cars etc. You can spend as much as you want or as little as you want. The product you decide upon should do what you set out to do....if it doesnt, you have to step up a model until it does.

    You want an accurate color on your monitor, the Express will do that.
    I have it and it works great.
    He has one that has much more control etc. Again, if I were a graphics editor or Disney Movie editor, Id be using a $3000 monitor and a $1000 calibration system etc.
  • It is a hard thing to spend money on because it works so well and they are so easy to use, but you really do need one in order to get accurate color on your monitor. Even if you are not printing your work that often having a calibrated monitor will help to train your eyes too see color casts. The time savings alone are worth the money.
  • Thanks for the recommendation. It really helps to know there's a cheaper option!
  • http://neilvn.com/forum/discussion/16/monitor-calibration-equipment/p1
    Neil, does this calibrate your printer also? Or do you use printer and paper profiles. This would be an awesome topic for an article. So much information on this, very confusing?
  • @Mjones Dont know when he'll answer this one...but I can.
    No it does NOT calibrate your printer. Thats a completely separate profile setup. Monitor calibration only makes your monitor show correct colors.

    Lets say you shoot someone in a specific color pink. Pink has a recipe just like brownies.
    Say something like: Red 229, Green 66, Blue 111. Now your monitor will take those values and show a color of pink that it thinks is correct based on those values.....but in most cases its wrong. And my monitor will show a different interpretation of those values than yours. The tool brings it to a standard.

    So for example a calibration tool/software shows a known color of say red. It displays a red based on values(recipe) and then measures what it sees via tool.
    It knows what red those values are supposed to look like. Its measures and compares.
    If its wrong it will compensate via profile to make your monitor display the attempted red correctly.

    Your printer now needs to print that color red via a recipe. In most cases, lets use Epson for example. Epson has gotten pretty close to displaying reds correctly via their profiles. All paper will react differently depending on ink and paper spec etc.
    So when you print, selecting your paper in the menu is actually using a profile that Epson has worked out to get as close to a standard as possible. But without your monitor being profiled, what you see as a red and what the printer does with those same values is completely different and thats why prints dont match screen.

    NOTE: I chose color red in general as an example. Dont be confused. Im not saying the calibration is only done in red. Its actually several colors and shades. Whites and blacks etc.

    Some get very "in" to profiling. Im not. If I were doing product work and perfect color reproduction to the inth degree were important, Id spend tons on profiling etc.
    But with a good monitor calibration, its close enough....for me. My prints are very close on any printer provided its be maintained well. besides, viewing conditions often has more effect on color rendition than a slight variation between screen/printer.
    View inside and walk into different room or outside. They'll look completely different.

    Hope I helped and didnt make it worse for anyone reading. Maybe Neil can do better at explaining this than I did LOL. Sometimes he's busy and cant get around to responding. Didnt know if you were waiting on edge.
  • Debra ... $180 for the ability to render accurate color ... and more important, print matching brightness and contrast is a very good bargain worth every hard-earned penny you invest ... it may seem that what you accomplish by calibrating/profiling a monitor isn't doing much, however, under the hood, there is quite a bit going on to get the results you need ... and it takes a lot of the guess work out of process when preparing images for various types of printing/presentation ... because you can now trust your eyes as to the results especially with soft proofing ...

    Why spend thousands on cameras, lenses, computers and software and not be able to get the most accurate rendition of the resulting images when you view them on your monitor? A color managed workflow is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain, accuracy of what you are viewing on your monitor should not be that weak link.
  • @PhotogDave - Thanks Dave, I kind of understand what it's supposed to do, but since I've never used one before I have been researching calibrations and color management. I was looking at the colormunki system also which profiles your paper also, but I thnk about $450. Looking for feedback from people who have used these devices and is it really necessary to profile your paper also. I know right now my prints don't always come out like I see on screen and want to fix that so as not to waste time and paper with trial and error. Also started using Lightroom 3 which is great and was looking through print module there and many tutorials I've read say to not let the printer handle color management and use photoshop or lightroom. But then you have to specify the profiles which there aren't any in my program, so I am trying to figure out if I should let Lightroom handle the color management, and how to get the paper/printer profiles loaded in there.............Thanks, Mike This gets deeper and deeper the more you research
  • You can spend that and profile the printer to give yourself even tighter control....however, I personally havent seen it to be critical. I use the epson profile for their paper and it works great. I was also doing this thru LR. See as I explained about the monitor, Epson has done much profiling for their inks and paper for a given printer model. So when you send a red thru, they can reproduce what you viewed on screen pretty darn close....provided your monitor is correct. As mentioned, if you are viewing under vary different light sources it will change anyway.. i can pull a print off my Epson, look at it and it matches....go outside and its gonna look a little different, go in the restroom where I have all tungsten lights and it looks different there too. Its impossible to get it perfect for everything. Fine Art guys have a very expensive colormanaged work flow thatallows for very very accuarte color under their specific display lights....being they'll never move from that wall and light. its not practical for us....or at least for me anyway. Please dont misunderstand me. I dont want anyone to think the high end $500+ calibration setups arent worth the money. they are....if thats what you need because they work. Its just for most photographers, hobby shooters and printers, a properly calibrated monitor is a must and will most likely be all you need.

    I use a Spider3 that was something like $80. And its awesome. I can edit on a midgrade laptop and my prints are as close as really needed. And that means, when I send it to the lab, Im pretty confident at what will comeback.

    And yes, printer profileing gets deep. This whole process can get real deep if you let it.
    Id rather be shooting personally. But thats just me. Maybe one day I'll shoot some product images and see fit at that point....just right now, no need.
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    I'm glad that others are here to help ... since I'm not the best person to ask about printer profiling. :)
  • I agree with PhotogDave ... if you have an accurate monitor profile, select the proper manufacturer's printer profile for the ink set and paper your are using, the results should be quite good when using most popular color management aware software options (LR/PS/A3/C1/etc.) ... the ability to create custom paper/ink profiles comes in handy is when you use third party papers and inks and can't find an existing profile that you are content with ...

    With monitor and printer calibration/profile options the difference in price is more for the software involved rather than the hardware design of the colorimeters or spectrophotometers ... once you add in the ability to profile printer output, the software and hardware option can get much more expensive as the analysis of printed color is much more involved than it is with monitors ... Unless I'm mistaken, the various options that Spyder offers ... it's the same colorimeter in each option ... different software ... the more expensive options also include a broader range of color targets in both, shades and hues to address the needs for greater accuracy of wider gamut monitors and greater tolerances for those that need that level of output for strict pre press options. As well as more intricate algorithms in analyzing the data from the targets.

    If you are set in a workflow as wedding shooter where your prints are always going to be standard photographic lab or inkjet RGB output ... even the least expensive options are going to do a very good job ... it's when we see advanced monitor capabilities or a more varied output needs that the more advanced software options will offer better results.

    The bottom line is ... if you don't have a custom profile for your monitor, you are quite likely working in the dark ... and likely won't be very content with the accuracy of what you print.
  • Agreed with Butch.

    Neil, Im not the best either. I know enough about profiling to get by and thats it.
    And honestly dont care to know much more than that. I just dont have a need for it.
    Im glad I didnt make it worse or step on any toes. I knew when I read the question, he really wanted your answer.
    As do I. We all want Neils answer.....your knowledge is very valuable and whatever you do works. But I also knew that theres just no way that you can do a full time job and answer every question in this forum, plus run the Tangents blog. Just not doable.
    But you do get on here more than I would think time would allow for. So thank you. Sometimes when we are searching for answers, its time sensitive and I had no idea when you'd get to answer it. So I took a stab. I hate answering a question when it was asked specifically to someone else.
    I think between Butch and I we did more good than harm....I hope LOL.
  • Thank you both for your help, not sure which calibrator I'm going with yet, but you have helped with your input..............Mike
  • I was getting really frustrated with innacurate match between what I am seeing on the monitor to what I get with prints, I have tweaked monitor settings to try and get it close but it is never close enough for me. I get it right for one shot but a different shot will be way off.

    I decided to get a calibration device and settled on the colour munki, I was worried the spyder didn't do printer calibration and I would end up having to get another piece of gear to do that. My colour munki hasn't arrived yet and I am wondering if I needed to go the extra expense of that system as the people commenting here seem to have good results with the cheaper spyder. If it is as easy to use and as accurate as the videos seem to show it is then I will probably forget about the cost pretty quickly because I would just be happy to have my screen match the prints.

    I'll let you know how it goes if you like. BTW I also have the xrite colour passport, I don't use it all the time because it wouldn't be convienient in certain situations, but in a situation where I would shoot a grey card for white balance using this instead can make life very easy and produce great results on screen.
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