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Datacolor Spyder4Elite review

The Spyder4Elite is a solution to a perennial problem. No two displays reproduce colour in exactly the same way. The way your colour images look on one monitor will therefore be somewhat different to how they appear on another.

The Spyder4Elite itself consists of a small three-pointed USB sensor, bundled with some sophisticated control software. By displaying and measuring a full range of colours – and brightness levels from black through to full white – the Spyder4Elite is able to fully characterise the way your display reproduces colour.

When combined with software supporting colour management, such as Adobe Photoshop, you can now be sure that your monitor, to the best of its ability, is reproducing colours as they were intended. If you have more than one display, you can also use Spyder4 to help you match one to the other.

Because all monitors drift in their performance over time, Spyder4 will remind you regularly to re-calibrate. Built in evaluation tests will also keep you abreast of how well your display is performing.

If you’re using a rather old monitor, then you may be in for a bit of a shock as colour shifts over a period of years can be quite dramatic. Our ageing, and rather expensive, Dell UltraSharp 3007WFP has suffered a noticeable yellowing over its six years of service but calibration with the Spyder4Elite was able to return it to something much closer to its original colour output.

Built-in quality analysis tools allow you to keep track of the performance of all the displays in your organisation and determine which should be retired from colour-critical work. This fourth generation of the Spyder4Elite adds several new features, so there are many good reasons to upgrade. Perhaps the most important of these is that older calibrators aren’t as capable of measuring newer display technologies, such as LED backlighting, accurately. The calibrators must therefore be re-designed to keep up.

As with the previous Spyder3, the Spyder4Elite incorporates seven discrete colour sensors; but these are now double-coated to prevent deterioration over time. This means a Spyder4 sensor should remain accurate for considerably longer than the Spyder3. According to Datacolor, the Spyder4 is on average 26 per cent more accurate than the Spyder3 and in some cases up to 74 per cent improvement was recorded. It also offers improved sensitivity to darker shades, improving shadow-tone reproduction on today’s high-contrast displays.

Also new, and unique to Spyder4, is the ability to calibrate iPhones, iPads and iPods by downloading a free app from the App store. Once calibrated, you can then use your mobile device to show off your designs with confidence that colours are being reproduced accurately.

As with previous versions, a supplied tripod mount allows you to calibrate front projection systems, although we found this somewhat less convenient to use than the swivelling design of rival X-Rite’s i1 Display Pro  product.

To help keep up with newer display types and improve on accuracy, the new Spyder4Elite software optionally gathers anonymous calibration information and sends it to Datacolor to improve future releases of the software. It’s a clever approach, although it did cause some problems in early releases of the software where misidentification of a display could cause incorrect results under certain rare circumstances. Thankfully, the application will automatically check for updates and the latest release appears to have fixed this problem.

The Spyder4Elite, is the most powerful and most expensive of a range of Spyder4 bundles. For around £30 less you can opt for the PRO version which comes without projector support and some of the more esoteric colour-matching options.

An entry-level Spyder4Express is also available at £100, which loses the ability to calibrate multiple connected displays and simplifies the control interface at the expense of most of the tweakable options.

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