Spyder2express versus huey - which is the right low cost display monitor calibrator for you?
There are now two sub-£70 (sub-US$100) display monitor calibration choices available, the Pantone huey, co-developed by Pantone and GretagMacbeth and now the Datacolor ColorVision Spyder2express, which we review here. The two solutions (above) couldn't be more different in appearance, but essentially, they do the same job of fine-tuning the contrast, brightness and colour that your monitor displays so it conforms to an industry standard colour model, in this case, sRGB.
Why is this important? All monitors, no matter what type or how expensive the are, need to be calibrated and at regular intervals, too, because as they age, their display quality drifts. If your monitor isn't displaying the right colour, brightness and contrast, your photos won't appear on-screen as they would on someone elses, correctly set up, display or when printed. Even worse, if you decide to make adjustments to your images based on what you're seeing on your screen, you'll end up with images that will look bad most places elsewhere apart from on your screen!
If you calibrate your screen correctly, it enables you to improve the quality of your photographs on-screen with the confidence that changes you make based on what you see on the screen will be replicated faithfully on other screens and when printed on properly calibrated printers. A calibrated screen maximises the potential for improving the quality of your images.
The Spyder2 colorimeter looks unchanged from previous ColorVision packages. Here the length-adjustable counterweight from which the Spyder2 hangs is visible.
A basic monitor calibration package, like the Spyder2express, consists of a colorimeter measuring device (or in more expensive solutions, a spectrophotometer), plus software that uses the data measured by the measuring device. With the Spyder2express, the familiar three-legged Spyder2 is supplied.
On the left is the Spyder2 with suckers ready to be attached to the surface of a CRT monitor. On the right is the adapter that must be fitted for use with fragile LCD screens.
This connects to a USB port on your PC or Mac and has a removable filter baffle (above) that is fitted when used with an LCD screen. It prevents the potentially damaging purchase of the three suction feet on the relatively fragile surface of an LCD monitor. The suction feet come into use for fixing the Spyder2 to the surface of rigid glass CRT monitor. As the Spyder2 can't be fixed to the surface of an LCD monitor, it has to hang against it. To make this more convenient, there is a movable weight attached to the USB lead which you can place on the top of your monitor, enabling the Spyder2 to hang securely in front of the display.
DPNow tip: Leave time for the monitor to warm up fully before starting the calibrating process; a minimum of half an hour is recommended and the computer should not be allowed to enter a screen-saver or power-saving mode during that period or during the calibration measurements.
Here the LCD adapter is fitted, preventing the three suckers from damaging an LCD screen and incorporating a special baffle and filter for operating with LCD displays.
Two programs are included in the Spyder2express package, the main Spyder2 measuring and profile-building software and a copy of Photoshop Album 2.0 Starter Edition. The latter is of questionable value as you can download version 3.0 free of charge from Adobe's website, but it saves a few megabytes of download time if you don't have a broadband Internet connection.
A feature-reduced version of the Spyder2Pro software is provided with the Spyder2express.
The primary Spyder2express software is a cut down version of the software previously seen in other ColorVision Spyder2 packages. I refreshed my memory by running the more comprehensive Spyder2ProStudio software and comparing both its features and results with the Spyder2express software, using the same Spyder2 colorimeter. The Spyder2express software omits options to change the target gamma and white point, or colour temperature, so you are limited to the popular defaults, which are, for a Windows system, a gamma of 2.2 and colour temperatore of 6500K for the white point.
Here is the Spyder2Pro software in action. Note the three additional windows that relate to more precise monitor setting optimisation before the profiling procedure begins.
Neither do you get the choice of letting the software use the Spyder2 to measure and set the monitor luminance, though this is not such a disadvantage as it's perfectly acceptable to make this adjustment visually. Hardware luminance measurement becomes important if you are calibrating several monitors in order to maintain consistency.
Finally, there is no assistance in determining the correct white point by measuring and adjusting the monitor's RGB colour channels. The Spyder2Pro software's RGB balancing means the monitor can be set precisely to the required white point temperature and at the optimum luminance, which makes the best starting point for colour calibration and profiling. With the Spyder2express, you simply set the monitor to a preset colour temperature and after visual brightness and contrast adjustment, colour measurements for the calibration and profiling process can start. It has to be said that a lot of monitors don't offer individual RGB channel adjustability, or fine tuning of the white point temperature, but high-end monitors generally do, which is why the more expensive Spyder2Pro solution would be better for users of these monitors.
Being able to fine tune your monitor by adjusting the RGB channels and white point directly means there is a better chance of getting the optimum performance from your monitor, especially if it's not a particularly new one and needs a fairly severe calibration.
The final phase of the Spyder2express monitor calibration process is for a sequence of known colours and densities to be displayed and measured automatically so that a colour profile, to correct any inconsistencies from the monitor, is built. This profile is then saved as an ICC or ICM file and assigned as the default for your monitor and automatically loaded each time your PC or Mac is started. You may notice the screen's brightness and colour change as the profile is activated.
Pantone's huey (above) has a much prettier user interface, but the Spyder2express software is actually easier to use in some ways, if a lot slower.
I also compared the Spyder2express to its chief rival, the Pantone huey. The two basically do the same job, but the huey hardware is a newer design and much more compact. The software is also prettier, but I found its brightness and contrast aids less easy to use than the Spyder2express software. But where the huey trounces the Spyder2express is in its speed. The colour measurement and priofile building phase takes just a minute or so with the huey, compared to over seven minutes with the Spyder2express.
But is the huey cutting corners through its haste. The evidence would suggest not. First, here's a look at the technical measurements. Below are the colour gamut plots for four different calibrators (in white), calibrating the same iiyama Vision Master Pro 514 monitor. The plots displayed are for the half-way luminance value of L50. And to be honest, there is very little difference. They all follow the dark outline of the theoretical sRGB space quite well.
Spyder2express gamut is good and wide, conforming quite well to the standard sRGB coverage at luminance 50, just losing a bit of red spectrum compared to the others.
The Pantone huey sacrifices a little green coverage in favour of more reds, following the sRGB boundary very closely indeed.
The Spyder2ProStudio shows a near identical result to its cheaper Spyder2express sibling.
Finally, just for reference, we profiled the same monitor using a GretagMacbeth Eye-One Pro spectrophotometer.
The key differences are more telling in the actual monitor settings and, to a degree, in the visual quality of each post-calibrated display. Both the Eye-One Pro and Spyder2Pro calibrations allowed the monitor to be set to slightly lower brightness settings, arguably stressing the tube less and possibly prolonging its life. The cheaper huey and Spyder2express calibrations were a good match in terms of colour accuracy with the results obtained by the more expensive Eye-One Pro and Spyder2Pro calibrators.
Both Spyder2s produced slightly warmer displays than the Pantone huey (co-developed with GretagMacbeth) and GretagMacbeth Eye-One Pro. The cheaper calibrators tended to produce a display on the bright side, leaving blacks slightly pale and white on black text a bit blurred. With a bit extra work fiddling with the settings, you could solve these issues, but it means more time and hassle.
Ultimately, both the inexpensive huey and Spyder2express solutions work and will undoubtedly improve all but the most clapped-out displays and both can be recommended. The huey does have a slightly gimmicky ambient light sensor and adjustment feature and this may sway you, while the Spyder2express has the easier to use software and more robust hardware. The choice is yours, ultimately. But take it from me - if you take your photography with any seriousness at all, you should be using some form of monitor calibration system.