Monitors and Calibrations

If you are not calibrating your monitor on a regular basis you need to start doing it now. Even if you are only producing jpg’s for web pages you need to calibrate. Computer monitors (was well as TV screens and projectors) can lose their ability to display colors correctly as they age. Luckily they have profiles that can tweak output so that it produces accurate colors. A calibration device uses hardware and software to build a profile that will adjust for aging and keep the display showing the correct colors. The calibration device can be a colorimeter or spectrophotometer. The colorimeter is the less expensive of the devices. I recently found out that colorimeters as spectrophotometers will “wear out” after a time. Colorimeters can not be re-calibrated but spectrophotometers can be sent back to the factory for a re-calibration.

I’ve just upgraded to the Datacolor Spyder5Pro. I’ve been calibrating my monitors since the Spyder2Pro  so I’ve been using Datacolor’s calibration devices for quite a while. The Spyder5Pro is a colorimeter and I would not worry too much about it getting old as Datacolor seems to bring out an upgraded unit about every two years. The cost of their units are usually under $200 and if you keep your eye out the do have some very good sales from time to time.

In a nutshell the Spyder5Pro software displays colors of known value that the colorimeter reads to determine if an adjustment should be made. The total of the adjustments are stored in a profile that the computer reads in on startup to adjust and display the images and everything else on the monitor.

Besides the calibration is the capabilities of the to display all or some of the possible billions of colors. I don’t want to get into color spaces too deeply as there are a lot of big words like gamma and color temperatures and so forth. Most monitors display in the sRGB color space which is a smallish space. Colors that are outside of the color space are converted to something along the edge of the space. Colors inside the color space can be displayed accurately on a calibrated monitor.

The sRGB colorspace really does work quite well for most computer displays. When you think back to the CGA days of monitors where there were only 4 colors, present day monitors are pretty remarkable.

Once the Spyder5Pro software and hardware finishes calibrating a monitor it displays the results of the calibration as a plot of the actual accurate colors displayed against the standard sRGB color space. I’ve tracked the three different monitors I use and discovered that my little MacBook Air 13″ (mid 2013 model) does not have that great a color range. It is only 44% the sRGB space. In comparison my mid 2011 model iMac 27inch actually covers the sRGB colors space with a little to spare. It kind of makes me wonder about people that do their main image processing on a small screen. Granted the new 4k monitors will do a better job.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 3.10.54 PM
Results of calibration MacBook Air (mid 2013)
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Results of calibration of iMac (mid 2011)

I recently added a BenQ SW2700PT 27″ Color Accurate Monitor for Photography. This monitor will display the the full AdobeRGB color space which is a much bigger space. For the price this monitor is really good as most other AdobeRGB monitors are four times the price.   I’ve had some queries as to if the BenQ can support the full AdobeRGB color space and the results of my calibration proves it can.  Note:  You should have your camera set to output in the AdobeRGB space even if you only have sRGB monitors. Printers and some other output devices can make use of the additional information from the larger color space.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 4.10.45 PM

As to how often you calibrate your monitors you could do it daily if you are doing mission critical printing, but for the rest of use once or twice a month it probably good. If you like to sit around on a Saturday morning with a cup of caffeine you could make it a ritual to do a calibration.

This is not so much a review of the Spyder5Pro (it is good at calibrating your monitors) as a discussionof the need to get your monitors calibrated. Luckily it’s not when pianos were analog and needed a third party to come in an tune it for you.