I've been looking to get a colour calibration device for a little while now and had been looking at a couple of different products, the Huey and Huey Pro and the Spyder2Express, which ranged in price from CAN$99 up to $159 at my local London Drugs, although no doubt available a little cheaper online.
Having been burnt a few times in the past from buying cheap, I decided against going for a budget device and thought I'd spend a little more and go for the best I could find, which turned out to be the Spyder3Elite.
This is purely a display calibration device, and if you want to calibrate your printer as well, then you'll be needing an additional device.
The Spyder3 improves on the Spyder2 quite considerably but essentially it's a more accurate device and the software has much more functionality but what attracted me to the Spyder3Elite was it's capacity to manage multiple monitors. I own a 17" MacBook Pro and a 23" Apple Cinema Display and wanted to ensure both screens were calibrated correctly.
And so I laid down my $299 (plus tax) and became the proud new owner of a Spyder3Elite. The other option was the Spyder3Pro, which would have saved me $100. However, it seems that the Elite software offers more features in the software - it allows you to manually change any of the settings and have more overall control of your colour profiles - and also supports calibration of projectors, which I have plans to purchase sometime in the future. The Pro and Elite hardware is identical and the main differences between the two packages is the software and the Elite version of the Spyder3 comes with a different stand. Worth the extra $100? That's perhaps debatable but I've paid my money and made my choice!
Out of the box
The Spyder3 isn't a huge device, and is fairly lightweight. It comes packaged with the software (more about that later) and a quickstart manual. The Spyder3 comes with a good length of cable - around a metre or so - and connects to your Mac or PC (the packaged software is for both platforms) via the USB port.
Software installation is very simple and takes a few minutes to do so. It installs the hardware driver and once the software is installed, you plug in your Spyder3 device and you're ready to go. The software consists of two parts, the main calibration application and a background utility, that uses the ambient light sensor on the Spyder3 hardware and adjusts your display dependent on the light level.
The basic wizard driven application takes you through around 10 steps to calibrate your screen. These include specifying the screen type (laptop screen, LCD, CRT and projector) and identifying controls on your monitor, such as brightness and contrast controls. The wizard suggests you reset your screen to the default settings before calibrating.
Once you have followed the wizard, you're prompted to attach the device to the screen. If you're using a CRT monitor, you may attach the Spyder3 more securely to the screen using the included suction cup, otherwise just drap the device over your screen and it's mostly held in place with a counterweight, which can be moved along the USB cable to suit your screen.
The first full calibration takes a few minutes to complete, perhaps 5 minutes maximum. You may recalibrate, which checks the screen calibration data for consistency and takes a minute or two, or you may do another full calibration.
I haven't fully explored the "Expert Console" mode, which lets you specify white point and gamma settings but will update this review as I become more familiar with the device and software.
Comparing the default colour mode with the calibrated colour mode in OS X shows a very significant difference. Calibration really does work and photos I had looked at only a day or two previously seemed to be entirely new photographs. Detail has really been brought out of my photos and the colours are much richer and much more natural looking. The few photos I have taken of people in particular show very natural colour in skin and eyes.
At CAN$299 plus tax (so $330), it wasn't cheap. However, the software makes calibration so simple, and it performs the task so quickly and effectively, it's something I could easily run weekly to ensure my screens are always calibrated and showing correct colour. This review has been written after less than a days use, so I'm still exploring what this device is capable of and am still yet to run it on both my monitors and explore the multi-monitor capabilities. I'll update the review as and when I learn more about the device.
So far, I highly recommend the Spyder3Elite. You may want to save some money and go for the Pro version as I believe that would probably be very suitable for most people's needs, and probably mine too. However, the projector calibration is something I would like to utilise and so if you don't envision yourself needing that functionality, then you could save yourself a few bucks.