The first page of this review describes the Monitor Spyder hardware itself, on this page we'll cover the "quick and easy" set up / calibration software PhotoCal (bundle price $224). Included in the PhotoCal bundle is the Monitor Spyder itself and a CD-ROM containing the USB driver, PhotoCal softwareand manuals in PDF format. Installation (Windows) of Photocal is a breeze, just select the option from the autorun menu and you're ready to start.
After starting the application you're given a quick run-down of what PhotoCal does, at this stage you can choose either the "Better" or "Faster" methods of calibration, obviously most people's choice will be Better. Next you can select the working gamma, either 1.8 (closer to Mac) or 2.2 (generally accepted as the PC default):
Next choose the colour temperature to work in either 5000K or 6500K (PC standard daylight):
Pre-calibration (the set up of the monitor to its optimum levels before calibration). The next step is to turn your monitors contrast setting to its maximum, then we establish the correct brightness setting (true black) by adjusting the brightness control until all four gray blocks are visible:
Next we tell PhotoCal what kind of monitor controls we have, either separate R, G, B controls (in the case of more expensive monitors), preset colour temperatures or no control. This is to enable us to complete the pre-calibration process so that the monitor is configured to its optimum.
Now we actually attach the Monitor Spyder over the position indicated on the screen, in the next step PhotoCal simply takes various measurements of various colours and gray levels.
To ensure we're not "over driving" the monitor the current luminance value is displayed, ideally it should be between 85 and 95 cd/m2, here as you can see my monitor is far too bright, use the monitor's setup menu to adjust the RGB gain values downwards until luminance falls within the recommended values (clicking on the Update button takes a fresh measurement).
Here's what my monitor setup "control panel" looks like (Sony G500):
Next the Spyder takes measurements of the red, green and blue guns on your monitor and displays a bar graph of their relative output compared to the selected colour temperature:
The aim is to have the gun output (gain) within 0.5 of each other (the "difference" value here) while maintaining a luminance between 85 and 95. On my Sony G500 this was a fairly straightforward process of altering the red / green / blue gain values in the monitor's setup menu then clicking on Update to check what effect this had had. This is probably the most time consuming part of the process.
Here you can see a virtually perfect "pre-calibrated" monitor, luminance is 86.6 (my preference) and difference is less than 0.5. After this PhotoCal takes various colour and gray scale measurements and finally creates an ICC profile which is automatically saved in your "Color" system directory, this colour profile will be loaded (by PhotoCal) at each system start up.
That's it! Your monitor is now both configured optimally and your system has an accurate ICC profile defining its response, the PhotoCal software programs your video card's lookup table (LUT) with the calibrated profile. Immediately after calibration you'll notice a difference, tones are smooth, colours brighter, your monitor seems as though it's been given a new lease of life. For me there was definetly more shadow detail in photos (D30) and colours were much more vivid and "balanced".
PhotoCal is a very good, affordable solution for anyone who takes their digital photography seriously enough to worry about colour accuracy, calibrating your monitor is just one part of colour management but it's probably one of the most important steps. If you want to ensure you're getting the most out of your digital camera then you really should consider calibrating your monitor accurately, at $224 the Monitor Spyder & PhotoCal are definitely the most accurate and best value for money combination available.
Bonus: It's also worth noting that this kind of calibration allows you to accurately measure and set the brightness of your screen (luminance), having it set correctly (between 85 and 95 cd/m2) has to positive effects: one it saves your eyes (reduces eye strain) and secondly saves your monitor phosphors from being burnt out as quickly.
If you need the ultimate in precision calibration and additional flexibility maybe you should have a look at the slightly more expensive OptiCal (next page).