Monitor Calibration

For some strange reason, a whole bunch of things related to monitor calibration have been top of mind: I had my second monitor lose its recognition by my computer so it started displaying strangely; I have had a bunch of students at BetterPhoto.com struggling with the look of images because their monitors were not calibrated; and a friend of mine who works in public relations wanted me to try some new calibration tools from X-Rite! There seemed to be a message that I should do something on monitor calibration.

First, let me say that monitor calibration is a bit like flossing your teeth -- sure, you know it needs to be done, but it is not a particularly exciting part of digital photography. It does make a big difference to your images, and all monitors generally need some calibration in order to look their best. I had a student who was convinced that no calibration was necessary with their iMac. I use an iMac and it is a bit too bright and contrasty from the factory -- it definitely needed calibration!

Second, calibration will not guarantee better prints, no matter what the marketing hype says. It will guarantee a more consistent and accurate monitor that can help with printing, but a good print is another issue.

I tried out the i1 Display Pro and the ColorMunki Display units. What really impressed me about both units is how fast they worked. I admit that my color calibration tools (and I have both a DataColor Spyder unit and an older Xrite i1 unit) took a long time to calibrate the monitor. That was one reason why I did not update my calibration very often (though to be honest, LCD monitors don't need the frequent updates that the old tube type monitors did). The basic calibration of the i1 was done in a couple of minutes, while the ColorMunki unit took about five minutes. That is fast enough to make this much more convenient and definitely makes me want to update my calibration gear.

The software for the units is nicely designed and very helpful. You don't have to know anything about color calibration to use it. The instructions are clear and easily followed. I never had any question that I might be missing something or not doing something right. The sensor units are small and attractive, and also easily used.

Both of these units have an ambient light sensor. Some people like this a lot, and this can be useful if the light around your computer constantly changes because that can affect what the monitor's display looks like (mine is in a room that has the light fully controlled because of this issue). Basically, this allows you to monitor the ambient light of the room and adjust the monitor to compensate.

Both also allow you to calibrate a projector, which is great since projectors can have distinct problems in giving consistent color. I have not tried that yet.

Both units did a good job with calibration, though I thought the results with the i1 unit were better for me. That is really a tough call. I think all monitor calibration units I have used do a decent job, and it is difficult to say that one is arbitrarily better than another. The i1 is more expensive and offers more features in adjustments, but the ColorMunki certainly is a good unit. I will say that I am definitely updating my calibration gear and I will be buying an i1 unit. The photos you see here are all from Xrite.

The important thing is to get a monitor calibration kit of sensor and software, then use it. It does make a difference. And if you are working with two monitors (which I love to do -- it helps in so many ways), monitor calibration can really help a lot. I found that the i1 did a really good job of helping my second monitor get very close to my main monitor (you cannot necessarily expect them to be the same unless they are identical monitors -- two monitors of different brands and prices simply will not have the same technology to allow a perfect match).

Special note: We have a great workshop and tour to Costa Rica in early December this year. Costa Rica is, for me, one of those must go places for photography. We'll be emphasizing birds, landscapes and macro. Check it out at Holbrook Travel.

2 Comments

    Do you have a Spyder 2 or a Spyder 3? I understand that there is a difference in the performance of the calibration tools on sRGB monitors and the wider gamut aRGB monitors. Are you using an sRGB monitor or a wide-gamut monitor?

    I use an older i1 and it has worked fine for years — on an old Viewsonic 22″ CRT and then a 19″ Eizo FlexScan. Just got a widescrenn ViewSonic VP2365, which seems quite bright! When I use Lightroom or Photoshop, it’s obvious that the color profile is correct. However, it seems that the video card controls take over for other applications (spreadsheet, e-mail, browser, etc.) Of course, many/all of these do not have the ability to use a specific ICC profile. I’d really like to have everything the same — what am I missing? Should I just turn off the ‘Catalyst Control’ (using an ATI Radeon card now) and/or uninstall everything but the driver? The Catalyst Control has color and brightness/contrast, and the LCD has an OSD that I can use with the ‘Advanced’ option of the iMatch software that the i1 uses. Seems like too many things to control!

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