The older I get, the more I appreciate people and companies that specialize and stay focused on it. Asides the occasional device that I demand the world from, such as my smartphone, I gravitate toward products from companies that have put most of their eggs in that basket. It’s no secret that doing one thing 1,000 times has more value than doing 1,000 things once. Few people are willing to grind away at something until it becomes boring, but behind that dull gate is where it gets special.
Datacolor is arguably the most famous company that works on color management. That is, everything they do revolves around color and ensuring the accuracy of it. I know fantasic print shops that use Datacolor products, I know a major fashion house that uses it, but if I accept it could be bias, it seems to me that photography is where Datacolor is the undisputed champion of its craft. I have been taking pictures with SLRs, DSLRs, mirrorless, and some quirkier cameras, for close to 15 years now, and almost all of that time, I’ve been using Datacolor.
Now, I say “most of those years” because for the first year or two, I was completely uninterested in purchasing a monitor calibrating tool — I was busy buying every vintage lens on eBay. Then, two things happened in quick succession. The first was deciding to print my photographs for the first time — an exciting moment for a new photographer. When the prints arrived, the colors were awful, the image looked nothing like it did on my PC, and I swore I’d never use that printers again. The second was that I uploaded a portrait I was very proud of at the time and as I had a handle on what did well for me on social media and what didn’t, I couldn’t wait to see the response. The responses were all centered around how the subject looked like a zombie. She was beautiful; I was outraged. However, the “zombie” comments were not really about her, they were saying the skin tones had a strong greenish hue. They weren’t green on my monitor, but sure enough, as I checked other devices, they were right. Perhaps I’ll take a look at that color calibration tool after all.
Why did I choose Datacolor? Honestly, I can’t remember a wealth of options, and the photographers I trusted all used a Spyder, so I bought one. I quickly learned my monitors were both horrendously skewed with both colors and contrast, and thanks to 10 minutes of calibrating with the Spyder, now they were perfect.
The Datacolor Spyder X2 Elite
- Win 10 32/64, Win 11
- Mac OS X 10.10 – 13.0
- Monitor resolution 1,280×768 or greater, 16-bit video card (24-bit recommended), 1 GB of available RAM, 500 MB of available hard disk
- Internet connection for software download
English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Korean
$269.99 (includes Spyder X2 Elite Colorimeter, USB-C to USB-A adaptor, warranty card, and serial number for software activation.
The Datacolor Spyder X2 Elite is as boring as it is crucial, and that’s an odd combination. The product design looks rather dull and outdated, the packaging is plain, and the software is simple — the whole experience is forgettable. And yet, this isn’t a criticism. The Spyder X2 Elite was sat sealed on my desk and from the moment I opened the box, to the moment I returned it to the box was approximately 20 minutes. In that time, I took the device out, downloaded the latest software, attached the USB adaptor, plugged it in, followed the instructions for my first monitor, completed the calibration, and then repeated it for my second monitor. It was intuitive, straightforward, and fast. Frankly, it was a masterclass in a tool doing exactly what you want it to. There was no bloatware, elaborate marketing videos to instruct me, gaudy stock images, or upselling; it came, it saw, it calibrated.
At the end of the calibration process, it did two things that I appreciated, however. The first was to allow me to pick an interval at which to be prompted to recalibrate (I picked a month), and the second was to show me a before and after comparison. When you have completed the calibration, you can open a grid of different images full screen, and by pressing space bar, you can toggle between your calibrated monitor profile and the profile you had before calibrating. I didn’t think it had been that long since I last calibrated, but the difference was profound.
The Spyder X2 Elite is aimed at intermediate and advanced photographers, videographers, and content creators. The software has been re-engineered to improve the user experience through the UI — which was evident — and to add more color customization options and improved accuracy. There are a number of cinema options, printer profiles, a soft-proofing module for simulating other displays and devices, and even a Studio Match module for side-by-side calibration of different displays to ensure consistent color reproduction.
An interesting note is that if you buy the Elite version and want to start working with HDR and high brightness monitors (the key differentiator between Elite and Ultra is that the Ultra caters for these), you needn’t buy new hardware and can just pay to upgrade the software.
What I Liked
- Ease of use, from the device to the UI
- Speed of use: start to finish, you can be calibrated in minutes.
- Knows its job; does it — doesn’t try to be anything else
What Could Be Improved
- I’ve always thought the unit’s design for attaching to the monitor is a little clumsy, but likely cannot be easily improved
- Should take longer to calibrate, so I know it worked hard for those results
This article isn’t sponsored, but Datacolor did provide the unit for review.