Why I Should Calibrate My Monitor

I know; it’s usually the last thing that photographers want to spend their money on.  A little dangly thing that sits over your monitor and you use once a month if you remember to, or half of a new lens that you’ll use all the time?  Seems like a pretty easy decision right?  Not quite.

I have a colour calibrator on my computer…on my PC.  However, due to an issue with the motherboard bios updating process, I am presently without my PC.  Everything I’ve been doing lately has been going through my Macbook Pro.  It’s nice, but when you have a pair of 24″ monitors, you’re not going to settle for one little 15 incher; forget that.  Thank goodness for HDMI and Thunderbolt connectors, but that’s another story.

The calibrator I have, presently, is the Spyder4Express.  It’s good, but has one major limitation – it only works on one monitor.  I had just gotten used to running my Photoshop on one screen, and Bridge (solely for the management aspect) on another.  I haven’t incorporated Lightroom into the flow yet, so it’s not an issue at the moment.

Anyway, I installed it on the Mac.  Wow, problem city.  With the PC, you can usually trick it into flipping monitors, or at the least, set it up for one monitor and (since I have two identical monitors), use the same profile for both.  With the Mac, no such luck.  It forces you to calibrate only on the onboard monitor.  That’s no good to me.  So, in addition to getting off my butt and contacting the mb manufacturer to get the board RMA’d (since they won’t just send/sell me another bios chip), I ordered a Spyder4Pro.

I checked out the Elite version, but even the guy at the local shop said that the only difference was that the Elite can calibrate my television, as well.  As much as I love seeing the Dallas Cowboys or the Hamilton Tiger-Cats play, I’m not so anal that the colours have to be perfect.  For a hundred or two difference, I can live with a slightly off-colour Jason Witten.  Oh, it can also do my iPhone or Android, but since I have a Crackberry, we’re 0 for 2.  Besides, I’m not about to do any photo editing on ANY screen that small!

Now, the big question.  Do you need colour calibrating?  I think so.  Here are two pictures of my monitors, taken just seconds apart.  Here are the settings I used for both:

  • ISO: 1600
  • Focal Length: 23mm
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Shutter Speed: 1/160 sec
  • Camera: Sony Alpha A6000 (brand new…yaaaay!)
  • Lens: Sony E-mount 16-50mm 3.5-5.6
  • Monitor (both): Dell U2413F (first one connected via HDMI, second connected via DVI through Thunderbolt adapter)
  • Distance to subject (approx.): 18-20″
  • Monitor Brightness/Contrast (both): bright 25, contrast 50
  • Monitor Preset (both): Standard – I tried to show it for the second one as well, but it closed the menu before I shot it.
  • System Macbook Pro w/ Retina

All other settings were at neutral.  No bump up on colour, saturation, or anything like that.  I shot them as Fine .jpg files, brought them into photoshop and saved them for web, simply to resize them.  No colour correction or editing has been done.

HDMI-connected monitor:


DVI-Connected Monitor:



Although those photos don’t do it justice, you can still see a whole lot of extra saturation in the second monitor.  Other than being connected by HDMI vs DVI/Thunderbolt, there is no difference between the two setups.  You can see the loss of detail in the carpet and on the logo, as well as the increased haloing everywhere, particularly at the exhaust header (the chrome pipe curling out of the front of the cylinder), at the tip of the teardrop-shaped primary, and where the carpet meets the concrete, at the top.

And that’s why I, and every photographer out there who wants their images to look the way they think they look, should have a colour calibration tool.  Mine’s on order and is expected to arrive tomorrow.

Note: this is just a random photo that I haven’t intended to use for anything, but haven’t gotten rid of.  For you gear heads, it’s a 1949 BSA Bantam.

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