ColorVision Monitor Spyder, SpyderPRO with OptiCAL Review

By: Ted Felix

I've avoided color management for far too long. On 8/17/2004, my ColorVision Monitor Spyder with OptiCAL arrived. I set it up as instructed in the manual. Did the Pre-CAL to ensure the monitor's RGB guns were adjusted properly for 6500K. Configured OptiCAL for 6500K, 2.2 Gamma and precision calibration. I let the software do its thing. It was very quick and painless.

I knew that my NEC MultiSync XP21 monitor had a horrible green cast to it. Some component is probably marginal from years of abuse. PreCAL alone worked wonders for this. It detected the horrible green cast and after a few twiddles to the monitor's RGB controls, I had significantly improved color. When OptiCAL was done, the thing looked quite good. Nice and bright with only a very slight green cast remaining (see below). Before, I was able to get pretty close to this by hand, but not this accurate and not this easily.

Accuracy-wise, the colorimeter did vary from reading to reading by a small amount. This is probably due to noise in the A to D conversion. You'd have to be incredibly picky to be bothered by it. Let's put it this way, if having the peace of mind that you are looking at a reasonably calibrated monitor is worth $200 to you, this is a good choice. If having accurate color is worth $1500 to you, then you should look at a more professional package.

One thing I found odd was setting the black point to .30 cd/m^2. That raised my monitor's black a bit higher than I am used to. I also wasn't able to raise the white point to the recommended 90 cd/m^2. Makes me wonder if the colorimeter is not detecting as high as it should, or if my monitor is really bad. Based on this monitor's history of abuse and problems, I'd be quick to blame the monitor. OptiCAL does let you set those values to whatever target you want. I went for .25 cd/m^2 and 80 cd/m^2 since I like that black point, and that white point was easily attained by my monitor.

As with any calibration instrument, if you have no way of calibrating the instrument, you have no way of knowing whether it is correct. To me, this was a lot better than a lousy monitor and no calibration tool at all.

Green Cast

After working with the calibrated monitor for a while, I noticed that it was still showing some signs of a green cast. This was particularily noticeable with a grey scale like this one:

So, I started playing with OptiCAL's curves and managed to get significantly closer to neutral. I developed the following grey scale that maps directly to OptiCAL's curves, making it easier to adjust:

After the first calibration "expired" (two weeks), I upgraded OptiCAL from to 3.7.8 and recalibrated. The same slight green cast remained, and I was able to reduce it with OptiCAL's curves window.

Unfortunately, OptiCAL's curves window isn't very accurate. You can only drag points, and you cannot enter specific numbers into the Input and Output fields. There is also no way to simply review the points to see what their values are. Since manual tweaks to the curves were necessary for me, I found the lack of accuracy in the curves window to be slightly annoying.


The OptiCAL software and the Spyder have allowed me to finally achieve a neutral looking monitor. Its automatic calibration got me about 80% of the way to a perfect monitor, and with manual tweaks in the OptiCAL curves window I was able to achieve about 90% calibration.


This SpyderPRO package set me back $230 at Amazon, and there's a $30 rebate I should take advantage of. Also in the box was PhotoCAL which is the less professional calibration app, and Adobe Photoshop Album which is useless to me as I prefer ThumbsPlus.

Other Options

Since this writing, a new version of the Spyder, the Spyder2, is available that is supposed to be better than the original. There is also a newer Eye-One Display 2 from GretagMacbeth. In a few years I guess I'll have to upgrade. Maybe I should wait for the version 3's to come out first.

I tried the free Monitor Calibration Wizard from Hex2Bit, but it gave me very poor results. I don't recommend it at all. I also looked at the Eye-One Display system from GretagMacbeth. I've heard good things about the Eye-One, but since the Spyder works OK, I probably won't go out and get one of these any time soon. It would be interesting to know if it does a better job than the Spyder.

Product Line

ColorVision has five variations:

Spyder2express does not let you adjust color temperature or Gamma. It's fixed at 6500K and 2.2. This is only recommended for folks with really cheap monitors that do not have RGB settings.

Spyder2 Suite includes software with more options and features. It is equivalent to OptiCal which is the subject of this review. It also includes PreCAL to let you set up your monitor via its own RGB settings. This will get you really close to being calibrated. If you have RGB settings on your monitor, this is the package to get.

Spyder2PRO is the same as Spyder2 Suite, but it also includes printer profiling software (PrintFIX). It does not include a reflective colorimeter (a "Printer Spyder" if you will). It should allow you to tweak your printer color, but you'll be doing it by eye.

PrintFIX PRO includes profiling software and a reflective colorimeter for profiling your printer. Think of it as "Printer Spyder".

PrintFIX PRO Suite includes everything ColorVision offers for calibrating monitors and printers.

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