Thoughts On Monitor Calibration And Image Conistency

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As photographers we want to get the best image possible. One of the ways to assure that “what you see is what you get” when it comes to viewing and (especially) printing images is to have a workflow that includes some type of monitor calibration process.

My photography is beginning to progress to the point that I will want to start printing and displaying more and more  of my photographs, both at home and in my office. I’ve even had a few inquiries (and I hope I get more of these :-) ) from people who are interested in purchasing some of my images. Naturally, I want to get the best output possible, so I’ve begun to research the various options for calibrating/color matching, and maybe even upgrading,  my monitors.

Software or Hardware

When it comes to calibrating monitors there are two basic methods.

Software-Based: The least expensive option, software calibration typically involves using an application to help adjust the monitor settings such as contrast, brightness and gamma. Most of the adjustments are made by eye and not by something like a Colorimeter, which is a piece of hardware that measures wavelengths of light. A couple of popular tools are:

The result that you get from this type of calibration isn’t as good, or consistent, as hardware-based calibration but is definitely better than nothing. Many people do nothing more than a monthly calibration using software and are perfectly happy with the results.

Hardware-Based: This is the preferred method for monitor calibration, but also the most expensive. Many photographers who print their own images use this method along with printer calibration. A basic calibration device will run about $100 and a more advanced model can run close to $300 or more. There are 2 major players in the game, SpyderPro and ColorMunki. Each company has a line of calibration devices from basic to more advanced. The basic models, which only calibrate a single monitor, start at around $99 while the intermediate models cost $175 or so. Each company also has an “elite” model that is around $250.

The Right Monitor

Many people will say that the “right” monitor is the most important part of the image consitency equation. The reason is that most monitors are designed for regular office use and not for critical image editing. There are a number of monitors that are designed for the task but they tend to be fairly expensive. There are a number of IPS monitors (a screen technology) that are on the market in the 22-24 inch range but the cost for these is anywhere from $300 to $1000 or more (way outside my budget!). I need to do some additional research into the monitor end of things before I make a final decision but my guess is that I’ll end up with a new 2nd monitor that will be used for image editing. In the meantime, I’ll continue to use my Dell 17″ LCD monitor.

My Plan

At this point in time my plan is to go with  a software-based monitor calibration routine, specifically using Calibrize, to keep my image editing monitor (a Dell 17″ LCD) as tuned up as possible. Calibrize is free and seems to make a fairly big difference in the settings of my monitor based on the little that I’ve used it. One thing I quickly noticed was that I definitely had the brightness way to high. After calibrating the monitor my brightness setting was pretty much cut in half. The next test for me is to adjust an image on my monitor then send that file off to the photo lab (my local Costco) for printing. I can then compare the print to the image on the monitor. In the past the few prints I’ve made have come out a little on the dark side. We’ll see what happens and I’ll post an update once I’ve compared the print to the monitor image.

After I’ve budgeted some cash, I plan on getting either the Datacolor Spyder4Pro S4P100 or ColorMunki Display. I think either one of those will do a great job of calibrating my monitor, especially when I upgrade the monitor later this year.

What Are Your Experiences

I’m sure some of you have gone through this same process recently. I’d really like to hear about your experiences and what you ultimately decided to do to address the whole color/monitor calibration issue. I’m sure other readers would like to hear about it as well.

Please leave your comments/stories/recommendations in the comments or send me an email at mark [at] marksphotographyspot [dot] com

Happy Shooting!

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