Color Calibration: Is It Worth It?

aNewDomain.net—My interest in color calibration started when playing Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I was worried that I wasn’t experiencing the atmosphere correctly because the game seemed too bright. I opened up the Settings panel and there was a gamma calibration diagram there with a slider. The game got much better after that. I wondered what other games would be better with the correct brightness?

A similar problem came up when I was showing a friend photos I had taken and adjusted in Adobe Lightroom—the photos seemed off on his monitor. The reds weren’t quite red and there was a magenta tint. There was no way, however, to know which monitor was off without a baseline calibration.

One possible solution to this problem is to adjust your monitor to match a set of test images like the ones available here. Users calibrate monitors by viewing a set of images and then manually adjusting settings such brightness, contrast, and gamma to match a set of parameters. For instance, you adjust the brightness setting until a series of white-hued squares disappear into a white background. The process can take quite a while as various images will bring about different adjustments that will then affect other images. It is necessary to keep making adjustments and switching among various images until you achieved a good balance.

A quicker, more accurate, and expensive option is to buy a calibration system. Usually this consists of a sensor that measures the brightness, hue, and gamma of the screen. For this article I used the Datacolor Spyder4Pro—one of the most popular models available. Once the unit and program are installed, the calibration is quite simple. Choose a gamma level and white point and the program will do the rest. For this test based on my ambient light levels I chose a gamma of 2.2 and a white point of 5800K.

Color Calibration Monitor Cal Story Image

During the test I reset the monitor to factory settings so the before and after images shown at the end of the test were quite dramatic. Strangely, however, the calibrated monitor appeared too warm to my eyes and too dark. I could adjust the 5800K white point higher to help alleviate that issue, but that would ruin the point of calibration. Instead, it is my eyes that need adjusting from the overly bright factory settings.

The real test for monitor calibration, aside from the on-screen tests above, is to download a color-profile from an online photo-printer and then order some test images to see if they correctly match how they are displayed on screen. My initial tests have been good in this regard, but there is even a little more tweaking to be done before the match is close enough.

Is it worth purchasing a color-calibration sensor for your screen?

For professional photographs the answer is obviously, yes. Photographers need to match what they see on screen with what comes from the printer.

For those interested in getting the correct settings for games or on-screen viewing, the answer is no. The results produced by walking through on-screen calibration are good enough for almost everything. Few monitors are properly calibrated, so producing images that are correctly calibrated is mostly an exercise in futility for the everyday photographer. If you want to show images in the way you think they should be viewed, then show them on the screen they were originally edited on. Otherwise, just enjoy them without worrying about perfect color reproduction.

Based in Los Angeles, Seth Heringer is senior editor at aNewDomain.net and co-host of the Attack of the Androids podcast. Seth also is a PhD candidate in the humanities who, when not working on finishing his dissertation, loves to partake of all things tech. Email Seth at Seth@aNewDomain.n[email protected]

Seth Heringer
Based in Los Angeles, Seth Heringer is senior editor at aNew Domain.net and co-host of the Attack of the Androids podcast. Seth also is a doctoral candidate in the humanities who, when not working on finishing his dissertation, loves to partake of all things tech. Email Seth at [email protected]
Seth Heringer
Seth Heringer
Tags: Gadgets & Devices,Technology
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