Color management guide by Arnaud Frich

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Shim
Updated on October 13, 2014
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Review of Datacolor's SpyderCube

Datacolor's SpyderCube is meant to be a precious help during the development of our RAW files. Not only do its grey areas enable to calibrate white balance, but its different areas also facilitate and accelerate the processing of RAW files... 

Box of the colorimeter Colormunki DisplayTraditionally, exposure or white balance charts enable to shoot an 18% reference grey in order to check its exposure and a white or grey area of a perfect neutrality. This area must perfectly reflect all light rays in equal parts, whatever their color in order to guarantee a perfect neutralization of color predominances during white balance.

SpyderCube brings an original response to these qualities since it adds a chrome-paneled ball enabling to control specular whites, a white area to control whites, same for blacks but above all, a black hole that enables to fix in a very simple and elegant way the absolute black of a photo.

Thanks to this accessory, it is thus a lot easier to "fix" the different levels of a photo, no matter where it was shot. The RAW workflow is made a lot easier... Let's see how it works...

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Presentation of Datacolor's SpyderCube

SpyderCube in its protective bagThis chart is recent. It is the most original solution I tried to answer the different questions one might ask oneself during the development of RAW files. Let's start by discovering the device, here presented in its carrying bag...

SpyderCube

The colorimeter is sold with its carrying case. It is a small device, eight centimeters high and the faces of its cubes are 5.5 cm long. It is made of hard plastic, mass-colored and checked to guarantee an optimum measurement result. We'll see later if it keeps its promises... 

Datacolor's SpyderCube and its carrying bag

Main characteristics

  • Chart to facilitate the development of RAW files + white balance area;
  • Chart containing a ball to measure specular whites (burnt);
  • Three 18% average grey areas;
  • Two white areas;
  • One black area;
  • And one absolute black area;
  • Mass-colored material for more reliability; very robust plastic;
  • And then a  Kodak 1/4" screw thread to place it on a tripod at the right height.


Technical specifications

 
SpyderCube
Average price: 48 €
Specular reflections
Yes
 
White levels
Yes
 
Average grey levels
Yes
 
Absolute black level
Yes
 
Tripod fastening
Yes / Kodak 1/4" screw thread (small screw thread)
 
Bulkiness
8 x 5.5 x 5.5 cm
 
Weight
50 grams
Company

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Use of Datacolor's SpyderCube

As for all calibration or accurate setting charts, you need to place it in the scene to be shot, on a photo that will be used as a reference for the whole series.

Important! This chart, like all the others, is mostly dedicated to a use of RAW format. Not that it won't be useful in JPEG but there's less interest and since you're trying to get the best possible quality for your photos, you'd better shoot in RAW.

1 - Installation of the chart SpyderCube

Unfold the chart SpyderLensCal correctlya)The chart has a Kodak 1/8" screw thread under its base to possibly fasten it on a tripod hence at the right height, even if there's nowhere you can hang it or put it. Very convenient!

b) It can also, more classically, be placed in front of or on the subject because its small base is still wide enough.

In both cases, you'll just have to make sure to direct the face of the black hole towards the camera in order to be able to measure the absolute black of the photo on it. I find this functionality very original and efficient.

2 - Development of RAW file

a) White balance - Start by making your white balance on the grey chart. It is calibrated to be chromatically neutral. I'll let you read the page about white balance setting on my website. You just have to use the pipette "White balance tool" in your demosaicing program, like here in Photoshop's Camera Raw.


White balance pipette tool on SpyderCube in Camera Raw


The mainly warm predominance and all the other ones, less significant but sometimes annoying because slightly green or magenta, are neutralized.

My opinion! Neutralization is not as perfect as with TrueColors or RefCard5 charts but I'm almost quibbling.


b) White point hence exposure - The "ideal" value for white point should be about 245. With the "exposure" cursor in Camera Raw, you'll arrange for the lightest white area (here the one on the right) to be at about 245.

For that, you need to select the tool "Color sampling tool" in Camera Raw and to click on the lightest white area (here the one on the left) to fix a sampling point in it (1).


Place sampling points in Camera Raw


Then move the exposure cursor in Camera Raw until sampling point 1 reaches the value of 245. In the example above, I moved the exposure cursor to - 0.5 hence 1/2 diaphragm. (The value of the sample can be seen at the top left of Camera Raw's window).


c) Do the same with black point, in the area around the black hole - Place a second sample on the white area that should be around 20 - 25. 


Sample n°2 in black area


The area is placed at the right values so I don't have to move any cursor for it specifically.  


d)
Absolute black point - Now set the absolute black of your photo thanks to the chart's black hole - originality of this SpyderCube chart! It is very easy to do. Two possibilities: 

  • 1 - Press the ALT key on your keyboard while moving the black cursor in CR. Your image becomes completely white (or almost completely). As you move the cursor, most probably towards the left (darkening), your black hole will become black on your screen. When your hole is completely black, release the ALT key and stop moving your black cursor.
  • 2 (fig. below) - You can display absolute blacks by clicking the small cursor at the top left of the histogram (red cursor). When a zone of your photo is black (RGB values at 0, 0, 0), the photo becomes neon blue.


Fix absolute blacks in Camera Raw

e)If you shot several photos in these light conditions, you just have to apply this pre-set parameter once you saved it. All your photos will have the "right" white balance and the right contrast!

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Conclusion and rating!

Datacolor's SpyderCube gathers all the functionalities one might need to develop accurately and easily one's RAW files, especially those shot in a studio. Just by placing this small cube in the middle of a scene, you'll be able to set your white, your average grey, your blacks and your absolute black,  yes sir! Theoretically, white areas also enable to calibrate white balance, though with less accuracy than the competitors. However, I'm almost quibbling and you would need a comparison element under your eyes to see the difference. Except to shoot a work of art, don't bother placing another chart in the scene of your photo. There's a time when the quality of our tools is such that only measurement devices can "see" these tiny differences. Our eyes are almost unable of it...       

 

Ratings


 

SpyderCube

   
Manufacturing quality
5 stars
 
 
Implementation/settings
5 stars
 
 
Settings accuracy
4,5 stars
 
 
Value for money
5 stars
 
 
PROS...
Very convenient and original to develop RAW files - Quick and accurate implementation - one only chart to set white balance, whites, average grey, blacks and absolute black! - Excellent value for money!
 
 
CONS...

A bit bulky - Whites neutralization isn't as perfect as with TrueColors or RefCard 5.

 
 
OVERALL RATING
8.5 / 10
 


My opinion: Here is an original solution to help you develop your RAW files! Its implementation is quick and easy. Too bad that white calibration is not perfect, but honestly, I'm almost quibbling. Very good value for money and trophy of originality! 


Buy Datacolor's SpyderCube chart

   
Retailers
Price (€)    
   
Logo Amazon.fr
39.00
Buy this colorimeter on Amazon.fr
   
Logo Miss Numérique
47.90
Buy this colorimeter on Miss Numérique
   
Logo Amazon.fr
47.60
Buy this colorimeter on Datacolor

 

 




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