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I've always hardware calibrated my monitors since some of the pictures I do have to be quality approved and it's the only way to ensure consistency. Up to now I've been using a Pantone Huey but it started to play up, giving me a pink cast, so I've replaced it with a ColorMunki Display calibrator, the cheapest one at just over a hundred quid.
The reason I'm writing this is, I'm knocked out with the results. It feels like not a second generation from the Huey but third generation. I use two monitors, one a Lacie intended for photo use, the other a Samsung normal consumer unit. The Huey did its best but colours on the two monitors were quite different, probably due to the much more limited gamut of the Samsung.
The ColorMunki, however, has managed to sync the two beautifully. Obviously the Samsung cannot display with same quality as the Lacie since it lacks the colour gamut and dynamic range but nonetheless it is chalk and cheese from before. Now, with Lightroom and its tools and library grid on the Samsung, I can display the selected image full screen on the Lace with good correlation between the two.
The big thing about these new calibrators is that they can set the luminance of the screen to the recommended levels and balance the white and black points for best range. Most non-photo monitors are set far too brightly for accuracy and some won't even adjust down to more satisfactory levels. The outcome is that i can now proof a print on screen and expect the printed output to be as near as makes no difference to what I expect.
What was interesting was that after the Huey went kaput and gave me a very noticeable pink cast on everything, after leaving the screen for ten minutes and then coming back to it, the pink cast was hardly noticeable. The good old grey matter sees the pink, know it shouldn't be there and eliminates it. Which illustrates the use of a calibrator, since if I sent the pic and its pink cast to anyone else, while my screen had the same cast on everything, theirs wouldn't and the pink flavoured pic would stand out like a (literally!) sore thumb.
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I agree that a key issue is to first set the luminance correctly. Even with my old Spyder 2 Express, I could calibrate well enough if I first set the luminance and there are plenty of sites that will provide guidance on this. Using the Spyder 2 Express was a fiddle to calibrate two monitors so more recently I bought the Spyder 3 Pro. The Spyder 3 Pro takes you though a luminance set up before producing the colour profile. Uncalibrated my two monitors do look different in colour rendition but, when both are calibrated, there is very little difference to be seen.
Lemmy i calibrate my monitor every month and i swear by it , I have used monitor calibration for years to guarantee me perfect colour matched prints all the time.
I use the Gretag Macbeth eye one display 2 calibration software and calibrator and nails the colour all the time,The one thing i do is leave my monitor on for at least half hour to an hour before calibrating.
Once all my images are formatted correctly i send them to BPD Photech electronically for printing , Every time i get them back i match them to the same images on my monitor and guess what BANG ON every time .
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