Are Low Cost Colorimeters and Spectroradiometers Accurate?

Are You Wasting Time Using Low Cost Colorimeters and Spectroradiometers?

April 4, 2018

Learn about the 'Calibration Conundrum'... can you use low cost colorimeters and spectroradiometers to accurately calibrate your reference display? Or not?


Part 12: Bram Desmet on the ‘Calibration Conundrum’

As a post production professional you want to present your work as accurately as possible. That means your speakers aren’t tiny and tinny and your display is accurate. But equipment doesn’t pay the bills and there’s a strong incentive to not overspend on gear if you don’t have to (Robbie Carman, notwithstanding 🙂 ). And when it comes to buying calibration gear, Mixing Light feels caught between urging you to go out and buy a low cost colorimeter and telling you, “No! Not unless you have a few thousand to help you make that colorimeter accurate.”

As I write this up I’m thinking I’m going to start calling this problem the ‘Calibration Conundrum’. It’s the colorist’s ‘chicken and the egg’ problem: Low cost colorimeters are terrific, if they’re ‘tuned’ to your specific display. But the gear for ‘tuning’ your low cost colorimeter more expensive than your reference display! Hello? Do we see the problem here?

An interview about low cost colorimeters and spectroradiometers

Earlier this year, Robbie and I spent an afternoon interviewing Flander Scientific’s CEO Bram Desmet on a variety of topics. In this interview, I asked Bram his thoughts on this problem. In the video below we discuss:

  • If a spectroradiometer is not expensive, is it any good?
  • The key important features for buying a good spectroradiometer
  • What is FSI’s definition of a measurable significant difference between spectroradiometers?
  • What about inexpensive colorimeters? Are we getting any value from them?
  • The value of having a display-specific matrix applied to your colorimeter
  • How the concept of ‘spectral power distribution of a display’ empowers your low cost colorimeter
  • The effect on display aging when using an offset matrix
  • What is the value of a more expensive colorimeter over an inexpensive colorimeter?
  • The effect of ambient room light when performing calibrations
  • Why you ‘need a plan’ when buying a low cost colorimeter

Related Insights on

We’ve covered many of these topics in various degrees of depth. If you want to dig deeper then here are some of our suggestions:

Questions? Comments?

As always, we love member feedback! Let us know the questions that come to mind as your watch this Insight – or if you want to rant, that’s fine… just keep it civil (this topic has generated some, shall we say, uncivil comments in the past that have been deleted).



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Homepage Forums Are You Wasting Time Using Low Cost Colorimeters and Spectroradiometers?

  • So you are making the case to rent a Spectrometer and make profiles for all the different screens. Do you have any tips where to rent these and how much it costs? I am beating the low cost drum again – I don’t have any FS displays and probably won’t any time soon. There is a open source free version of Display Cal – is there anything wrong with that? With limited budget we have to weigh the cost / benefit more carefully. But in the end I do need a fairly reliable screen, especially for skin tones.

  • Willian Aleman

    After following and archiving this entire series, investing in a low cost colorimeter, (i1Display Pro) and finding the truth about what we really have at the end of this learning curve is really something. The only FSI device I own is the FSI Box IO. To end all this with a positive note, let’s say that it’s better late than never.

    Thanks for letting us know about the limitations.

  • Patrick Inhofer

    I think the case I’m trying to make is that we need realistic expectations about the limitations of the low-cost calibration gear. It’s also why I’m such a fan of FSI – before Team Mixing Light put together our kit I was sending my display to FSI every 7 months and had full confidence in them. They also can provide the offset matrices for your low-cost colorimeter, saving you the cost of actually shipping the display. Or yes, find other ways to get your hands on the hardware necessary to get the colorimeter to read at industry-accepted standards.

    RE: Display Cal – I’ve tried those workflows on suggestions from ML members. I can’t endorse those workflows. Too much can go wrong, they’re not intuitive and there are a ton of caveats. IF a ML member has a rock solid workflow using DisplayCal, we definitely would consider sharing their workflow here in the Insights library. But for busy pros who don’t want to do calibration for a living, our official line is to stick to the commercial packages where there’s accountability and support numbers / forums to use if the software fails on you.

  • Patrick Inhofer

    This interview with Bram emphasized to me:

    Spectral Power Distribution is your friend. For alternative display brands that aren’t as helpful in calibrating your display, you might find that companies like SpectraCal and Light Illusion have the matrices that you’re looking for that you can load into your colorimeter to help achieve tighter calibrations. It won’t be precise to your panel you’re looking at – but it’ll be closer than generic technology settings you’ll pull up.

    But you’re right Willian, the more I learn the more I wonder if we should all insist that professional display manufacturers at least let users send their colorimeters to them for proper offset matrices for their specific models! THAT would solve a TON of problems for end users.

  • Willian Aleman

    Patrick, thanks a lot for your prompt and helpful response. I’m using SpectraCal, Calman Studio for calibration. I have OSEE 24” LCD XMC240/10-bit and ATOMOS SUMO19 monitors as a DIT for on-set color grading. Based in your comments, I’m going to see how Spectral can assist in my particular case.

  • Jose Santos

    Bram specifically mentions that 10nm spectros aren’t good enough. So, ultimately, the X rite i1 Basic Pro 2 (which is 10nm) is not enough to create a probe profile? Or can I get good “enough” results with the an i1 Display Pro combined with Basic Pro 2 for offsets creation? Maybe an insight testing if using that low cost combination will give acceptable results, compared to the CR100 and CR250 option?

  • Patrick Inhofer

    IIRC, Bram also mentioned FSI’s opinion has changed over time. Where 8nm was discrete enough for his LCDs, there came a time when he needed a more refined spectro for newer, narrower, spikier display tech. As part of this series I’ll be doing an interview with SpectraCal. I’ll bring up this topic and the impact a 10nm spectro has on your results.

    I know Bram would say the difference between a 10nm and 4nm spectro is measurable, well outside the margin of error, but may not be discernible to the human eye. So if you’re getting really good deltaE’s then the margin of error using the Basic Pro 2 isn’t consequential – unless you’re doing professional calibrations and making promises about the accuracy of your final graphs and reports.

    But I’ll dig deeper on this.

    And yes, if I can get my hands on the Basic pro 2 then I’ll be happy to do a test.

  • Charles Laflamme

    SpectraCal just quoted me a Nist recertification for 175$+shipping for my C6 wich is 3 YO. Would this be enough? We mainly use Sony displays so I can’t count on FSI to help me on meter offsets. After looking at all the series of videos, I understand why my 4 factory calibrated FSI didn’t look good in Calman…

  • Patrick Inhofer

    If SpectraCal will re-certify the C6, then yes – that should give you renewed confidence in your C6.

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