Product review: Datacolor SpyderCube

Color balance without the guesswork

Today, we transform a drab oudoor still life with a slight color shift into a bright, neutral, tasty treat. Let's compare apples to apples...

Anyone who has tried to balance color by using the black, white, and grey eyedroppers in Photoshop knows that it can be a hit-or-miss proposition. The perfect white that you thought you saw in that photo, when you cliked the eyedropper on it, turned the picture some ugly shade of yellow or blue. What are we supposed to do if there’s no 18% grey reference in a photo or we can’t spot it?

Datacolor has come up with a simple but elegant answer: the SpyderCube. This simple cube has the purest black, white and grey tone references you can find, and is designed to help you get the best color balance with your eyedropper tool. It can be done when converting a raw image, or when playing with a JPEG using any image editing program that has a levels-type control with eyedroppers.

I had a chance to use the SpyderCube, and found it extremely helpful. I did this using my old Photoshop Elements 3, but you can do this with any current version. Let’s go through the ste[s. It’s actually faster to do than to explain.

First, here’s my set-up. I photographed a bowl of apples pm a 2x3-foot white board, in open shade on my deck. As with any open shade photo, this one has a bit of a blue shift. I was also careless in exposure, and it came out a bit dark. OK, I wasn’t really careless; I was creating a typical underexposure/color shift situation. For our demonstration, I simulated a perfect photographic storm.


I placed the SpyderCube off to the side, mounted on a Manfrotto Digi-Tabletop tripod with a mini-ballhead.

In my unaltered original, everything is grey-blue although the background should be white. Time to fix the exposure and color shift in three easy steps.

First, I opened my Levels dialog box in Photoshop Elements and clicked the grey eyedropper on the grey area towards the top of the SpyderCube. This took away the blue cast.

Then I clicked on the round, felt-lined hole in the bottom of the SpyderCube. This is a light trap, and the darkness within creates a near-perfect black.

Finally, I selected the white eyedropper. At first, I clicked on the white side of the SpyderCube but since it was slightly off-white, it made the overall image way too washed out. Instead, I selected part of the sky that you can see reflected in the little ball sitting on top of the cube. That’s the brightest white in the scene, and suddenly, everything popped.


Final image: These were the colors and contrast as I visualized them. Now it looks like a studio shot and those apples look good enough to eat.

Verdict: The SpyderCube did the job!


© 2009 Adorama Camera

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