SpyderCube: A Perfect Photo Gadget for Everyone

Datacolor SpyderCUBEWhen David Tobie first showed me what looked like a Christmas tree ornament at the Press Sneak Peak event at PMA I thought perhaps it was a trendy European household decoration befitting the new European management at Colorvision/Datacolor. But once I realized it was carefully colored in white, gray and black it dawned on me that the SpyderCube was actually a pretty cool photo tool.

The basic idea of the SpyderCube is to allow you to capture a calibrated set of target values quickly in the lighting conditions where you'll be shooting and then use the data to accurately and quickly adjust your images in your image editing software (normally in the adjustments you make to load the Raw image). The obvious comparison is to a gray card, which many of us have used off and on for years to help get accurate white point readings to help set our white balance. In my case I have found several advantages of the SpyderCube over a traditional Gray card:

  • The SpyderCube has gray on two different surfaces. If you shoot it correctly sid-lit you get a white balance setting for both your primary (direct) light and your secondary (shade) light, which can be useful later if you have complex color balance issues in mixed light.
  • It includes a true "black trap" in addition to a "black" side. Obviously we've all figured out that black isn't normally really black, because all surfaces reflect some light. So the cube has a hole drilled into it which creates a space with no reflections and gives you a real reading on true black. You can use both that and the black surface to set your black point and shadows.
  • The SpyderCube also has a white surface so you can set the white point of your image to the brightest possible surface.
  • In addition to the white surface the SpyderCube has a chrome ball which provides a "spectral reflection". For images which contain reflective objects it's a good way to measure the difference between reflective white surfaces and truly reflective metallic surfaces.

Because it is important that the cube be properly aligned when photographed the hanging loop isn't as useful as I originally thought it would be. Fortunately the cube is also tripod mountable. Better yet if you register your SpyderCube with Datacolor they'll send you a free mini-tripod which is perfect for mounting the cube or (a tip I got from David Tobie) for holding it out at arm's length to take a quick image to get readings just before you're about to start a shoot.

You still need to be careful when using the SpyderCube that the gray side is not over-exposed. To get an accurate white balance reading from it later you'll want to make sure that it is not blown-out by bright sunlight--so check your "blinky" highlights in your LCD and adjust your exposure until the gray on the sunny side of the cube is not blinking (this of course also helps you adjust your image exposure so that you'll get details in the bright parts of your image). It's okay if the chrome ball is blinking.

If you decide to get a SpyderCube you'll want to make sure and read the extensive online User's Guide as the included pamphlet is quite terse. The User Guide gives you good instructions on how to use the cube in the field and then how to utilize the results in your raw processing software. The only quibble I'd pick with it is their suggestion to use the Brightness slider to separate the black trap from the black shadows. In PS CS4 ACR (Photoshop's Adobe Camera Raw module) I don't find the Brightness control very useful and would much prefer to make this adjustment by lowering the Black slider and if that isn't enough then adding some Fill Light.

You can purchase the SpyderCube from B&H for under $50. It's worthwhile to have in your bag no matter what kind of photography you do!

Please do visit our Photo Tools forum and let us know your experiences and feel free to ask any questions you come up with on this new and very interesting tool.