Versione in Italiano QUI

Introduction

I will never get tired of repeating how a good monitor can really make a difference in the images we post-produce, whether they are intended for online publication or printing. We must think of the monitor not as a secondary accessory, but as a real window on the world: the reality we perceive will necessarily be conditioned by what the monitor shows us.

I believe that during the last few years the attention towards a monitor able not to thwart our work is higher and higher, thanks also to the fact that it is finally possible to buy top of the range products at prices that until a few years ago were really reserved to few people, something that pushed us to accept generic external monitors or those integrated into our laptops.

I receive more and more requests for advice, and since there is no universal answer, here I am writing a quick shopping guide.

SW321C BenQ Monitor Photo review Francesco Gola

What to look for in a photographic monitor

As I hope you have already read in my previous articles and reviews on this blog, we must first ask ourselves what features a monitor should have. Let’s think big now, and let’s just go into what we prioritize according to our budget later on.

Trying to simplify as always at the highest level to make you assimilate the basic concepts, I believe that the fundamental characteristics that we have to look for when we want to buy a monitor are:

  • Gamut: brutally said, it actually tells us how many colors can be represented by our monitor. As it is intuitive to think, the more the better. But this is a very relative parameter, because no matter how absurd the next statement seems, but maybe the colors that interest those who work on videos are not the same colors that interest those who print. In a certain way, we can say that Gamut is a subjective choice.
  • Panel quality: I can also have an infinite Gamut (no, it’s not possible), but if then those colors are not represented correctly, it’s useless. Moreover, it is essential that the panel is uniform, or in other words that the same color is not only represented correctly but also in the same way throughout the screen. We can therefore say that quality should be an objective choice.
  • Panel Technology: often grouped together under the point “panel quality”, I believe instead that it has a dignity of its own. There are different types of panels, at the base of which we normally have an LCD technology with LED backlighting, but then there can be types such as Nematic Twisted Nematic (TN), Vertical Alignment (VA), and In-Plane Switching (IPS). In the world of photography, an IPS panel is recommended, which in fact allows us to see the same way on the screen regardless of the viewing angle (just think if saturation and clarity vary with the way you sit!) So I would put this one too among the objective choices: we need an IPS.
  • Size: that is to say, barbarically, how big the panel is. At the moment, photographic monitors ranging from 24″ to 32″ are mainly produced, even if you can still find products around 21″. It is a subjective choice by definition, and there is no real advice. There are those who are comfortable at 32″ and those who would like to go back to 19″. Nobody is right, nobody is wrong.
  • Resolution: brutally, it tells us the number of pixels displayed. Basically, the world of (modern) photographic monitors can be divided into 2K and 4K. While in general, I would advise you to give priority to a 4K over a 2K, this too is quite a subjective choice. First of all by budget, as it’s easy to imagine the cost of a 4K panel is higher than the same 2K panel. After that, this has a strong relationship with the size of the panel. In fact, at the same panel size, a 4K panel will have a higher pixel density (the famous PPI) than a 2K panel, and this in the world of photography turns into a different perception of detail rendering, with clear reflections in both post-production and printing. We could talk about this for days, but my advice is not to be frightened by high PPIs. 
  • LUT: the presence of a programmable Look-Up-Table inside the monitor is certainly a not indifferent plus. In fact, it allows us to go and perform the famous “hardware calibration”, which allows us not only to have a greater constancy in the time of the calibration performed but not to have any limitations in the color rendering of the tones thanks to the higher number of levels per color available. I would put it among the objective parameters, i.e. among those that if the budget allows it is better to have.
  • Panel surface: normally I don’t include it in the recommendations, but since more than one of you have written to me to ask for it, I’ll include it as the last point and I’d definitely recommend a monitor with anti-glare finishing. This allows you not only to have no perceptual alterations related to reflections, but in case you go to print, you will get a little closer to what you will find on the paper. Although subjective, I suggest you convince yourself that this is an objective parameter, because post-producing and printing using a glittering iMac screen is pure madness.

I remind you that among the false myths of monitor essential characteristics there is the DeltaE which I remind you is not a parameter of monitor quality, but of the quality of the profile applied to the monitor. When you read that a monitor has a DeltaE lower than a certain value, it means that the calibration at which it leaves the factory has that value. When (rightly and obviously) recalibrated and profiled at home, this value is no longer valid. Of course, it is an indirect index of the second point above (panel quality) because if the monitor is not of quality, you’ll never be able to reach a low DeltaE.  

Connectivity also plays an important, though not essential, role. Considering where the world is moving, monitors that can be directly connected with USB-C are to be privileged

Francesco Gola BenQ 3D LUT

Priorities when choosing the photo monitor to buy

Given the objective and subjective characteristics of a monitor, I believe that to correctly choose a monitor we have to cross them with our priorities and our budget.

For once I’ll try to be concise and not leave too many options, so the first thing to think about is whether we are interested in printing or not and how involved we are with the world of videos. Having made this choice, we will choose according to our budget.

So you will find my suggestions divided into 3 categories:

  • Photographic monitors for those who also love printing
  • Photographic monitors for those who do not prioritize printing
  • Monitors for photographers, but also for videomakers

1 – Photographic monitors for those who also love printing

In this segment, with an infinite budget, I would choose monitors with the following characteristics:

  • Gamut: 100% sRGB and >98% Adobe RGB volume coverage
  • IPS Panel
  • 4K or 2K resolution (subjective)
  • Size 27″ or 32″ (subjective)
  • Programmable LUT
  • Anti-glare screen

As a top-of-the-range monitor, I would have no doubt to recommend the BenQ SW321C and BenQ SW271, depending on your size preference.

The BenQ SW321C (reviewed HERE) has all the features described above in 4K resolution and 32″ size, with the addition of a new type of display surface finish designed to simulate the effect of the paper. It’s the monitor I’m using now and it’s undoubtedly a masterpiece of technology and quality at an incredibly competitive price (compared to other products with the same features).

The BenQ SW271 (reviewed HERE) contains all the priority features above also at 4K resolution but at 27″ size.

If you want the same features but according to a 2K resolution (which allows you to lower the price a bit), my suggestion goes for the BenQ SW270C.

If we want to go further down in price but without compromising on the AdobeRGB gamut coverage, we have to go down in size. In this case, we can find the same features we’re looking for in 2K resolution and 24″ size in the formidable BenQ SW240.

As you can see all my suggestions fall on BenQ’s SW series: monitors made specifically for photographers that combine absolutely professional quality with a very wide gamut towards the AdobeRGB, at an incredibly affordable price for such features.

2 – Photographic monitors for those who do not prioritize printing

Not everyone is interested in printing, or in any case, does not put it among the main purposes at the moment. In that case, buying a monitor from those listed above is certainly always a good choice, but you will probably spend more than you need to. In that case, I suggest a monitor with the following features:

  • Gamut: 100% sRGB volume coverage
  • IPS Panel
  • 4K or 2K resolution (subjective)
  • Size 27″ or 32″ (subjective)
  • Anti-glare screen

In practice, we are going to confirm the characteristics of the previous series, but without going in search of a gamut coverage that is higher than the sRGB, for which, however, 100% volume coverage is still required. We are also removing hardware calibration from the search criteria.

In this case, my suggestion is to focus on BenQ’s PD series: monitors created primarily for designers. The PD series is characterized by a multitude of models, but among all of them, I think the BenQ PD2705Q has an amazing ratio between features, quality, and price. It is a wonderful 27″ IPS 2K panel with an anti-reflective screen that gives you 100% sRGB and Rec. 709 coverage.

The icing on the cake is that my tests on the BenQ PD2705Q showed an estimated coverage of AdobeRGB space of around 78%, which means that even though it doesn’t have the same coverage as an SW series monitor, it is absolutely suitable for taking your first steps into the printing world! Actually, the tests show coverage of about 85% of the DCI-P3 space, so it is also suitable for those who are interested in videomaking.

In short: the BenQ PD2705Q is the monitor that I would recommend to those who want to approach the world of Color Management with a very limited investment.

For a little extra money, you can buy the BenQ PD2700U which will give you the above-mentioned features but with 4K resolution. If you want to save a little more money without compromising too much, I recommend the BenQ PD2700Q.

Francesco Gola PD Series Monitor Photography

3 –Monitors for photographers, but also for videomakers 

In this case, I believe we should focus on:

  • Gamut: 100% sRGB volume coverage, >95% P3
  • IPS Panel
  • 4K or 2K resolution (subjective)
  • Size 27″ or 32″ (subjective)
  • Anti-glare screen

In fact, we are on the hunt for high P3 coverage, taking total sRGB coverage for granted. 

Here too, fortunately, the BenQ catalog offers various solutions, among which I recommend the BenQ PD2720U and BenQ PD3220U, which offer you all the above, plus 99% AdobeRGB volume coverage in the 27″ and 32″ sizes respectively.

That’s right, that means you’ll be covered even if you want to tackle print jobs! A reasonable question might be whether these models could replace the SW series: the answer, in my opinion, is no, because as we’ve seen it’s not just the Gamut that defines a monitor, and BenQ has worked to implement a series of features in the SW series specifically dedicated to the world of photography.

In the same way, these monitors have been optimized for the most demanding designers, and it’s no coincidence that specific features not found in other models are available.

Francesco Gola BenQ Screen Photography Video PD Series

Conclusions

It is now clear that the combinations are almost infinite, but the good news is that as you can see the market has responded well to customer needs.

It would be impossible, as well as pretentious on my part, to give you suggestions in every professional field, but I think you have well understood the strategy to follow: clarify what features you need, give a list of priorities and according to the budget you have set yourself, buy the monitor that best suits you!