Choosing a new photographic monitor is always a delicate process. On one hand, we have our budget, while on the other, there are dozens of monitors promising cutting-edge features and functionalities, many of which we may not even know if we need. In this vast ocean, there are low-cost products with dubious incredible characteristics, as well as technologically outdated products with exorbitant prices. For me, BenQ has always been a safe harbor in this sea.
With a constant commitment to developing new products and an attentive ear to its customers’ demands, BenQ has released two new monitors: the BenQ SW272Q and the BenQ SW272U. In this article, I will share my impressions of the new BenQ SW272U.
Key features of a good photographic monitor
Before I begin, let me once again share with you what I consider essential features when choosing a monitor. As a photographer, these considerations reflect my post-production, online publishing, and photo printing needs.
As I have mentioned before in this blog, the features that truly matter to me are at least five:
Technology: For our editing purposes, it’s important to have an IPS monitor. IPS stands for “In-Plane Switching,” which means that saturation and contrast do not vary with the viewing angle. With any non-IPS monitor, any adjustments we make to our image will be constrained by the exact position from which we view the screen.
Gamut: Our monitor must be capable of reproducing the widest range of colors possible. This capability is defined by the so-called Gamut (Gamma should also be considered, but it does not play a role in monitor selection unless we talk about vintage products). In the field of photography, it is essential that the monitor covers 100% of the sRGB color space (necessary for our online publications) and can also cover as much of the Adobe RGB color space as possible to manage printing, whether using external or online labs or printing at home.
Uniformity: Once we determine how many colors our monitor can reproduce, it is necessary that they are displayed (correctly and) uniformly across the entire panel, without variations in brightness, contrast, or color in different areas.
Contrast: Often overlooked, it is an essential parameter for achieving a perfect reproduction of our image, especially if we are also interested in printing. For an IPS monitor, the contrast should be around 1000:1
Calibration: It must be possible to perform hardware calibration through LUT to achieve DeltaE values below 2 and absolute color accuracy.
Other characteristics are subjective, such as panel size and resolution. In this review, we will specifically talk about the BenQ SW272U, so these two parameters are fixed.
Main features of the BenQ SW272U photographic monitor
The BenQ SW272U monitor, developed for photography enthusiasts, perfectly fulfills the characteristics we discussed earlier.
First of all, it is an IPS monitor with LED backlighting that provides optimal viewing angles of up to 178°. This ensures that the visual result is not dependent on the viewing angle.
Regarding Gamut, the BenQ SW272U guarantees coverage of 100% of the sRGB color space, 99% of the Adobe RGB space, and 99% of the P3 color space. Although our primary interest lies in the coverage of Adobe RGB and sRGB spaces, it is worth noting that this is the first monitor in the BenQ SW series to declare such high coverage of the P3 color space. This suggests not only a certain orientation towards the video world but also (and especially for me) a fantastic affinity towards Apple screens, allowing for even more consistent display across devices.
Once again, the monitor comes with an individual calibration certificate showing the uniformity map and a DeltaE value below 2. This is not essential right out of the box (remember that calibrating and profiling the monitor is essential for fully utilizing its capabilities), but it allows us to verify the panel’s quality in terms of uniformity and achievable color accuracy. The contrast ratio is 1000:1.
But the BenQ SW272U has much more to offer.
The SW272U model features a 27-inch panel with 4K resolution (3840×2160 pixels). This is the fundamental difference from its twin, the SW272Q, which has a 27-inch panel with a 2K resolution (2560×1440 pixels). This resolution provides a density of 163PPI, which I find absolutely optimal, especially as I’m used to working (and therefore the apparent contrast and sharpness) with my Apple MacBook Pro’s 226PPI screen and have an interest in printing my images.
As for connectivity, the BenQ SW272U features not only an SD/SDHC/SDXC/MMC memory card reader but also 2 HDMI ports, 1 DisplayPort, 1 USB-B port, 1 USB-C port, and 2 USB-A ports. As always, I suggest connecting the monitor to your computer via the USB-C output. This not only simplifies calibration operations and avoids some issues related to using HDMI connections but also minimizes the number of connected cables since the USB-C port will directly power your laptop with 90W, making an external power supply unnecessary.
Like all monitors in the SW series, the BenQ SW272U allows for hardware calibration. To give you a brief overview, when calibrating a generic monitor, the correction curves generated by the probe/software system act on your computer’s graphics card. One of the main limitations of this method is that the calibration curves managed by the graphics card can only act on 256 color levels (8 bits), which are just sufficient for the correct display of a photographic image. On the other hand, hardware calibration involves applying the correction curves to the Look Up Table (LUT) inside the monitor itself, allowing not only greater consistency over time but also no limitations in the chromatic rendering of tones due to the larger number of available color levels. The BenQ SW272U features a 16-bit 3D LUT, which allows for a total of 65,536 levels per color (instead of 256).
To perform hardware calibration, you can use the new BenQ Palette Master Ultimate software, which I will discuss separately later. I advise against using native colorimeter software or open-source solutions like DisplayCAL since they do not allow for hardware calibration and, therefore, would not fully exploit the monitor’s capabilities.
For BenQ, color accuracy is a top priority, and in this monitor, they implement the well-known AQCOLOR technology, which ensures incredible color fidelity, natural color transitions, and smooth gradations. If you think it’s just a marketing gimmick, let me remind you that BenQ monitors featuring AQCOLOR technology have obtained the Calman Verified and Pantone Validated certifications. (By the way, I remind you that with the purchase of certain BenQ monitors, including SW272U and Q, you will be entitled to one year of free Pantone Connect Premium.)
In terms of uniformity, the BenQ SW272U implements a new generation of BenQ’s Uniformity Technology, guaranteeing consistent display regardless of the area used on the screen.
The icing on the cake for this new BenQ SW272U monitor is the presence of the new matte surface coating that is TÜV Rheinland certified. It is a new technology that achieves very low reflection of incident light and an optical effect very similar to that of printed paper. In this aspect, BenQ has made significant strides compared to the previous generations of SW series monitors, making it perfect for all printing enthusiasts (including myself!).
Because aesthetics matter, a final positive comment is on the design: it’s truly beautiful and modern, with an edge-to-edge panel and a minimal depth, complemented by a leatherette-covered stand.
It’s almost time to finally explore the rich package included with the BenQ SW272U.
8-bit + FRC or 10-bit?
As it’s always one of the first questions I’m asked, let’s clear up the confusion once and for all! The BenQ SW272U is not a monitor with a 10-bit color depth but instead uses 8-bit + FRC to achieve 10-bit performance.
What does this mean in the real world?
In ultra-simplified terms, it means that to display 1.07 billion colors (10 bits per pixel), it uses a technology called Frame Rate Control (FRC), which manipulates the pixels to flicker between two alternating colors so fast that we perceive all possible shades of the 10-bit color range. In essence, it leverages technology and our visual system’s limitations to achieve the same result as 10-bit panels while significantly reducing costs while maintaining performance. To clarify further, you would need to be editing a video with a 500% enlargement to discern the difference between an 8-bit + FRC panel and a true 10-bit one… and you would also need excellent vision!
Therefore, it is not a factor to consider in photography, so you can rest assured.
Unboxing the BenQ SW272U
The first thing I notice every time I handle a BenQ monitor is the incredible attention given to the packaging. You can be sure that even when ordering a BenQ monitor online (and I recommend doing so, as I can provide you with a discount code in private), it will arrive completely intact. Kudos to the designer of the internal interlocking system!
As always, BenQ does not skimp on the package’s content. Along with the monitor and its stand, you will find:
Complete set of cables (HDMI, USB-A, USB-B, USB-C)
Hotkey Puck G3
Installing the BenQ SW272U takes only a few seconds, and once powered on, the monitor requires no further configuration (although, as I mentioned before, calibration and profiling are strongly recommended).
If possible, connect the monitor directly with the USB-C cable to have only one cable handling video signals, data, and power. If you don’t have a USB-C port on your laptop, it’s best to use a DisplayPort cable, although this will not provide power to your laptop. Using an HDMI cable is not recommended, but it will work in the absence of other options. Also, when you want to perform hardware calibration, if you use a DisplayPort or HDMI cable to connect the monitor, you’ll need to connect the USB-B cable during the calibration process to allow data exchange between the monitor and calibration software.
New OSD Menus, Hotkey Puck G3, and GamutDuo
The BenQ SW272U is the first monitor in the new SW20 generation, which means it brings a lot of improvements under the hood. One of the first benefits we get from this new generation of monitors is the new graphical user interface of the OSD menu, which is clear and easy to navigate, thanks to the four-way control button at the bottom of the monitor.
Another improvement comes with the Hotkey Puck, now in its G3 version: it is a small external control device that allows for quick adjustments and access to the OSD menu. This accessory is particularly useful because it allows you to recall up to three stored calibrations quickly. This means you can save, for example, one calibration for post-production and another for printing, and switch between them with a single click. The G3 version finally comes with wireless connectivity, reducing one more cable on your desk!
The much-appreciated GamutDuo functionality remains present and unchanged, allowing you to simultaneously connect two video sources to the monitor (even from the same computer) to have a simultaneous on-screen display of an image in two different color spaces! This is extremely useful, for example, when printing an image or simply to see the differences in display between sRGB and Adobe RGB color spaces.
BenQ SW272U and Photographic Printing
The BenQ SW series of monitors has been designed to cover the Adobe RGB color space as accurately as possible. This indicates that this monitor is not only meant for those who publish their images online but also for those who print them, either at home or in a professional lab.
Additionally, as we mentioned, the BenQ SW272U has a unique new matte surface coating. Besides being anti-glare and allowing us to work in less-than-perfect lighting conditions, it somehow simulates the visual effect of paper, allowing us to anticipate the final result better.
Finally, to achieve a printing result that truly matches our expectations and what we see on the screen (if we’ve calibrated and profiled the monitor correctly, as I’ve taught you!), we can use the BenQ Paper Color Sync software. This software allows us to visualize our image while minimizing the color and contrast differences between the monitor and the print. Once the preview of the print result is displayed on the screen (taking into account the specific printer-paper combination), we can adjust our post-processing to achieve a congruent print.
Unfortunately, at the moment, Paper Color Sync supports a limited number of printer-paper combinations, but BenQ is working to make more commercial paper options available.
The BenQ Palette Master Ultimate Software
Simultaneously with the release of the BenQ SW272U, BenQ also introduced the new BenQ Palette Master Ultimate (PMU) software, a free software that allows for hardware calibration (which means writing some information directly into a chip in the monitor to achieve even greater color accuracy).
While compatible with SW10 monitors (belonging to the previous generation of BenQ monitors, such as the BenQ SW321C and other 27-inch SW models), PMU has been optimized for the new generation of BenQ monitors and allows for calibration and profiling in approximately 50% less time with higher accuracy (achieving incredibly low DeltaE values).
As always, I recommend using PMU without hesitation compared to other software since it is the only one (along with the old PME, which I do not recommend using anymore) that allows for hardware calibration.
HERE‘s a step-by-step guide on how to calibrate and profile your BenQ monitor with Palette Master Ultimate.
User Experience with the BenQ SW272U
After more than a month of extensive testing on the BenQ SW727U, I can confidently say that the SW series is evolving in the best way possible.
The new clean and essential design of both the panel and the stand resembles the beautiful BenQ PD series, and sitting in front of it is truly a pleasure, besides being a delightful addition to my studio’s aesthetics.
The panel’s quality is undeniable: thanks to BenQ’s Uniformity Technology, every task is consistent from one angle to another, and when we use Palette Master Ultimate for calibration and profiling, we bring the BenQ SW272U to its maximum potential in terms of color accuracy. There are no issues with Backlight Bleeding, emphasizing once again the maturity BenQ has reached in creating its panels.
The connection with just the USB-C cable works perfectly: the monitor provides 90W power to my MacBook Pro, and the same cable handles video signals and data, making it the only cable on my desk besides the monitor’s power cable.
With its 27-inch size and 4K resolution, it provides a pixel density of 163PPI, which I find to be a well-balanced compromise between the higher densities of the latest-generation laptops and the needs of photographic printing, making contrast and sharpness management a breeze for every image.
In addition to the above, the coverage of Adobe RGB color space, the anti-glare matte coating on the screen, and the Paper Color Sync software all make the BenQ SW272U a perfect monitor for photography enthusiasts.
Finally, another detail that pleasantly surprised me is the selling price, which is competitive when compared to all the described features and overall quality and even lower than the previous generations of 27-inch SW monitors.
In conclusion, the BenQ SW272U gets top marks, and I love it so much that I’m already using it to prepare a big and important personal project related to photographic printing, where I truly have no margin for error.
If you’re looking for a new photographic monitor without compromises but at an affordable price, I believe the BenQ SW272U could be the perfect choice for you.
If you’re interested in this or other BenQ monitors, I remind you that by contacting me privately, you can get a discount code for purchasing BenQ monitors at an even more advantageous price.
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