Choosing a monitor is always a sensitive issue! Needs and desires of some people or fantasies of others are so different that it is difficult to recommend a particular screen, even if Eizo and NEC are often considered a kind of Graal. Should everyone invest such a sum of money into a monitor though? What are the real differences between monitors side by side and not the ones we imagine because it's more expensive?
I thus started reviewing and comparing numerous monitors in different price ranges and I know a bit more now. It is very enlightening as you'll see...
To choose your monitor for photo edition, among others, I identified seven points that seem more or less key to me. Here they are but before that, I'd like to share with you a few preliminary remarks since I hear many fears, beliefs and fantasies about monitors. To sum it up, some low-range screens are totally under-rated and the most expensive ones often over-rated, not that they're not good enough, to the contrary, but rather that many cheaper monitors are not so far behind or even at the same level, but without all the warranties and accessories.
Did you know it? Between a screen at $850 and another one at $1,750, for the same brand, you'll get the same panel and backlighting but the manufacturer will have taken care of making a first selection of the copies, to stuff his monitor with uniformity aging monitoring sensors and so on in order to make sure that the screen doesn't change a single bit from one second to the next one. Put in other words, the screen at $850 will display colors exactly like the one at $1,800 at a given time without reassuring its user! I'd just want to remind you that when the average delta-Es measured are at 0.25, we're so much under the threshold where the eye can see a difference (>1) that it doesn't have any importance anymore!
1 - Opening remarks... my approach and criteria of choice!
Two big opening questions come to my mind:
Is there an ideal screen for us photographers? And by ideal, I mean a screen that any photographer should have...
What are the real differences, and not the ones we imagine, between screens?
Here is my opinion through these pages...
It is so tempting to think that this famous screen exists, especially when you're looking towards Eizo ColorEdge or NEC Spectraview. And I'm also tempted to admit that these are indeed beautiful screens. But I also know that the differences with cheaper screens are also overrated. We are all different, with different priorities, different approaches, different paths and "accessorily" different budgets! We are all at different stages of our "photographic maturity" and I do not see how there could be an ideal monitor to meet all those criteria and that would require everyone to buy the most expensive monitor. Is there an "ideal" painting, an ideal musician? No, it is obvious. Well, concerning photography, this ideal screen should exist!
Do not look for it (or take an Eizo CG277 and don't ever think about it again !), but find your own ideal screen, according to your budget and criteria... One with which you feel good day after day. Or else said, one that makes you accept its (small) defects if you don't buy the most expensive, the one you "should" buy!
What are your needs? Do you often print your photos or do you work on the Internet? What is your maximum budget? These are the real questions in my opinion. Who are your clients? What kind of photo editing do you perform? Are you printing on matte or glossy paper? Do you work very saturated pictures or not? Are the screen as an object and its design important to you? Is panel homogeneity fiercely important to you or not? And many other questions...
Just a first recommendation...
Whatever screen you buy, I urge you to calibrate it with the latest generation of calibration sensors. They have made a lot of progress and systematically optimize your screen. This is non-negotiable!
There are as many photographers and graphic designers as there are different levels of expectations. A professional editor won't have the same level of expectations as a beginning photographer who tries to do things the right way and accessorily... doesn't have the same budget. And unlike an old belief, more expensive doesn't necessarily mean better but rather with more guarantees...
What about 4K?
I explain extensively the assets and drawbacks of the launch of 4K in the next page. The incredible definition of 4K is attractive BUT:
Texts are often displayed too small or even unreadable;
OS and programs are not all adapted yet and they're taking their time;
You need a graphic card and wirings able to display it, especially in 60 hz for video editors;
The sharpest details in the images in Photoshop need to be zoomed at 300% to compense the improvement of resolution;
It might rather concern video editors which will use it as a monitor or professional editors because they can display tool palettes on a second non-4K screen;
1 - You're a professional studio photographer, a printer or a professional editor...
Your needs are your clients'. No need to shilly-shally: I think you need to buy a top-range screen, by NEC or EIZO, with a wide gamut, and certified to the different ISO norms of the moment (worth over $1,300 incl. taxes). You must offer your clients display guarantees - now and later - if they require you to use precise colors, Pantone for instance, in particular color spaces, whatever the final printing medium. You would have done as good a job with screens a bit cheaper, but without this guarantee. These screens are also very easy to calibrate and reach a color temperature of 5000K without the screen becoming yellow. You'll treat yourself to the top of the basket and enjoy it a lot. And consequently, your job will get a lot easier!
My purchasing advice - Minimum budget for perfect colors: at least $850
2 - For professional or demanding amateur photographers...
Do you really need all the monitoring and other guarantees offered by the Reference or ColorEdge serials for $850 more? An Eizo CS240 (24'') or its big brother in 27" CS270 already offer perfect colors, in the color space Adobe RGB 98 for $860 or $1,300. Add an excellent sensor i1Display Pro or Spyder5Elite and you'll be fully satisfied, I can tell. You can even treat yourself to a 30" (2,560 x 1,440 hence 94 ppi and a pitch that enables a very good reading of the texts) displaying Adobe RGB 98 by NEC for $1,700 - Nec PA302W !
My purchasing advice - Minimum budget if you want perfect colors in 24'': $860 and $1,300 in 27''.
Of course, you can have a glance at the above category and treat yourself to a great Eizo CS240 (replace by CS2420) for $860 "only". With that said, you'll find good references noticeably cheaper by Dell or Eizo and you might not need a screen with a perfect homogeneity or an Adobe RGB 98 display. In many cases, sRGB is completely sufficient. I'll explain it with details in a page dedicated to the choice of sRGB vs Adobe RGB 98.
My purchasing advice - Minimum budget in 24'': $300 and $500 in 27''.
As long as you won't have put a good "low-range" screen but very good for the price and a so-called "Graphic Arts" screen, you will underestimate one and fantasize about the other. I'm lucky enough to like comparing in real life and I own this type of screens: an ASUS VX239H under $200 I recommend to beginners which is already surprising and will introduce you to the world of color management and monitor calibration in good conditions. If I tell you that the grey gradients, so ugly on so many screens on the market, are already very progressive, without real tone breakings (with this screen and probably many others) you don't have to believe me, but I'll show you it's true if you stop by my place! Don't let yourself be influenced by marketing arguments of screens manufacturers. The best screens have already been excellent for five years and they don't know what more to invent to sell you the next ones. In the meanwhile, more generic brands are making progress. If you're a photographer and I tell you about the progresses made by a brand like Sigma, do you get what I'm talking about? Of course, an Eizo ColorEdge is wonderful but the difference reduces with lower-range screens...The colors are now often extremely close and the difference really lies into uniformity. Eizo is still Eizo! !
My purchasing advice - Minimum budget: $200 for a nice 23'' screen + $170 for a very good sensor Colormunki Display.
To evaluate the quality of a screen at least partly objectively, it is common nowadays to measure its delta eusing a sensor, meaning the gap it presents relatively to an ideal display. As most eyes are able to distinguish a difference between two shades of a same color at 1/100, it is common to say that this delta e must be under 2, and ideally at 1. Even at 2, the colors are so close you need to be in very good conditions of comparison to see the difference.
In 2016, the number of screens able to reach an average delta e under 1 (according to the 2000 norm) is impressive. The best screens reviewed on this site even get an average of 0.25 (Eizo CS240/CS2420 and CG2420)!!! They are thus perfect screens! To a point that it is not even necessary anymore to calibrate them with optimized software solutions (ColorNavigator and friends) to get even better results: the eye can't see a difference anymore. Our mind is still tempted to classify those screens but our eye is perfectly unable of it.
Nowadays, from a certain level of quality - all the screens in my purchasing guide - the colors displayed can be considered perfect or almost. The difference, however, can lite into the uniformity of the panel. Here, my reviews are absolutely positive: not any brand can call themselves Eizo but here again, the gap is so tight that if you're not over-quibbling, you can probably work in great conditions even with a screen that is not perfectly uniform because here again, sometimes the sensor is the only one able to perceive this slight defect. And finally, nowadays, honor is safe: Eizo manufactures the best screens in the world (I haven't reviewed NEC screens yet but it should happen soon...).
About colors, immense progresses have been made, even for brands like Dell and more recently BenQ for instance. Who would have guessed even a short time ago? Eizo is still first but the gap seriously tightens... very seriously.
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