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Which contrast / brightness should your screen display? HDR or not? Which gamut? - 5/8

Published on April13, 2019   |  Updated on November 27, 2019


To display beautiful photos or vibrant videos, the panels on our screens are getting brighter and brighter. If in outdoor use this obviously seems appropriate, what about our desktop screens? What influence does this have on our images and workflow? What contrast should our screen have and should we buy an HDR screen in photo or video? And finally, which gamut should display our panel: the "classic" sRGB or a large gamut?

For a very long time, when I measured the maximum brightness of the screens I was testing, it did not exceed 300 Cd/m2 and the most amusing thing was that it was advisable to set them to less than 100 Cd/m2 for photo use, especially since photo prints are regularly made. The same goes for the contrast, which should not exceed 300: 1. but gradually, and in particular to satisfy the needs of our smartphones and other tablets often used outdoors, it was necessary to increase it otherwise it would be difficult to visualize them in full sunlight. So we gradually doubled (600 Cd/m2)... but for desktop screens too, even though they are never supposed to be used outdoors! I would like to remind you that the next high-end Apple Pro Display XDR screen scheduled for the end of 2019 is announced at a maximum of 1600 Cd/m2. Well, if it seems useless to photographers and we will see why, it was becoming very interesting for videographers, especially when this incredible brightness was coupled with so-called HDR display technologies.
Finally, we will also see if it is better to buy a "wide gamut" panel displaying practically the Adobe RGB color space for photographers or DCI-P3 for video makers or simply a panel displaying "only" the sRGB and its video equivalent Rec 709? It is time to look at these different technical characteristics, far from being insignificant...



What is the maximum brightness that should be displayed on our screen?

Photographers who print their photos at home on the one hand, photographers who work mainly for others and share their images on the Internet on the other hand or videographers and other video editors do not have at all the same needs in terms of brightness. Now let's see why?

A quick reminder:  what is brightness? Let's start by noting that we should be talking about luminance rather than luminosity in this case. That's to be precise. This is therefore the amount of light emitted by the panel of a screen or tablet. In the technical characteristics of the devices, the maximum luminance (luminosity) is always given. The luminance is indicated in Candelas per square meter or Cd/m2.

1 - For photographers...

Photographers have long noticed that it is necessary to adjust the brightness of their screen well below the maximum brightness of their panel. Why? Because when you try to retouch your photos, possibly to make a print, the brightness of the panel and the lighting of the print must be about the same in order to make a good comparison. So depending on the lighting environment in which we retouch our photo, this brightness can vary within a range of about 80 to 140 Cd/m2. For example, I work at 90 Cd/m2 - the brightness I chose to perform all my screen tests - because my desk is not too bright and I have a good match between my prints and my screen.


TN technology screen: the image is dark when viewed from the side

There are photo print control standards that set the brightness of the screen, the touch-up room and the standard print control booth.


Some photographers work more for others and especially to power social networks so they can work on significantly brighter desktop screens because we will look at their photos more often on smartphones, tablets or desktop screens but then in much brighter environments. For them, exceeding 140 Cd/m2 will be commonplace.


At the end of 2019, I even tested my first very bright monitor - the Asus PA32UCX which exceeded the 600 Cd/m2 verified by me - and I was amazed by the way my photos could be displayed on the Internet. The same goes for the slightest surfing on the Internet and, more unexpectedly, when I look at my astronomical photos. The stars, super thin, display such a brightness on such panels that I rediscover their stellar images. What a visual slap!


Pleiades and Lovejoy comet

Photo of the constellation of Taurus, Pleiades and Comet Lovejoy to look preferably on a very bright screen therefore HDR, rather to OLED panel to benefit from deep blacks. You will revisit your astronomical photos on such screens!


That said, it should be noted that this maximum brightness cannot be used all the time or at least in all lighting environments because it is very tiring in the long run if you are in a dark room.

2 - For videographers....

Video makers do not have the same specifications as photographers... except maybe astronomical photographers as we have just seen on the picture above! Their videos must be bright and there's nothing like a screen that displays high brightness! If you combine this with an HDR technology (many standards), which I discuss below, you have the winning pair. When you watch a video, there's nothing like having deep blacks that will highlight the bright parts in contrast. For this, there is nothing like:

  • A panel with deep blacks (Some IPS panels but especially OLED),
  • A contrasted panel (Some IPS panels and of course OLED),
  • And a very bright panel (over 350 Cd/m2), HDR compatible.


What contrast should your display have and should it be HDR compatible?

Here again, the needs will differ enormously between a photographer who prints his photos at home, a graphic designer who works at Apple in the new Apple Park whose walls are only outward facing picture windows and our videographer who can himself either work for the Internet or for the film industry in Dolby Vision.

A quick reminder:  what is contrast? This is the difference in luminosity (we should talk about luminance) between whites and blacks. If your display has a maximum luminance of 250 Cd/m2 and a maximum black at 0.5 Cd/m2 then the contrast is 250 / 0.5 = 500 : 1. If the same screen had a black measured at 0.05 Cd/m2, which is happening more and more often even with IPS panels then the contrast would be 250 / 0.05 = 5000 : 1 but as photographers adjust the luminance rather around 90 Cd/m2 then the contrast is 90 / 0.05 = 1800 : 1. I am already quite achy and the blacks are then closer to black than a dark grey.


1 - For photographers who print their photo at home...

In this case, you have to start not from your part but from the print run. However, a print rarely has a high contrast so if you want to compare a print with the image displayed in Photoshop, it is advisable to calibrate your screen so that its contrast is about 300: 1 (287: 1 more precisely but it depends on the paper used so let's round it up!). Indeed, the DMax of a print run does not exceed 2.8 for prints made with the Epson SC-P800 photo printer and its new black ink on Glossy paper. This photographer therefore hardly needs a state-of-the-art display for HDR and other joyful functions, nor does he need a very bright display. A good Eizo from the CS or CG series will suit him very well, usually set to only about 30% luminance!

Note! Recently, during a test, I was forced to set the luminance of a screen to only 4 / 100 because I had activated the "dynamic display" mode and it is able to display a maximum of 600 Cd/m2!!!


3 - For videographers and video editors...

Here, there is no need to beat about the bush but only to wish you the budget to buy a screen with OLED technology, of quality therefore which displays infinite contrasts but also colours with precision and finally with a high luminosity. Add to that a digital signage compatible with HDR (there are several standards) and you'll be the happiest editor. I admit I was amazed by such screens so obviously not to edit my photos but to watch videos on Youtube or possibly to surf the Internet. However, surfing the Internet with high brightness / high contrast in the evening, in a dark environment, is quickly tiring too.


Which HDR standard to adopt? There are several HDR standards in 2019. The most versatile is HDR HLG but the most common is HDR10. They are not proprietary, a bit like JPEG for images. The Nec plus Ultra is nowadays the Dolby Vision but it is heavy to set up because the specifications are really very high quality to guarantee an optimal quality of filming and diffusion. In addition, he is the owner so you have to pay Royalties to Dolby. This obviously hinders its development. This is the norm in Hollywood cinema when a director wants to ensure that the viewer will see the film he or she wanted to show.



Wide screen gamut or not: sRGB or Adobe RGB in photo and Rec 709 or DCI-P3 in video?

Espaces couleurs sRVB, Adobe RVB et DCI-P3Color spaces sRGB, Adobe RGB and DCI-P3It is important not to confuse theoretical needs with real needs as I explain it in several places on this site (ICC profiles, workspaces, Print with Photoshop for example...).

The "normal" screens roughly display the sRGB color space (and its equivalent Rec 709 in video). These color spaces already contain a very large number of visible colors (2.5 million colors / out of the approximately 8 million in the Lab space, which is about the same as those seen by most people) and above all printable. This is simply why so many people seem to be "content" with it. Indeed, everyone likes to have beautiful colors even those who do not have an above average view!

So why would it be absolutely necessary to have a wide screen so a screen that displays more or less 100% of Adobe RGB or DCI-P3?

How to choose between sRGB and Adobe RGB?


In fact, it's ONLY interesting IF you work with even more saturated colors than the so-called "small" sRGB and its equivalent Rec 709 in video or especially if you want to be sure that the sRGB is fully displayable on your screen. If indeed, you often take pictures or film red, green or blue dresses with flash, poppies in full sun (and again), the intense blue of the Caribbean Sea or even green grass in macro after the rain in full sun, to make large format prints on glossy paper or broadcast, then there, we agree, YOU MUST choose a so-called wide gamut screen if you want to retouch its colors - seeing what you are doing - because you are going to take pictures or film very saturated colors and out of reach at the sRGB or Rec 709 in the greens (but not much either) and you will be sure that the sRGB is really contained.
In these particular cases because they are not so frequent or if you broadcast your videos only on TV (DCI-P3), you take the risk of not seeing on your screen so you can anticipate when you go to convert the files to your printer or encode your video, transform the beautiful drape of your dress or the petals of the poppy into a flat flat without nuances and losing a little saturation on the display.

In the most common cases.... The real revolution will come with monitors displaying the ProPhoto (Rec 2020) (which is not tomorrow the day before with three-channel RGB technology) but really, the Adobe RGB (DCI-P3) is not that big compared to the sRGB (Rec 709). It does indeed bring a slight plus, but it should not be made a mountain. Never forget that this does not make them more printable if your printer cannot do it. Perhaps we should start by checking that.... And don't forget that the introduction of HDR in movies and therefore televisions, even if it is a real bonus for the image, is also a commercial war to impose a new standard and therefore touch Royalties.

The unpleasant surprises of wide-screen gamut

A new generation of displays is now available: wide-screen displays. These screens reproduce at least 98% of Adobe RGB or 97% of DCI-P3 and can go up to 110%. However, we have become accustomed to using our screens displaying "only" the sRGB or Rec 709.

Almost all the colors of your icons and especially those of the taskbar will appear very saturated before but also after calibration under some operating systems. When the OS does not manage colors like the latest Windows 10 (And yes, despite its many updates), you will display very saturated icons and images just as much but only in some applications!!!! An example under Windows 10 under wide screen gamut: the colors of your images will be correct in the explorer but saturated in the preview! Under MacOS, everything is OK.

  The colours of the lower icons, displayed on a wide gamut screen, are significantly more saturated than on the upper banner displayed "naturally" on a screen displaying the "classic" sRGB. (Note: icon saturation is necessarily difficult to reproduce if you display this page on a screen displaying the sRGB.)


Widescreen gamut and Windows 10 - If you buy a widescreen gamut while you are on Windows, don't be surprised to see all your icons or images displayed in some software much more saturated than on your old "classic" gamut screen. This is not a calibration problem but a color management problem. Windows icons are simply images that do not have a built-in colorimetric profile so the colors of them are "interpreted" in the color space of your new screen, wide gamut from now on, so more saturated. This is surprising but not serious. Just surprising in 2019/2020 in a modern operating system and there is nothing to do but wait for Microsoft to change that.... unless you switch to Mac OS, which has handled this very well for a long time!

As for the Internet, it will depend a lot on the browser used. A real fair even in 2019 but I specify all this on my new dedicated to color management on the Internet 

Next pages...

6 / 8 - Which graphics card to buy?

7 / 8 - Hardware acceleration and Look Up Table?

8 / 8 - What is the purpose of the 10-bit display?



Through these 8 pages I will share with you my advices to choose your photo editing or video editing monitor...
- Generic advice
- Which screen size to choose ?
- Switch to 4K... or not yet ?
- Panel technology, gamut, uniformity...
- Which contrast/brightness, gamut... ? 5/8
  - How bright should a screen be?
- Should it be HDR?
- Which gamut: sRGB or Adobe RGB?

- Which graphics card and which LUT table ?
- Hardware acceleration and LUT table ?
- What is the purpose of the 10-bit display ?


- 2020 monitors buying guide
- How to calibrate your monitor?
- My 35 full monitor reviews!


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Calibrate your monitor with your favorite colorimeter : Datacolor SpyderX PRO !

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