Choose the Right Monitor for Photo Editing
by Aimee Baldridge – July 18th, 2013
So you know that calibrating and profiling your monitor is the key to getting colors right when you’re editing and printing your photographs. But what kind of monitor should you be using in the first place? Here’s a rundown of the types, technologies, and specs to look for when you’re choosing a shiny (or not-so-shiny) new screen.
IPS or PLS technology. LCDs that use in-plane switching (IPS) or plane-to-line switching (PLS) technology generally reproduce color well and have a wide viewing angle, allowing you to see colors and other image parameters accurately even if you’re not viewing the monitor dead-on. Vertical alignment (VA) technology also offers good color rendition and wide viewing angles, although it’s generally considered a notch below IPS and PLS for photo editing purposes. Some less expensive monitors use twisted nematic (TN) LCD technology, which doesn’t reproduce colors as well and provides a narrow angle at which on-screen images can be viewed accurately. It’s best to avoid TN monitors when you’re looking for a high-quality screen for photo editing. If the specs of an LCD monitor you’re considering don’t tell you which technology it uses, touch the screen with your finger. A TN monitor will turn lighter at the spot you touch.
HD or higher resolution. If you’re looking for a monitor for photo editing, you’re probably selecting from models that are at least 22 inches in diagonal. In this case, make sure that the monitor has a resolution of at least 1920 x 1080 pixels, which is considered “high definition” or “HD” resolution. The monitor resolution specification tells you the horizontal and vertical pixel counts for the whole screen. A higher resolution can help you view fine image details accurately. If you’re considering a very large monitor with a 30-inch or higher diagonal measurement, you’ll want a higher minimum resolution than 1920 x 1080.
Bright, even backlight. Uniform illumination from edge to edge is an important feature for photo editing. LED backlights often provide more even illumination than CCFL backlights. You can check the monitor illumination by filling the screen with an all-white image and looking for light falloff around the edges of the screen. Although you won’t always want your monitor to be set at its maximum brightness, it’s good to have a model that is capable of a good range of brightness as well.
High contrast ratio. The contrast ratio of a display system is the ratio of the luminance of the brightest white to that of the darkest black that the system is capable of producing. A higher contrast ratio will show more tonal gradations and is therefore better for photo editing. An 800:1 ratio is generally considered sufficient for image editing purposes, but some monitors offer even higher contrast ratios. When you’re looking at display manufacturer specifications, make sure the contrast ratio in the monitor’s specs is a static contrast ratio and not a dynamic contrast ratio.
High bit depth. The bit or color depth of a monitor tells you how many colors it can display. IPS and other types of monitors that work well for photo editing typically have an 8-bit color depth, but some offer 10-bit color depth. The bit depth describes the bits used to display color in each RGB (red, green, blue) channel at each pixel. So an 8-bit monitor actually displays 24-bit color, which means it’s capable of rendering 16.7 million colors. That’s because the bit-depth number represents an exponent of 2, since digital technology uses a binary system. So a monitor that displays 24-bit color is showing 2^8 x 2^8 x 2^8 = 256 x 256 x 256 = 16,777,217 colors. Avoid monitors that offer only 6-bit color depth.
Another factor that can affect apparent contrast and sharpness is whether the screen has a glossy or matte surface. A glossy screen can make colors appear more vibrant and blacks deeper. However, some people prefer matte screens because they’re less reflective. Whether you choose a glossy or matte surface is largely a matter of personal taste.
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