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Monitor Buying Guide How to Choose the Right Monitor for Digital Photography.

A colour-accurate, high-resolution monitor can save you valuable time and money when you edit digital photos. When you view an image on the screen, you should be able to see whether it requires colour or contrast corrections and then make these corrections knowing they will be accurately reflected in prints of that photograph. If these conditions are met, it will take less time to adjust images for printing. You will also minimise paper and ink wastage when printing because you won’t need to re-print nearly as much – and this will give you time

to make more (and better) prints. Accurate colour reproduction on your monitor will also make it quicker to produce versions of images that will be shared on websites or displayed via digital projectors or TV screens. But achieving these goals demands a lot from the screen – and many monitors on sale today simply aren’t up to the task. Don’t expect a laptop monitor to provide the resolution and colour gamut (range) you need for image editing. No laptop LCD can present colours, tones and contrast levels accurately enough to base serious imaging

Monitor Buying Guide


decisions on. They also offer a limited range of adjustments. Like most cheaper stand-alone monitors, laptops use inexpensive twisted nematic (TN) displays that may offer fast response times for viewing video clips and games but suffer from inferior colour reproduction and narrow viewing angles. Colours often shift when viewed off-angle and most of these monitors can’t even display the 16.7 million colour tones that are available from standard graphics cards. Even if a laptop is your computer of choice, you need a stand-alone monitor for image editing.


Monitor Types Three types of LCD panels are in common usage: Twisted Neumatic (TN), Patterned Vertically Aligned (PVA) and In-Plane Switching (IPS). TN panels are the cheapest to manufacture and have the smallest viewing angles (up to 160 degrees). Used mainly for laptops and business administration, they are unsuitable for image editing and graphics. PVA monitors have the darkest black levels. IPS monitors offer the widest viewing angles. Both these features are advantageous for photo editing and graphics applications. However, in each category there are different performance levels. It is difficult to see differences between a premium PVA panel and a premium IPS panel. However, as long as you choose a premium panel, the only way to get the best out of it is to pair it with a capable ASIC (application specific information chip). Support for high bit depth (10-16-bit) colour processing is essential to obtain the colour accuracy and uniformity needed for imaging applications. A PVA panel with a powerful 16-bit ASIC a will display a wider range of hues and tones more accurately than an IPS monitor with a generic 8-bit ASIC.

Widescreen monitors provide enough space to display editing tools without having them overlap onto the image.

To choose the right monitor for your needs, consider the following questions:

1. How Large? The size of the monitor you choose will be dictated by two factors: your budget and the amount of space on your desktop. Monitor screens are measured diagonally, and their size is usually expressed in inches. If your budget and desk space permits, a larger screen will provide a large viewing area with plenty of room for toolbars and palettes when you’re using editing software. Some photographers will keep their mainstream display (or iMac) and run a smaller colour accurate retouching monitor beside it in a dual display set-up. For those on a budget, this is an affordable way to achieve maximum screen real estate.

2. Which Aspect Ratio? Twisted Neumatic (TN)

Widescreen (16:9 or 16:10) displays are rapidly supplanting the standard 4:3 aspect ratio screen as more photographers produce work for display on HD TV sets. They can also provide more space to display the tools and menus in your image editor without having them overlap onto the image.

3. What Resolution? Resolution refers to the maximum number of pixels (picture elements) the monitor can display and, therefore, the amount of detail you can discern in displayed images. The larger the screen, the higher its resolution should be. The table below provides ideal resolutions for popular widescreen and 4:3 sizes.

4. sRGB or Adobe RGB? Which colour space should you use? If your images will only be displayed on standard monitors (web) and TV sets, working in the sRGB colour space could be adequate. Portrait photographers may also find working in the sRGB colour space preferable (as long as their subjects aren’t wearing brightly-coloured clothing). Skin tones are more in tune with the subdued rendition of colours in this colour space. However, the Adobe RGB (1998) colour space is the best option for landscape photographers because it provides a wider colour gamut, particularly in greens and blues. For this reason it is also the best option for commercial printing and is the best way to ensure accurate colour reproduction across all digital platforms (cameras, scanners, monitors and inkjet and offset printers). Consequently, most commercial photographers (landscape, wildlife, food) prefer the Adobe RGB colour space. There’s nothing to stop you from shooting in the Adobe RGB space and editing your images on an sRGB monitor, although some hues (such as saturated blues and greens) may look slightly flat on screen. With a good inkjet printer the colours will bounce back, demonstrating it’s only the monitor display being clipped, not the file itself. However, for WYSIWYG colour fidelity, it’s worth paying extra for a monitor with the widest possible gamut.

Patterned Vertically Aligned (PVA) Screen size (diagonal)

Native resolution

30-inch (widescreen)

2560 x 1600 pixels

27 inch (widescreen)

2560 x 1440 pixels

24-inch (widescreen)

1920 x 1200 pixels

23-inch (widescreen)

1920 x 1080 pixels

22-inch (widescreen)

1680 x 1050 pixels

21 inch (4:3)

1600 x 1200 pixels

19 inch (4:3)

1280 x 1024 pixels

In-Plane Switching (IPS)


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The difference between the sRGB and Adobe RGB colour spaces.

5. How Adjustable? The more adjustability a monitor offers, the closer the monitor can be set to match the end result. Your monitor should include adjustments for brightness, gamma, and colour temperature (preferably by individual red, green and blue colour levels) so you can precisely set the monitor to a known and optimum state. This is called calibration. Without these adjustments, you can end up with a lossy calibration and some banding; indicating some image detail has been removed. One common challenge is screen brightness, as many mainstream displays are too bright for a professional graphics workflow. Screen brightness should be set between 70 and 120 candelas per meter square (cd/m2) to emulate a physical print. The exact figure depends on the ambient lighting, which should be taken into account. An overly bright monitor can lead to wasted effort and frustration. An image will usually look a little saturated or blown out on a monitor that is too bright. You may feel compelled to darken the image to compensate, when in fact the monitor should be darkened. Otherwise prints will be unacceptably dark.

6. Hardware or Software Calibration? Calibration adjusts the characteristics of a device to an optimum and known state, taking account of ambient lighting. All monitors used for imaging should be calibrated regularly to restore tonal gradation characteristics and set a colour temperature and contrast to match their output. Two kinds of calibration are available. Software Calibration measures the monitor colours and compares them with known target values. The result is stored as a profile that enables any divergences to be corrected when it is output from the graphics card to adjust the display. Unfortunately, this method may result in uneven greyscale reproduction and colour casts. These problems are minimised on professional graphics monitors with accurate adjustment controls (such as RGB adjustment levels), which can assist the software in creating the optimum calibration. Hardware calibration adjusts the monitor itself, rather than the output from the computer’s graphics card. The gradation characteristics of each RGB colour are adjusted independently providing a smooth and faithful greyscale display. Hardware calibration also lets you adjust the black and white levels independently so you can restrict the display contrast to match a printed output. It is by far the most reliable and straightforward calibration method for professional graphics work.

7. Gamma Correction. The gamma of an LCD screen refers to the luminance (or brightness) of the red, green and blue signals in the display. Gamma correction involves mapping the displayed data to produce a consistent and uniform appearance when images are displayed. This is done by a microprocessor that is part the monitor’s electronic controls. Most monitors offer only 8-bit support but professional-quality displays provide 10-bit (or higher) gamma processing. The difference is significant when

The differences between software and hardware calibration.

it comes to colour and tonal accuracy. An 8-bit monitor can only calibrate the gamma curve in 256 steps, whereas a 10-bit processor can calculate the gamma curve in 1024 steps and a 12-bit processor can handle 4096 steps. The more steps in the gamma curve, the more hues and tones the monitor can choose from to display – and the better the picture quality. Although formerly premium priced, monitors with high-bit gamma processing are now becoming more affordable (but still more expensive than a mainstream display). An example of an image displayed on a screen with good uniformity.

8. How Uniform? Uniformity in screen brightness and colour is an elusive goal – but a requirement for graphics professionals. Perfect uniformity is very difficult to achieve across the screen, due to various factors inherent in how colour is reproduced. Monitors that are brighter on one side of the screen or have corners that look darker or warmer are unsuitable for colour-critical work. All monitor manufacturers try their best to create a uniform screen. However, manufacturers of premiumquality monitors go one step further step by integrating a secondary ASIC chip into the controls to compensate for uniformity shifts. Such manufacturers will guarantee the uniformity with a warranty.

The same image displayed on a screen with poor uniformity.

How to Check a Monitor’s Performance There are a couple of quick-and-easy ways to see whether a monitor is suitable for imaging. But first you need to make sure the display is evenly lit with no reflections on the screen to prevent you from seeing the changes that can occur as a result of these tests. 1. Look closely at the screen to see whether you can discern its pixel structure. If the pixel structure of the screen is visible under normal viewing conditions it will remain visible regardless of how much you magnify an image. This can interfere with the amount of detail you see and make it difficult to apply fine adjustments to that part of the shot. 2. Fill the screen with solid colours (one colour at a time) to check for dead or ‘hot’ pixels. A black screen will reveal a white (or hot) pixel. A white screen will reveal a dead (black) pixel.

Monitor Buying Guide

Red, blue and green screens will display stuck sub-pixels (a sub-pixel is one third of one pixel), which can appear in any colour. 3. Open a black and white image file on the screen and move it from side to side, then top to bottom of the screen. Watch for changes that occur in colour, brightness, and contrast. A good monitor should maintain consistency all over the display area. Note: you need to be very discerning, as these changes may be very subtle. 4. Check the display’s angle of view by moving to one side of the screen. Note changes in brightness, contrast and colour. 5. Check an image with plenty of shadow detail and ensure all detail is visible. 6. Finally, read the specifications and familiarise yourself with the manufacturers’ warranty.


How to Set up a Digital Darkroom The first step in setting up a digital darkroom is to establish the right working environment. Although it may not be possible in domestic situations, the ideal working area should have walls that are a neutral colour and tone (mid-to-light grey is best but beige and ‘oatmeal’ coloured walls are also satisfactory).

Controlling Reflections Where possible, set your monitor up in a room with relatively low brightness levels and avoid situations in which room lights can be reflected by the screen. Some monitors have built in anti-glare and antireflection filters. These may be worthwhile in home situations where you can’t control all aspects of ambient lighting. However, although a screen with an anti-glare panel is easier on the eyes, it may not reproduce the full tonal range in the picture. An anti-glare hood can be useful for preventing reflections and stray light from interfering with viewing quality. They are available for some monitors and easy to attach and remove. Some allow calibration equipment to be used while they are in place.

Ambient Lighting The colour of the lighting in your work environment can influence your perception of colour. An image displayed on a monitor will look different when the room light is on from when it is off – and different under fluorescent and halogen lighting. Natural lighting is best wherever possible. Fluorescent tubes manufactured for soft proofing (GTI, or JUSTNORMLICHT) with a correlated colour temperature of 5000K will also provide a close visual match to monitors calibrated between 5500K and 6000K. Regardless of the ambient lighting in the working environment, a greyscale image – soft proof or print - should appear visually neutral when compared with the image displayed on the monitor.

A monitor hood in place, showing the opening available for a colorimeter when the screen is profiled.

of handling colour information, it’s necessary to measure the way each device in the process reproduces colour in order to create mathematical ‘profiles’ (data sets that characterise the colour attributes). Profiles can be created for cameras, scanners, monitors, printers and printing media and each profile can be matched to the profiles of other devices in the chain. Even where exact colour matching is not possible (for example, between some monitor displays and prints), profiles will allow the workflow to be ‘managed’ to produce the closest possible simulation of the original colours and tones.

The International Colour Consortium (ICC) maintains the standards for all device and paper profiles, which are based on the software or firmware driving each device. These tables of data link the source colour information to the output colour information. Use of ICC profiles ensures consistent and correct colour reproduction all the way from capture to output. Monitors sit at the heart of a digital workflow because they are used for viewing images. The quality of an image is assessed by its appearance on-screen, and it is here editing adjustments are made and evaluated.

Dual Screens Although it’s possible to operate a successful digital darkroom based on a single monitor, many photographers prefer working with dual monitors because they can ‘park’ toolbars on one screen, leaving the other screen uncluttered for displaying the image they are working on. Most computer operating systems support dual monitor set-ups.

MONITOR CALIBRATION AND PROFILING Why Monitors Require Calibration When you display a picture on a screen you need to be sure it will be printed with colours and tones that look identical to the original. The only way to achieve this is with a colour managed workflow. Your camera must communicate with your computer which, in turn has to ‘talk’ with your printer. In this process, colour information is passed along a chain and reinterpreted by each device. This chain is known as a ‘workflow’. Because different devices have different ways


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Monitor Buying Guide

Calibration Starting Points Allow the monitor to ‘warm up’ for at least 30 minutes before you start. Switch off screen savers and power savers and disable anti-virus software that may interfere with the display. Before making any measurements, set the display resolution to its native level and reset the monitor to the factory settings.

Profile Creation There are a number of ways to create profiles for a monitor. The least accurate option is to use a software utility, such as Adobe Gamma and QuickGamma, both of which are free downloads that can be located through a Google search. More accurate profiles are created with colour measurement devices, such as colorimeters and spectrophotometers. Both are driven by software applications that provide a wizard-based interface to make monitor calibration and profiling straightforward. Colorimeters measure the light emitted by the monitor in discrete (but relatively broad) spectral bands. The software driver creates ICC profiles that are loaded automatically into the display settings for communication to the printer. Affordably priced and simple to use, they usually produce results that correlate well with human eye/brain perception. Spectrophotometers are more complex (and expensive) in both construction and operation. Because they measure individual wavelengths, they deliver higher precision and accuracy and are used when the most accurate profiling is required. The process is known as ‘software calibration’ because the characteristics of the signal coming from the computer video card are adjusted to the software’s target and specifications. Calibration devices come with step-by-step tutorials to help novice users. Some include a facility for measuring the intensity of the light in the working area and applying it to the calibration. Hardware Calibration, where the monitor itself is

calibrated (as opposed to the computer’s video card) provides the most accurate calibration. Because it can set both the black level and the white level (luminance), contrast can be calibrated with a high level of precision. This enables users to obtain the best screen-to-print match. Monitors that support hardware calibration also enable users to set multiple calibrations and targets, which allows them to produce separate calibrations for each type of paper they are used with. Eizo monitors allow users to flick quickly between different calibrations, saving time in workflows that use multiple paper types. Eizo’s ColorNavigator software, which is supplied with all of the company’s ColorEdge monitors, works with most hardware measurement devices to provide 10- or 12-bit calibration that provides greater precision and reproducibility. It also offers more manual adjustments – plus the ability to save individual parameters. This allows photographers to measure the base tone ‘paper white’ of different fine art papers and match the printer output to them, reducing the need for test printing and saving time and materials. Users can also emulate the characteristics of different monitors in a multi-screen workplace.

Re-calibration Monitors must be recalibrated from time to time to take account of the tiny drifts in colour that occur over time in the course of regular usage. Most devices provide recalibration reminders that can be set up to meet users’ needs. In demanding

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Monitor Buying Guide

professional workplaces where accurate profiling is mandatory, monitors are often recalibrated at the end of each day. Amateur photographers should normally recalibrate their monitors every four weeks. Interestingly, monitors that use hardware calibration and have been calibrated initially by an industrial spectroradiometer at time of manufacture do not need to be calibrated so frequently. (Every 2-3 months should be sufficient.) Depending on the monitor and calibration method, the process should take between one and 10 minutes but is time well spent.

Using Profiles The monitor’s ICC profile interacts with editing software and printer drivers to ensure the image colouring and amount of detail visible on the screen comes as close as possible to replicating the printed picture. However, this is only possible if you ‘tell’ the software which printer you’re using – and which paper you’re printing on. The printer driver provides this information when you select the printer. The paper profile must then be selected from the dropdown list in the editor or driver interface. Most printers come with pre-set ICC profiles for the printer manufacturer’s paper range. They are normally included in the printer driver. These ‘canned’ profiles provide a good starting point and are convenient to use. Leading third-party paper manufacturers also provide ICC profiles, which can be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website. These days most professional photographers create individual profiles for their own printer and papers. This guarantees a closer match between what is seen on theIr monitor and the printed output. It’s a huge time-saver for anybody who makes large volumes of prints and valuable for photographers who may receive orders for reprints months – or even years – after pictures were taken.


How the Professionals Do It Few landscape photographers are as successful as Australian photographer, Ken Duncan OAM, who runs one of the country’s most successful imaging businesses. Internationally recognised for his pioneering panoramic landscape photography and limited edition photographic prints, he is both prolific and multi-talented. His photographs appear in calendars, cards and jigsaw puzzles and large ‘limited edition’ prints. The latter are showcased in his own galleries and many grace the walls of businesses all round the world. Currently there are five Ken Duncan galleries in Australia displaying and selling Duncan’s work to tourists and corporate enterprises. In addition to the shopfront galleries in Erina, Sydney, Melbourne, the Hunter Valley and Cairns, Ken has an active online gallery at He also runs a busy book publishing enterprise which, since 1992, has produced more than 30 books under the Ken Duncan Panographs trademark. Faithful reproduction of the colourful and dramatic images he captures is critical to every aspect of Ken Duncan’s business. Consequently, a great deal of time and research has been devoted to creating the colouraccurate workflows that underpin his success. At each stage of the process from capture to output, he has invested in state-of-the-art equipment. For shooting his photographs, Ken swaps between film and digital, depending on the nature of the subject and how the image will be utilised. Regardless of how the images have been recorded, when they come to the CFL (Created for Life) Print Studio in Erina on the NSW Central Coast for printing, additional post-capture editing is required to ensure they reproduce satisfactorily. The studio’s editing area has been specially designed with neutral grey walls and subdued lighting to minimise reflections and provide the best environment for working on the

images. Five workstations are arranged around the room, each with one or two Eizo monitors. Although initially sceptical about the importance of monitors in his colour workflow, Ken Duncan became an instant convert once he saw what the Eizo monitors could do. “Seeing is believing’, he explains. “Before [we acquired our Eizos], we had to make mental colour corrections to the images on the screen and often had to produce several proof prints to be sure the colours were accurate. But now the prints coming out of the printer look like what you’re looking at on the screen.”

The studio takes full advantage of the built-in ColorNavigator software to save different calibration profiles for each colour workflow. This software, says Glenn McKimmin, the manager of CFL Print Studio, has been a wonderful time-saver. It has also reduced the number of times images are printed as proofs. According to McKimmin, the additional features in ColorNavigator have significantly improved the way the monitors are calibrated.

Dual Workflows Because the studio produces both prints and books, it has to be capable of handling both RGB and CYMK workflows. Staff members often need to swap between profiles at short notice, depending on whether the output will be CMYK page proofs or RBG ‘limited edition’ prints. The Eizo monitors have made this process fast and easy. ColorNavigator software makes it easy to calibrate monitors accurately. “The beauty of working with the Eizo monitors”, he adds, “is that we’re now able to produce profiles for both workflows with just one monitor using ColorNavigator. The profiles are so accurate we can switch between CYMK and RGB workflows at any time and be sure output colours won’t be changed. “The Eizo monitors have revolutionised the lab from a colour workflow point of view. Before, we were working ‘blind’, getting proofs that didn’t look like the images on-screen. Now what we see is what we get. Ken can come in and sit behind us and, if there’s any adjustment required, it’s all done on the screen.” Once the images meet the high demands of Ken Duncan and the CFL Print Studio team, they pass to one of two printers – both state-of-the-art machines. An Epson Stylus Pro 9900 is used for all prepress work, such as books, calendars, postcards. Limited-edition prints for display in the galleries are produced on a Durst Lambda large-format digital laser printer.

The entrance to the Ken Duncan gallery in Erina on the NSW Central Coast.


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Printing without Proofs Currently, Ken is working with the studio team on a book involving hundreds of photographs submitted by a large number of photographers from all over Australia. It’s a challenging job because the photographs are all very different in content and quality. In addition, although most are raw ďŹ les (which have to be converted into the editable TIFF format), they have been taken with different cameras under different lighting conditions. The collection also contains a small number of JPEG images from which the maximum amount of detail and colour must be extracted. It’s a situation where consistent colour reproduction from capture to output is essential to the success of the project. But due to very tight deadlines, traditional prooďŹ ng is impossible and the team has to depend on their monitor images to make all adjustments. It’s critical to be able to see images on-screen as they will appear in print.

8c¡bPRWP[[T]VX]VY^Q QTRPdbTcWT_W^c^VaP_Wb PaTP[[eTahSXUUTaT]cX] R^]cT]cP]S`dP[Xch “Because we don’t have time to do the standard prooďŹ ngâ€?, Ken Duncan explains, “we have to get it right ďŹ rst up. We don’t have the chance to go to proof; we have to go straight to press. In that situation, [a colour-accurate workow] is critical.â€? Having to dispense with printed proofs has delivered some unexpected beneďŹ ts for CFL Print Studio. The Eizo monitors have increased the studio’s efďŹ ciency and productivity while also reducing labour costs because much less time is required for matching

How a colour-managed workow integrates equipment to produce consistent colour reproduction. colours between on-screen images and printed output. “The book we’re working on currently is the ďŹ rst one where we haven’t produced inline proofsâ€?, Glenn McKimmin adds. “Because we’re not printing out pages to match to ďŹ nal page proofs, all colour matching is being done on-screen. That’s where Eizo monitors have made it easier for us to be conďŹ dent the colours we see will be reected in the printed pages.â€? For anyone who is involved with colour reproduction, Ken Duncan’s advice is straightforward and succinct. “If you’re not getting the colour right you’re wasting a lot of money – and a lot of time.â€? “People might think they’re saving money by having

Ken Duncan and Glenn McKimmin discuss one of the images for the book they’re working on in the CFL Print Studio editing room.

Monitor Buying Guide

a cheap monitorâ€?, he adds. “But in the end they’re not. Ink, time and papers are not cheap. In this business you have to embrace technology. It’s all about time versus money and your biggest expense in any industry is labour. If you can minimise your wastage factors, that’s where your proďŹ t is.â€? Useful URLs

The interior of the Ken Duncan Gallery in Erina.


Eizo monitors Advanced LCD colour management made easy.

Flexscan Software Calibration Range

ColorEdge Hardware Calibration Range

Affordable accuracy & reliability for the

Eizo’s world class professional range with leading

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“I am now seeing colour as it should be.” Ken Duncan OAM

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Digital Editions Monitors Buying Guide  

Digital Editions Monitors Buying Guide

Digital Editions Monitors Buying Guide  

Digital Editions Monitors Buying Guide