The best display monitor for photography.
This is a question that has been around since Photoshop became the defacto application for editing images!
There is no one size fits all answer, but indicators to make reasonable choosing the best display monitor for you easier to make.
When talking with some colleagues the other day, I realised that more than a decade of hard work by colour development experts for which I was a part of, made the dream of colour management accessible and almost automatic for end users. That dream is now reality with all devices interacting in an expected reasonable and responsible way.
What does this have to do with the best display monitor for editing photography?
Years ago the best monitor would have been a technically good monitor that had good screen uniformity, neutral greys after calibrating and a decent gamut capable of showing a large portion of the actual colours in images.
Those monitors not only were costly but most were only capable of living up to the promise of reliable consistent and well described viewing by calibrating and profiling with complicated challenging software on many layers.
Each software update either application or system made maintaining colour accuracy a painful experience.
New monitor technology required new calibration measurement devices often arriving long after the leading edge displays came to market. As we passed from CRT ( tube ) to LCD again the leap forward was often a step back at first as the hardware was no longer compatible for which the system was designed for, nor the hardware made to calibrate monitors. The variables were endless as was the task of keeping colour consistency maintained.
Today all operating systems at least have a common ground, default system gamma at around 2.2 and correlated colour temperature based on the very practical 6500K with chromatic boundaries set to the notions of a common colour space or better stated as sRGB.
Although when the first LCD displays came out they were not yet capable of containing all of the colours in the sRGB colour world, the operating system could communicate and translate colour information via Colorsync or Windows CM to have a close proximity of colour matching between documents and devices such as displays.
Colour matching happens at different levels most is in the background deep inside the operating system that sets the base for applications. All imaging applications will use this for the default, making system level consistency reliable without user intervention.
This is not to say that displays be it external or integrated will have great colour!
The best display monitor will be one that has included communication hooks that allow the monitor to communicate with the operating system and calibration devices and applications.
While the best display monitors not only have various methods of assuring calibration and communication quite the opposite is true in most cases for lesser displays, as customers want a low price point. Many of these will have display quality out of the box far from usable for photo or video editing.
Recent technologies go to great lengths to make excellent displays affordable, and easier to use with or without intervention.
What make for the best display monitors for editing photography or video?
First and most important is IPS (In Plane Switching). Only IPS monitors have a very wide viewing angle where the colours and density hardly change if viewing off centre.
All recent MacBook Pro are IPS, even iPads, iPhones, iMac, as well as the high end Acer, Asus, Surface Pro etc.
Colour between Apple devices is remarkable at a default setting, very usable colour out of the box without surprises. That said even though consistent it is more towards a pleasing colour display than accurately representing a match to a reference such as sRGB.
Is this the best in colour and does user intervention help if at all possible?
The limiting factors will be hardware. On portables or an iMac the displays are fantastic but you can only improve somewhat at a software level calibration and profiling for a specific purpose; image editing. The iMac 5K screens are wonderful. Even at the default settings the entire system will fetch good results better than anything we had until now regardless of cost or know how!
If your imagery is important to you calibrating with hardware such as X-Rite is critical if you want very accurate colour.
For a modern workflow outside of the all in one solutions for the best display monitor, you’ll want an external monitor. There are a lot of choices, yet here we are talking about the best.
That field is narrowed as you need IPS, multi color LED, wide gamut covering at least 98% Adobe RGB. For video REC709 should be met at 100%.
To control all that colour it is really important that the monitor runs at 14 bits which leaves room for very fine control curves and LUT (look up tables) to map colours with extra accuracy to overcome limitations in LCD technology.
In the best display monitors there are not that many that meet the few stated criteria!
The usual names will populate your Google searches Eizo, NEC been the two most prominent. Eizo have always been the most expensive, NEC offer nearly the same features for a lesser price. HP, Sony and a few others were in the running too. A long time ago prepress houses, and full time professional retouchers did image editing. Now most retouching is done by independents, whether or not it be the photographer or an outsourced retoucher.
The quality of all monitors is closing the gap, well seen in the technical reviews of inexpensive monitors compared to the most expensive.
For me the best display monitor is the BenQ SW2700 that I have been using for over a year. The price point beats every other similar monitor, sometimes by far. The out of the box colour is validated at written into the chip in the monitor at the factory. Decent proprietary software is included with the monitor, and uses many of the device any serious photo editor will have already, like the X-Rite i1 Pro or Display. The colour accuracy is fantastic, repeatability, consistency all trouble free. A feature that is rather understated is the OSD puck with presets for different colour calibrations. I toggle between a very reduced customised less blue setting for reading browsing even movies, and with a click of a button always ready for image editing.
You’ll find more info in my review here: BenQ SW2700PT 27” professional monitor review