Essential Gear – Updated
Up until this past weekend I’ve been working off of a 24″ HD (1080p) monitor on the system I do all my photo editing. It’s a traditional LCD (non-LED, IPS, etc.). It’s been on my list to upgrade the monitor to something slightly larger. I also wanted to do a little research on what monitor or type of monitor would be best for photo editing or if I should just invest in a calibration kit or what. I knew my previous monitor was probably lacking in some way when it came to photo editing. After doing some research I learned that IPS (in-plane switching) monitors are really the best for editing graphics such as photos and video. I won’t get into the technical details on what the differences are here as you can easily do a search on-line for that. In fact, BestBuy’s site had a decent enough write-up on what monitors are best for which purpose. At any rate, I settled on going with an IPS monitor that was LED backlit and easy on the energy consumption (and didn’t have a huge bevel around the viewable area). I eventually settled on a 27″ IPS monitor that has a much thinner bevel than my previous monitor, a very high contrast ratio and wasn’t too hard on the wallet. By the way the bevel is important to me because my previous 24″ monitor is roughly the same overall size as my new 27″ monitor since it lacks the (useless) plastic housing and bevel around the screen edges. A larger screen in the same amount of physical space.
Wow. What a difference switching from a traditional LCD monitor to this IPS LCD monitor. There are details in my photos I just wasn’t seeing before, especially in the blacks. The difference wasn’t as startling as going from standard definition to high definition back in the day. It was still a noticeable difference though and I did notice that some of the photos I’d previously edited (and thought looked decent) didn’t look all that great — most of them still looked decent and some looked even better. I also noticed that the banding I’ve been fighting while editing was not nearly as big an issue. I wonder how much time I’ve wasted “fixing” banding that was due to my monitor and not the photo itself. One photo in particular that I recently edited and spent a lot of time trying to correct for banding looked far better on the IPS. There was significantly less banding in the original RAW file compared to what I recalled seeing on the old LCD. I probably wound up over-editing that photo to compensate for a lower quality screen.
If you’re really getting into photography and are spending time editing them with your favorite editor then I would add an IPS LCD monitor to your wish-list. I certainly wouldn’t put at the top of your list though. There’s other essential gear that should have a higher priority, such as a decent array of lenses, a good (off-body) flash for starters. I can probably cover more on those in future posts. That said, once you have your basic kit you may want to think about getting a decent monitor for the system you do your editing with. IPS LCD monitors didn’t seem to cost that much more than other LCD monitors, at least not significantly. In fact, I picked up my new monitor for under $300. Not bad at all.
If you’re reading this and wondering what specs you should be looking for I have to be honest and say I don’t know. I was more concerned about size, price and the bevel. The things like contrast ratio and refresh rate weren’t quite as important. The monitor I have boasts an 80,000,000:1 contrast ratio. That seems ridiculously high to me and I’m not sure if the human eye can even tell the difference between that and one that has 1,000,000:1. It May be worth doing some research. Unless you’re (also) doing video editing or the system doubles as a gaming platform then the refresh rate shouldn’t be a high priority either. 7ms or less should be good enough — and by high priority I mean I wouldn’t spend any significantly extra money to go for something with a very fast refresh rate just for photo editing since your images are static. My basic point is that I would focus on size and budget first. Same deal with the contrast ratio in my opinion. If it’s marginal then treat yourself to top of the line. :-)
Update: I have noticed an annoying moire-like effect on this new monitor. I occasionally have to look at a solid color for a few seconds or close my eyes and then look back. Otherwise there’s an occasional weird pattern on the display similar to your window blinds reflecting off the screen on a bright sunny day. Weird. Still love this monitor though.
Image with banding. I practically had to destroy this image to re-create an approximation of the banding I saw with the old monitor. The banding wasn’t quite this bad but it was pretty close.
The same image. There is still some banding present but it’s not anywhere near as bad. If I open the original RAW file there’s no banding evident whatsoever. So while my monitor was certainly a big part of the problem the JPG format is most definitely a source of the problem as well.
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