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Shopping for a Photographer’s Monitor

Although this category is the narrowest one, I discuss it separately because choosing a monitor with high color accuracy often proves to be a problem for many users. I won’t delve into such specifics as prepress preparation of print materials, but instead will focus on a rather general case – let’s try to choose a monitor for everyday processing of photographs professionally or amateurishly.

First off, the high color accuracy requirement limits the range of available products to models with IPS matrixes as only they can deliver large viewing angles without a tonal shift when viewed from a side. Any monitor can be set up for good color accuracy, color temperature, brightness and other parameters but you cannot do anything with a TN matrix so that its colors did not depend on the position of your eyes. As soon as you move your head up or down or sideways, the colors on the screen of a TN matrix change noticeably. It doesn’t mean that TN matrixes can’t be used for any color processing (I’ve seen people doing color correction on notebooks even), but you should avoid them if you can.

PVA matrixes, including C-PVA and S-PVA, ensure higher color accuracy than TN matrixes but have two shortcomings: there is a slight tonal shift when you are looking at the screen at an angle (that is, besides a reduction in contrast ratio, the colors of the image change somewhat). And second, darkest halftones become the same as pure black when you are looking directly at the screen of many PVA-based monitors. Therefore, PVA-based products are good for working with design drawings and text. They can also be used as high-quality home monitors without specific applications. But if color accuracy is your main priority, you should limit yourself to IPS right away.

Fortunately, there is now the cheaper variety of IPS called e-IPS I have talked about above. With this new matrix type, IPS technology has become affordable.


Dell 2209WA with e-IPS matrix

For example, you can buy a 22-inch Dell 2209WA with a resolution of 1680x1050 for about $400. This is not Full HD but the price is highly attractive. A high-quality 22-inch TN monitor will cost almost as much. So, if you are looking for an IPS-based monitor, you may want to consider the 2209WA.

Next goes the NEC MultiSync EA231WMi, a 23-inch monitor with a resolution of 1920x1080 and priced at $600 or lower. It is good not only as a rather affordable IPS-based product (like the mentioned Dell, it employs an e-IPS matrix) but also as a high-quality and all-purpose home/office monitor. Take note that the rest of EA series monitors from NEC are based on TN technology and have nothing to do with the EA231WMi (particularly, I don’t know why the MultiSync EA241WM, even though with an extra inch of screen size, costs much more than the EA231WMi while being based on a trivial 5-millisecond TN matrix with all its accompanying shortcomings).

Be careful when shopping for an e-IPS based monitor: some samples have artifacts in the form of pink spots on the screen. You can check this out easily: display gray on the screen and take a look at the monitor from a distance of 1.5 meters. You should see a uniform color without any tonal distortions.

The EA231WMi is the best choice for most applications because the more advanced models cost far more while their increased color accuracy won’t matter much for most users. However, if you don’t want any compromises, you should take a look at NEC’s UXi series, from the 20-inch MultiSync LCD2090UXi (over $1000) to the huge MultiSync LCD2690WUXi².  These models are all based on S-IPS matrixes and designed for professional image editing. Besides their high price, some users report that the 24-inch and 26-inch models have high non-uniformity of brightness. Anyway, NEC’s UXi series has almost no alternatives when it comes to color accuracy. I want to note that the first models of the 90 series (LCD2090UXi and LCD2190UXi) delivered such a high color accuracy that you may only want to switch to the larger models (LCD2490WUXi and LCD2690WUXi²) if you want to have a larger work area. If you buy this monitor as an auxiliary one for checking out the results of your work and the size of the work area is not important, you can buy an LCD2090UXi and save a lot of money. Are there any better monitors than these? Yes, NEC offers the SpectraView series based on the same components but that allows automatic hardware calibration. Such monitors are only needed by very few users, though.

Finally, I want to say a few more words about Dell which has eagerly taken up IPS technology. Besides the good and inexpensive 2209WA, Dell has introduced the 24-inch U2410 with a resolution of 1920x1200. This model is more expensive but not much superior to the NEC EA231WMi. The 27-inch Dell UltraSharp U2711 is more interesting as it has an IPS matrix with a huge resolution of 2560x1440 pixels, which makes it perfect for professionals who work in CAD applications with complex design drawings and for photographers who are not satisfied with 1920x1200. The UltraSharp U2711 has recently hit the shops in the United States and is priced at $1099.

 
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