Photo Editing Monitors

Without photo editing monitors editing digital photographs can be a daunting task. Granted Adobe and other software vendors in the business of producing photographic editing software have made huge strides. The inclusion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been an enormous lunge forward. Then the addition of custom presets, other plugins that assist in streamlining the editing workflow have also grown. But even with the inclusion of all the amazing software available today why invest there if you can't see the results accurately? You need a monitor designed and engineered to be a photo editing monitor.

Hardware

In order to fully appreciate your work and produce the stunning results you're after you must be able to see what you are doing. In this article I'll mostly focus on photo editing in a Windows environment utilizing Adobe Lightroom Classic CC with photo editing monitors. That is my work environment to edit my own photographs in. The hardware you utilize does make a difference. I use a desktop system with an Intel i7 processor. The system has 24GB of RAM and installed a NVMe 1TB Samsung 850 EVO SSD. I use the SSD for the operating system as well as Lightroom and my catalog. I have 3TB of conventional disk I utilize for the remainder of my software and data. I also have an external 3TB Western Digital disk I use for backups of my catalog and my data. For video I choose a NVidia GTX-1650 Super with 4GB. In lightroom I get full acceleration with it and the editing process is smooth and I don't find myself waiting for anything. I recently purchased a BenQ SW2700PT monitor. It is a 27" 2560x1440 QHD 16:9 IPS 2K Monitor for Photo Editing 99% Adobe RGB with IPS technology includes Hardware Calibration with Accurate Colors. Sounds like a whole lot, but the bottom lines are; 99% Adobe RGB color accuracy and hardware calibration.

Color Spaces

Color spaces are a specific range of colors that can be represented (on your screen, in a borwser, on a print...). Image standards display a certain number of colors no matter what color space they are saved in. The difference between color spaces is the range of colors that can be represented.

sRBG

All non-photo editing monitors utilize sRGB (Standard RGB) when photographs or graphics are displayed on the screen. It is the most widely used colorspace utilized by most operating systems. It was created in 1996 cooperatively by Hewlett Packard and Microsoft. It is the default color space in almost everything. That mean the images or graphic elements of web pages we see. In fact most web browsers ignore embedded color space information and default to sRGB.

The benefits are:

  • Consistent display across platforms
  • Easier to use
  • Prints from consumer grade printers produce acceptable results
Adobe RGB

In 1998 Adobe created Adobe RGB to display a wider range of possible colors utilizing the same amount of information as sRGB by adding more space between between colors. This permits Adobe RGB to display highly saturated colors making it extremely useful in professional high quality printing.

Benefits to Adobe RGB are:

  • Much wider range of colors available
  • Produces higher quality prints with professional printers
Color Spaces

Reproduction Of Color Accurately Across Different Devices

We would assume that the colors of a photograph would be consistently displayed across a variety of devices (printers, monitors, phones...) but typically this is not the case. Photographers faced with the this issue utilize color management which uses controllable color conversion technology so colors across various devices are reproduced as closely as the devices display capabilities permit. The problem exists because of color mode differences device to device and minor differences in batches of components in mass production. To correct for this a standard color space is required allowing two different devices to convert color spaces or color gamuts accordingly.

The Standard Color Space

The International Color Consortium (ICC) defines the standard color space which is called the PCS (Profile Connection Space). The ICC also defines the ICC profile. The ICC profile defines the color characteristics of the associated device, and the method to perform conversion to the standard color space. PCS is used to help color gamut conversion between devices (such as: Adobe RGB→L*A*B*→CMYK), and together with the characteristics described in the ICC profile consistent colors are displayed on different devices.

Color Management

Color Management must start from the capture of an image through to the end point of displaying the image across devices. To accomplish this the same color gamut must be selected in the camera, the photo editing software (in our case Lightroom), the monitor and finally the printer. Color calibration must also be performed on each computer monitor and output device used. This ensures the colors of the photos are the most accurate. All devices should all have their unique ICC profiles which are generated during color calibration of the device. Finally, post-production software embeds the ICC profile when the file is saved enabling color consistency across devices. Keep in mind though that the correct color space must be available and selected for this to work. For example, if we utilize Adobe RGB to take, edit and embed it into the ICC Profile of an image intended to be used on the web, our color management effort will fail. We must keep in mind how the image will be utilized and the capabilities of the devices we will be reproducing it on.

Look-Up Tables

The function of a Look-Up Table is to interpret color signal from the computer, find the corresponding output value in the Look Up Table, and then display the result on the monitor. Images are comprised of pixels and the information or bit depth stored in each pixel is color information. In the realm if display monitors a LUT is an index. To display colors efficiently new values are found in the monitor's LUT and displayed. There are generally two types of LUT found in computer monitors; 1D-LUT and 3D-LUT. In newer higher end monitors a 3D-LUT is typically utilized because it can display correct colors more accurately. When hardware calibrating a monitor the color management software will analyze the measured data and save related information in the LUT of the monitor.
LUT

The Monitor

While there are several choices available for photo editing monitors that are capable of displaying Adobe RGB accurately and have 3D-LUT the question of cost comes into play. The majority of monitors that are built to accommodate photographers range in the $1200.00 to $3500.00 price range. BenQ monitors tend to cost a bit less but match the specifications of much more expensive monitors. Here is the BenQ that I use.

Photo Editing Monitor - BenQ SW2700PT
Photo Editing Monitor - BenQ SW2700PT
Photo Editing Monitor - BenQ SW2700PT

The cost of this monitor is a fraction of the cost of the Dell Ultrasharp Up321 8K or the Eizo ColorEdge CG318-4K but performs well within the same arena for photo editing.  Here is a link to the specifications of this monitor.  

Hardware Calibration

Another very important consideration with a photo editing monitor is it's ability for hardware calibration.  Hardware calibration is critical for any photographer who wants accurate and predictable photographic prints. In order to hardware calibrate a monitor the monitor must have its own Look-Up Tables (LUT). Hardware calibration can only be performed on monitors that offered color gamut transformation functionality. Hardware calibration thoroughly adjusts internal display parameters and LUTs (look-up tables) on a much deeper level than software adjustments. The results are far more accurate than software calibration. In the next article I will detail the software, hardware and steps to perform a monitor hardware calibration on a BenQ monitor.