The Digital Darkroom .P2

Monitors

Everyone needs a good monitor for photo editing. Thats a statement that is pretty obvious to all of us, what may not be so obvious is the type and size of the monitor you use.

For photo editing big is better, there nothing worse than squinting at a puny little laptop screen or similar that gives you headaches. That not to say your laptop doesn’t have an excellent monitor but rather there is a lot more eye relief when using a bigger monitor, as well as being able to see flaws in your images considerably easier.

No doubt you have heard people say that you must have a calibrated screen. Whilst this is accurate to a degree you have to remember that we all see colour and shades slightly differently, no two of us see exactly the same colour and shade even when looking at the same object. Indeed if you close one eye and then view with each eye singularly you can often find that one eye is more colour dominant than the other. If like me you have or had suffered from cataracts in the eye this may be even more pronounced and can be an early warning to impending cataract vision problems.

In the last few years, at least since 2010 I have found that almost every good quality monitor generally comes with good colour, contrast and brightness options. I run a 27 inch AOC I2757FH as my primary monitor and I have a second monitor a Benq G2220hd Both of these monitors are between 8 & 10 years old, but still work as well as the day they were bought. All the editing is done on the AOC and the Benq acts as a visual check once the edit is finished as it is a slightly brighter screen. Both monitors run the sRGB colour balance/colour range settings and are adjusted for gamma brightness, and that basically  is all you need do. If one wants to check the calibration of the monitor there are programs to download that will assist in doing so.

One of the main reasons for having good calibration obviously is for accuracy in colour tones and contrast, however I’ve found that should you be using a home printer you may well need to set the monitor that best suits your printer output, more on this later.

Suffice to say almost all new LCD/LED IPS monitors should come calibrated straight from the factory and require little or no change to operate reliably. As in all things of course your mileage may vary and only when using these devices will you know for certain. Below I have included images of my two monitors displaying the same edited image. The edit was done on the AOC monitor seen at left. As you can see from the images the Benq displays brighter overall and the colour is quite different.

Set to srgb
Monitors set to base settings and sRGD colour mode.

As you can see, with both monitors set to the sRGB setting the Benq’s white balance is a ways off, also notice how the Benq is displaying the colour differently, smaller monitors tend to be brighter and have more color tone ( at least all the ones in this house do and I have 5  LCD’s at present. )

In the next image I have raised the brightness a little and now the two monitors are showing similar brightness and tone in the whites, this is important as the white in highlights can look very different between two monitors if it isn’t equalised as closely as possible. Even with the white levels matching color tone range in the Benq still shows more punch, something that proves very handy when it comes time to print. 

You will notice that I only have a small amount of natural light entering the work-space and thats because I prefer to edit in a semi shaded environment which for me helps see differences in colour and contrast and tonality.

daylight
White colour tone is now balanced between monitors.

In the third image I have closed off the natural light  and now have a more traditional style darkroom work-space, this was done purely to highlight any differences in what can be seen on the monitors and to help my smartphone get a accurate shot of the monitors. Yep I’m using my Samsung J3pro to take these images. I have found the smartphone to have very reliable colour rendition in this sort of shooting environment, I could have used the Note9 had I been able to pry it from my wife’s hand. I swear its welded to her hand.

Darkroom

As seen above the room is now basically free from incidental light and the white balance of the two monitors is as close as I can get it to being identical. As is always the case the Benq colour output is quite  a bit brighter and close to what I would want from prints, while the AOC is a little more muted which I find helpful when dealing with the flat look a RAW file presents when imported into editing software.

Thats not to say I wouldn’t prefer the AOC to be somewhat brighter and punchier in contrast, but rather it just shows the nature of how my monitor works. I’ve seen newer models of the AOC that are definitely closer to the type of output you would expect to see from a modern smartphone such as our Note9. This is in no way surprising, monitor technology has moved a long way in the last 10 years. Does it want to make me upgrade my monitors? No, I’m used to how they work and I have developed a workflow that suits them and what I want to achieve. 

No matter what you use, as long as you are getting out of it what you need then it should work well for you. Do you need the very best monitor money can buy, unless you are a professional photographer, probably not, most mid priced ($200 – 500 NZD ) monitors should be easily capable of doing photography work.

April/26/2019.  Since writing this article I came across a video from Fstoppers in regard to monitor calibration. While  I have been happy with my monitors and using them, for those that may want something more definitive I suggest you watch this video. The results appear to be very good. As alluded to in the video, past attempts with software based systems proved difficult, and I can attest to this as it describes my experience with software based monitor calibration. You may be surprised and the video is well worth the look.

Next up the Operating System, a somewhat contentious subject for many.