Written by Marsel van Oosten
My first serious computer monitor was a LaCie Electron Blue IV, an incredibly heavy, blue beast. It served me well for many years, until recently. It can no longer reach the desired brightness, so I had to start looking for an alternative.
At the time when I bought the massive LaCie CRT screen, it was one of the best monitors around. It certainly wasn't the cool way to go - that would have been the flat screens - but if you wanted to see true, solid blacks instead of mere dark grays, a CRT screen was your only option. LCD monitors were regarded as lacking the color accuracy required for photography professionals, and if you wanted to get true black and high contrast, an old school CRT monitor it was.
|My old set up with the LaCie ElectronBlue IV. The device on the left is my DroboPro.|
If you care about your images, you need to care about your monitor. All too often I hear about photographers that spend thousands of dollars on cameras and lenses, and almost like an afterthought, they buy a third rate display that isn't capable of correctly showing the images they've captured.
If you want to fully appreciate all the colors and tones of your images, you need a good monitor, just like you need a good camera and good lenses.
But that's not all. If you want to make sure that what you see on your screen is actually how things are supposed to look, and how others will see your images, you also need to calibrate your screen. If you're working on an uncalibrated screen, your digital image won't reproduce faithfully in print, and they'll also look different when viewed on other displays.
From early on I've always been aware of the importance of a calibrated monitor, so I bought the best hardware calibration device available at that time: the i1 Monitor by Gretach-Macbeth (now discontinued). It performed flawlessly, although the whole procedure was always a bit tedious as it involved attaching the device to the center of the screen with a suction cup, and fiddling around with the buttons on the display itself. After 15 minutes or so the calibration process was finished, and it's always a reassuring feeling knowing that what you're seeing on your screen is exactly what you're supposed to see.
Over the years, things have changed considerably. LCD monitors have become the mainstream choice for photographers worldwide, and CRT displays are a thing of the past. But with so many manufacturers and so many different screens - what is the right choice?
Making the right choice
There are basically three kinds of LCD panels: TN, VA and IPS.
VA stands for Vertical Alignment, TN stands for Twisted Nematic, while IPS stands for In-Plane Switching. I won't start speaking super technically here, but these technologies handle the way the liquid crystals move differently, resulting in different performance. Probably the biggest difference between the three, from the buyer’s perspective, is the price. TN displays are much cheaper compared to VA and IPS displays. Part of the reason of the higher price is the doubling of the number of transistors per pixel in displays, which uses two transistors.
If price is not an issue, then VA and IPS are the sure winners. VA and IPS displays do not suffer from color limitation problems, while many TN panels have limited color depth like 6-bit. To achieve better color reproduction, TN displays for instance use frame rate control and dithering but this can affect the sharpness of the image. VA and IPS displays can recreate a wider variation of colors without the use of dithering and is generally the desired technology for people who extensively work with digital imaging.
Another difference is the viewing angle. IPS displays have a very wide viewing angle and you can view the display from a very slanted angle while the image still retains its colors and you can still make out the figures on the screen. VA and TN displays, when viewed at an angle, begin to suffer from loss of color. The image becomes washed out, as if you are viewing the image through thick smoke. Furthermore, IPS technology is more energy efficient and environmental friendly. For me the choice was obvious: IPS.
The EIZO ColorEdge CG245W
After doing some serious research, I ended up choosing the EIZO ColorEdge CG245W.
EIZO? Who are EIZO?
Back in 2003 the EIZO ColorEdge series was the world’s first line of LCD monitors specifically targeted at graphics professionals. One year later, EIZO introduced the world’s first LCD monitor capable of reproducing the Adobe RGB color space. The image quality, long-term reliability, and innovative features of EIZO monitors have made them the products of choice for many photography professionals throughout the world.
While outsourcing production is now common practice in the monitor industry, EIZO continues to manufacture its products the same way it has throughout its over 40 year history — with its own staff at its own factories. This allows EIZO to keep close control over production quality and offer the industry’s only 5-year manufacturer’s limited warranty.
If you say color accuracy, you say EIZO.
The ColorEdge CG245W is a 24.1" (61 cm) LCD display, using a 1920x1200 IPS widescreen panel. It is also the world's first self-calibrating monitor - nice! I wanted a screen slightly larger than my old CRT, while still being able to keep my second monitor next to it for all my Photoshop palettes. I know, with a larger screen you can keep all your palettes neatly organized on the side, but I prefer to keep my main monitor as clean as possible.
The first thing I noticed when the box was delivered, was the weight. Moving my old CRT screen took half a football team, but this box was anything but heavy.
|The box. No need to call your chiropractor.|
Opening the main container you have a long, flat box containing the instructions, a disc with the manual and software and the sections of the shading hood (for shielding the display from stray light and keeping image color consistent) for either horizontal or vertical monitor setup. A monitor cleaning kit is also included.
Getting the display out of the box was easy. The display itself was neatly wrapped in protective material.
|Protective wrapper against damage during transportation.|
Connecting the screen to my MacPro was as simple as any other device. Plug in the power cord and connect the USB cable to the computer, and voila. It was nice to see that when I turned on the computer, my desktop was immediately shown full screen, exactly filling the entire screen from edge to edge. With the LaCie this was definitely not the case and I had to spend quite some time fiddling with small buttons to adjust the screen before it would finally fill the entire space available.
And boy, does this screen look good!
The design is simple, just the way I like it. There is a small border around the screen that houses the calibration device in the top bezel, while the bottom bezel features some small backlit menu buttons. You can dim these buttons if you prefer not to see them.
|Simple and elegant design. If you like jigsaw puzzles, then you'll love assembling the hood. The calibration device is shown in the active position here.|
I ended up not using the supplied hood, because my whole set up is in a corner of my room, with no stray light coming from either side. Also, it would block part of the view of my secondary monitor, which I use for my palettes.
|Backlit buttons at the bottom of the screen have 7 brightness levels and an off function.|
Another nice feature that I was not used to, is the ability to adjust the height of the screen via the monitor’s “FlexStand”. The bearing-less design of the FlexStand requires very little force to make height adjustments.
|The ColorEdge CG245W comes with a FlexStand that offers tilt, swivel, 90° rotation for portrait mode viewing, and height adjustment.|
At the back of the screen there are two DVI-I inputs that accept both digital and analogue signals, and a single DisplayPort (digital) input. DisplayPort is your best choice if you want to make use of the 10-bit simultaneous display.* In 10-bit more than 1 billion colors are shown simultaneously, which is a whopping 64 times greater than the 16.7 million colors of a 8-bit display, and gives you much smoother color gradations. DisplayPort transmits both video and audio signals.
*Note: A graphics board and software that support 10-bit output are also necessary for 10-bit display.
On the upper left of the monitor you can find two USB 2.0 ports. I mainly use these for quick access to USB sticks and my travel backup drives.
Most of the screens you see today are of the glossy kind - both my MacBook Pro and my iPhone feature these glossy screens. They're great for vivid colors and rich black tones with high contrast ratios, but they also suffer from an incredible amount of reflections. I'm therefore happy that the ColorEdge CG245W uses a non-glare LCD. It shows 98% of the Adobe RGB (1998) color space, perfect for imaging professionals, and it has an excellent viewing angle.
You can tell that EIZO takes color accuracy very seriously indeed. Each unit is calibrated individually at their factory, and they include an Adjustment Certificate, Setup Guide and Quick Reference document with each monitor.
|The Adjustment Certificate (Uniformity Data Sheet) that was taped to my monitor.|