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What to Look for in an LCD Monitor Used for Photo Editing

written by: Caroline Thompson•edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom•updated: 12/31/2010

Taking a great picture is only half the process. The next step is editing the image for use on the Web or in print. In order to get accurate results, a good monitor is a must. Here are tips on what to look for and some top recommendations to help you find the best LCD monitor for photo editing.

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    A liquid crystal display, also called a LCD monitor, uses thin-film transistor (TFT) technology to improve image quality. This same technology is used in digital camera displays. The image quality on an LCD monitor is sharper, has a consistent tonal scale and better contrast than on a cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor, but the quality of the image is also dependent upon the viewing angle. LCD monitors can have flicker or shimmers caused by user adjustments or factory shortcuts. Understanding LCD screen technology and what to look for is the first step to finding the best LCD monitor for photo editing.

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    What to Look For

    LCD monitors for the office or non-critical graphics are not the same quality as LCD monitors for specific graphics and photo editing applications. Some LCD monitors are specifically made for pre-press or photographic work and have colors, which are less dependent upon viewing angle.

    Some things to look for in a professional LCD monitor:

    1. A display panel resolution of 1900 x 1200 with a monitor size of 21 to 24 inches or above.
    2. A wide viewing angle.
    3. Ambient light reflection (how well it reduces reflected light intensity).
    4. Uniform color reproduction, accuracy, consistency, white balance stability, color and grayscale gradations.
    5. Good black depth.
    6. Extended color gamut.
    7. Good response time.
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    Buying Guide

    Accurate color, contrast and sharpness are critical in photo editing. There are three types of LCD technology.

    1. TN (Twisted Nematic) – These are the lowest quality monitors for photo editing.These are not the best for photographers.
    2. IPS (In-plane Viewing) – IPS monitors offer the widest color gamut and viewing angles, but lower contrast.
    3. VA (Vertical Alignment) – VA monitors have the best contrast, but the response time and viewing angle are not as good as the IPS monitors. VA monitors can be MVA (Multidomain Vertical Alignment) or PVA (Patterned Vertical Alignment).

    Photographers typically will use an IPS monitor. Professional LCD monitors are more expensive than standard monitors. The best LCD monitor for photo editing in the low budget range are smaller, 21 inches or smaller, but have uniform color and accuracy. VA monitors are a good choice for budget conscience photographers, but keep in mind the viewing angle is critical. Prices can range anywhere from $300 to $700, depending on the specifics.

    Mid-range LCD monitors for photo editing are 24 inches or larger using IPS technology and have a good response time of 6 ms. Color reproduction and gamut are good and they are solid performers. These range in price from $500 to $1000.

    Top of the line LCD monitors use IPS, have a large viewing screen, excellent color reproduction, stability, accuracy, consistency and color gradations. These are manufactured as professional LCD monitors for pre-press and photographic use. The cost can run from $1000 to $5000, or higher.

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    Recommendations

    Low Price

    HP ZR22w 21.5-inch LCD Monitor- This monitor is an excellent LCD monitor for the price. Most of the low-end LCD monitors use VA LCD technology, which has a trade off in color stability and viewing angle. The HP ZR22w, however, is an IPS monitor with excellent color and viewing angles. The HP ZR22 has a typical brightness, a screen resolution of 1920 x 1080 and a display size of 21.5 inches. It has high color accuracy, but does need to be calibrated to get the highest level of color accuracy.

    Price - $276 to $350

    Mid-Range

    NEC MultiSync LCDThe NEC MultiSync is an IPS LCD monitor with a 25.5-inch monitor capable of reproducing 97 percent of the Adobe RGB color space. It uses the SpectraView II Color Calibration Solution. This allows the user to customize wide color gamut and color calibration profiling software. The resolution is 1920 x 1200 native with a 400 cd/m2 brightness.

    Price - $1300 to $1500

    Top of the Line

    Eizo ColorEdge CG303W- The Eizo Monitor has a 30-inch screen and is an IPS LCD monitor. It has awesome color consistency, response time and contrast. The screen resolution is 1920 x 1200 for signal 2 and 2560 x 1600 for signal 1. It has a palette of 68 billion display colors and is capable of reproducing 98 percent of the Adobe RGB color space.

    Price - $5000 and up

    These are just a few of the best LCD monitor choices for photographic editing. Other manufacturers offer various combinations of LCD graphics monitors to suit any budget image editing needs.