For photographers and visual artists, viewing a piece of work in its most beautiful form is crucial. For this, you will need the best available tools.
One of the most important tools in photography is the monitor you use. This is especially true if you are serious about post-production. But, what monitor should you choose? Is an IPS monitor good for photographers?
In this article, I will discuss different types of monitors, particularly the IPS monitor. I will also conclude the most important factors when it comes to choosing a monitor.
How Was the First Display Technology Developed?
To understand where display technology is today, we need to take a quick look into its past.
In the previous century, general technological developments came at a fast pace. Devices with monitor displays have become part of our everyday lives.
The first electronic display in the world was the Cathode Ray Tube (CRT, in short). It was first used in oscilloscopes in the late 19th century. In the early 1920s, it gave the base of black-and-white television. Later, around 1950, the first color CRT display was released.
CRTs were popular throughout the second part of the 20th century. Other display types were either unpractical, expensive or underdeveloped. Many manufacturers experimented with new approaches, but few of them reached commercial use.
After various monitor types came and went, the success of LCDs began. LCD display technology was developed in the early 60s and went into the spotlight around 1985. Japanese companies, including Sharp and Epson were pioneers. The LCD display conquered the market by being thinner and cheaper.
They offered better colors, brightness and resolution. Since then, LCD has been developed further to types that are prevalent today.
Common Types of Monitor
Different types of monitors exist, but the two main popular types of LCD are twisted nematic and in-line switching monitors.
What Is LCD and How Does it Work?
LCD stands for Liquid-Crystal Display. But what does that term mean?
Liquid crystal is a particular state of matter. It has the characteristics of both liquids and solid crystals. Imagine it as a bunch of small crystal stones, that flow together like a liquid.
Depending on orientation, liquid crystals have different optical properties. It is possible to modulate their direction by electric signals. This modulation makes them suitable for use in displays.
LCDs don’t emit light. Some illumination, such as a backlight LED, is required.
The Advantages of Twisted Nematic (TN) Monitors
TN monitors contain liquid crystals that can twist to a varying extent. Different voltage levels control the twist and light emittance.
Their main advantages are cheap production, low power consumption and fast response time. As such, they are suitable for applications like high-speed monitoring and gaming.
But they offer poor color representation and viewing angles. Often a TN display only covers around 40% of the sRGB spectrum (we’ll talk about that later in this article). And if you don’t view them straight from the front viewing angle, colors get distorted.
Pros and Cons of the In-Line Switching (IPS) Monitor
So, what is IPS monitor? IPS monitors improve on TNs in color and viewing angles. But, they don’t offer as fast response times. The difference lies in the crystals moving parallel to the screen plane.
You can find IPS in mid-range and high-end monitors, smartphones, cameras, and many more. Monitors designed for graphic work all use IPS.
Hitachi developed IPS in the 1990s, under the name of Super TFT. It improved on all previous technologies and offered superb image quality, but manufacturing was expensive.
Super IPS solved color shift problems. Then, IPS-Pro came, offering even better contrast. IPS-Pro is the version most used today.
In recent years, prices have dropped and the IPS monitor is now widely available.
OLED: The Competitor to IPS
OLED is a display technology developed in recent years. It stands for Organic LED. This type of display is different from LCD. In OLED, the pixels themselves produce light.
There’s no need for backlighting. Black levels are darker since you can turn off pixels. OLED offers a better display contrast ratio and better colors than LCD.
There are also notable disadvantages compared to LCD. One is its shortened lifetime. Organic materials are more susceptible to UV light, which degrades their quality with time. They can’t display such high dynamic range (HDR) as some advanced IPS display types.
They are also more expensive to make. Manufacturing OLED screens comes with a lot of waste of faulty parts. But this is set to improve, and OLED is already the most active competitor to the IPS monitor.
You can find OLED displays in smartphones and premium TVs. Mirrorless camera electronic viewfinders also utilise OLEDs to achieve darker blacks.
What to Look for in a Monitor as a PhotographerWhen choosing an IPS monitor, you should consider these factors:
Resolution. The higher the resolution, the more content can fit on the screen. This means more of the photo or more editing panels. You can see more details when zooming out. For photo editing, aim for at least a Full HD (1920×1080) monitor. There’s no upper limit. You can get a 4K (3840×2160) IPS monitor at a reasonable price.
Size. Bigger is better. You want to be able to see your art in its full beauty. Bigger monitors are also better for your eyes. Aim for 23″ or larger.
Color space. I can’t stress enough how vital proper color display is. Your monitor should cover at least 90% of sRGB and 70% of the AdobeRGB spectrum. These color spectrums are industry standards. sRGB is the standard 8-bit color space for web. Anything that gets to the internet is in sRGB. AdobeRGB is a broader spectrum of colors.
Brightness. This factor is not an issue with an IPS monitor. Still, keep in mind that having a bright display is useful. Not everyone has complete darkness in their editing rooms.
Response time. For photo editing, response time is not crucial. If you’re editing videos, keep an eye on it. Aim for 10ms or less.
Black levels. An IPS screen will never reach the same black levels as OLED. But, there are differences among IPS in black levels. There’s no standardised measurement for this. You need to look at review sites, like Rtings, to check it.
Calibration settings. If you’re buying a cheaper monitor, make sure it offers options for monitor calibration. On most midrange and professional displays, there is a service menu. It allows complete 8-bit calibration, from RGB (0,0,0) to (255,255,255). Alternatively, some offer color calibration from 1 to 100. For most users, that is enough.
Viewing Angle. Make sure to buy a monitor with adequate viewing angles — at least 160 degrees in any direction.
It is best to buy a high-quality monitor from a renowned manufacturer.These include Eizo, Sharp, Dell, LG, BenQ, and a few others.
Do your research before buying, and choose responsibly.
How Your Choice of Monitor Influences Your Work
Your choice of monitor can have a significant impact on your work.
There are various notable reasons for this.
First, color reproduction is essential to any visual piece of art. And when you’re the one creating it, it becomes crucial.
Think about it: if you can’t see the work in its true colors, nobody can. The final result, be it a photo, a movie, or a graphic, will lack color detail. Or it may be color-shifted, too warm or too cold.
Such differences can alter a photo. A shift to cooler tones may communicate the exact opposite of what you’ve intended.
Having a monitor that can show true, calibrated colors is a must.
I edited the next photo on two different monitors. The first monitor was oversaturated; its brightness was turned to full. It was also too warm and had a purple tint. The second monitor was calibrated.
Of course, this is an arbitrary example, but you can see the point. The photo edited on the uncalibrated monitor is cold, dark, and lacks contrast. The second one communicates a better feeling.
Not everyone has a calibrated monitor, so why should you? If the source is right, the result will not look much different. But, if your display is too warm, photos viewed on a cooler monitor will look very cold. (And vice versa.)
Another essential factor is the size and resolution of the display.
You have to choose to see either the details or the whole image.
High-resolution monitors can offer the same experience as big prints. You’re able to see the whole image but observe the details at the same time.
This translates to images that feel fuller and more comprehensive.
Consider that a good monitor can inspire you. Seeing your images in their accurate scale, color and detail will give you more satisfaction and inspire you to create more.
Using a proper monitor can increase the quality of your work. Investing in a high quality monitor is a wise decision.
It is best to buy an IPS monitor from a renowned brand. After calibration, you’ll have a monitor that’s well suited even for professional art.