Professional photographers have known it for a long time, but the importance of having a properly calibrated monitor as part of a managed digital imaging workflow is now filtering down to enthusiast-level shooters. If you want great-looking prints then you need a proper photo monitor, but until recently this has represented a pretty hefty investment… easily the equivalent of buying a couple more lenses.
The good news is that – as many more photographers recognise the need for a good monitor – this market is expanding so there’s a bigger choice of brands and, even better, a wider price range. A good-quality photo monitor still isn’t cheap, but there are now a growing number of more affordable models which will help you achieve much better results with both image editing and printing.
BenQ is a brand already well known for its monitors designed for applications such as gaming and entertainment, but it’s now gaining a presence in the growing photo monitor sector, helped along recently by Winning TIPA’s Best Photo Monitor award earlier in the year for its 27-inch SW Series LED-backlit IPS LCD panel (we’ll explain all these initials shortly).
The first thing that’s noticeable when unboxing the SW2700PT is that the stand, while stylish, is also very heavy duty. The main arm is very beefy – despite there being a big aperture to serve as a cable run – and it fits to the wide base via a substantial metal four-claw bayonet mount. The mount for attaching the screen itself is also metal and employs large-sized lugs so the whole set-up is hugely stable, eliminating the wobbles that can be an issue with flimsier mounts. The standard VESA screen mount allows for wall mounting as an alternative. There are the usual adjustments for tilt and swivel plus a generous 14 centimetres of height range with an enlarger-style counter-balanced arrangement so it’s exceptionally smooth, but braked so it won’t succumb to the force of gravity and descend unassisted. The screen can also be pivoted through 90 degrees to be used in the portrait orientation.
The monitor itself looks business-like and also feels well-built with a slightly curved back, matte black trim and a semi-gloss faceplate to minimise glare. The unit is supplied with a hood which is assembled from five rigid plastic panels each lined with black felt. It simply and easily clips together. The middle of the three top panels incorporates a sliding hatch to allow a calibration spider to be dropped through – somebody has been thinking – but on the negative side, the located lugs on the side of the monitor are very flimsy and break easily if you use just a bit of force when detaching the hood (which we did!). Of course, many users will simply fit the hood and leave it there, but also the lugs look to be easily replaceable as they’re simply screwed on the main frame rather than being an integrated moulding. A wired OSD (On-Screen Display) remote controller is supplied and this circular device sits in a well in the base, making various setting changes as easy as pushing a button (more about this shortly).
The panel is an ‘Advanced Hyper-Viewing Angle’ (AHVA) type display with a maximum definition of 2560x1440 pixels which, at this screen size, gives a resolution of 109 ppi (pixels per inch). The AHVA technology is a derivative of In-Plane Switching (IPS) and designed to enhance the off-axis image performance by minimising any brightness reduction or colour shifts when viewing the screen from the sides. Consequently, there’s a wide viewing angle of up to 178 degrees, both vertically and horizontally. This is a true 10-bit display so there’s a palette of over one billion colours to produce smoother shading, colour transitions and tonal gradations.
It’s calibrated before being shipped from the manufacturer and this report is included in the supplied documentation, sealed in its own plastic sleeve. BenQ claims a colour gamut spanning 99 percent of the Adobe RGB colour space, but the monitor can also be set to sRGB, Standard, Photo, B&W and Low Blue Light modes. This last mode is mainly designed to reduce eyestrain when using the monitor for non-photo applications.
You can, of course, perform your own hardware calibration, but it’s first necessary to install BenQ’s proprietary Palette Master Element software which is available as a free download and runs on both Windows and iOS systems. Palette Master Element supports a range of colorimeters including the Datacolor Spyder 5 and X-Rite i1 Pro/Pro 2. It’s easy to set-up and use, and offers the option of basic and advanced calibration sequences which are run via on-screen prompts. While it’s necessary to purchase the colorimeter, this is still a less expensive option than going for a monitor with built-in calibration. Mind you, the BenQ SW2700PT performs pretty well straight out-of-the-box and while we did do our own calibration with a Spyder 5, it didn’t really result in any significant improvement over the ‘factory fresh’ settings.
Two calibration results can be stored along with two custom set-ups and there’s considerable scope for adjustment as far as the latter is concerned. The parameters include brightness, contrast, sharpness and black level which are adjusted via sliders; plus colour temperature (5000, 6500 or 9300 degrees Kelvin presets and a user-defined setting), gamma, hue and saturation. Six gamma settings (1.6, 1.8, 2.0, 2.2, 2.4 and 2.6) are provided for optimising the contrast ratio and colour saturation to the application.
Also adjustable are various system functions such as the menu display time, auto power-off timings, and audio settings. Usefully, the menus can be set to automatically rotate when the monitor is used in the portrait orientation. It’s also possible to program the keys on the wired remote controller to set the colour mode – enabling, for example, a quick switch to B&W – or provide easy access to the calibration and/or custom set-ups.
The controller also has a four-way keypad for navigating the menus along with ‘OK’ and ‘Return’ buttons, so it provides a much more convenient and efficient method of making adjustments than using the on-monitor controls (which, for starters, are all unmarked). However, should you prefer it, customisable keys are also provided on the monitor itself, located along the underside of the bezel on the right-hand side. The defaults are for input selection, colour mode and brightness, but there are options for contrast, colour temperature, gamma and colour gamut. Accessibility is OK for these controls – although you essentially find them by feel – and the various sub-menus pop-up in the same order, but it can still take a while to memorise what does what which is why the remote controller is such a handy feature.
The connection options comprise HDMI (Version 1.4), Display Port, DVI-DL (dual link) and USB 3.0, but in the case of the first three, there’s only one port for each. The OSD controller has its own mini-USB connection. There’s also a slot for SD memory cards which actually frees up one of the main USB ports for the great many photographers using this format.
It’s pretty easy to see how the SW2700PT impressed the TIPA judges. It delivers excellent resolution and definition, with exceptionally accurate colour reproduction and impressive uniformity of brightness (which is always a challenge with backlighting using LEDs). Neither banding nor posterisation were in evidence, but the colours are beautifully rich and the gradation from saturation to subtle is seamlessly smooth.
The colour fidelity is complimented by deep, solid blacks. The quality of the physical elements is also to be commended, especially the stability of the mount. The provision of the shade hood is a big plus, only let down by the pretty flimsy slivers of plastic that are meant to hold it in place.
In many ways, the BenQ SW2700PT defines a photography monitor for enthusiast-level users. There’s the option of simply using the factory-set calibration – which delivers a truly excellent result with nothing more to do – or the capacity to calibrate via colorimeter should you decide it’s needed for more critical applications.
The set of connections is definitely more photo-orientated than anything else (even video), likewise the fine-tuning possibilities and the near-full coverage of the Adobe RGB colour space. All this is topped off with the remarkable colour accuracy, contrast and sharpness which is as good as you’d get when paying twice as much… so you can throw value-for-money into this mix too. The overall build quality is also a cut above what you’d normally expect for the price.
So, whichever way you look at it, a clear winner.
BenQ SW2700PT 27-inch photo monitor
Price: $1299, includes a shade hood and cables (DVI, Display Port and USB).
Panel Type: 68.6 cm (27 inches) AHVA (IPS) TFT LCD with RB-LED backlighting.
Display Area: 596.7x335.6 millimetres (full scan). 16:9 aspect ratio.
Native Resolution: 2560x1440 pixels (109 ppi).
Viewing Angles: 178 degrees horizontal and vertical
Brightness: 350 cd/m² (typical).
Contrast: 1000:1 (typical).
Display Colours: 1.07 billion.
Colour Range: 99 percent of Adobe RGB 1998.
Internal Processing: 10-bits per colour.
Height Adjustment Range: 14.0 centimetres.
Mount Adjustments: -3.5-20 degrees tilt, 35 degrees left/right swivel, 90 degrees pivot (for portrait format), 130 mm height.
Connections: DVI-DL, Display Port 1.2, HDMI 1.4, USB 3.0 (two downstream, one upstream), 3.5 mm headphone output.
Features: 14-bit LUT and 3D LUT, SD memory card slot, five picture presets (Standard, sRGB, Adobe RGB, B&W, Photo), Delta E ≤ 2 (CIE) colour accuracy, on-line hardware calibration with two preset modes, low blue light mode, display colour adjustments (colour temperature, gamma, gamut, hue, saturation, black level), three colour temperature settings (5000, 6500, 9300 degrees Kelvin with R/G/B gain adjustments), wired remote controller, two custom set-ups, three customisable function keys, three customisable feature/set-up keys. Shading hood supplied.
Dimensions (WxHxD): 652.8x566.7x322.8mm (including stand at highest setting).
Weight: 8.3 kilograms (including stand, but without hood).