Tag Archive for: benQ

About monitors and the BenQ SW271C

Writing a review about some gear is easy, and for some gear it’s hard.
One of the things I always love to do however is make my reviews a bit different. If you want specs etc. You can find them almost in seconds if you want a general review… plenty out there, but is it really something you want to read, or do you like to hear how something works in a real-life situation and get some tips in between… well that’s what I try to do with a review, and today it’s time for the brand new BenQ SW271C monitor.

The SW271C is a 27” 4K 99% Adobe RGB monitor with some cool gadgets and tricks up its well-designed sleeve.
Before we start it’s important to add that this display follows the AQColor standard techniques from BenQ and they work together with ICC en ISO to warrant a great performer for your desktop (or wherever you want to mount it)

I’ve had this monitor for a few months now to test out, but the review is very late due to Annewiek breaking her leg, but it did give me more time to think about how to write the review…. so here we go, I hope you get a lot out of it.

I think it’s one of the most asked questions I get.
“Which monitor should I buy?”
And in all honesty, it’s maybe one of the most important decisions we as creators have to ask ourselves. Now don’t get me wrong, your camera, lighting, lenses etc are all very important, but if you really think about it…. your monitor is used the most and is vital for judging and retouching your images, and don’t even get me started on video. A good monitor for me is absolutely essential and might be one of the most important investments you do.

And indeed I call it an investment because a good monitor is not cheap, especially if you want Adobe RGB.

Now let’s take a look at some of the things I find very important in a good monitor for video and photography.

Placement
The first thing you really have to realize is that placement of your monitor is also a vital part of performance. For example, a monitor with a strong backlit area (like a window) will never give you the proper contrast experience, and before you know it you’re delivering images during day time that are totally different from images you’re editing during nighttime. (Due to the changing intensity of the window).

But also lighting in the studio/workroom is important.
You have to make sure there is no direct light hitting the monitor. But working in a total blackout room is also not healthy. So most of the times I advise to place a DAYLIGHT lamp behind the monitor if you work in a really dark room, in a normally lit room (without direct light hitting the screen) you can also decide to place this light behind the monitor but in all honesty, they are not that cheap and when you have enough ambient light in the room it doesn’t really add anything to the relieve of eye strain, but you can always experiment with this of course.

Now in most cases there will always be a little bit of “scatter light” light that bounces around the room and can infect the image on the monitor, luckily for these kinds of situations, there is a great solution, the “hood” (and I don’t mean Arrow :-)). With loads of monitors this is an extra added cost which due to that reason a lot of people don’t buy, but later have to add anyway, and even in our studio with controlled lighting the hood gives a lot of extra contrast experience for the simple reason it creates a sort of “shadow-box”. Now this is one of the things I love about the BenQ series of photography/video monitors, you don’t have to think about buying it…. it’s included in the box, and works for both landscape as portrait settings (awesome)

Portrait or landscape
In all honesty for 99.9999% of my usage, it’s landscape mode.
But… I know several designers and photographers that love to work in portrait mode. This means in essence that you can turn your screen from landscape to portrait and it will “scale” the content of the screen to fit the chosen position of the screen. If this is important for you… the SW271C is able to be used in both modes. (Like most BenQ screens)

Calibration
It’s no secret for most of you that I talk about calibrations a lot.
And let’s take a look at why I think this is so important and in fact everyone should be much more interested in it.

With the calibration of your monitor you are actually doing the following, you make sure that the colors on the screen are as close as possible to the “real” colors. And this is a bit of a problem. So let me explain a bit more.

First off all forget that sentence “real” colors first. And read it slightly different.
For photography and video we use so called color spaces.
These colorspaces are 100% fixed and contant of course the coordinates for the colors, but also the so called Gamma curve and white point. Already dizzy? Well don’t worry the only thing you have to remember is that there is actually a LOT going on with this calibration and as you probably know from Photoshop, the more you push and pull on your images the more problems you can get with normally smooth gradients. Do it really aggressive and you will literally start to see your image breaking up before your eyes.

To prevent this “breaking up” it’s important to chose a monitor that supports so called “hardware calibration” or LUT tables.
So what is this, and why is it so important?

Let’s first take a look at colorspaces.
The ones you probably know are sRGB and AdobeRGB.
sRGB is mostly used online and when you have a great monitor and printer you can really benefit from using AdobeRGB. The difference is in the “size” of these spaces. For example sRGB is a real 8 bits colorspaces, it’s small, not that spectacular and very compatible (even with pretty bad screens), it doesn’t mean it will always give you a great images, but at least it will look ok (if you did your work that is, and you feel it coming, that needs to be done on a calibrated screen).

When we look at AdobeRGB we are talking about a much larger colorspace, it’s still “compatible” with 8 bits (meaning you can use JPG for storage) but it’s really pushing the limits. The first thing you will notice when you switch from sRGB to AdobeRGB is that colors can be more intense, but in essence the “balance” between the colors should be app equal between colorspaces, so red shouldn’t change to orange of course, however in a lot of cases this does happen.

To understand this it’s vital to understand that when you are editing images you are constantly changing gamma, colors, balance between the colors, whitepoint etc. Now you might say “hey, buddy you just told us that colorspaces are 100% defined… so what?”

Lol yeah I know.
Let’s make it really simple.
In a colorspace Red, Green and Blue contain 3 coordinates, x,y and Y.
Hue, saturation and Luminance.
But that’s just for the colors, we also have the so called grayscale, meaning if you create a gradient from black to pure white you want this to be 100% gray and not running from slight red to slight blue, it has to be gray in every step. In photoshop one could say we go from 0.0.0 to 1.1.1 to 2.2.2 etc. All the way up to 254.254.254. Now we have a perfect grayscale, but we also have to make sure that the difference between these steps is also equal, you don’t want to go from deep black to middle gray in 2 steps and in 20 steps to pure white, and this is where we use the gamma curve. Now one could say… ok we are there… let the computer do it’s work.

Well yeah… not yet.
Just for your realization, in essence if we really simplify it we have 6 colors with 3 coordinates and 254 steps for brightness who all have to be picture perfect to give you a proper calibrated image…. add to this also the gamma which has to be set for every single color and be in balance with all the other colors and … well you get it, take an aspirin and continue after taking a break.

Ok you’re back.
Let’s simplify it.
When we do a calibration on a projector or TV it’s often possible to get a proper grayscale performance by adjusting only 3 colors (RGB) on 2 positions. It will not be perfect but it’s more than good enough for serious editing. But sometimes a display cannot be corrected with these 2 points, and now we have to start using 4-5-10-20-etc points. And this is were problems can occur.

Again think about Photoshop, when you use a curve and only pull/push on 2 points there is not a real problem, you can go pretty extreme, however start to use 3 or 4 points and you can almost immediately see problems when working in 8 bits and you get a lot better performance when working in 16 bits, which is absolutely logical because there is a lot more “room” in 16 bits.

Now that we get this clear it’s possible to explain the next part very fast.

The hardware calibration part II
When we talk about hardware calibration it means that the monitor manufacturer already calibrated the screens in the factory to make sure they are as close as possible to the specs of the monitor, do realize that this calibration report is 100% useless in your setup, you really have to do the calibration yourself in your setup with your soft/hardware and lighting situation. But by using a screen with this option it actually means that the monitor does the whole calibration internally with it’s own stored LUT table (16 bits in the BenQ), in other words the monitor “knows” the max performance of the display and also how to calibrate it perfectly. It’s a bit like buying an ikea twin bed with a manual or without. In both cases you probably can get the end result but I’m afraid that without the manual it will not be without some defects, and maybe when the kids really jump up and down it will collapse. Because even with a manual it can be pretty tricky.

The BenQ SW271C supports the hardware calibration via the same software as the previous monitors and it works pretty well. My advise is to actually calibrate your screen to native and not Adobe RGB if you want the best performance but after that it’s actually a rock solid solution. Because the screen covers most of the Adobe RGB colorspace setting it up for Native it will give you great results (on average less the 2dE which is very good for photo and video work)

The Puck
Most BenQ monitors support the use of the BenQ puck.

So what does the puck do?
The puck can be used to for example switch between colorspaces or for example see an image in black and white. Now in all honesty the black and white function I never use, but being able to quickly switch between colorspaces can be pretty refreshing to see what the impact is, and can save you some problems with customers. It’s not something I would give the stamp “you really need this”, but it can be incredibly handy in some situations.

Coloruniformity
One of the biggest frustrations is if a monitor shows you an image that is reddish on the right and blueish on the left. And trust me, this happens a lot and not only on cheap monitors, we see this in almost every screen, monitor, projector etc. So fixing this is vital for a display you can trust. Now let’s make one thing 100% clear, just as with calibrations you can never ever get it 100% right with todays technology, but that being said, I’ve used plenty of BenQ monitors the last few years and BenQ really got this down. In the PhotoVue series I’ve not yet encountered a screen that has a problem. That said, when you display a 100% white screen you can always see some slight differences if you look really good, but these are not important for the reliability for your work so don’t worry, but if you see huge areas with blue or red infections your are in trouble, and most cheap (non photography, and even some photography monitors) will show you small to huge discolorations over the screen and that’s a problem if you need to tint or color correct an image.

 

Pantone and CalMan certified
One of the main reasons I started looking at BenQ was that they are very focused on color and most of all throughout your whole workflow, and BenQ really got this right. They don’t only make sure your screen is “perfect” but most people now a days also work with several screens next to each other, and nothing is more irritating than seeing a small or big difference between the two screens, BenQ calls this Multi monitor color consistency and I can tell you that it really works and setting up 2 screens is a breeze.

But it doesn’t stop there.
Another huge problem is print.
Many photographers struggle with getting images looking good on prints, now the first thing you have to realize is that a monitor is a totally different medium than print, so if you judge your print in a dark room next to your screen you WILL be disappointed, but when you walk with this print outside it will really come alive and if you would take your monitor outside it will probably fall flat on its face, so both mediums are not the same and judging them next to each other is tricky. And this is why BenQ created a completely new (and unique) solution.

Paper color sync
With paper color sync BenQ takes out a huge part of the guess work, there are of course limitations.
To get it working correctly you need to be sure that your printer and paper type is in the database (growing constantly), if you however work with a compatible combination it’s a very well though out system that will not guarantee a fool proof solution, but let me put it this way, it takes away at least 80% of the guess work and will speed up your workflow A LOT and save a lot of wrong prints (good for the environment). It’s without a doubt worth it when you print a lot, and I would almost label it as essential for every serious photographer that uses their own printers. But I also have to add that I’ve worked for years without and after initial huge frustrations (which I wish I could have skipped) I now know my printed almost by heart, but when I switch I will have to start over, and than Paper Color sync will be awesome.

For video
If like me you are also into video it’s good to know that the SW271C is also very good for this part of your work.
Of course the display supports HDR10 and HLG, but it also has a special list of compatible SDI-HDMI converters for a very solid workflow to your screen. Add to this support for film and video frame rates including 24/25/30/50/60frames per second and you can see that it’s a very complete monitor for both video and photography.

Connections
What do you need in a monitor you might ask.
Well in all fairness just HDMI or Display port would be enough to connect your Mac or PC.
But out of experience I can tell you that it’s very handy to also have USB connectivity, first of all because of the hardware calibration, but it’s also very handy to quickly connect a harddrive or camera instead of diving behind your machine or use external hubs.

Well the SW271C is very complete and has something cool for us 😀
First of all you have 2x HDMI and a display port.
On the USB side we have 2x USB and 1x a 60W USB-Connection.
and….. yes a card reader supporting SD/SDHC/SDXC/MMC so that’s pretty handy and saves some clutter on your desk.

Experience
Of course the most important part of a review.
How does it perform.
And I can be pretty short about this.
I have used and owned almost all BenQ displays in the PhotoVue series, and without a doubt it’s my favorite series. BenQ delivers monitors for a very competitive price and has some awesome specs, what do you think for example about 99% Adobe RGB, 90% P3, 100% sRGB.

But most of all I love the material BenQ uses for the screens itself, it’s hard to explain exactly but compare it to another monitor and you can clearly see that the BenQ has less glare (reflections) and their screens are literally razor sharp without ringing, in other words, you get a fricking awesome and accurate screen for your money.

Also one of the main advantages I think is the fact you can use an external calibrator instead of a build in, now don’t get me wrong, at first the build in analyzers work fine, but after 2-3 years you will find that the results will start to drift, with an external calibrator you can just replace the unit and have 100% accuracy again.


Working with photography means you are focusing on small details in both color and detail, a display should be “transparent” and give you as the creator the full freedom and accuracy you need to do proper color correction, now you might say “hey Frank, don’t you use the X-rite color checkers for that?” And the answer is “yep and no”.

Yes as in, you always have to use something like a white balance card or Color checker if you want a proper base (starting point), but after that it’s all about fine tuning, adding some cool looks etc. And for that work it’s vital you can trust your display, and without a doubt I would say…. I trust my work with BenQ PhotoVue displays, and I’m pretty picky as you guys now.

Oh and if you want to play a game in between… with 5ms it’s not that bad I would say 🙂
So if you’re in the market for a kick ass awesome accurate monitor, make sure to check out the SW271C, you will love it.
Plus in some countries BenQ gives you a 6 months pixel warranty.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask below.

A distant modelshoot in a time of social/physical distancing

One might say we woke up in a “bad” sci-fi or horror movie.
No more going outside for a lot of people, no more photoshoots, no more….. well in the Netherlands we are “happy” that at least we are not in a full 100% lockdown but still have some things we are allowed to do. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those protesters that believe the government is keeping us inside for other reasons. Trust me if they want the damage to the economy to be limited they will open up as soon as possible, if your country does not yet open up, don’t do it yourself, this is a virus we are fighting with each other not an enemy you can see.

So of course one of the things I miss most is doing photoshoots. I know some people still do it, but I think that’s irresponsible, you have to move to the location, there is a huge chance of infection during that travel or on location, if you do it in your studio you have to clean literally everything and they still don’t know for sure how long the virus will be active in a room where there is little to no ventilation, in fact they already know it can be spread via the HVAC system, so you might not infect yourself but maybe someone in that building. So just don’t take the risk.

To show you guys that you can do photoshoots even without leaving your home my friend Andy set up this special photoshoot (and all credits go to him for this).

Andy is a dear friend of us, but he lives app. 6000 miles away. So talk about keeping your distance.
Andy is also a photographer, but also a good looking dude, so he came up with the idea to do a long distance photoshoot. And with todays technology this is of course very possible.

 

Our setup.
During the lightsetup I switched between the small camera and the desktop. So for the shoot the desktop was large and for setting up the lights I switched the two cameras so I could clearly see what was going on.

So what did we do?
Andy put his camera on a tripod and connected it to his laptop via a Tethertools cable of course.
Thanks to Capture One I was able to switch between shooting modes, settings and very importantly live view (without live view forget about this).

One camera (from his laptop) we set up so I could see most of the room, this made it easy to see where the lights were placed and give directions to how to angle the lights. Of course Andy was able to do the metering and place the lights.

As soon as everything was setup I switched over to the live view mode inside of Capture One and posed Andy. Now to be honest when we started this shoot I didn’t expect it to go as smooth as it actually did. For the “meeting” software we used ZOOM, but you can also use Skype or any other software that supports both taking over someones desktop and using a camera at the same time. Zoom actually worked like a charm (this was my first time using Zoom).

When everything was set up correctly I could see Andy posing via the live view and getting the shadows right was easy. When I started this my initial idea was to just use flat lighting, this is easier to get a good shot, but when we saw how smooth the connection was we just immediately went for the more contrasty lighting. Now I have to add Andy was a real champ and stayed exactly the way that I told him, there is always a slight delay between shots and directions but in all honesty it felt almost instant, so this is without a doubt usable.

Now in real life I can make better shots, will experiment a bit more with different positions, fine tune the light, freak a bit more with flares etc. but I have to be honest for a remote shoot this was not only a boat load of fun (thanks buddy) but the results aren’t that bad either, in fact if you take more time for it (we did a session of 30 minutes) I think you could do some really cool stuff.

So what do you need?
Make sure you connect your camera via USB to your laptop/tablet.
Make sure you use software that can show you the live view of your camera, for example Capture One.
Place one camera that can see the whole room and use this as the standard “webcam”
Use software that is pretty solid in the connection and has the option to take over someone’s desktop, you have to have mouse control.
The software you use to make the connection has to support also the option that both the desktop AND camera stay active
Make sure the software makes it possible to see both the desktop and the extra camera

Now if you want to go fancy (and who doesn’t)
You can use a dedicated videocamera and connect that to your desktop. We use a blackmagic HDMI to USB device for this and in our home studio a Magewell HDMI to USB device. Both do the same thing, they get a HDMI signal from your camera and convert it to something your desktop sees as an extra camera in “all” software. It replaces the often bad webcams and gives you more room to move it around and show the room.

And… well that’s about it.
After the shoot Andy send the files to me and I retouched them to show you guys the results today.

There is one thing that was a bit more difficult than expected. In real life you see everything in 3D, in other words you see depth. On a screen this is highly reduced, this made setting up the accent light for example much more tricky than normal, but in the end we got one shot out of it, I wanted to play more with that but Andy’s room was pretty bright and small so the light scatter was very hard to control, so we opted for the more darker looks 🙂

 

BenQ SW321c review and opinions

Some reviews are easy and some reviews are hard.
To be honest writing a review about a monitor can be quite easy, but also incredibly hard, actually the better a monitor gets… the more difficult it gets writing a review. When for example a monitor has color issues, or luminosity errors you can explain what it is and why it’s important to take note of that. This often means that writing reviews for cheaper monitors is a blast, loads of things to explain so to say.

So why do I start this review with this small note…
Well you have to know a bit of history.

Years ago during an UK tradeshow I met the guys from BenQ for the first time, at that moment they told me they were starting to promote specialty monitors for video/DTP and photography and they wanted to really make a dent in the market to deliver high-class, great specked monitors for very affordable prices. Now from any other company I would probably just thought “yeah, sure and who are you again” because let’s be honest the market had been very tightly controlled by only a hand full of brands, and in fact at that point most photographers only edited on 2 brands if they were serious about their work.

So why did I take BenQ serious from the Get-go.
When you look at companies there is always a history, and what most of you probably already know is that before we took on photography full time Annewiek and I ran a PC-company for over 20 years (with great success) and one of the things we always experienced is that if a gamer entered the shop it was always …. BenQ. We’ve sold pallets of BenQ monitors to the gaming community in our area, but also CD drives and the nice thing from the BenQ products was great support and they hardly ever broke down, and on latency for gamers…. well if negative was an option they would probably add this too. So this is a company that didn’t just appear out of nowhere, I dare to say that if one company knows how to build imaging display for pro work BenQ absolutely would be on that short list without any doubt. So when they announced the new line I was all ears, eyes and what not more.

My first BenQ monitor was several hundreds of euros cheaper than the monitor I used at that time and to give you an idea about technical knowledge I have to tell you a small story.

The monitor I was using at that moment had a hardware calibration unit.
Now I never got this feature, it metered in a corner, it was a tristimulus meter and was not replaceable and could not be recalibrated. When I asked about this “weird” solution I got some even “weirder” answers.

First off all, the meter was linked to the monitor so it knew the degradation of the panel and adjusted itself, also it was placed in that position because…. well never got an answer to that one.

Well let me burst your bubble for now.
Besides running a PC-shop for many years in 1997 we also started a Home Theater branche (this is also how we worked with BenQ in the past) in 2001 we were in the states (yes during 9/11) and I got my ISF certificate (Imaging Science Foundation) I won’t go into the very technical details, but let me put it this way, I know how to calibrate a display manually and I also understand how an analyzer and a panel works, and how they interact.

It’s impossible to calibrate an analyzer to “predict” the degradation of a panel for professional use. For consumer use you will get close enough, but for critical work it’s absolutely ridiculous to make statements like that, Both panel and analyzer drift over time. For our professional analyzers we send them in every year or two for a recalibration, this is not cheap but it’s necessary for professional grade calibrations. Now both drift, but they won’t drift according to a “plan” we could only wish, no both drift in different ways, also depending on the surrounding area of course, usage and simply put the panel itself.

One could roughly say that for professional use an automated calibration system could work just fine for 2-3 years, after that we go down to consumer level, still ok, but depending on your own nitpicking, not that good anymore.

And than talk about placing, why in the middle or corner or edge?
Well when you look at your monitor you mostly look at the centre, right?
So it makes sense to calibrate that part, so why should you calibrate only a corner or edge?
It just didn’t make any sense at all.

Now one of the main reasons these kind of solutions are actually very good is because those setups use something called hardware calibration. Let me make this really simple. With a normal calibration the software creates a so called ICC profile, this is a profile where you set a goal (for example Adobe RGB) and the software “calculates” from the sensor readings how far certain colors are off and corrects this, so for example you will see R +1, -10, +3, often these calibrations are done on the primaries (RGB) and secondaries (CMY) and often also some shades in between, during the calibration you also see them vary in output, this is mostly used for gamma and to prevent clipping within the colorspace/color.

In all essence it’s not really hard to understand.
We have a fixed set of coordinates and we have a variable set of coordinates that has to be “guided” towards that fixed set. In most cases you get pretty darn close, but it will never be 100% perfect, the difference is what makes a monitor good, better or worse. This is also why you often see 98% Adobe RGB and 100% srgb, it means that when calibrated to Adobe RGB you will get 98% close, and when calibrated to SRGB you get 100% close.

Now where does it get interesting.
When we do this in software there are limits. Think about what happens when you use curves in Photoshop, when you pull on two sides everything is fine, when you start adding 3-4-5 points you will see huge problems in for example an 8 bits version, and less problems in a 16 bits version. The reason is again simple, with 8 bits you get 256 steps of luminance per color and in 16 bits you get a whopping 65536 tonal values PER color. Don’t confuse this with a 10 bits panel (which the 321C uses). As you can see here the difference between 8 and 10 bits panels.

8 bits
10 bits

When we look at the calibration itself we have a few options.
Profiles can be matrix-based or LUT (lookup table) based
both of which include the white point of the device (mostly D65 or 6500 degrees Kelvin)
Matrix-based profiles are small and LUT profiles are larger and also a lot more complex.

  • matrix profile is a mathematical model made up of the three primary colorants of the device and some simple tonal curves, referred to as a 3 x 3 matrix.
  • LUT-based profile contains much more information, consisting of a table of numbers that allows you to find an input value and its corresponding output value.

One could say that simpler devices could use a matrix profile, it’s fast and easy.
But for monitors and printers I’m a huge supporter of a LUT based calibration.

This is also where the monitor comes into play.
You probably heard the remark hardware calibration quite some time when you read my reviews. This actually means that you don’t calibrate your monitor via an ICC profile, there still is one, but it will be “neutral”, all calibration is done inside the monitor. Personally with the BenQ I always choose the 16bits LUT, native panel, V2 (don’t use V4) relative blackpoint (with relative it will keep the gamma in tact, with absolute it will yield a higher contrast ration but gamma is sacrificed a bit) and large. This takes some time but the result is butterly smooth and very accurate.

Now there is one setting missing, and I want to give some extra attention to this, light output?
When a gamer or consumer buys a monitor one of the things we always heard was “light output” and a rule of thumb was… the brighter the better. Well that’s true for those usages, but what about DTP or photography? everyone that ever edited an image on their phones or iPad in a dark room with the brightness on full blast knows this hurts your eyes, but also the results are WAY too dim, in other words as soon as you look at them on a normal monitor it’s just too muddy and dark.

But can’t you just lower the output of the monitor?
Yeah to a certain extend you can, but you do have to realize that there is a limit, at one point the contrast (white point) will keep going down, but the brightness (blackpoint) won’t, you are now entering the danger zone, you are now seriously hurting your contrast ratio, and this…. you don’t want to do.

Seeing we need lower light output for photography (mostly between 80-130 cdm) it’s wise to choose a monitor that has a sweetspot for contrast ratio around that light output, although now a days with HDR this is a bit different, but let’s for now keep that out of this story.

End of the story
So for a good monitor that can be used for photography we need :
Hardware calibration, with a replaceable analyzer (not a fixed one)
A sunshade (also handy when you have a controlled lighting area)
At least 98% Adobe RGB
A good panel that doesn’t look red on one side and blue on the other (and yes there are a lot of them out there)
A good panel that doesn’t look like a natural vignette (brightness differences, very annoying)
Good service and support
Good price

pffff sounds like a lot of boxes to check.

 

The sunhood can be mounted in landscape and portrait

321C (or like I like to say it 3.2.1 COLOR)
Let’s take a look at the beast that is called the 321C
First off all I appreciate you guys still reading so let’s make this very short.
The 321C checks all the boxes, BenQ really picked a great panel for this monitor.
I could have stopped the review here, or bore you guys with technical details which you can also find on the product page, and I hate those kind of reviews so I’m not spending any time on that, let me put it this way…. it’s very impressive on paper.

However, being impressive on paper doesn’t mean anything when you have the monitor on your desk.
So let’s take a look at some things that REALLY caught my eye.

The first thing is of course color. I’ve had several BenQ monitors on my desk over the years and they all are great value for money. I love their P3 series for step in photographers that need a bit more than sRGB but can’t yet afford a full ARGB monitor, but I also love their professional series. Now seeing the pretty steep price difference between them I was very curious to see what this monitor brought more.

Connections
Let’s do the boring stuff first.
This is a USB-C monitor, and all devices should be by now.
It means no slow ports if you connect to your monitor.

You get
HDMI (v2.0) x 2DisplayPort
DisplayPort (v1.4)

USB 3.1 Hub
USB Downstream x 2USB 3.1 Hub
USB Upstream x 1USB
Type-C Yes (PD60W, DP Alt mode, Data)

Card Reader SD/MMC type
Support Format: SD/SDHC/SDXC/MMC

Sharpness
I can’t really put my finger on it exactly but the 321C is a seriously detailed monitor, the first time I connected it without proper calibration I already saw that my taskbar was more defined, looking a bit more 3D, after calibration some “blooming” was gone and it was crystal clear (no pun intended) this monitor is fricking sharp, the panel and coating is one of the most detailed I’ve ever seen in a monitor. Now do be careful, sharpness can also be added digitally, this is however not sharpness, this is “ringing”, do remember that your monitor has a fixed resolution and if you send in that exact resolution you can never ever get a sharper image than without any processing. In projectors and TV sets you do often find sharpening via for example super resolution or 4K enhancement modes, and in movies this can work like a charm, but you always have to realize that you are losing fine details. So for a monitor on which you have to do sharpening for output to a digital billboard, poster or thumbnail it’s vital that the signal is as clean as possible, and from what I can see…. the 321C is pretty close to “honest”.

Coating
Another thing is the coating.
Also here I can’t really find any information on it from a technical standpoint (not important) but it just “feels” different. All the BenQ monitors I used before were pretty similar in appearance and “feel”, this one clearly is different, and in a very positive way. The glare is different (don’t worry these screens are matt and don’t glare like some consumer screens, laptops or iMacs. But still it feels different if you know what I mean.

Paperlike
This is brandnew, and in all honesty, I’m a bit skeptical about this feature.

The main reason you buy a monitor at this price point is of course to be able to judge an image or piece of work on color accuracy and dynamics, so you need a very “honest” preview of what’s to come. Now we all know the frustration that when you send something to your printer it comes out like junk. With paperlike the 321C makes it possible to judge the output of your printer on the screen, sounds awesome right? (and it is) but there are some things you REALLY have to be careful about.

First off all.
You have to make sure you calibrate your monitor before every “judging” round, at least let it warm up for 30 minutes and calibrate, but also your printer has to be calibrated or using a profile that is valid for the kind of paper and inkts you use. We for example use Epson Premium Luster paper almost exclusively, I’ve calibrated my Epson 3800 for this paper and my PC, when Annewiek prints something it looks slightly different, (after I gave her my settings not anymore, so there is a huge BUT there)

In essence paperlike is absolutely fricking awesome.

By using paperlike you can select your printer and paper and see on the monitor what would roll out of the printer. You have realize that a printer has totally different colors than a monitor, we call this subtractive color or additive colors. A monitor emits light and uses RGB as main colors (although you also see some panels using extra Yellow) and a print actually reflects or absorbs light and uses as a base CYMK (K= key). Add to this that also the colorspaces are different per paper and inkt and that in a dark room the monitor will look awesome but the print sucks, and outside the monitor will suck and the print will look awesome…., and here we go…… you get the idea why these worlds can cause so much frustration for you (and me).

Paperlike promises (and does) solve some of these issues.
And let’s be honest, we don’t and never will have exact the same image on screen and on paper, but it has to be as close as possible of course. So what does paperlike, or paper color sync do?

First off all the monitor itself has to be prepared for this, and this is were that new coating comes into play, it’s just a bit more closely to paper so to say. After that it’s actually pretty simple. You can download the free software from BenQ, install it and choose your printer and paper…… yeah…. well don’t know what to say more, it’s really that simple. No voodoo or magic, it’s actually a very smart thing they did, and I can’t imagine why this wasn’t released earlier.

Now one could say…. “he Frank we have a softproofing in Photoshop and Lightroom?”, and indeed yes you do (well spotted), but see this as a WAY WAY more accurate way of doing that softproofing, I advise everyone to use softproofing when you shoot for important work where color accuracy and gamma are vital, and Photoshop comes a long way, but if you want it “perfect”….. well you really should think about the 321C.

Now as mentioned you do have some severe limitations, and it’s up to BenQ to see how this will work in the future.
The limitations are actually to be expected and should also be there, this is NOT negative, in fact it’s 100% POSITIVE, if they would have released a one size fits all solution it would be just a slightly better version (or worse) of Photoshops proofing.

What they did (and still do) is take into account readings from papers, printers, ink AND the monitor and throw them into profiles. This is a proven and very accurate way of working, heck it’s how we all look at our monitors displaying Argb when we edit, it’s just measurements and profiles, nothing more. To make a monitor and print look similar this is however not an easy task, and a lot of people will be disappointed. Like I mentioned before it’s vital to realize that a monitor is NOT a print and a print is NOT a monitor. Use colorsync in a dark studio and you will wonder why you’re print looks like crap, so for serious judging EVERY print station should be outfitted with a full spectrum daylight bulb/led light. ONLY that way can you really judge a print.

One might wonder, what if a customer……
Well I know your pain.
We’ve had exhibitions where my images looked awesome, and we’ve had exhibitions where I hardly recognized my own work. The key element was light. One gallery used natural light from outside and to put it mildly, some moments they looked ok. And the other gallery had lights mounted on every single piece of work, to be short… that looked right.

But when you have this into place, the results can be shockingly accurate.
Ok so what about that limitation I keep telling you about, that was the light right?….. no sorry.
To make this work you really have to be using the printer AND paper AND ink that is available in the BenQ software, at the moment it’s still a bit limited but seeing they can add profiles very easily I expect this to grow a lot during the coming months.

The Puck
With the 321C we find the “famous” BenQ puck.
In all honesty at first I didn’t use it all, and still it’s…. well it’s connected and I do use it occasionally, but there is one thing that is really cool about the puck. You can program two color spaces under the buttons, so with a press of a button you can set your monitor to the sRGB colorspace or to Adobe RGB, this is a very very useful function when you publish a lot for the internet.

But there is one other feature that I think is very useful for some people

GamutDuo
Connect the BenQ with 2 cables and it’s possible to see an Adobe RGB version next to a SRGB version on the same screen. This is a huge thing for people that will convert to colorspaces a lot and where it’s vital all the nuances are shown.

Multiple monitor accuracy
In the top line of BenQ you can add several monitors together and they will give you a very similar look and feel of your images. This is something that might be very important for video editors, for photography I don’t use that feature but when doing video on 2 monitors I often use one for a preview and one for the time line, having a proper balance between those two is not only easier but can actually be vital for proper color grading and balancing the contrast.

Conclusion
We have arrived at the end, wow you kept reading (or did you skip).
This is not the cheapest BenQ monitor and one might wonder that if you don’t need the Paper color sync software if it’s still the monitor for you? Well let me try to answer that.

In all these years that I’ve edited images/video on a boat load of monitors this monitor really shines above all others I’ve tried. I’m just in love with the coating and the sharpness of the monitor and for me, even without the paper color sync software this warrants the premium price and lets be honest compared to the competition this is actually a pretty standard price for the high-end monitors, in fact taking everything into account one could say it’s not that expensive, although it’s still a lot of money.

I do have to come clean on one part.
I’ve already seen and worked with this monitor since December, I believe the first beta sample was in our studio for the first look and I’m running on one of the first production models. One could ask “why wait so long for a review”

Well the reason is very simple.
Sometimes you see reviews minutes after a product is released, we also sometimes do this and one might wonder “how the heck?” well some products we get a few days or even weeks before the release and with some products you know within hours or days if it’s good or not, but a monitor….. I never trust reviews of monitors that appear right after the release. In my opinion you have to also take into account how the monitor grows on you and how it keeps it’s color. Now even a few months of intensive use is not enough for that last question, I can only say “so far so good”, but that growing part I can be very short about. Over the past few weeks the monitor keeps growing in my appreciation, due to the lock down I’m working a lot from home, on another BenQ monitor (of course), every time I walk into the studio and I work on the 321C I go “aaaaaaah…..” and that’s a good thing, the 321C is a very complete monitor with more features than most of us will ever use. It’s simply put a monitor for the serious pro that demands “everything” from him/herself and also expect the gear to follow that trend. And the 321C can keep up…. it’s awesome.

Add to this that the 321C is verified by Calman (a professional calibration system that I also use) and it’s also Pantone validated and you just know this is not just talk or commercial mambojambo.

During the review I aimed at photographers but I do have to add that the 321C also support HDR10/HLG and supports the native 24/25P frames per second that is important to detect judder during editing.

HIGHLY recommended for pros, or hobbyists that are not satisfied with “it’s pretty accurate”

 

 

 

Calibrating a monitor and getting a corrupt profile and more…..

As you all know I’ve been a BenQ ambassador for some years now and somehow that also means that people from all over the world mail me with questions about their monitors and although I’m not working for BenQ or know anything about repairing a monitor some things I can answer, in todays blogpost some of the most asked questions and the answers.

Let me start by stating that calibrating your monitor is of vital importance for a good representation of your images, this will prevent a lot of surprises when you deliver your work to clients or print services, you don’t want to know how many people complain about the quality of a print service but never took the time to calibrate their monitor, do remember that with calibrating your monitor you’re not only calibrating the colors but also the gamma curves and of course the blacks and whites (brightness and contrast) meaning if you don’t you might end up seeing more or less shadow/highlight detail than there is in reality.

Also ignore those documents that are delivered with your monitor.
YES they did calibrate your monitor in the factory, but NO that does not mean it’s calibrated for your system.

Also take into account that you have to re calibrate your monitor every week or two (depending on your precision), but also that you first have to warm up the monitor for half an hour. I actually advise to just calibrate it every single time you have an important job.

Ok let’s take a look at what can/will go wrong and how to solve it.

Always check input
This is a source of a lot of problems.
When you connect a monitor there is signal going through the cable to the monitor that is something everyone knows and understands, however what a lot of people don’t know is that this signal can be two different systems.

First we have the video signal which is coded from 16-235
Secondly we have the PC/Mac signal that is coded from 0-254 (255)

Please make 100% sure that when you connect a monitor to a PC or Mac you have the monitor HDMI setup for 0-255. Sometimes this is also called Full range RGB and the 16-235 is called limited RGB.

When this is setup wrongly the result will be :
Blocked up blacks or no blacks at all
White is crunched (no detail), or too dark
There will be a horrible color cast over the top part of the grayscale (white areas)

Set your calibration method
On some software solutions you have the option to set a colorspace.
In most cases this will work just fine but in some cases you have to be really careful.
If you get a broken or incorrect colorprofile in your software make sure to calibrate the monitor to the NATIVE colorspace and don’t select sRGB or Adobe RGB.

Set your calibration profile to V2
Most people will immediatly go for V4, sounds newer so that must be better right?
Wrong. When you switch from Lightroom to Photoshop there can be huge difference in how an image looks, make 100% sure that you select V2 in your calibration software, this solves 99.9% of the problems.

Now there are many more things that can go wrong, but these are the most important ones.
A few notes that are also important, but will not immediately show problems.

Coloranalyzer age
Although now a days color analyzers are much better do take note to keep them out of direct or indirect sunlight, just store them in a drawer. I would still advise to replace them every 2-3 years, I don’t care what other people say but after 2-3 years there is some degradation in the analyzer, it depends on you if you find that important, but for me I change analyzers every year, or I send them in for recalibration (the expensive ones)

Hardware calibration
If your monitor supports it make sure to use the delivered software.
Don’t use the software supplied with your analyzer (unless it supports hardware calibration of that monitor), hardware calibration is something completely different from the calibration in the OS, and in my opinion for a serious monitor hardware calibration is vital, it gives you better gradients and better/more accurate colors. Some people will claim that the Xrite software for example has more options… do always remember that there are often more options for the simple reason it’s not tailor made for one monitor.

Available light
This is an option you find on some analyzers and I highly recommend NOT using that.
Color temperature of available light changes per second and per season and time of the day. Taking this into account will never work perfectly, just make sure there is no light hitting your screen (work area) and don’t place a critical color correction station in front of a window, yes there is no light hitting the screen but the outside colors change and this will influence the way you tint or correct your images. Light control is not only important in photography/video but also in your work area. Heck it’s vital.

Settings
Don’t go for the over the top settings brightness wise but keep it to the recommended values.
For most workstations the following settings are perfect.

Colortemp should always be D65 unless you’re working in a specific design envirement, but for 99% of the readers it will be D65, let me put it this way if you work in that specific area of design you probably already know where to set colortemp, but if you read it online stick to D65 for your work. D65 is often also called 6500, 6500K 65K.

Gamma is best at 2.2 or 2.4 if you do a lot of video, this is also depending on your room. A lot of ambient light or less ambient. Go for 2.2 in a lighter room, TRY 2.4 in a really dark room. I personally would stick to 2.2 for photography.

Black point I would leave at absolute, unless you’re working in a proofing situation.
This is what BenQ says.
“•   Absolute: using ‘0’ as the black point measurement, so it gives you the best contrast out of the monitor. (It basically sets the black of the panel as black point.)
•   Relative: using the gamma curve to calculate the suitable brightness of the black point. The black is not necessary the darkest brightness level of the panel, but will give a better fit to the target gamma curve. This is often used in soft proofing application.
Also, the black point options will be recorded in the ICC Profile generated after calibration. It will also affect the method of ICC profile conversion in Photoshop or other software application.”

Light output I would leave anywhere between 120-150cdm depending on the room and your delivery system. If you mostly use your work in digital billboards and social media I would go for 150, if you do a lot of prints 120 could be better. It all depends on what you want to see. 120cdm will be less bright than 150cdm but when you edit on a monitor that’s too dim you might bump the contrast too high, on the other hand if the monitor is too bright you might lower it too much. So always make sure you can judge your work the correct way.

Calibrating twice
In the past there were some combinations that gave problems with profiles.
If you see a really bad colorcast in your monitor after calibration, don’t worry, start again immediately and the second calibration will probably be perfect. In most cases this is something from the past and shouldn’t be a problem anymore.

Overall
A lot of things can go wrong with software or hardware. With these guidelines I hope you can solve most of them. Do feel free to just email me questions, for BenQ we have a direct line to their tech support and they respond incredibly fast, they’ve solved problems for my followers often within a day so I would really like to give them a headsup for that, I don’t know a lot of companies that have that kind of support.

Do always remember with calibrations that it’s not always as easy as people tell you. It is easy, but you do have to take care of some things yourself.
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A little bit of side information.
In 2001 I got my ISF (Imaging Science Foundation), Sencore (high-end calibration) and HAA (Home Acoustics Allience) certification. Besides my photography we run a successful Home Theater business for which I do high-end calibrations on projectors, TV’s, video walls etc. We started our Home Theater business in 1997