Buyer's Guide 2009: Monitors

Buying a monitor for digital photography is one of the most important decisions to make on the computer side of imaging. While a smaller, basic monitor may be fine for web browsing and e-mail, when it comes to digital photography, a large, high-resolution display makes the process a lot easier and more enjoyable. With the monitors we’ll suggest here, you’ll have room for big images and all your Photoshop tool palettes.

Display Types

It used to be that you’d need to decide between a CRT (cathode ray tube) or LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor, which are very different in how they work, not to mention how much space they take up on your desktop. LCDs used to be a compromise in quality compared to CRTs, but that’s no longer the case. There are differences in LCD displays though, including the type of backlighting used. The two most common are cold cathode fluorescent (CCFL) and light emitting diode (LED). LED has better white balance, is more environmentally friendly and tends to be brighter with a longer life, but is a newer technology and is only starting to become more widely used. Most LCDs are still CCFL.


A high-resolution display is ideal for photo editing because you can see more of your image on screen with less scrolling. The drawback is that the higher the resolution, the smaller objects appear on the screen, such as menu text. So, even if your 20-inch display can handle 1920 x 1200 resolution, you may not want to run it at that setting, especially if your eyes are straining. However, while you always can reduce your screen resolution in your system preferences, you can’t increase it beyond its limit, so more really is better.

Aspect Ratios

Monitors come in the traditional 4:3 aspect ratio like a conventional television, and the new wider 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratios. The wider screens, like those used by the monitors covered here, are ideal for digital photography, giving you more screen space. For example, a 20-inch standard monitor might have 1280 x 1024 resolution, while the widescreen 20-inch would be 1600 x 1200, giving you about 25 percent more screen space.

Benefits of Large Display

The ideal monitor size for digital photography work is 24 inches or larger. This size gives you plenty of room for your image, along with all of the tool palettes and dialog boxes found in applications like Photoshop. If you have the space, a 30-inch display is a joy to use-but you need to be sure your video card will support it. Thirty-inch displays need a dual-link DVI connection. Another alternative is to use two smaller displays, with your image on one monitor and all tool palettes on the other.

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