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.


Eizo’s top-of-the-line ColorEdge CG series models, like the 24-inch CG241W with 1920 x 1200 resolution and the 30-inch CG301Wat 2560 x 1600 resolution, offer high contrast ratios of 850:1. Eizo displays have one of the largest color gamuts available, reproducing 96 percent of the Adobe RGB color space, as well as CMYK. They’re also unique in including 12-bit hardware calibration. The CG301W includes a utility to share the screen with two computers simultaneously, letting you view both Mac and Windows at the same time. Both displays include a hood to eliminate glare and reflections. Estimated Street Price: $2,469 (CG241W); $5,299 (CG301W).

The Dell UltraSharp line of displays offers some of the best bargains around. Offering 24-inch and larger displays starting as low as $379, photographers will be most interested in the UltraSharp 2408WFP, offering 1920 x 1200 resolution, a contrast ratio of 1300:1 and a wider color gamut than the typical budget display. Dell has the similar-specification 27-inch UltraSharp 2709W and a 2560 x 1600 30-inch display, the UltraSharp 3008WFP. All include a USB 2.0 hub and a built-in card reader. Estimated Street Price: $679 (2408WFP); $999 (2709W); $1,999 (3008WFP).


HP has two offerings with features that will appeal to photographers on a budget. The 22-inch w2207h has a resolution of 1680 x 1050, 1000:1 contrast ratio and both VGA and HDMI inputs. The 24-inch w2408h increases the resolution to 1920 x 1200 and offers up to 25 percent more brightness than the 22-inch model. Both displays include integrated speakers. Estimated Street Price: $330 (w2207h); $500 (w2408h).


If you’re a Mac user, Apple displays integrate nicely with the Mac aesthetic and offer solid performance. The 23-inch Cinema HD Display is a 1920 x 1200 display with a wide 170-degree viewing angle, a built-in two-port USB 2.0 hub and two FireWire 400 ports. It has a 700:1 contrast ratio. For more space, the 30-inch Cinema HD Display gives you 2560 x 1600 resolution with the same ports, contrast ratio and brightness rating. Estimated Street Price: $899 (23-inch); $1,799 (30-inch).

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