Several months ago I wrote about the power of Apple’s MacBook Pro and how it could, for many studios, end the division between desktops and laptops. The MacBook Pro is so powerful, and so portable, that it can be used in place of a traditional desktop. (For the back story, see the original article here.)
In a “practice what I preach” approach to workflow, I sold my “Trashcan” six-core MacPro and instead set out to create a studio solution that allows me to use my laptop with desktop-level gear—monitors, printers, scanners and the like.
The first piece in that transition puzzle is the Dell UltraSharp 34-inch Curved LED monitor, also known by the company’s product number, U3415W. The company refers to this display as “an immersive panoramic experience” thanks to the 21:9 aspect ratio of the screen. This display is much wider than standard displays and feels a lot more like a cinema experience than a computer display.
The display’s native resolution is 3440×1440, which the MacBook Pro can handle with no problem—in fact the Mac can power a second display as well, and I’ll possibly set up a 4k display at some point to review native video content. One advantage of this layout over a 4K or 5K display is that operating system elements such as menus are readable without having to be scaled for the resolution. While a 4K display gives you more screen real estate, it can do so with the tradeoff that the interface elements are hard to read.
The Dell display is factory calibrated, something that is not the case for other monitors in this price category, which is sub $1000. (Purchase price of the display is about $790, currently) which makes it a nice choice for a photographer looking to maximize screen real estate without purchasing a 4K or 5K display.
I would have thought the curved-screen aspect of the display would be a bit of a gimmick and while it does take a bit of getting used to, it keeps all parts of the screen at relatively the same viewing distance from the user, reducing the amount of rocking back and forth I’d traditionally have to to do keep an eye on something at the corner or edge of the display.
The display does not provide a full Adobe RGB spectrum, which means the color gamut is not as wide as a dedicated high-resolution photo monitor. Photographers editing a lot of work for final output to print or to a client might want to opt either for a second screen for more detailed work. (An excellent guide to the various factors involved in picking a display can be found here.)
What it does provide though is an incredibly large workspace, one that enables multiple documents and multiple applications to live side by side with ease. While there are some photographers that do nothing but retouch images all day, the vast majority work on a variety of tasks, —a bit of web browsing, invoice creation, spreadsheets, page layout, etc. The wide display of the Dell UltraSharp 34 inch gives ample room for side by side content. The display is so wide it enabled me to have a full layout of Digital Photo Pro in spread (side-by-side) mode in Preview with a Word window open alongside to capture notes.
Thanks to an interesting Lightroom feature, photographers can treat the Dell as if it were two displays, placing a full-size preview area on one part of the screen and leaving the other portion for the main display.
This workflow actually feels better than side-by-side displays with Lightroom panels up on both screens as it reduces the amount of head turning necessary for making minute adjustments and checking them out at a 1:1 or higher zoom on the secondary screen.
The monitor has a complete range of connectors, including MinDisplay/Thunderbolt and HDMI, and for Windows users can even be set up to display information from two separate PCs side-by-side (that’s great for all those photographers that are also day traders.) There is also a USB connection so the display can be used as a USB hub.
The display moves up and down around 12-inches on the stand and pivots for a wide variety of viewing angles. Since I have a desk with a keyboard tray that raises, I’m even able to perfectly aim the display to work at it while standing (as I’m doing while writing this review.) though I may put it on a base to give it a bit of additional height to make a standing workflow more comfortable. (It can also be set on the base to stand vertically, though I can only imagine this being useful for signage and kiosk usage.)
Dell was also kind enough to include built-in speakers, though the quality it poor and not much to write home about. They’re great for watching The Daily Show on YouTube but not so great for listening to high fidelity audio. As a result, I still run my Bluetooth soundbar even though the monitor has speakers.
Mac Users will be dismayed to find the monitor clashes with the brushed-aluminum exterior of the MacBook Pro, clad instead in Dell’s trademark and less-classy black plastic. The display itself is vastly better looking than is the bezel around it. Thankfully the display is designed to have very little edge and only a narrow bar below it, so the black plastic isn’t that garish.
While it might not be the solution for every photographic workflow, it is certainly one of the most creative and affordable solutions. Image quality is excellent and thanks to Dell’s history of making quality LCD screens, the display will likely work for years with little trouble.
Pros: Affordable. Ultra-wide viewing area makes multi-application workflow a breeze.
Cons: Inexpensive sounding speakers and lack of flair might not appeal to the Mac elitist.