There are few items in the digital photographic chain more important than the monitor, as it’s literally impossible to accurately evaluate and edit digital images without an accurate display. Monitors need to be sharp, color accurate and easily able to be brought into calibration so that the results are the same when images are shared with other calibrated displays.
Despite the importance of the monitor, many photographers work daily with a display that falls far short, leaving them with only a guess as to what their images truly look like.
The BenQ SW271 (or, more accurately, the BenQ SW271 27″ 16:9 4K IPS Monitor) has a feature list that puts it on par with the best monitors available in a price that makes it inexcusable for a photographer to be without this level of accuracy.
Putting It On Display
The SW271 is a 27-inch 4K display that provides more than 1 billion colors, 99 percent Adobe RGB, 100 percent sRGB, 100 percent Rec 709 and DCI-P3 spaces. Both the Adobe RGB space (used in photography) and the Rec. 709/DCI-P3 spaces (used in videography) have a much wider range of colors than the sRGB space in which most monitors work. More color range equals more accurate representation of colors (all else being equal).
To create accurate on-screen colors, the SW271 uses 14-bit 3D LUT and Delta E ≤ 2, which sound a bit like the names of droids but simply refer to the way that the display matches the 4 trillion colors mathematically in a 14-bit color space in order to render them in a 10-bit (billions of colors) display.
There are a number of different construction techniques used in LCD monitor design, and the SW271 is an IPS-type LCD screen. IPS (which stands for In Plane Switching, although no one will ever call it anything besides IPS) is an LCD type that reduces some of the artifact and image consistency issues found in other LCD display designs. Essentially, an IPS display has a wider viewing angle than a TFT or other LCD screen, lower refresh times and greater edge-to-edge fidelity.
If IPS sounds familiar, it’s likely because it has become increasingly popular in high-end computer displays and televisions, thanks to the generally excellent images it produces. Apple’s 5K iMac and iMac Pro features a 5K IPS display that the company touts, and for good reason. The iMac Pro has the best built-in display we’ve seen and is one of the best displays in general.
The BenQ SW271 is factory calibrated to conform to the various color spaces and has built-in hardware calibration to realign the displays over time. The display also supports external calibration tools from X-Rite and Datacolor via the company’s Palette Master software.
For those working in HDR, the SW271 can output HDR content, which makes it a great reference monitor for HDR grading.
Moving between color spaces is easy thanks to an innovative, programmable hardware puck. The display can work in Adobe RGB and then switch to sRGB for a representation of how non-wide-gamut monitors will display graphics. There’s also a black-and-white mode, which allows for more accurate adjustment of monochrome images.
Finally, an accessory hood keeps the display shielded so that it’s not subject to direct or reflected lighting, which could affect the way images are perceived. I rarely see photographers work with lighting hoods, which is a shame since color is so subjective and reflected light can so easily change the way color is evaluated.
Use In Studio
Setup of the SW271 is blissfully simple, thanks to the plethora of connection options. The monitor sports dual HDMI ports, DisplayPort and USB Type-C connectivity. We used the USB connection to connect the display to the test iMac as part of a daisy-chain between devices.
The matte finish on the display makes it much easier to evaluate images than on the reflective glass of the iMac, especially when viewed off-angle. As a result, the iMac display quickly became used for selecting images and putting footage together in Final Cut Pro, while the SW271 was used for critical editing and evaluation.
The matte finish did slightly diminish the “look” of the video I was editing, eliminating some of the sheen that one finds on a glossy display, but it’s much closer to the screens on today’s LCD TVs, so it provides a more accurate editing environment. The display has a brightness of 350 nits (versus 500 nits for the iMac display and thousands of nits for most high-end consumer TVs), which made images look a bit darker than on an uncalibrated iMac screen, though most people edit their content at a brightness level that’s too high.
The BenQ SW271 is a no-nonsense display with a no-nonsense price. It’s capable, dependable, accurate and simple to use, and it’s a great choice for the photographer or videographer looking to step up their editing game.