Saturday Shout: The Best Monitors for Digital Photography

April 1, 2006 | Mark Goldstein | Saturday Shout | 20 Comments | |

Saturday ShoutIn an increasingly digital world, we often spend most of our day looking at them: monitors. Whilst a budget monitor is fine for office applications, digital photography demands a much higher specification. CRT monitors have always been the preferred choice of most graphic artists and photographers, but slimmer and lighter LCD panels now dominate the market, so much so that it can be impossible to find a high-quality CRT display. So which technology do you prefer and why? What are the most important characteristics of a monitor to consider? Which particular monitor would you recommend for photography?  Shout out now..

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#1 Olivier_G

I changed my previous CRT 19" Nec Diamontron for a used HP p1130 (21" Trinitron) in excellent state at $150. If you are on a budget, you can't beat 2-3 years old used 21/22" CRT. They are excellent for photography as well as other uses (Video, Games...), contrary to most LCDs.
SED seemed an extremely interesting technology, unfortunately Canon said they won't use it for Monitors... :-(
Meanwhile, I consider recent IPS technology to be the most interesting, as you can check in this review (in french):

3:13 pm - Saturday, April 1, 2006

#2 Evgeny

I'm using NEC 1980FXi with S-IPS LCD for editing after digital shooting and medium format scaning. Very rich colors, colors practically not depend on angle of view. I tuned my graphical adapter for printing on "my" fotolab and can estimate coincidence colors as 90% between display and printed photo.

3:44 pm - Saturday, April 1, 2006

#3 Itai

CRTs indeed perform extremely well compared to LCD monitors. I know this well because it is part of my job to evaluate monitors. Lately though there's been mostly new LCDs to evaluate since no one is introducing new CRTs. The top CRT monitors are all out of production: NEC Multisync FP1355 & FP2141 and the Mitsubishi Diamondtron Pro 2070SB. Luckily I own 2 of these ;)

There's been a breakthrough lately and it is hard to believe, there is one LCD which shows more color gamut than any CRT ever prodcuced. That is the NEC MultiSync LCD2180WG-LED-BK, unfortunately it costs about $7000 USD ($8800 CDN). This monitor uses an aray of LED as its back-light, so it can turn off and modulate their output, per pixel, to acheive more than 100% of sRGB, NTSC and Adobe RGB color spaces.

For those without the 7K USD to spare, high-end 19"-22" CRTs can still be found which will provide better color and constrast than any affordable LCD. Note that LCDs always win in terms of sharpness due to their nature. This ultra-sharpness actually emphasises compression and noise artifacts while viewing pictures.

In terms of LCDs, the second best ones are the NEC Multisync 2180 / 2170 / 2160 / 2080 / 2070 / 2060. After than the Sony P234 and Philips 230W5VS can be considered adequate.

There are a lot of problems with LCDs which aren't quantified by the typical contrast-ratio and response-time. One of the worst displays I have ever seen was the Samsung Syncmaster 244T who boasted a contrast of 1000:1 (measured at 860:1) but couldn't keep grey neutrals for the life of it and had issues with not showing fine steps within it vast contrast range. It seems that contrast-ratio has become a contest and some manufacturers try to put out large numbers at all costs. On must remember that sometimes winning at all costs is not winning at all!

1:47 am - Sunday, April 2, 2006

#4 nick in japan

Itai, thank you so much for the lessons! Alot of us, I'm sure, use laptops for most of our image / Photoshop work, I try and keep up with what's hot, from a couple monthly magazines, which never seem to rate Sony very much. Most of my stuff is Sony, I use two, old, GRT 170s, and got my son in college, the A290, with Gigapocket. I gauge my work with what the camera shop prints for me; they print everything at "NNNN", without adjustments, and it comes out just like what is on my screen. Because you are the Guru here, what do you recommend for the future, should I stay with Sony? Time will come when I'll update, anything that I should be looking at, or coming down the road, in the laptop area? I may go with another 17" A290, or it's sucessor.
Thanks again!

8:24 am - Monday, April 3, 2006

#5 Derrick

I have used a 20" Sony Trinitron (6 yrs old - work) and a Dell 19" Trinitron (5 yrs old - home) and I swear they are both dieing of old age. I don't know if its a Trinitron or CRT issue.

Yes, they both were probably on for more than 8 hours a day. When I say "died", I mean... The 20" Sony Trini took about an hour to 'warm-up'. I'd turn it on and the text would be slightly blurry. It is really bad in the upper-left quadrant. After an hour, it would almost completely clear up.

My 19" lost its deep black color ability. No matter how much OSD and video card driver tweaking I did, the black had a grey-purple tint to it. It also had odd red/purple/grey diagonal lines going through the screen.

Both monitors worked brilliantly for at least 4 years. I definitely do not regret choosing either monitor.

Now, I have a Dell 2005 LCD at work and a Dell 2405 LCD at home. I love them both. I'm a marketing manager for a software company. I do minor photo work. I do more magazine ad layout, postcard layout, and flyer layout with Illustrator. I also see plenty Excel spreadsheets, websites and Word docs.

I love my LCD's. They do seem a little easier on the eyes. The color, contrast, brightness and black levels may not match a CRT but it sure is close.

Plus, once you use a 24" Dell LCD... well, its truly awe inspiring to have 1920 pixels of horizontal space on such a bright LCD. I just wish I could have talked my boss into it instead of the 20".

5:34 pm - Friday, April 7, 2006

#6 Chris Helcermanas-Benge

I use a LaCie Blue 21" crt for my Photograpic and illustrative work. I have it calibrated to my computer and printer so what I see is what I print. You can not properly calibrate an LCD monitor.

6:42 pm - Friday, April 7, 2006

#7 Michael

Ok, so the Nec's 2180 is great for digital editing etc. What about the Samsung 2030b, how good/bad is that.

Also, does it matter what graphics card you use to pair with a monitor like the NEC ?.

If so which are good/bad

TIA Michael

12:31 pm - Monday, October 16, 2006

#8 EB

I LOVE my Electron Blue IV... it gave me four years of trouble free, very accurate colour. The colour on my Electon Blue was so great... never any suprises when I sent work to the lab for printing. But now that the warranty is up it's not working so well. I fear it will die on my any day now. I'm not looking forward to monitor shopping again, especially now that it'a all LCD displays out there. Has any one looked at any of the LaCie LCD monitors?

6:25 pm - Monday, June 18, 2007

#9 Achilles

I bought a Phillips 200WB 20" LCD earlier this year and I LOVED it from day one.

Now, however, having had some of my photographs printed at a photo lab I HATE it! The pictures on the screen looked great - even without photoshop - what came back from the lab was terrible. ALL the shadow detail was lost - large areas of dark 'mush'. Everthing was FAR darker than on the monitor.

I am waiting for delivery today of a Spyder2Express calibration unit in an attempt to rectify the problem. If this does'nt work I will be in the market for a decent CRT (what market?)

My previous crt was a 19" 'GNR VL997 Super'. A long way short of 'super' though. Sharp in the centre / blurry in the corners; curved screen etc. - but it was the biggest I could afford when I bought it - I went for size over quality (silly boy).

Any comments on either of these two units that I am considering please?

Sony E530 21"

Sony/Dell P1130 21"

Any pros/cons that I need to be aware of?

Many thanks,


9:03 am - Tuesday, September 4, 2007

#10 eak3

After stressing the half life of my aging Lacie 19, and freaking out at the price of a new 321, I discovered that CRT's are indeed still available.

NEC's 21 inch CRT with fully adjustable RGB is very much available for $200.00 USD lower than an 23 inch Apple Cinema Display.

Maybe I should have kept that to myself.

3:23 am - Tuesday, October 23, 2007

#11 mossydog

Sony is about to distribute an organic led monitor that has a contrast ratio of 100000:1 that will blow lcds and crts out of the water.

4:40 pm - Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I need to get a good monitor just need to check if somebody has latest info on whats best and gives value for money.

9:48 am - Monday, April 21, 2008

#13 Reg

I used to have a Mitsubishi CRT and it was superb for photography, but in the end it screwed my eyes up. Changed the PC and it came with a Viewsonic monitor, which friend said was ok for photos. It is useless for photos!
What can I purchse to replace it?

2:31 pm - Saturday, December 19, 2009

#14 wick Beavers

it is Jan. 3, 2010, a new decade.
Your article above comes up #1 on google search for "monitors for photographers".
Do you feel No shame?
It is YOUR responsibility to UPDATE this 2006 article or remove it.

7:11 pm - Sunday, January 3, 2010

#15 Ian Campbell

I recently bought a Iiyama Prolite E2207WS and the screen image is spot on. But trying to calibrate it with my printer is a pain. My CRT is an ADI Microscan 5EP/ADI. It was made and bought in 1995 and is still image perfect, the case is aging but colour clarity sharpness,etc cannot be faulted and calibration with the printer amounts to just turning it on.

3:01 pm - Wednesday, January 20, 2010

#16 refurbished computers

The pictures on the screen looked great - even without photoshop - what came back from the lab was terrible.

6:31 am - Wednesday, July 21, 2010

#17 Reg

Can anybody tell me what monitor that is not too expensive to buy now. I have almost stopped doing photography because my ViewSonic is not much good for it.

And why are most of the posting in here so old?

8:35 am - Wednesday, July 21, 2010

#18 Anthony Salmon

I have recently aquired a 23" Samsung syncmaster 2333TM , as a 25 year veteran photographer I have used a wide variety of monitors for my digital work, I am extremely happy with the Samsung and can not report anything negative about it.

4:19 pm - Tuesday, March 15, 2011

#19 fred haines

Try a bit of reverse engineering.

Most LCD monitors are far too bright and are not particularly good for photography use. Print your photo as normal. It's not right! too dark, muddy a complete mess!

Don't panic.

Lay the printed photo in front of your pc

Sit in moderate light (no Glare from direct sunlight) and adjust your monitor to look like the photo by using the brightness and contrast controls. ('guess you'll have to turn everything down) make a note of the brightness and contrast settings - you'll have to use these again for photo printing but you'll probably have to turn them up for gaming and normal viewing.

Once you've got your monitor looking about right ie. Picture on the screen looks crappy too!

Go back into your photo editing software and adjust the photo on the screen to look good.

Print. (There!, doesn't that look better??)

Regards, Fred.

12:08 am - Monday, October 10, 2011

#20 Joel McEachern

In the belief that my Samsung larger than life LCD would surpass the high fidelity of my old Gateway CRT, I donated the CRT to charity.

Sounds like I made a huge mistake. Is it true that I can buy a CRT here in the USA? If so, where?

11:36 pm - Friday, November 23, 2012