If you’ve ever wondered what effect changing color spaces has on your image, this week’s show dispels the rumors and details how you can use color space to your advantage. Renée Besta, photographer and printmaker, also calls in to outline a couple of great wide gamut displays and makes the case that they’re not a luxury, but a necessity.
- sRGB vs. Adobe RGB vs. ProPhoto RGB
- Converting sRGB to Adobe RGB – does it add color?
- Using the right color space for the right job
- Best practice professional workflow
- How can the quality of your monitor effect the quality of your prints?
- Renée recommends 2 excellent wide gamut displays
- Defective pixel tolerances
- Tools to test and calibrate your monitor
- Solutions for printmakers looking to save money on a display
- A big sale on Renée’s favorite display
- Much, much more!
Listen in to learn about color spaces and affordable wide gamut displays
- For more from Renée, check out her website at RenMarPhoto.com
- Listeners featured in this episode include Tim from TimothyOSutherland.com, and Lily.
- Resources from Pixel Genius member Andrew Rodney (aka Digital Dog):
- Digital Dog’s video The Benefits of Wide Gamut Working Spaces on Printed Output
- Digital Dog’s Gamut Test File used in the wide gamut print video mentioned above (run your own comparison test on your printer)
- Digital Dog’s Main Page with tons of white papers, videos, resources and test target links
- Other resources:
- NEC PA Series sale at B&H (Still active as of 5/20/15)
- Love the show? Have some feedback for us? Leave us a review on iTunes
Prefer to read over listen? Want to save this conversation for reference later? We transcribe all of our shows for these reasons! Download this episode’s transcription below:
Or, to view a web version of the transcript:
Announcer 1: You are listening to the AskBC podcast – your printmaking questions, answered by the experts!
Justin: Hey guys, this is your host Justin, today we talk about monitor color spaces, why a good display is important, and we give a few lower cost recommendations.
Welcome to Episode 17 of the AskBC podcast! Today we have back with us a special guest – Renée Besta is here again, becoming quite the common name around these parts. We’re excited to get her input on today’s listener questions, which mostly revolve around displays.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out other podcast episodes that Renée has joined us on, and she’s written some super-helpful articles too for the BC blog, so be sure to check those out. We’ll link up to those in the show notes.
Renée, how’s it going? How’s your day?
Renée: It’s going great, how are you Justin?
Justin: I’m doing pretty well.
Justin: You ready to jump in?
Renee: Sure am!
Announcer 2: Timothy from TimothyOSutherland.com asks, “Images are emailed to me as sRGB. I open it and change it to Adobe 1998 and do my editing. I save it as a TIF, and then send it to my Canon iPF8300. It looks good on screen and in print. My monitor only shows 70% of RGB though. Is the printer missing that other 30% of color data? And would I have more color if I had an Eizo monitor?”
Renee: Okay, great series of questions and there are several issues here that kind of need to be addressed that are common areas of confusion. So I’ll just take them, sort of break this up.
Justin: Yeah, let’s dissect it a little bit.
Renee: We gotta talk about working color spaces, so there’s a little confusion with that. A little confusion on the connection between what can be displayed on the monitor and what the printer is capable of in terms of gamut.
And, first of all, I’ll just say, you know, that Canon iPF8300 is an absolutely excellent printer. So, you know, upfront I would say, you know, it’s best to take advantage of that printer’s technology, and since Breathing Color is in the business of selling the best papers, and we’re looking at best practices, obviously the best thing to do would be to be printing TIFs or PSD files in 16-bit mode, and starting from a file that’s in ProPhoto RGB or at least Adobe RGB 1998, that would be the best practice to take advantage of all that printer has to offer.
I talked last time, and in prior articles, about the fact that due to the advances in printer technology, we can render colors that are in the ProPhoto RGB space. Even with the old Epson 2200 on matte paper, which is shown in a graph that I referenced last time.
So that, first of all, brings up the question: what is Timothy’s target market for his prints? Is he mainly just targeting consumers with point-and-shoot cameras? Is he also trying to solicit business from professional artists or photographers? So I’m gonna go kind of through these one by one.
First of all, there’s a misunderstanding here that if somebody has an image that’s in sRGB, the smallest color space, and you convert it in photoshop to Adobe RGB. Well, that doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t change the colors in those pixels, in terms of suddenly decompressing that image and adding more color, it’s not gonna bring back what wasn’t there to start with.
You know, if you have an image that is in ProPhoto RGB or Adobe RGB 1998, and, let’s just say you’re making a jpeg for the web, which needs to be in sRGB. Once that conversion has been done, that color has been compressed, it’s gone, it isn’t what I would say “recoverable.” If you understand what I’m saying, without going back to that original RAW or TIF file and keeping it in that color space that has the greater range of colors. SO if you’re starting with that JPEG in sRGB, changing it to Adobe RGB doesn’t magically make more colors appear. So, it’s kind of a futile exercise.
What he is doing very smart and correct is immediately converting the JPEG to a TIF, that’s gonna avoid further compression issues or other artifacts. So it’s important, because a lot of confusion when it comes to working color spaces, these really only boxes or you can call them bowls or containers of various sizes that can hold or contain pixel colors. They don’t innately have colors or more colors. You’re talking about a possible color range, and the size of these so-called containers.
I mean, think of the word “color space.” Space is sort of a clue – it means a container, either very large or very small, how big is it. Once you’ve done that conversion to a smaller space and that color has been compressed, or thrown out, or clipped, you can’t just turn around and get it back because Photoshop allows you to change that color space. And there’re reasons that Photoshop allows you to do that, it’s similar to having an 8-bit file and saying, “I want to change that to 16-bit.” Well, you can do that, but, you know, it’s not really gonna change the original and just give you more pixels or tonal gradations.
So, basically, my question is, he’s saying he’s receiving images through email. So, pretty much that means it’s a JPEG – he didn’t say that but it must be, since email is limited to around 8 megabyte file attachments. What I would say, I mean hopefully he’s printing for professional photographers as well. I would recommend getting some kind of Dropbox service or file-uploading service like Hightail so that you can receive larger files than those possible through email.
I mean there are just way too many disadvantages printing with JPEGs. Especially at larger sizes. And again we’re talking about best practices here. If you’re just printing snapshots of, you know, family get-togethers, or just basic day-to-day events, that’s fine. If you’re looking at trying to reach the target market for the best possible fine art print, that’s not an optimal workflow. I mean most consumer cameras are set to capture JPEGs in sRGB, and there’s no way you can then go back and magically add more colors by just converting that to a different color working space. That working space may be larger, it doesn’t mean it has more colors. If that makes sense. It can just hold more colors depending on what you’re putting into that container.
So then we get into the question about the monitor, and the answer to that is no, the printer is absolutely not missing the other 30% of color data. Whatever the monitor can display has absolutely nothing to do with the gamut that the printer can render. The only thing that the monitor has an impact on, obviously, are your editing decisions. Okay?
So even if you had a $100,000 monitor, that’s gonna have no impact on the, quote, “color gamut” of your printer. So it’s not missing any data, and in this case, if he’s in sRGB, he’s nowhere near taking advantage of what the Canon 8300 can render. So the editing decisions are what are important, so the printer, what it is capable of, is gonna depend obviously on the make and the model, what ink set, how many different inks are there. In this case it’s 12-color Lucia pigment inks, the print head technology, the screening algorhythms, what is the quality of the paper you’re printing on, how good are your ICC color profiles, or are they generic, can you make your own – all these things obviously control the quality of the print. It has nothing to do with the monitor except if you’re editing incorrectly because you’re not getting accurate color, or your monitor is set, you know, the luminance is too light or too dark.
So, to answer his question – absolutely not, he doesn’t need to buy an Eizo, that’s not going to make the prints better in and of themselves, especially if you’re working in sRGB.
So what I would recommend, if you’re really serious about getting the best prints and having a color-critical monitor that can show the maximum number of colors, you want either the Eizo or the NECPA series of monitors. And I know there’ll probably be a lot of, you know, maybe comments about the podcast, there’ll people that will say I use my Dell UltraSharp or an HP DreamColor. I’ll get into that in the next question, but there’s basically agreement in the graphics and the photography community that those are the two main brands of monitors that will work the best, and I’ll get into those reasons.
So again, the best workflow will be, obviously, shooting camera RAW, keeping your file in 16-bit mode throughout the whole editing process, the highest color space. You know, there’s a reason why, with Adobe Lightroom and Camera RAW, the default working color space is now ProPhoto RGB. There’s a reason or it.
If printers were not capable of printing colors into that space, then maybe that would not be true. But you can always start with the biggest and then convert into a smaller color space for your output, obviously, posting things on the web. But at least you’ve got that master file to go back to. So it’s best to have a TIF or a PSD, and, you know, course it depends on what types of files he’s getting from his clients and what is his target market, but at least I would say, since you have this wonderful, fantastic, 44” Canon printer, offer the option of being able to accept larger files in a great color space, and then, at least for artists that want their art work reproduced, it’s really important.
You haven’t seen people artists, or even more particular, because I’ve printed for a number of artists, and to try to hold up a painting next to your print, and I’ve had to do that, and say, “Well this is just a little bit off, and darken this, or lighten this.” I mean, they’re very, very, very exacting, and without having a file, you know, a lot of people I’ve seen take their iPhone and try to snap a picture. I’ve had people come to me and say, “How much do you charge for photographing this art work?” Well they don’t want to pay it, you know, “I can just shoot that with my phone.”
Justin: [Laughs] It’s a little bit different.
Renée: I mean it’s really actually shocking, I mean just forget the glare that’s on it and that the color is completely off – the white balance is off – but obviously it makes a difference when you’re doing artwork for reproduction or for photography. You want TIFs or PSDs and 16-bit ProPhoto RGB, that’s your master file. You know, both Mac and Windows can print in 16-bit. Take advantage of it.
So again, no he doesn’t need to spend the money for an Eizo monitor, he can get any one of the NECPA series, which are fantastic – they cover almost 100% of Adobe RGB. That helps with the editing. But in terms of somebody emailing him a JPEG that’s in sRGB, you can change it to a TIF, and that’s great to continue to maybe do it, but again I’m emphasizing it doesn’t increase or add more color. I hope I’m making sense.
Justin: Yeah, definitely, I think it’s been explained pretty well. You just want to make sure you’re starting with the best possible file. I mean, potentially, people are just down-saving their native file – their original photo or whatever – to comply with that email limit. So certainly give your customers the best option.
Renée: That is certainly true, and then, again, when I wrote this series in late 2011 on HDR photography and printing, you have to keep backing up and talking about your camera settings and your monitor and everything else, and I kind of emphasize one of the ways that people get tripped up is we have a lot of third party plug in software available on the market today. Nik software, which is now owned by Google, you have on one, Perfect Photo Suite, you have Topaz Labs, the list just goes on and on.
If you’re in Lightroom, and you od some work on an image and then you send it off to and open up on one or Nik, there are preferences to set and you have to be really careful because you can’t go in to Lightroom like you can Photoshop and change your working color space, it’s not an option. It’s a database. So it’s in Pro Photo. If you ship it out to Topaz or even Photomatics, let’s just say you’re merging five files to make an HDR. There are preferences and it will ask you when it opens it, “Do you want to save it as a TIF or a JPEG?” “How many pixels per inch do you want to keep in the file in?” and, “What working color space? sRGB, Adobe, or ProPhoto?”
Make sure those are set correctly, because easily that file can then slip out of ProPhoto and go to sRGB and you might not even know it. A lot of people don’t take time to configure those preferences. SO, again, hopefully Timothy is getting some business. He’s’ got an excellent printer.
Just again, I said this last time on the last podcast I recorded last week — it is always surprising to me how much money people spend on camera equipment, their printers, their peripheral software, glass, tripods, ball heads – it seems like the monitor is at the bottom of the heap, and it should be towards the top of the heap. A color-critical monitor, it’s not a luxury; it is a necessity if you want the best prints. If that’s not what you care about, and you’re just sending things to a lab and you’re doing a wet process print on an [unintelligible], on Fuji Crystal Archive paper, it’s not a so-called giclee or pigment print, that’s different because they’re gonna tell you, “Put it in sRGB.” So it doesn’t matter, depends on what you’re doing.
In this case, he’s got the 8300. I would spend less money on the printer or a camera or something else and get a great monitor and later on upgrade my other equipment as my budget allows, rather than skimping on the monitor because, again, the print is dependent on your editing decisions.
Justin: I’ve talked to people that try to proof, you know, original art work, whatever it happens to be, on some of these cheaper like Dells and stuff like that that are designed for, you know, work station computers, and it just turns into a ton of waste – a ton of time, a ton of wasted ink, media, all that stuff.
Renée: You know, that is a fantastic point. Because think of the money you’ll waste on ink and paper, and time is money. Just, I mean, you don’t have to buy an Eizo, you don’t have to spend, like, HP has this – I don’t know when it was release – a top-of-the-line DreamColor that’s like $2500. I mean, I haven’t seen it, and I haven’t tested it, evidently it has good specs, but you can still, for just under a thousand dollars, get an excellent NECPA series, and they’re fabulous. And I’ll get into that in the next question, but again, time is money, and you don’t want to waste paper and ink.
And again, it depends on what you’re doing. Some people may say, “Oh, I don’t care.” Maybe they’re just printing snapshots, and they’re not doing fine art prints. In this case he has a commercial printing lab with a 44” – it’s a great printer. Get the best you can.
Renée: So obviously he didn’t say whether he’s taking files from artists or photographers, he’s just talking about receiving some JPEGs by email, but I did take a look at this website and I didn’t see like an Upload link for a Dropbox for artists or photographers, so I guess people call and inquire about that, but, you know, take advantage of it – make some money, make some great prints.
And I’m going to provide a link to a fabulous video by a Pixel Genius – one of the Pixel Genius men, named Andrew Rodney, known as DigitalDog. It’s a fantastic website. If you haven’t read his book on color management for photographers, it’s a bit old, but, you know, the accuracy is still there. It’s still true. The basic color theories. But what he has done is taken a very challenging test evaluation image – some of them contain Bill Ackinson’s famous “14 bowls” test – they’re 14 different colored spheres and they go from very dark to light towards the center, and some pirrahana fish and other things, it’s a video – so one is print it in ProPhoto RGB. I think it’s on an Epson 900-series printer. I think it’s the 4900; maybe it’s the 79. The other was convert it to sRGB. Same exact [image]. Takes the prints, puts them in a GTI viewing booth, accurately photographs them side-by-side — boy can you see the difference between those color spaces on that printer.
Renée: People really think you can’t see a difference. Like I said, it was shocking to me, because when I started printing back in 2005, my first print was the venerable Epson 2200 Stylus Photo printer, and, as I said, there’s a portion of that even on matte paper, let alone photographic paper that protrudes beyond the Adobe RGB color space. So, yeah, I guess it depends on what are your priorities? Do you want to be able to print all the colors that are there in the original file, or do you not care? We’re looking again at best practices here, and if you’re gonna spend that kind of money on a 24” or 44” printer, and, I don’t now what paper he’s printing on, hopefully Breathing Color papers, the good paper, and get the best you can. But no you don’t need the Eizo, absolutely not, like I said, hopefully that makes sense – that the printers not missing anything, again, it affects your editing decisions which affects what comes out on the printer.
Announcer 2: Lily asks, “I’m on a somewhat tight budget, but I understand the importance of a good display. What are two models that are entry level, but accurate in color reproduction that are on the market today?”
Renée: I wish Lily had defined exactly, you know, what her budget is – a tight budget to one person is not so tight to someone else.
Justin: Yeah, a little subjective.
Renée: I don’t really know, again, I encourage people that are writing in for questions for anyone to give as much information as possible, it helps answering the question a little easier. I don’t know if she’s doing her own printing, and I know she’s a photographer, but that outsources it to a lab, and if it’s outsourced – is she having ink jet or pigment prints made? Where ProPhoto or Adobe RGB color spaces are best? Or is she just having lab prints made or choromogenic prints where sRGB would be the normal color space, you know, and if that’s all your doing, again, there’s no need for a wide gamut display, so it’s a little bit hard.
And I’ll again include some links for the show notes, but I want to start by saying, you know, “entry level” – the words “entry level” and “accurate” color reproduction kind of don’t necessarily go together. You know, if you’re doing your own inkjet printing and you want to work in the best possible or highest color space, which would be ProPhoto, to take advantage of the gamut of modern printers and produce the best possible print, and people can argue about this, there really are only two brands that I could recommend, and of course one is the Eizo which is beyond my price point, and I think for people doing a lot of testing and specialty applications and if you’ve got the money that’s great, they’re gonna be the most consistent from edge to edge.
The NEC really has the best price to value ratio, and by that I mean the PA series. Now it’s still called a multi-sync, I wish they’d kind of take that out, because their basic line of consumer monitors is multi-sync, this is the, quote, “Multisync PA series.” They’re just fantastic, I can’t say enough about them. So I’ll just go through a list of things to look for, and I’ll make a couple recommendations depending on what her price point is, I’ll say right off the back, are you gonna find something for $500 or so? No. It’s gonna be just under a thousand, somewhere around that.
And first of all, you want to make sure you get a screen that is a matte screen and not one of these glossy, reflective ones. And I talked about this a little bit on the last podcast, like Apple has gone to all screens that are very glossy and very reflective, so what’s the problem with that? Okay, what is the advantage of that? It makes things look great when you’re watching video, right? Think about it, you have a canvas print and you add varnish. What does the varnish do? The blacks look deeper, the colors look more saturated. It pops. It looks like it has more contrast, right? So if you have a glossy screen, that affects your viewing angle, it limits it. You barely turn your head and the colors shift. There’s glare, even with the non-glare screens there’s still some glare. The glossy screens make an image look much more saturated and with much more contrast and deeper blacks, and sharper than what actually is there, and it just drives me to distraction.
One of the things that I find really hard to do is to try to ascertain sharpening. You have to be really careful to get a good print how you’re doing the sharpening, and how much you’re adding, and when you have a big, you know, heavy, glossy screen, it’s very, very hard to tell how much has been applied. So, you want a matte screen. Now a lot of times when you’re researching things online, you can read all these specifications for all these obscure specs, but they often will not say is this a glossy screen or a matte screen, so that’s something you have to be careful of.
Next thing, you defintely want an IPS type of display – LCD or LED, not a TN. What is that? IPS stands for in-plane switching, that effects the viewing angle, which hopefully the best thing is to have it as close to 180 degrees as possible, so that, you know, as your head moves, the colors are consistent from different angles. The TN, which I think means twisted pneumatic, is just your basic desktop monitor, it has really bad color consistency and a very poor viewing angle, so we’re not even looking at that. And even within the IPS categories there are different subtypes of that, but IPS that is an absolute must.
So then you get into screen size, if you’re looking at obviously doing graphics work, you don’t want anything – certainly less than 24”. You have so many palettes and toolbars and programs these days. In fact you can’t get a good one, I think, that’s under 24”. Most people work with a 27” or higher. So one way you can possible save some money if you can only afford a good, color accurate 24” display, and you need more workspace, consider using dual monitors. Take your existing monitor, move all your palettes and your toolbars – things that are unimportant to the second monitor so that your image you’re working on is on the color accurate display. So in other words you’re using the less expensive one for things that don’t matter, so that’s one way you can save money.
One of the things you’re paying for is the homogeneity of the colors. Are the colors’ gamma luminance, which some people call the brightness, it’s actually luminance, consistent across the screen from edge to edge, top to bottom, corner to corner? That’s what you’re paying for – you get a cheap display, the color may be accurate in the center of the screen, is it that way off to the left or right or wherever? It’s going to vary, that’s what you’re paying for. So that will definitely vary with a cheaper monitor. In other words, can I take my calibration device, and can I stick that puck anywhere on this screen and get the same readings? Or generate the same profile for my monitor? Ever thought about that when you’re trying to calibrate your monitor? “Yeah, I wonder if I stick it up in the corner, you know, if it’s gonna give me the same thing?” Well that’s what you’re paying for. And how are you going to know when you open an image which colors are going to display where?
Justin: That’s a good point.
Renée: The other thing that happens, and I know, again, I keep talking about Eizo and the NECPA series; again, the Eizo is out of most people’s price point. Again, the NECPA, I can’t say enough good things. I have no affiliation with them, I just have been using them for years, I did buy another brand, I’m not going to mention which, from a company that sells Macs online, on the east coast, and received this, and I was amazed at the number of stuck and blown pixels – this is something people don’t think about, you may read about it in reviews, one of the things you pay for with a better quality or better brand of display is they’re going to have zero to very low tolerance for stuck or blown pixels. You know, if you have a blown pixel, you’re going to get white, just like a white – you’ve seen those on prints before where you have an area where there’s no ink coverage. Or if you have a stuck pixel, you can have magenta, you know, you can have yellow, and it’s just there – very distracting on the screen, and they may not allow you to return the monitor, because they say, “hey, our tolerance…” The company actually told me they allow for 25 defective pixels. Well, that’s a lot of defective pixel!
Justin: That’s pretty high.
Renée: It took a lot of my complaining and going up the food chain to managers to say, “This is completely unacceptable.” And this was not a five or six hundred dollar display. So that was it, and that, well, that happened to be a Dell by the way. Somebody had said, “Oh, get an UltraSharp.” And there are people that will swear by them and say, “I’ve had good luck.” But you have to understand, you can get a really bad luck – they’re not consistent. In other words, what you’re paying for with a more professional brand is that these monitors are tested – each individual one, before they’re just shipped out, okay? Whereas others that are less expensive, they just run them through on the conveyer belt and you may or may not get a good one, and you’d be surprised at the high percentage of those that are unacceptable. Or they may work fine for a month or two, suddenly you get a magenta cast in the middle of it, or a yellow cast. And that’s not good either.
So, then we also look at the spec “wide gamut.” The higher the better. Well, we want to probably cover as much of Adobe RGB 1998 as we can. You know, close to 100%. Especially if you’re making your own prints. Again, if you’re not making your own prints, and you’re just sending them to a photo lab and all you care about is the sRGB then that’s not important. And Lily, you know, she did not say, you know, she’s doing her own printing or outsourcing.
Justin: What percentage are these displays typically in in this price range? Some are in the high 90s, right?
Renée: Yeah, 99.99% some can go up to 120, now I mentioned on the last podcast, LaCie used to produce, they don’t anymore, they’re discontinued, made some great monitors. They had one that was like 115%, which meant they were partially into the ProPhoto space. And again, it depends on what image you’re starting from. Just because you have an image that is tagged in ProPhoto RGB doesn’t mean it contain billions and billions of collors, it could be completely flat and have hardly any colors, so that’s another area of confusion. But I’ve seen them go over that, some of the Eizos are. The one I have, I have an NECPA 271, which has been replaced with the 272 that has LED backlighting on it. It’s almost 100% Adobe RGB, so that’s – it’s important to me.
And so the other thing is, and you can download test evaluation files from the web to look at to test your monitor, “Are the tonal transitions smooth? Is there a gray gradient?” I can send the link for that. In Photoshop, open it up – do you see banding? Is there a color cast to the greys? Do you see discrete areas that look like brands just like you would on a print? You know, all these things, there’s no getting around it. In other words, I don’t believe like NEC is overcharging, I mean people could argue about that just saying…I’ve seen these forums where people say, “Oh, you know, people just wanted something that’s prestigious, they don’t really use that. Or they’re just trying to be snobby.” And nothing is further from the truth, I mean you have to have proof. Again, as I said, take a look at Andrew Rodney’s video with his two prints on the 900 series Epsons and the two color spaces and then tell me it doesn’t matter, I mean science is what matters, not subjective opinions.
Renée: So when you open one of theses, it’s just like when I test a new paper, I’m using a test evaluation image I got from the late Uwe Steinmueller’s Outback Photo website, and part of it was based on one of Bill Atkinson’s targets. They’re fantastic to evaluate the quality of your profile and what your printer is doing, and I sent you a link that gave you an analysis of what to look for in each region – they’re very challenging, there’s a number of babies on there with different skin tones, you had a bowl of strawberries, other things that are gonna be like difficult to render.
Then we get into whether the monitor has an internal LUT, which stands for “Look-up table.” Some of them do. The cheaper ones do not. And that really does matter, because as people may or may not know, when you’re calibrating your monitor, you’re usually making physical adjustments on the monitor itself as you’re doing the calibration to get the luminance set a certain way – you know, cranking that up or down. That’s done with changes in the video card’s look-up table.
So what is a look-up table? It’s basically a mathematical matrix, so it’s sort of pre-calculation, so like if you think of a big giant multiplication table, it’s easy to do two times two is four, but when you start to get into really complex things, or you’re trying to analyze RGB numbers, it makes things go faster so the response time is faster. Now if you have a monitor that has it’s own internal look-up table, and you’re referencing and calibrating to that, it’s going to be much more accurate. Now what you’re going to get through your computer’s videocard, and it depends on the quality, then, of that video card. So, for instance, both the Eizo and the NEC, like with the NEC, you can buy software called SpectreView, and it’s only a hundred bucks, and it allows you to use a number of display calibration devices to access that look-up table and calibrate that.
That means you don’t touch anything on the monitor, and in fact I think someone else had a question that I saw come through a few weeks ago asking that, about the look-up table, and the answer to that question is yes, that is true, you don’t sit here and play with buttons on the outside of your monitor. That is done through software, you know, makes those adjustments.
Renée: And that’s something else I want to say, if you’re shopping for the NEC and you’re looking at the model numbers, it goes by like PA, lets just say, 242w-bk, which just means “black” as far as I know, it only comes in black. And then there’s a hyphen that also says “sv” after that. So if you’re trying to like price these from one vendor to the other, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples, because if it says “sv” that means that SpectreView software is coming bundled with that monitor. You can also just buy the monitor by itself and pay for SpectreView separately later, it’s just a download over the internet. So, you have to be careful when you’re trying to compare pricing.
Renée: And then we also get into the fact are these displays capable of 8-bit color depth, which is actually 24-bit because you have red, blue, and green channels. Or 10-bit, which is also called 30-bit color. So the better monitors are 10-bit or higher, but how many people can actually work in 10-bit? So, a warning about that, you have to have a completely compatible system to truly work in 10-bit color. First of all, Macs can’t do it. I don’t know why yet. It only works with Windows. Your video card has to be 10-bit capable, so you would have to probably upgrade, and it matters what version of your operating system you’re on. So unless those all go together, doesn’t matter.
So people can throw out, and I’m just saying, all these statistics you see when you’re shopping for a monitor, “Oh, it can do this, and I’ve got 14-bit look-up table and 3D and this and that.” Now, I can’t use it, I’m on a Mac. So I don’t know when they’re gonna get their stuff together with that, but that makes a difference, because with 8-bit, which is actually 24-bit, you have 256 levels of gray, basically. That’s it, in tonal variation. With the 10-bit, it goes to 1024. Well you can imagine the smoother tonal and color transitions on the screen. That’s a huge difference. It’s the same thing in working in an 8-bit file in Photoshop or Lightroom versus 16-bit. Look how many more millions of tonal values you get, it makes for a better print.
So, again, the other thing that some of these higher end displays they allow you to rotate the screen to work in portrait mode as well, as well as landscape. So that can be a good thing, depending. So I guess the bottom line, not knowing her real budget, you’re asking what I personally recommend. You know, for me, I’m not gonna sit here and recommend anything other than an NECPA series. Again, the Eizos are priced way out of reach for most people including myself, but for a price to value ratio, here is your choice. Because this is what they currently make. There is a PA242-w, which is a 24”, covers about 100% of Adobe RGB. That’s the 1920×1200 pixels. Or the PA272-w. Those will be the two best to start with, so 24” or 27”. They have a 30”, obviously that’s extremely expensive. They’re awesome monitors, and then you can add the SpectreView software later.
What she could try to do is find discontinued models – the 241-w or 271-w – those are gonna cost less. Go to NEC’s website and look for refurbished, either of those. The difference with the newer ones is mainly that the LED backlighting, that’s gonna conserve a lot of energy, and there’s changes in the connections ports. For instance, the 271-w that I have does not have an HDMI. Well, you know, for normal people that want that on their monitor for obvious reasons, for the purposes that we’re using it for, I don’t need HDMI. In fact, if you want 10-bit, you’re gonna need a display port or DVI cable. You can’t use HDMI. Some of these other adapters.
So that’s another thing, her video card may not be up to any of these, so that’s something that has to be researched. I mean these are not monitors for gaming, so you also will need to of course buy a good calibration device. There’s a lot of those on the market. The i1 Display Pro by X-Rite, you can either use the ColorMunky. NEC has their own spectral [unintelligible], but I believe that X-Rite makes it for them, I think, I could be wrong about that. I was always told too with the LaCie monitors, I mean, if you can still find one, somebody selling used, they’re excellent, but I was always told NEC made the monitors for LaCie, so again you may want to see if somebody has a used one you can trust on the market, or get a refurbished from NEC directly.
There’s also the basic ColorSquid calibrator, that’s a Germany that makes, by the way, fantastic software for making ICC profiles. And again, you’ll have to make sure your computer video cards compaitable. So to sum up, I just did some research over the weekend, and I don’t know when this podcast is gonna run, but I just saw that the NEC – the new model – the PA242-w, that’s without the SpectreView software, is on sale at B&H for only $799. So, it’s like, almost three hundred dollars off the retail price. I saw it on Amazon for $899. One thing I kind of found over the years with Amazon is that they don’t necessarily have the best price on a lot of things. Now you can try at B&H, these things change on the fly, and at B&H on the website it says, “Oh, we only have a limited number at this price.” Well, I don’t know when this podcast runs, but for $799 to get a 24”, maybe you again want more space than a 24”, use your existing display and move your pallettes over to that monitor where it doesn’t matter what the color is. Check Adorama. The place where I bought my NEC was called Provantage, and it’s a large electronics dealer, I think it’s in Pennsylvania somewhere. I had no problems with it, it’s fantastic.
So there’s a lot of places to obviously purchase and research. I know a lot of people are gonna say, “I love my Dell UltraSharp.” And the problem with the UltraSharp series when you start looking at all the models – there can be great differences in those and how much of the RGB color space they cover, and other things. But again, I’ve seen people say, “Mine works fine.” But if you really research the reviews, a lot of people are having problems with color cast or blown pixels, and I’m not gonna sit here and try to bash any company, it may well work for you. Again, like I said, beware, and find out what is their tolerance for stuck or blown pixels – it actually is more of a problem than you might think. Now HP has this great DreamColor monitor, but I think it’s $2,500. They have other DreamColor monitors that are under $1,000, but again, you know, I haven’t done a lot of research on that, and I don’t have time, and I can’t do that, and, you know, really, if you talk to anyone in the photography community, or the graphics community, that wants a wide gamut – those are the two names. The NEC PA, and the Eizo, that’s it. And people can argue that.
Justin: Yeah, that’s what the comment section is for.
Renée: Leave a comment, tell me you bought something for $600 that you think works. Again, what are you printing on – do you do your own prints? What matters to you? What color space do you work in? What types of prints are you making? You’re just doing snapshots, or are you showing things in an exhibition? It makes a difference. A lot of people print, but it doesn’t mean they’re selling them. Maybe that quality – and that’s perfectly fine, I’m talking about best practices for someone that’s in business to sell to a client. Or, especially if you’re doing, again, artwork for reproduction, it’s really critical.
Justin: Yeah, yeah shoot me over that link to the B&H site so I can put that in the show notes, and we’ll include the two models you talked about from NEC in case anyone wants to reference those. Anything else to reference to this question that you haven’t already covered?
Renée: No, I think that’s enough, there’s just so many things. I did send you a link for the last podcast that was on Peachpit Press, but it had a basic parameters to look for in buying a display, and I will send you another one by a French author – sometimes the words don’t exactly match up in translation, but you get the picture and it really defines these things quite well like gray gradients, look-up tables.
Justin: That’s handy.
Renée: People throw out a lot of stuff, or the manufacturers do on their specs, and it can be confusing, and you have to put it in context. But, again, if you’re asking – she asked what my recommendations, I think for eight to nine hundred, I mean you have to spend close to a thousand to really get a good wide gamut display.
Justin: Yeah, that’s pretty reasonable I think.
Renée: …That is going to be consistent form edge to edge, corner to cornet, top to bottom, and that has smooth tonal transitions, and a good internal look-up table. That’s what you’re gonna have to spend. I’m sorry, and again, it depends on your needs. And I’m trying to make the very best print possible to capture all the gradations of color, and I do print for artists, and they’re very exacting, “Well, that’s not exactly the hue.” You know, how do they describe it? And then you’re sitting there trying to edit, and even though you’re capturing it and using like an X-Rite color checker passport to calibrate your camera, it’s still hard, they see it different. Why? Because the monitor is emitting light, it’s transmitting light, the print you’re reflecting light.
And again, what is your viewing condition? Like the last person said, their prints were too dark, but again, you know, I sent you some notes that will run with that show, but are you holding that print up right against the screen where the screen is way too bright – too much luminance.
Justin: Yeah, a lot of different factors, yeah, definitely.
Renée: There’s a lot of factors, so, you know, very few people will buy like a GTI viewing booth – it’s great if you can get one, you can use SoLux lamps, but you can’t just hold it up to the monitor I mean no wonder it looks too dark.
Justin: Well awesome, I think we’ve covered this question certainly in full, so this is actually the last one I have as well for this episode, so I’ll include all of the links and model numbers in the show notes so everybody can reference that. Anything else you want to add to these topics or are you good?
Renée: No, you know, just if anybody has good luck, like I said, there’s a lot of brands. The next two brand would be the Dell UltraSharp and the HP DreamColors, I’d like to know what printer they’re using, what types of prints they make, let Breathing Color know if you’ve had good luck with a monitor that’s priced, you know, six hundred to a thousand.
Justin: Yeah, leave it in the comments.
Renée: I would spend the extra couple hundred and get an NEC PA and again, I don’t have stock in the company, I have no affiliation, but, you know, it’s worth it. And just the ability to buy the software that works with that look-up table increases the accuracy of when you calibrate and profile it.
Justin: Well great, I appreciate you taking the time to come back out. It was awesome speaking with you as always. So much knowledge flying around, as usual. So thanks for taking the time.
Renée: Well thank you so much, I appreciate your having me.
Justin: Yep, no problem, we’ll talk to you soon.
Renée: Okay, thank you.
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