So a bigger screen is better, right? That is true, but only up to the point where you have to start turning your head to look from one side to the other! The 21.5-inch screen on a regular iMac is probably as small as you’d want to go, and a 24-inch or 27-inch screen will give you a bit more visual breathing room. 32 inches is getting a little too big for comfortable viewing, unless you like to lean back at arm’s length.
Be aware of aspect ratios, too. 16:9 has become the new standard and it fits the dimensions of full HD and 4K movies perfectly. It also leaves a bit of space on either side for tool panels and palettes in photo-editing software with your photos taking up the centre of the screen. If you’re still using an old 4:3 ratio monitor then it’s definitely time to upgrade. You may see some monitors with a ratio wider than 16:9 designed for gaming. Be aware, though, that these are generally optimised for fast refresh rates and immersive video rather than photographic precision.
It’s no use going up in screen size without going up in resolution too, otherwise your display will look visibly pixellated. Apple really started something when it introduced the Retina display because, suddenly, the pixel pitch was so fine you just didn’t see them anymore. For photographers, this means a super-sharp display that gives you a true sense of an image’s resolution without the need to zoom in and pixel-peep, and without the display’s pixels mingling with those of the image.
Apple may have started it, but high-definition displays are now common, and you should always check the pixel resolution. Most everyday monitors are 1920 x 1080 pixels (Full HD), but that’s not enough to give the ‘Retina effect’. For a 24-inch monitor or larger you really need 4K (or UHD, to be precise), which is 3840 x 2160 pixels. You might get away with a common intermediate resolution of 2560 x 1440, but it depends on the screen and how fussy you are about visible pixels.
As more experienced photographers will know, color gamuts can get complicated. This is the range of colors a device can display and there are certain industry standards. The base level standard for all displays and devices is sRGB. You can’t go wrong with this because every device will support it. However, the range of colors it can display is limited. You might never notice (really, you might not), but in commercial publishing, where the demands are higher, they like to use the larger Adobe RGB color space. This is why many digital cameras offer both options.
A regular monitor can only display the sRGB colour space. If you use it to open an Adobe RGB image without any kind of conversion it will look flat and dull, and if you do need to work on Adobe RGB images for a publisher, you’ll need color-management tools to approximate their appearance on an sRGB screen. However, proper photographic monitors, like those we include here, can display most/nearly all of the Adobe RGB gamut, so the problem is solved.
If you use an inexpensive laptop or desktop monitor, you’ll know all about brightness uniformity – or the lack of it. It’s not so much of a problem if you’re working on a spreadsheet, but it’s a major issue if you’re trying to finesse delicate brightness levels in different parts of the picture.
Brightness differences are typically down to two things: the screen technology and the backlight uniformity. IPS (In Place Switching) screens cost more but give much better image quality and uniformity, and monitors designed for photographers need even backlighting across the whole frame.