Friday, March 11, 2011

Win a free color-accurate monitor?

Sound too good to be true? Well, maybe…
I’m not running a contest, but I can tell you how to see if you’ve won. If you have an Apple Cinema Display or an Apple iMac, you probably already have a color-accurate monitor.
Apple has a long history of offering top-grade monitors. In particular, their Cinema Displays and some of the large iMacs (24” and up) have been color accurate in the past. (We use a 23-inch cinema display at West Coast Imaging, and it’s a very accurate monitor.)
The problem is that Apple does not market these monitors as being color-accurate, like NEC/LaCie/Eizo does, by providing specs. Apple can change the displays at any time, so you don’t have absolute certainty of getting a color-accurate monitor. That makes a purchase of an Apple display as a color-accurate monitor a bit of a gamble, but at a practical level, you can usually win.
It works out even better if you already own or plan to buy an iMac, because the monitor is just part of the overall computer purchase price.
Even knowing this, I’m always hesitant to recommend buying an iMac for color accurate work because I don’t have the chance to test every model as they are released.
So, when one of the WCI staff members purchased a new 27” 3.2Ghz i3 iMac for personal use, I had him bring it in so we could compare it against our other color-accurate monitors.
We calibrated to a variety of white points from 5000k to 6500k and compared it to our  NEC-2690WUXi2 and a 23-inch Apple Cinema Display (both calibrated to 6500K.) We settled on a white point of 6200K for the iMac, as this gave the closest match to our other displays.
So how good was it? Pretty good. The higher end displays were more accurate, but the iMac was way better than some well regarded but not “color-accurate” monitors I’ve recently tested like the DELL U2410 or the NEC 231WMI-BK.
Where it fell short was in some of the reds, and subtle magentas.
So, was it good enough?
It depends on your use. If you already have an iMac or Cinema Display, and don’t have a color-accurate monitor, I’d recommend getting a monitor profiling kit like the i1 Display 2 and using it.
Based on my experience, most photographers are going to be more than happy with its level of accuracy.  And if you already have it, it’s a free equipment upgrade. Considering most people aren’t using a true color-accurate monitor, it’s a huge upgrade for the vast majority of photographers.
Now you might ask, Rich, would you use it?
Fair enough.
Well, I’ve been looking at color-accurate monitors for about 17 years, and I sweat color changes of one point in Photoshop’s color balance tool. In fact, I know I’ve got the right color balance when I go back and forth by one point and wish I could split the difference. (Actually there is a way, but at that point I’m within the repeatability of the output system so it doesn’t need half point accuracy.) I would see the difference between the iMac and my color-accurate monitor.
Having the extra color accuracy of a more accurate monitor helps me achieve greater accuracy, just like Iron Chef Morimoto’s $5,000 knives do for his cooking.  I’m still going to buy the higher-end displays.
Long story short, if your iMac or cinema display is your most accurate display, profile it and use it.
If you don’t have an iMac or cinema display, and need to buy a color-accurate monitor, look at the ~$340 NEC P221W or the ~$640 NEC PA231W that will give you more accuracy than the iMac I tested. Pros who make a living with their photos will find a highly accurate monitor is less than the cost of travel to most shoots.  And if you are a very serious amateur, it might be the upgrade that takes your printing to the next level.
So did you win a color-accurate monitor? Is there a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? You tell me.
Rich Seiling is a photographer and the owner of West Coast Imaging. You can see his photographs at

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting such informative info! Right now I'm calibrating my MacBook Pro monitor before sending images for printing with you guys. I just wish the gamma range was wider on this monitor. So I'm glad to learn there is a reasonably priced monitor out there I could add to the system!

6:55 AM, March 25, 2011  

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