Toward the end of last year I shared that I had purchased a new MacBook Pro 14″ laptop and that it was going to be my main computer. That meant that, since I was using a 27” iMac before, I would need a screen to go with it since the iMac has a built in screen. Well, once I shared this, I realized I wasn’t alone. I started getting multiple questions every day from people who did the same thing. So that’s where this “update” comes from…
Why Buy the New Laptop?
I purchased the new laptop because I had been using a mid 2016 MacBook Pro up until that point. While it served me well, it was approaching 6 years old (which is ancient in computer years) I was ready for the speed and power that comes from the new M1 chips I’d been hearing about. And all reports I’d heard from the new laptops were that they were screaming fast. So I went on to Apple’s website, spec’d out the new laptop and even got around $800 for my trade in of my old laptop (For me, $800 for a 5+ year old laptop was a great deal).
Before last November, I was using a 2017 iMac which worked great. But again… by all reports, these new laptops would leave even a well spec’d out 2017 iMac in the dust (and it does). So I took the plunge and purchased the new laptop, which would now become my main computer. (by the way… I LOVE it!)
NOTE: A few of you very graciously said that they would have waited for new 27″ iMacs (thanks… I never would have thought of that [insert sarcasm] 😉 ). But that wouldn’t work for me. I need a laptop – it’s not an option for me not to have one. And I really dislike having two computers – it makes life difficult because you can guarantee whatever files or whatever I need is always on the “other” computer. So this was a good chance for me to consolidate.
So What’s the Problem?
Now I was faced with an issue. Before 2017, I had been using a nice Apple display that looked like an iMac screen but just plugged in to my laptop. I loved it. Then I moved to the iMac in 2017 and now I had an equally awesome looking bright glossy screen. But now that I was moving to a laptop for my computer again (and no longer had the Apple screen, nor do they make them anymore), I was in need of a monitor – that I really liked.
SIDE NOTE: I really dislike matte screen monitors. I like bright, contrasty, in-your-face colors of the glossy screens we’re all used to in today’s world. Our phones have had them forever. Our tablets have had them forever, most laptops have them, and with my iMac I had a very similar experience. Since the vast majority of anyone’s photos are viewed on these nice bright contrasty glossy screens, having the iMac meant I could tell exactly how my photos would be viewed by most of the world – since very few people would ever see a print I made.
Okay… back to our story of me needing a screen. The problem was the only external screen I had was a BenQ matte screen, which I use for print proofing. So I used that for a few weeks thinking maybe I just needed to give it a chance. Well, needless to say, I wasn’t happy with it. I sat down every day wishing I had my iMac screen back – I hated working full time on it. And the problem is that there are simply just not a lot of standalone glossy screens on the market.
What choices are there you ask? There’s the LG UltraFine 5K Screen (B&H and Apple sells them but you can get them just about anywhere too), and then there is the Apple XDR screen which is stupidly expensive. Not just stupidly expensive… like ridiculously-stupidly expensive! And I swore I would never get one.
Then, One Day I Made a BIG Mistake!
One day, over the holidays, I ran to the Apple store at the mall to pick up something I needed for work. BIG MISTAKE! I walked by the Apple XDR screen. You know the stupidly-expensive-screen that I swore I’d never get. I stopped and saw it across the store. It was like a Siren off in the distance, calling and beckoning sailors to lure them to their death. Well, it lured me to come closer and closer. So I did. The only thing that came to my mind was “WOW”! It looked flat out amazing. Felt amazing – was smooth to articulate and raise and lower, great viewing angles, great color, sharpness, contrast, etc… But I shook it off and left the store, grabbed some Aunt Annies pretzels nuggets, and went home.
I continued to use the screen I didn’t like because I didn’t know what to get. Oh, and it may help to know that those LG displays I mentioned earlier were out of stock EVERYWHERE (4-8 weeks back ordered), or I probably would have bought one.
Anyway, a few days later I was thinking about still needing a screen, as I sat there in front of my BenQ editing photos. I looked over at my camera which I hadn’t used in about 3 weeks. Then I looked over at a multi-thousand dollar lens that hadn’t been used in a few weeks. And I laughed to myself as I started to consider that many of us will go out and spend upwards of $5000 (for many of you, MUCH more) on a camera and lens. For most of you reading, you probably don’t take that camera out every day or even every week (I don’t – running my business… which isn’t a photography business – takes most of my time). And I started thinking about all of the other things I have that can be really expensive that I don’t use that often (ski or scuba equipment, etc…).
But we spend thousands on this stuff. Yet, the thing that I look at every single day, for 8-12 hours a day, I refuse to spend more than $800 on. And even that seemed too pricey. Kind of weird right?
Anyway… Well, you can guess where this is going right? That thought, along with some research (not reviews) I had done confirmed it for me. And I pulled the trigger and bought it. I was able to trade in my 2017 iMac right at the store too, so that helped fund the purchase. I literally just walked it in to the store – no appointment and got almost $1500 for it. But I won’t lie. As I was standing there and they swiped my credit card, I cringed.
Today, over a month later, I’m so incredibly happy I made the decision. This screen is an absolute pleasure to look at. It’s got incredible color management built right in. Those of you that follow me know I 100% do not believe in calibrating most modern day screens (no, not even for printing). And this is no different. Unless you have a specific need and workflow (and printing is not a good enough reason), there is no reason to calibrate this screen.
It’s got built in technology for brightness and color that senses the lighting around it, and I don’t know what else to say other than it looks amazing. And it better for the ridiculous price tag right?
I Realize You’re Not Going to Spend $6000
I knew when I started writing this that most of you aren’t going to spend $5K+ on a screen. But at the same time, I had to write about it because I get asked this question 100 times a week ever since I wrote that I was looking for a screen. So rather than ignore the question, or lie to you, I’m being honest. So please do everyone a favor and spare us the “Matt, that is insane and I can’t believe you purchased that and are suggesting we purchase it too!”. 🙂
Here’s the deal… Photography and editing isn’t your job, and there’s no way you can justify that amount. I get it. Being at a computer all day every day IS MY JOB. And in a way, it’s my hobby too. So I spend a crazy amount of time in front of a screen, and I made the decision that it was worth it to me. I’m not suggesting you make that same decision and in fact, I’m even saying you probably shouldn’t.
So What Should You Get?
As I mentioned earlier, I understand most of you can’t justify the cost of this screen. So then what? If you want that glossy iMac experience (which is really who I’m writing this for since that’s the question I get asked a lot), then those LG Ultrafine 5K 27″ screens are probably the way to go. The 32″ inch version seems like it’s harder to find but you can search around and find it if you want larger.
These screens are known to be great (as long as you don’t get caught up in internet review land). People who own them, love them. It’s rumored that it is similar to what Apple uses in the iMacs, but I’ve learned that rumors are worth exactly what you paid for them – nada!!! Don’t read online reviews… if you want that glossy-bright-contrasty-screen-experience with your laptop, then get it. I know enough people with the LG screen, that I can tell you that you’ll like it. Buy it and be done looking and get to the fun stuff of actually using your screen.
If you don’t want the glossy-bright-shiny-screen experience, I’m afraid I’m no help here because that’s all I’ve had for almost 15 years.
Update: I believe Apple has also come out with a Studio Display since I wrote this. I don’t know much about it other than I’ve heard good things from a few people that bought one.
One More Thing… My Laptop Specs
I know I’m going to get asked about this so I figured I’d share my laptop specs. I wrote an article on what to look for in a computer so you may want to refer to that. But here are the specs I went with in case you’re interested. Enjoy!