A while back, BenQ contacted me and asked if I was interested in taking a look at one of their monitors – the BenQ SW271 4K which goes for just under $1100 at B&H Photo. To be totally honest, the last thing I needed was another monitor. I use an iMac so it’s got it’s own screen built in. I’m actually one of those odd people that like having only one screen. And I love my iMac screen so I wasn’t really looking for anything else.
And while it sounds appealing to get a new screen, it takes a LONG time to write a good review. I’m not a reviewer website – I’m an educator and I like to spend my time creating content, not doing gear reviews. And please don’t read that the wrong way. I’m VERY appreciative to have the opportunity. I just know that if I’m going to do something, I want to do it well – so when I write a review it takes me a LONG time and I simply can’t afford that time to pull me away from running the core of my business.
But this one was different. I get a lot of requests and questions for my thoughts on some of the more photography oriented monitors out there (like BenQ’s products). So when they contacted me and asked if I’d like to take a look at one, I decided to do it so I could finally see for myself and let everyone know what I thought.
So how did we end up with a Q&A instead of a review. Well… I searched up the monitor and found a number of other reviews on it. From what I could see BenQ reached out to many others and seeded them with a screen in return for a review. And honestly, most of them just rehashed tech specs and were pretty boring. So I figured I’d approach this a different way. I reached out to my audience on social media and asked them what they wanted to know about the monitor. So it’s really more of a Q&A. Here goes:
Q. Why would some one want one of these monitors?
A. The big advantage of a monitor like this is mostly for people who print. Most prints will take advantage of a larger color space than we can usually see on our screens. The BenQ screen shows the full AdobeRGB color space (well, 99% of it), so you’ll better be able to predict what you’re going to get from the print. I can personally say that my prints matched my screen closer than any other screen I’ve used.
Q. Will it actually help make my photos better?
A. No. It will not make your photos better. It may help you get more accurate prints with less test prints. But it won’t actually change the quality and output of your photos.
Q. Does it still need to be calibrated?
A. Absolutely. Just because it displays a better color space for printing, doesn’t mean the need for calibration isn’t just as important. I recommend the calibration devices from Spyder or ColorMunki.
Q. How is the Advanced Black and White mode that is has?
A. In case you didn’t know, one of the features of this screen is that it has an Advanced B&W Mode. This basically let’s you choose from 3 presets to preview your photos in B&W before you actually do adjustments on them. Depending on your workflow that could be helpful. For me personally, I’m probably in Lightroom to start with. So I just press the letter V to toggle B&W mode on and off to get a quick look.
Q. What is the Hotkey Puck thing?
A. It’s this round shaped thing at the base of the screen that let’s you choose between viewing Adobe RGB, sRGB, or B&W mode with just a press of a button. You can also customize it to other settings. I personally only used this screen when getting an image ready for print, so I didn’t use it much.
Q. I already have a MacBook Pro with a Retina screen. It’s supposed to be fantastic and I love it. Do I really need one of these too? Isn’t the MacBook Pro screen good enough? If not, why not?
A. Ah… great question, because I think a lot of folks are in this boat. The retina glossy screens are amazing. And if you share your photos primarily on screen (monitor, tablets, phone), they’re probably one of the best ways to view your photos because they’re similar to what everyone else is seeing your photos on. You can calibrate all you want and it won’t matter because nobody else viewing your photos will be calibrated and most of them are viewed on a phone or tablet anyway.
But, printing is totally different. Those retina glossy screens are really difficult to proof your photos on for printing. You’re looking at your photo on a highly “emissive” and backlit screen, which is opposite of a print.
So the BenQ is actually much better if you print. While my prints rarely match my iMac or MacBook Pro screens, I found that when I developed them on the BenQ screen, and printed, it was really close (keep in mind it’s never going to be exact).
Q. Matt… Did you use the Shading Hood? If so, how was it?
A. The shading hood is that weird looking hood around the screen. It’s a separate part (but it comes with the monitor), so you don’t have to put it on. I tried it and it was okay, but I’m just not the type of person to leave something like that on or find much use for it. I’m sure some people swear by it but now it’s laying around somewhere in a closet 🙂
Q. Is the 4K in this monitor worth it for some one who doesn’t do video and just stills?
A. That’s a tough one. 4K is kind of like megapixels. It’s the buzzword and every manufacturer has to jump on board because it seems you’re behind the times if you’re not. For me personally, I don’t want my screens to get bigger or more resolution. I can hardly see what’s on the screen as it is. But 4K is definitely important in the video world. So if some one were editing photos as well as video on this screen, then I’d definitely say it’s a benefit. If you’re not editing video then I don’t know it’s as useful for you.
Q. I noticed the website says it has 10-bit color display. Does it really make a difference?
A. I definitely think so. You’ll mainly notice if you’re a landscape photographer and have ever seen banding in your skies (see image below). Screens like this greatly reduce the appearance of banding.
Q. Most of my work is published on my web portfolio or on social media online. But I do have a decent Epson printer that I should use more. Do I really need an AdobeRGB monitor?
A. If most of your work is displayed online then I’d say this monitor is not for you since the glossy retina screens better display the surface that most people will be looking at your work on. As for the “printer that I should use more” statement – I can’t help you much with that. You either do or don’t. If you do print, then yes, this screen will help. If you don’t, then no, it’s not going to help. It’s up to you to figure out if you’re REALLY going to print. Maybe try setting a goal for yourself to print consistently for at least 60 days. If you find you keep up with it, then invest in the screen to go along with it.
Q. Does the wider color gamut really make that much of a difference in the final product of the photo imaging process? I occasionally print 13×19 images or send out for 20×30 metal prints. Otherwise my images are on the web. I currently use an Apple 27 monitor but calibrate maybe once every couple of months.
A. Yes, it makes a difference if you print. As I mentioned earlier, I found when I developed my photos on this screen and printed them, they matched very closely. That’s hard to do with my Apple screen. But if occasionally means once every 6 months, then no, I’d probably skip this. If occasionally means once every week or two, then yes, it’s probably worth it.
Q. Does the screen stop the side light from a nearby window or reflections from the room?
A. The screen itself doesn’t stop the side light, but that’s what those weird looking things on the side of it are for 🙂 (the official name is a “Shading Hood”)
Q. How is the viewing angle on the screen?
A. Excellent! When using it as a second screen, it’s often to the side a little more than my main screen so I can move a photo or workspace over to it every once in a while. The viewing angle is probably one of the top in the industry.
Q. Can you adjust the height and orientation of the screen?
A. Another great question. Neck strain is a big thing for many people these days and we want to try to avoid hunching over or looking at an odd angle at our screens. I actually had to buy a platform for my iMac for just that reason – to raise the screen height. But the BenQ let’s you adjust the height of the screen which is a BIG plus in my book. And you can adjust the orientation too. So if you’d rather it in portrait mode, you can flip it around.
Q. What kind of customer support does BenQ offer?
A. I honestly haven’t had to use it at all. I can tell you that their team has been very available and knowledgeable when I ask them questions, but I haven’t had a customer support issue that I needed to contact them about.
Q. How easy is it to set up?
A. I’ll go with fairly simple. It includes just about every cable you can imagine and the setup guide was pretty simple to go through and get up and running. I mean it’s really just about putting a few pieces together for the stand, and then connecting it to a computer. The shading hood took a little more work but remember… you bought a very advanced piece of equipment. It’s not going to pop out of the box like an iMac and be ready in 30 seconds. That said, I don’t think it took me more than 10 minutes or so to get going.
Q. How does the ambient lighting in the room affect effect the ability to calibrate correctly?
A. If the light in the room is too bright or too dark, then it can affect how we process and see our photos. That problem doesn’t necessarily go away with this screen, but it’s MUCH worse with a glossy monitor screen like Apple’s. The matte quality of this screen is much less reflective.
Q. Will a higher graphics card improve the screen?
A. No. It may improve the apps that you run on your computer, but it won’t make a difference in what you see on the screen.
Q. Does it need a “warm up” time before editing?
A. No. I turn it on and go!
Q. Will a second unit respond to calibration similarly to the first (if cost were not an option)?
A. Well Mr. Money Pants… look at you!!! 🙂 Yes, a second screen will respond exactly the same.
Q. How safely can it be recycled after its useful life is over?
A. I have no idea. Maybe contact their customer support to find out more.
Q. What is the viewing angle?
A. The website specs say 178 degrees? I don’t have the means or devices to tell this exactly in the real world, but it’s one of the best viewing angles I’ve ever seen in a screen.
Q. Can you manually adjust the brightness and contrast and how easily?
A. Yes, you can just as you would on most screen through a menu system. This screen also includes a Hotkey Puck with buttons on in for switching various settings and that is one of the settings you can program it to change.
Q. Does it automatically adjust to changes in room light?
Q. How many ports does it have and take?
A. I’m going to refer you to their specs for that one. Just click the SPECS tab on B&H’s website and you’ll find what ports it has.
Q. How close to AdobeRGB does it get?
A. The website says it’s 99% of Adobe RGB. I have no way to measure this for myself though, nor am I tech savvy enough to do so 🙂
Q. Give me the bottom line… value to cost ratio?
A. I’d say that if you print a lot, then this has a big value. If you print either at home via a lab online, it’s nearly impossible for your prints to match a glossy reflective screen (like the ones that come on many computers or laptops). So if that’s the case, then I think this screen has a huge value. While it is more expensive, it’s not extravagantly more than other screens in it’s range. But if you don’t print, then I don’t think this would provide enough value for you.
Q. Give me info that’s less technical and more practical when it comes to stills. I could care less about video. In particular, how good is it when it comes to editing and printing?
A. That’s a tough thing to do because this is a very technical topic. If you even know or care about sRGB vs. Adobe RGB then you’re getting pretty technical. If you print or are even looking at a screen like this then you’re, again, looking in to a very technical purchase. Bottom line is that this doesn’t change the way your editing applications work. They still work the same. What will change is how you see your photo on the screen. The screen is much less glossy and reflective so your photos will look different on it. That means you’re editing style will be different on it. If you’re printing, then your prints shluld more closely match the screen. If you’re sharing online mostly, then you’ll probably like the way your photos look on, say, an iMac screen or something glossy because that’s generally the type of screen most of your photos will be viewed on.
I’ll finish up with some personal thoughts. I found the screen to be one of the best I’ve ever used when it comes to printing. My photos on screen matched the print very closely and this has earned a place on my desk next to my iMac. I drag photos over to it when I want to print, and edit the photo accordingly based on that output. The Shading Hood looks silly and is overkill, but if you’re printing, and you’re serious, it can help a lot. I thought the Hotkey Puck was really cool as well when I wanted to check out a photo in B&W. But honestly, if I want to do that, I’m usually in Lightroom and I can just as easily press the V key to toggle between color and B&W, so it’s not like that’s a game changer.
What this really comes down to is printing. The bottom line is that you need to know that print vs online can be very different when it comes to viewing your photos. You can’t process your photos the same way and expect them to be viewed the same online and in print.
So here’s my recommendation. If you’re serious about printing. And you print at least once every week or two, then I think a monitor like this is worth it. It’ll save you time in editing your photos for print, and probably save you some time and money in test prints. After calibrating, I think you’d be amazed at how closely your prints will match your screen the first time through (assuming you’re using the right paper and profiles for that paper).
But… if you’re not printing and you’re mostly sharing your work online – and most people consuming your photos are viewing them on a monitor, laptop, phone or tablet, then I don’t think this monitor is for you.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a question I get asked about quite a bit, so I hope this little Q&A helped out. I linked to it earlier, but B&H Photo has the monitor for about $1100 and you can find out more on their website. Have a good one!