Many things have changed this year. A lot of people, including myself, had to stay home with increased screen time. So I’ve decided to step up and get a big monitor instead of my regular MSI laptop. The laptop also had an IPS panel and a pretty good image quality, but there was room for improvement. Let’s see if the wide colour gamut monitor upgrade was worth it. In this article, I’m going to review BenQ SW321c photographer monitor having 99% Adobe RGB coverage. BenQ monitor solutions are known for their quality. Let’s verify that.
Disclosure: I received this device from BenQ for the review. All opinions are mine. The links below are not affiliated.
Table of Contents
- First Impressions
- Appearance and Design
- Connectivity and Ports
- Working With a Wide Gamut Monitor
- 4K, 32″ and a Drawing Tablet
- Free wallpapers
BenQ Monitor First Impressions
Before we dive in, you can see the overview at their website:
The monitor came in a huge box impressing my cat. By the way, I’m going to review how cat-proof is the monitor as well somewhere in this post. The box contents look like a well-assembled 3-d puzzle. They are, however, positioned in order, so it’s quite easy to follow the instructions. All structural elements had their boxes and wraps.
One of the boxed had all cables in it, so I didn’t have to buy anything on top.
All in all, it took me around 20 minutes to take everything out of the box and then assemble it. Another 10 minutes to get it running.
BenQ monitor box also included a CD with apps and drivers, which I had nowhere to insert. Luckily, they have all downloads in the support section of the site. However, they still should have included a USB drive instead of the CD.
Appearance and Design
Build and Frame
I was a bit worried about how cat-proof this monitor is considering a large hood. Like, can it jump and knock it down? The relief came instantly upon unpacking – the stand and the base are quite heavy, ensuring its stability. However, I wasn’t entirely convinced yet.
The instructions were easy to follow, so I had it standing very soon. The final argument that persuaded me was that a monitor has a swivel head, allowing me to rotate the monitor in any direction. This mechanism also works a bit as shock absorption. My cat has just bumped into its side running away from the vacuum and nothing happened. It’s as stable as it can possibly be. Another bonus is adjustable height.
The monitor frame is dark and pleasantly matte, avoiding extra glares and reflections, and also it’s width is only about 20 mm.
Notice how good the matte surface is reducing glare a lot.
Shading hood is a cool feature cutting down the light coming from the sides, effectively removing any glare and reflections. The inner side of the hood is black and feels like velvet absorbing the rest of the light. There are two sets of its elements – one for the vertical and horizontal screen layouts. There is a small window at the top, which you can open for the calibration device.
Connectivity and Ports
There are two USB ports at the back (downstream) and one upstream port. This setup means the BenQ monitor is getting power via the upstream port that you connect to one of the computer USB slots, and then this enables monitor USB ports. This new hub looks convenient – I’ve used only one port on my laptop and attached a USB hub at the back of the screen. For the upstream, you can use either USB-B (a regular one) or USB-C (read below). These ports are not in the best spot, though, so it’s best to connect something you won’t need to turn on and off regularly.
Another convenient way to connect is the USB-C port if you have it on your computer. For instance, MacBooks have it. And yes, the power it delivers is enough to power your MacBook. It also transfers audio, video and data, so, essentially, it is the only cable you need to connect if you have such an option.
The box contains DP-DP and DP-mini DP, and you can use either one to transfer video signal. Unfortunately, my thunderbolt port didn’t work with the monitor, but I blame my laptop as I couldn’t get it working with other monitors in the past as well.
I’ve used this connection type via an HDMI cable, and it started instantly.
One more port we have is an SD card reader. It resides right next to the USB ports. It’s useful but hard to reach as I need to walk around the table to do so.
I won’t list the whole set of technical specs as you can easily find them here:
Here’s what’s essential for the photographer:
- IPS panel. It ensures wide viewing angles and is an absolute must-have for the photographer monitor. Otherwise, even a slight shift in the perspective results in changing colours and contrast of the picture.
- Gamut. AQCOLOR technology provides a wide colour range of 100% sRGB and whooping 99% Adobe RGB on a high-quality 4K screen. Gamut determines the number of colours your monitor can show. Typically, you will want to edit photos in at least Adobe RGB colour space to achieve best results and to do so you’ll need as much colour space covered as possible.
- Brightness and Color Uniformity across the whole viewing area is also critical. Essentially, this sends us back to the IPS panel, but BenQ goes another mile for us and fine-tunes lots of subregions separately.
- Hardware calibration. We’ll get to it later, but calibration and profiling are different processes. Many monitors support profiling and not so many support hardware calibration. It’s a great feature to have.
BenQ Monitor Features
Paper Colour Sync Technology
Some photographers love printing themselves, and they have some excellent printer at home. If you ever did that, you’ve probably noticed how the print is different from what you’ve seen on the screen. It’s like that for many reasons – monitor calibration (or lack of it), the colour profile you assign to the photo, the colour profile of the monitor and the printer. Many things can go wrong and need adjusting. So, here comes BenQ at our rescue. They’ve built this app, which syncs your monitor to your printer to achieve the best match possible. You’ll need to download the app and run it on your computer with monitor and printer connected. After selecting a printer, paper and colour space, it’ll start syncing. As of now, this whole process supports Canon Pixma Pro-10 and EPSON SureColor P600 printers.
BenQ PhotoVue monitor has a whole set of colour modes to work with. Each one of them minimizes the difference between the monitor and the respective colour space. There’s a whole bunch of them: Adobe RGB, sRGB, B+W (with three levels), Rec. 709, DCI-P3, Display P3, M-book, HDR, DICOM, Paper Colour. Quite an impressive set to quickly have a look at what’s going on with your image or video.
Hotkey Puck G2
There’s an additional small device that I’ve got with my BenQ SW321C – a magic control wheel with the buttons to perform quick operations on the menu and to change colour modes quickly. By default, its buttons switch between Adobe RGB, sRGB, B+W modes but you can assign them to something different. The central wheel is convenient to go through the menu options quickly.
This technology allows you to connect the BenQ monitor via two cables (for instance USB-C and HDMI) and to show the image in two colour spaces at once. An excellent feature for those who frequently switch between the spaces.
Calibration BenQ SW321c
The monitor comes factory calibrated with ΔE ≤ 2. This low delta means that the monitor has been factory-calibrated and you don’t need to redo it straight away. According to BenQ FAQ, you should re-calibrate every month or so.
It is essential to understand the difference between calibration and profiling.
- Calibration sets the monitor into its best state with the hardware controls it provides.
- Profiling measures and fixes remaining inconsistencies and works at the software level.
In general, cheaper monitors support only profiling, while professional ones support both. BenQ SW321C photographer monitor supports hardware calibration as well as profiling. With proper software (Palette Master Elements) and a suitable device (supported colourimeter), you can adjust the hardware of the screen to produce accurate colours.
An important note here is that while Palette Master supports most of the x-rite and spyder colourimeters, it does not support the one I have – iDisplay Studio. I’ve contacted BenQ support, and they said they had no plans and no intention of supporting it in future. The good news here, as I said, is that the monitor comes calibrated, so profiling is enough for the first month (which I did successfully via x-rite software). And by the time I need it calibrated, I’ll have an iDisplay Pro.
Working With a Wide Gamut Monitor
Enough of technical stuff, let’s see what it feels like to work with a wide colour gamut monitor. Let me get it straight. You will need to re-edit your past photos. All of a sudden you’ll see some parasite tones in your colours and the images won’t look quite right and punchy anymore. But that’s good as there’s always room for improvement.
Editing in Adobe RGB
First of all, take this – if you are after quality; if you print your photos; if you hate banding in the sky; if you hate colour artefacts, then you have to edit in a broader (than sRGB) space – Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB. Adobe RGB has much more colour data than sRGB. The question here is if you need all this data or not? I’ll show you a quick example. I open the same image twice – once for each mentioned colour space and have a look at the histogram.
Notice the clipping in the red channel in sRGB. This clipping means, data is gone for good, you can’t restore any details in there, make it darker, etc. The right choice here is to edit in Adobe RGB, get the max out of it and convert as the last step.
Even if you don’t print, it’s a good idea to edit in the broader space and then convert into a smaller one for showing on the web. This way, you’ll preserve as much colour smoothness as possible.
Also, some modern printers can print Adobe RGB nicely.
60% vs 99% Adobe RGB
My previous editing device was an MSI laptop with a solid screen, offering ~60% of Adobe RGB coverage. And yet, during editing, I had to rely mostly on the histogram because the laptop was showing transition banding everywhere. It wasn’t capable of showing all the colours and transitions until the very last step that was a conversion to sRGB. So I had to convert quite regularly to see how am I going and then undo the conversion. These back and forth frictions were distracting and not very productive. BenQ SW321C offers 99% of Adobe RGB, and this problem is gone for good. No intermittent banding, to temporary conversions – I just edit as I go seeing all the colours and tones. It has simplified and streamlined my editing workflow.
4K, 32″ and a Drawing Tablet
Another question that I wasn’t sure about was if 4K was any good for photo editing. I’ve read a few articles online saying that HD was still better for the colour uniformity and performance. Another uncertainty here was about my Huion tablet that I use for editing photos. It was suitable for my 15.6″ laptop, but how about 32″ now?
My experience shows that 4K does lag a little bit with my hardware (NVIDIA Quadro K2100M). This lagging doesn’t cause any issues at all with landscape editing because it’s time-consuming anyway. It does, however, affect my real estate photos editing as typically I edit them at speed. I managed to fix it somewhat by increasing mouse pointer speed. The lag is now insignificant.
Regarding the drawing tablet, I was also pleasantly surprised that I was still able to edit photos with an acceptable precision on a 32″ screen. I mean, it’s now a double diagonal, but for editing photos and drawing masks, it’s still okay. I don’t guarantee though that it’ll suit you if you are a digital artist.
My overall impression with the BenQ monitor is very positive. I enjoy the size, the picture quality, the colours, the details and the shading hood.
- Inconvenient USB ports and the card reader location
- CD with the drivers
- The lack of compatibility with some colourimeters
Pros (to name a few)
- Build quality, including rotating stand
- Matte, low glare screen
- Colour accuracy
- The wide gamut of 99% Adobe RGB
- Uniformity and viewing angles
- The size of 32″ is very convenient and I have enough space for the laptop
It’s a solid piece of hardware, and I recommend it to pros and those who strive for excellence. While some photographers may prefer lower resolution, 4K is definitely the right choice these days as well. I enjoy seeing the details straight away without having to zoom in and out all the time. In Australia, you get yours here: http://creative.benq.com.au/specialised-reseller
By the way, BenQ also provides a comprehensive FAQ with lots of useful info. Check it out:
To share some joy of owning this monitor with you, I’ve decided to add several photos (edited on it) as free wallpapers.
The sky on that sunset was lit by a bright fireball. The colours turned from rich orange to fiery red. Then purple poured everywhere and slowly the world sank into the night.
A colourful sunset several wees ago. I was standing on this rock platform for about an hour and then realized I became locked out by the rising tide. Not a big deal, of course, as I could take off my shoes and walk away, but still it’s something to be on the lookout for. I did this shot because I actually liked the colour stripes in the reflections – blue and red.
That lone rock dragged my attention. At first, I wanted to do a long exposure to smooth out water around it. But later, I’ve changed my mind because I couldn’t afford losing all the colours and tones of the reflections. Also, this way I could capture a cyan wave.