Not Your Everyday Banana

by Bart Arondson

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I'm planing to get myself a new laptop for processing my shots in Lightroom. I shoot in RAW and then process all my images in LR.

I'm looking for a laptop, 15.6 inch with the best LCD. So far I've been using old Dell XPS and I was very pleased until recent failure of LCD itself. I know that the best results I can get by purchasing external display such as NEC Pxx series, but for me this is not an option as I need portability.

There is one more constraint, it must be Windows laptop, no chance for switching to Mac.

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You can install Windows on a Mac (using Boot Camp, which is built into Mac OS), so it's not really a limitation. Think of a Mac as a PC that can also run Mac OS. –  alex Jan 23 '12 at 10:49
    
I was just virtual-window-shopping for ballheads, and came across this little gadget that may be of interest. It's a viewing angle gauge that makes it easier to verify that you're looking at your screen at a right angle. acratech.net/product.php?productid=70&cat=4&page=1 –  coneslayer Jan 26 '12 at 13:35
    
I have heard that Apple Retina displays are very good with color accuracy, but I have not used one. –  Joe Jan 30 '13 at 22:01
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5 Answers 5

For the last 2 years I've been using a Dell Studio XPS 16 (with Windows 7) and in terms of image quality it's far and away the best computer screen I've ever used. Although this model is no longer available to buy new, I'm sure there are comparable models. I wouldn't hesitate to buy the same again, although it does have some drawbacks.

Specific pros and cons are as follows.

Pros

  1. The screen is LED-backlit, as opposed to the older fluorescent lamp backlit style of LCD. This makes for a brighter, more even backlight that doesn't degrade as the display ages. My last laptop's screen (fluorescent backlit) was very dim after a couple of years.
  2. Moreover, the backlight uses RGB LEDs: clusters of red, green and blue LEDs rather than white ones. This produces a wide gamut display with excellent contrast and colour reproduction.

Cons

  1. The wide gamut display has to be properly calibrated, and using a calibration device with explicit wide gamut support. Out of the box it's pretty much useless for photo work because everything's way over-saturated, but once calibrated it's perfect. It just means you need to factor the cost of a Sypder 3 Pro or similar into your purchase. (See my answer to this question for plenty more information on this.)
  2. It's a 16:9 ratio HD screen (1920x1080). I'd prefer something squarer for photo work but I soon got used to it and regardless of ratio it's still a nice big screen.

No other device I've used (other laptops including a brand new MacBook Air, iPads, phones, etc.) come close to this screen in terms of colour reproduction. That's not a PC/Mac thing, it's an RGB LED thing. Once you've used an RGB LED screen for photography work there's no going back!

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Thanks for this. I used Dell XPS I bought in 2008 and I was very happy with the screen. The new Dell XPS has opinion for below-averabe WLED scree or RGB LED, but only in very high resolution that I'd try to avoid due to state of my sight these days. –  Tomasz Blachowicz Jan 23 '12 at 13:03
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Ditto, I'm using a Dell Studio XPS 16 as well, which I purchased refurbished to get that very specific RGB LED screen. The newer XPS 16 models have the WLED panels, not as good. It's difficult to find Windows laptops with good screens, Mac laptops usually fair better. I'm shopping for an Ultrabook (see Ars Technica coverage), and no PC ultrabook seems to be able to touch the Mac Air screen. –  sebastien.b Jan 23 '12 at 21:29
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@DetlevCM: I disagree: I've used Dells for years and my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Let's keep subjective personal judgments out of this Q&A forum though. –  Mark Whitaker Jan 26 '12 at 13:12
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@DetlevCM: Mark is entirely correct here...we need to keep subjective and personal opinions off our forum, as it only serves to create conflict. Its fine to have a personal preference, however what you've said about Dell can be said about pretty much any and all computer manufacturers at one point in time or another, so its a moot point to argue about here on PhotoSE. –  jrista Jan 26 '12 at 19:03
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@TomaszBlachowicz: If your eyes are giving you trouble, I'd gravitate towards the higher DPI models rather than away. Windows 7 finally deals with this in a decent way. I have a 15" lapton with a 1920x1200 screen, and I've set Windows DPI to 150%, and it just looks sharper than normal, not "smaller". –  Eclipse Jan 27 '12 at 21:49
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I don't know if you ever heard of Maingear, they're mostly considered like a gaming oriented computer manufacturer. Interestingly enough Photographers and Gamers have more or less the same needs when it comes to displays (except that part where gamers like their screen to be blazing fast).

So Maingear offers the ALT-15 laptop (which has an optional matte screen upgrade). With this optional matte screen upgrade, this laptop offers superb color accuracy and reproduction (for a laptop solution).

I personally own a Dell Studio XPS 17 (glossy screen) which I consider to be equipped with a decent screen and I was stunned when my friend showed up with this laptop, the display is simply stunning.

So, you might wanna look into that particular model.

Hope this helps you in your quest for portable LCD greatness.

EDIT: You also might be interested in reading this answer at it does cover some essential information about laptop screens.

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Interesting. Do gamers in general really care that much about color accuracy? –  mattdm Jan 26 '12 at 22:03
    
I can't speak for all gamers, but I do own a Dell U2711 as my primary display on my desktop (which is a screen that primarily gears towards professional photo and video editors). And this same screen's sole purpose (until I got into photography no so long ago) was gaming :) So I indeed think that some gamer oriented products can cater to the enthusiast photographers out there, and vice versa. –  Jean-Philippe Roy Jan 27 '12 at 13:31
    
I've heard good things about these units. The wide gamut 1080p packed into a 15" screen must be nice. Hopefully a non-mac super DPI screens will come out soon. –  Jakub Sep 25 '12 at 17:56
    
@mattdm they're not too picky about the color (as long as the color is close) and have very little interest in ICC profiles. They tend to border on bigger (screen rez), faster (refresh), sleeker (physical design). +1 for the Dell U2711. Easy to get almost anywhere :D –  Peng Tuck Kwok Jan 14 '13 at 0:12
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That would be the Lenovo W530. It's display covers 95% of sRGB color space and there is a version (linked) that has a built-in color-calibration sensor to calibrate the display and keep colors accurate.

There are 1600x900 and 1920x1080 (additonal cost) options for the display which are both high-resolution enough to make it comfortable for working with large images.

Note that unlike the older W700 which covered 85% of sRGB, this one is smaller (15.6" vs 17") and does not have a built-in Wacom pen pressure-sensitive tablet.

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Recently, laptops with IPS screens (or PLS in Samsung's case) have started appearing, such as Asus Zenbook UX31A or HP Envy series. There are not many models yet, but some high-end models do provide IPS (as an option in many cases, so make sure to check the specs of the actual machine you're going to buy). HP calls its IPS screens Dreamcolor; Dell sells theirs under the name PremierColor.

Notebook Review features a helpful list of Full HD IPS panels. Some of those are claimed to have trouble with red tones, presenting them as orange instead (called orange-gate issue on the list).

There are two caveats, though. First, while an IPS panel usually gives a wider gamut than an average TN panel, on laptop it might still cover considerably less than all of sRGB color space - so check the specs/reviews even if you're going to order a machine with IPS. Second, the machines tend to be so powerful workstations that their weight and battery life might not suit too well for heavily mobile use.

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Don't forget about hardware solutions like the Spyder, Huey and Xrite systems. While these may not give you guaranteed colour profiles/gamut range, they can help to ensure that your monitor is closer to the colour space required.

These systems will run the monitor through some tests and use hardware hanging/attached to the front of the monitor to read the ambient light levels and measure the light levels coming from the display. The software will then work in conjunction with this to create a profile that is saved and then loaded into the video card to shift the colours to what should be perceived as closure to the colour space/gamut that is required.

Please be aware this post is non-scientific and just my understanding of how the process works.

Disclaimer: I use a Spyder 3 Elite for my monitor/laptop calibration but am not affiliated in any other way.

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Wayne, thanks for the suggestion. I'm aware of the need to calibrate the colors. My questions is more related to the overall quality of LCD screens on laptop computers. –  Tomasz Blachowicz Jan 23 '12 at 10:53
    
Don't forget external displays if there is no need for portability. –  epo Jan 23 '12 at 11:00
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