When I started researching gear to start my photography passion I fell in love with the large iMac display. The large bright screen at the best buy was showing a sideshow if images that looked better than life and I was in awe.

Since I am a Microsoft developer, buying Apple would be very limiting. Are their other options for me to rival the Apple display but with a Windows machine?

What do photographers use as displays?

Mainly I want to see the images really pop off the screen and be really vivid. Spending is relative, so I could splurge and make a nice desktop workstation for myself that can double as a "photo lab" of sorts for my hobby. As for size, the larger the screen the better... I love the huge iMacs!

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    \$\begingroup\$ How much do you want to spend? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 4, 2011 at 0:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you intend to print your photos (thus, you need a really accurate monitor), or simply view them and make them pop (thus, you need a monitor that will simply saturate your color palate and get bright enough to really blow out the whites). \$\endgroup\$ Jan 4, 2011 at 1:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ How big of a display are you looking to get? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 4, 2011 at 1:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Course, you could also bootcamp that iMac. I bootcamped my MBP's (v 1.1 and 6.2), and they are the best Windows laptops I've found. \$\endgroup\$
    – mmr
    Jan 5, 2011 at 19:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ possible duplicate of What should I look for in a monitor for photo processing? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    May 31, 2011 at 22:24

7 Answers 7


I guess there isn't much more I could say other than I own the Apple CinemaDisplay 30" LCD screen, and I am a heavy duty Microsoft/.NET developer. I work entirely in Windows 7 on my custom-build PC (not a Mac), and this screen has been great. I purchased it quite a number of years ago, and it is still running strong.

If I was in the market more recently, I would definitely go for an LED LCD screen, rather than a CCFL LCD screen. LED screens, particularly those with a clear/glossy screen, offer a much wider gamut, more accurate color rendition, and broader coverage of the AdobeRGB and NTSC gamuts than other screens. There are several manufacturers who make LED computer screens these days, including Eizo with their ColorEdge screens, LaCie with their new 730 model (one of the best photo editing screens on the market with the broadest gamut I've ever seen...my next screen if the Apple ever dies), as well as more well-known brands such as NEC (I'm having a hard time finding professional grade LED monitors from NEC right now), Apple, etc.

If you want a high quality, wide gamut screen that is designed for a photo editing workflow, I highly recommend looking into LED screens, particularly professional grade ones. NEC and Apple will have them at more reasonable prices, but with narrower gamuts than true professional grade LED screens. If you want the top of the line, with the widest gamut currently available, look no further than the LaCie 730. It covers 123% of the AdobeRGB color gamut, which is ideal for photographic editing. It is not quite as physically appealing as the Apple CinemaDisplay, but color-rendition-wise, it is fantastic.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just wanted to add that when buying LCD LED-Backlit monitors, ones with a full RGB-LED array (Like the LaCie one) is important for better colour. Just simply having an LED-Backlit monitor doesn't necessarily mean the colour is better than a CCFL- however, factoring in a true RGB-LED LCD monitor, and you've got better colour reproduction. Also, the ones that aren't edge-lit have the added benefit of being able to selectively shut off, giving you deep, deep blacks if needed. \$\endgroup\$
    – DMan
    Jan 4, 2011 at 5:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Seconding DMan. CCFL beats standard white LED in tests. Additional question is, does OP want to edit outside sRGB. \$\endgroup\$
    – Leonidas
    Jan 4, 2011 at 15:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Aye, RGB-LED screens definitely produce purer color, as their white is produced by blending actual red, green, and blue LED light together. Standard "white" LED's are actually blue LED's with a yellow phosphor, so the color emitted is not a true white. It should be noted that both LED and RGB-LED screens can suffer from temperature shift as the LED's age, and for array-type backlights, the color shift can vary from LED to LED. A screen like the LaCie has a special control system to compensate for such aging drift, and will produce consistent color until the day it actually dies. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Jan 4, 2011 at 16:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @jrista. can you please describe your setup? \$\endgroup\$
    – kacalapy
    Jan 4, 2011 at 18:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1, I think by construction RGB-LED is superior to LED/CCFL/WLED. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 4, 2011 at 19:05

LCD displays actually use several different technologies. You can choose TN (cheap, crappy), IPS (expensive, looks great), or VA (in the middle).

If you can afford it, choose IPS. The most important advantage for photographers is that you don't get color shifts depending on viewing angle; IPS displays are also much easier to calibrate well. As a photographer, you're unlikely to be happy with a TN display, which is the most common technology.

Sadly, this critical piece of information rarely appears in display specs.


The 90 series from NEC is the benchmark for color-accurate displays. They are simply amazing, color-calibratable displays with wide-gamuts and excellent coverage of color-spaces like sRGB and AdobeRGB. Depending on desired size and budget you can get:

  • Multisync LCD3090WQXi - 30" - That is the one I have and love it. According to NEC, I was the first one to import it into Canada :)
  • Multisync LCD2690WUXi2 - 26" - This one is a bargain for such size and quality. Its about 1/2 the price of the 30" with the same 98.7% coverage of AdobeRGB and complete coverage of sRGB.

If these are two expensive for you then the P/PA series is the best value of ANY color-accurate and calibratable displays among ANY brand. The P221W is a 22" display with 96% coverage of AdobeRBG and is calibratable with a 10-bit LUT (Look-Up-Table). New it can be had for less than $459 USD. I own two of them which I bought refurbished for $237 CDN.

Next up would be the PA241 and PA271 which I have not personally used but are expected to perform just as well (97% AdobeRGB coverage and 14-bit LUTs). I used to evaluate computer displays for cinema visual-effects professionally, so I have gone through rigorous testing of hundreds of displays over the years.

  1. Look for non-TN screens (twisted nematics), best PVA/MVA or IPS. They are not that expensive today and display gradients better than the (gamer-)fast TN.
  2. Take into account that a glossy screen (like the Apple one surely is) might display the pictures more vibrant BUT will be difficult to use with any glaring lights, first and foremost the sun.
  3. Maybe even plan for a colour proofing tool, be it a Spyder or a Quato or ... (there is an older test in a Mac Life, the outhor, UliZappe, wrote more in german in the Nikon Forum here http://www.nikon-fotografie.de/vbulletin/computer-hardware-und-systeme/55208-squid2-oder-spyder-3-oder-14.html#post729242)

There exist a couple of pages online with reviews of TFTs concerning colour-palettes, colour-managment, colour-spaces and so on. Just naming the two I used recently, others will add more. Both have an extensive FAQ and glossary:

I bought myself a BenQ EW2420, 24" with MVA to plug my laptop into and am happy at the moment.


Great monitors like the NEC ones have been mentioned so far (+1 for the sync LCD2690WUXi2 for example), but if you are on a "budget", look at some Dell monitors too. I bought a Dell Ultrasharp U2711 recently and I'm pretty happy with it. It's solid: IPS panel, 2560 x 1440 resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio, factory-tuned AdobeRGB (96%) and sRGB modes. Got some great reviews, and can be had in the US for $900.

There is no shortage of AdobeRGB monitors out there, but keep in mind that the color calibration chain on a PC is not as good as on a Mac. I would suggest you plan on budgeting for a good colorimeter. Do not expect all applications to display your photos accurately. It's all good with Adobe products (Lightroom, PS), but I gave up on Firefox a while ago (yes, I'm aware of the color profile options, and no FF doesn't work properly with all ICC profiles).

As far as I'm concerned, my real issue was to find a laptop (PC) with a great panel. Windows Laptops have notoriously bad displays, rendering a smaller subset of the sRGB and AdobeRGB gamuts for example. It took me a lot of time to score one of the last infamous Dell Studio XPS 16 with a RGB-LED screen. It's not the best machine but the panel is fantastic, approaching 112% AdobeRGB and easily rivaling what I use for my desktop (see review here and here). Unfortunately they were pretty expensive to produce and Dell has replaced the RGB-LED option with WLED since then. I bought mine refurb.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you suggest any relatively affordable monitor calibrators? \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2011 at 22:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ I second the top of the line Dell monitors. I just got the 30 inch IPS u3011 which is also 10 bit per color (if your hardware can handle it) and it is simply amazing! I could not be happier with the choice (unless I could get the LaCie 730 for the same price :-). I got mine refurbished with a 10% off coupon for a little over $800! Not one dead pixel either. I am one very pleased photographer... \$\endgroup\$
    – stephenmm
    Jun 1, 2011 at 4:18

There are alternatives to fighting your instinct to go with an iMac.

I am a .NET developer and I use my 27" iMac for my personal computing needs including photography. I use boot camp with Windows 7 and Visual Studio 2010 for development without any issues. I had previously used it with XP and VS2008 also with little trouble. I also use Cisco VPN client and MS Remote Desktop Client to remote into the Windows server for development and that is the best of both worlds, never leave Mac OS and fill the screen with Windows (without fear of BSOD). Using windows through bootcamp also allows me to use some windows based photo editing tools that are not available for the Mac.

Buying just a monitor can certainly be cheaper although to get a good one it is going to get costly. Getting a computer built into a fabulous monitor is worth it in the end for me.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I am interested to know the percent breakdown you spend in mac mode vs windows mode? \$\endgroup\$
    – kacalapy
    Jan 5, 2011 at 19:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm in the same situation. .NET developer with a 27" iMac, though bought solely for the display. Haven't booted into Mac OS for over a year now. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 1, 2011 at 15:48

You might want to investigate the Dell U2311H; it is certainly not the largest screen nor the highest resolution, but it is a fairly affordable IPS screen.

A few reviews (for more, Google is your friend):

I've had one for a few months (replacing an old non-IPS screen) and the difference in contrast and colour is quite significant. Previously, printed photos would have detail in shading that I just couldn't see on-screen, but with the U2311H I have a much better idea of what something will look like in print.

I think the reasonable price comes from their use of 6-bit IPS. I don't yet have the critical eye to know what I'm missing out on with 10-bit IPS panels, but at the moment this does the job for me and is a big improvement on what I've had before.


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