I've been given a long term loan of a 27" iMac. Looking at my photos on flickr and iphoto, they look, eh, just better, they seem to pop more than they did on the other PCs. Why is that? The other computers I am used to using are a dell desktop with LCD and low end dell laptop.

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    Check out the great answers I got to a similar question: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/6376/… – kacalapy Jan 19 '11 at 3:08
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    Yes, go visit @kacalapy's question. It has something these answers lack: hope and suggestions about how the problem can be fixed. Your desktop can display as well as the iMac, with the right screen. – Oddthinking Jan 19 '11 at 3:25
  • @Odd, I fear that is not true unless the OP buys a new display for the Dell. There are distinct differences among displays and iMacs have pretty nice ones. – Reid Jan 19 '11 at 4:03
  • @Reid, yes, we are agreeing. The Dell desktop can display nice images with the right display. It isn't a fundamental issue with Windows or Dell; it is an issue of which display has been purchased. I am using a nice Dell-branded LCD display which I paid a little more for. – Oddthinking Jan 19 '11 at 13:11

The 27" LED mac displays are "full gamut" displays, ones that cover around 98% of the Adobe RGB gamut. These are full 8 bit/channel (24bit) screens and offer a full 178° viewing angle. They are much higher quality displays than your average LCD screen, and specifically designed to output high quality, rich, saturated graphics. Additionally, Safari, which I assume you are using on the Mac, supports ICM. Browsers that support ICM will generally render photos with more accurate color than browsers that do not when an ICM profile is present in an image.

Your Dell computers are probably using much cheaper, 6 bit/channel (18bit) or 5/6/5bit (16bit) screens, and are likely not LED LCD screens but standard CCFL LCD screens. While these screens generally have higher refresh rates, and are great for gaming and movies, they do not reproduce color as accurately as diplays with higher bit depth and wider viewing angle. Contrast and color rendition on the cheaper Dell screens will generally cover the full sRGB gamut, but will fall quite short of the much richer and more saturated Adobe RGB gamut.

The Apple screens are middle ground, though. They use standard yellow phosphor/blue LED backlighting, which over the long term will often result in non-uniform color shift as the LED's age. CCFL backlit screens are less likely to encounter such color drift over the long term. For LED screens, full RGB LED will produce much cleaner, more consistent results over the long term. High end RGB LED screens designed for photo and graphics editing work will render the richest color (sometimes covering as much as 123% of the Adobe RGB gamut for maximum saturation) and purest white (blending RGB to form white more accurate than converting blue LED light into white light via a yellow phosphor, and is less subject to color drift over the long term.)

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    I would argue that the difference in quality has a lot more to do with the panel technology (S-IPS vs TN) than the bit depth or gamut. The higher bit depth is really essential for when editing/viewing images, but the "pop" will be from the panel type more than the bit depth. And the gamut wouldn't make any difference to any web images as the web uses SRGB (regardless of what Safari might support, it's not really used), or any photos at all unless they specifically use a wide gamut like Adobe RGB. The secret is mainly to pick an IPS/S-IPS based panel rather than TN. That and to calibrate it. – thomasrutter Mar 20 '11 at 12:08
  • Sure, IPS would be the key factor...however one of the primary differences between IPS and TN screens is the bit depth, while the other is viewing angle. I generally try to avoid bringing the terms TN and IPS into my explanations of screens, since most people don't know what those terms mean, and screens are often not marketed with those terms. I prefer to explain the differences in those technologies directly (i.e. higher bit depth, which leads to wider gamut, which means more accurate color reproduction.) – jrista Mar 20 '11 at 19:28
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    As for whether ICM is used in browsers, it is becoming more and more prevalent. I spend a lot of time on sites like DeviantArt.com, 1x.com, RedBubble.com, etc. The frequency at which people upload images with an Adobe RGB tag is increasing at an accelerating rate. Given that FireFox, Chrome, and Safari, as well as the IE9 beta, all support ICM, I do think it is an important factor. – jrista Mar 20 '11 at 19:29
  • I don't think the LED versus CCFL screens are an issue here. There are plenty of CCFL based screens (e.g. Dell's U2711, U3011; HP's ZR30w, etc) which are capable of reaching or exceeding Adobe's RGB gamut, and there are plenty of LED based screens (i.e. the panels used in Apple's laptops) which cannot produce the full gamut (Because one needs RGB (rather than White) LEDs to reach the full spectrum). Backlight is important, but if you're talking about gamut, then gamut is what you want to look at, not backlight technology. – Billy ONeal Apr 9 '11 at 18:58
  • @BillyONeal: I don't know of any CCFL based screen that surpass a 98% gamut. I do know of LED and RGB LED screens that surpass it, some by quite a margine, however. Some examples would be Eizo's and LaCie's high-end LED screens. – jrista Nov 15 '11 at 0:50

The 27" iMac has a pretty mid-high end LED backlit S-IPS LCD panel. Your low end Dell laptop and LCD monitors probably use TN panels which are inferior in color reproduction, angel of viewing, saturation, etc. Most TN panels are only 18 bit displays, so they will interpolate the 24 bit color your graphics card is putting out, while IPS panels will give you the full gamut, along with a larger viewing angle that has no color shift (something very common in TN displays).

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In addition to what others said about the display quality, I would like to mention that there is no need to switch to iMac to see nice colors. Dell itself manufactures several display models widely considered as good for color-sensitive work. They also have IPS panels and wide gamut at a lower price than the Apple product. See for example

  • DELL UltraSharp U2410 (24")
  • DELL UltraSharp U2711 (27")
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  • These monitors actually have a wider gamut than iMacs because they use CCFL backlights instead of white LEDs. – rm999 Jan 21 '11 at 19:31
  • The Dell's aren't particularly high-end monitors, though. NEC and Lacie (and others) offer monitors used by imaging pros. There's a lot of info on this site regarding this topic. – Kevin Won Mar 20 '11 at 6:58
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    I have a Dell Ultrasharp 2209WA (20"). It's another S-IPS CCFL model. Or, if you like Apple stuff and don't mind paying a bit more for the same thing, look into some of the Apple Cinema range of monitors - the ones with IPS panels. Monitors are rarely advertised on the basis of what panel type they are, but one clue that something may be an IPS panel is that they have horizontal/vertical viewing angle of exactly 178/178 degrees - as opposed to something a bit less like 170 by something. – thomasrutter Mar 20 '11 at 12:18

I believe the iMac has a glossy screen, rather than matte which is more common and probably what you have on the two Dells. You get more "pop"; the downside is wretched glare under room lighting which is less than perfect.

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There are several reasons why you're pictures might look better. As a few answers have pointed out, iMac screen's are pretty decent for general color rendition.

Also, by default Mac's have a different gamma than Window's PCs. Mac's had a gamma of 1.8, and PC's have a gamma of 2.2--however since 10.6 snow leopard, Mac's now have a default gamma of 2.2.

Depending on the browser you use, you may or may not get color management. IE8 (the default windows browser) has no color management support; while Safari 5 (the default Mac OS X) does have color management. That means if your photos are tagged with ICC profile, the mac will likely render the color more accurately.

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Save your photos with and without an embedded ICC profile. Try both sRGB and AdobeRGB. Open them up directly into your browser and compare them. You could also install a different browser or two on either system you use. Pretty sure there is a Windows version of Safari, and Firefox/Chrome are available for both. They all seem to handle color profiles different. Firefox is strange with color profiles. It is supposed to support them, but it always seems to oversaturate mine when I upload them with the ICC profile attached.

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