Best monitor for photography under Linux?
December 31, 2011 7:54 AM   Subscribe

I am currently (still) using a CRT monitor and would like to move to an LCD panel. My primary usage is for photography and web browsing. I have spent the last three weeks or so researching monitors and have found out that (1) I will need to buy an IPS panel, (2) having looked at monitor sizes in the store I really would prefer a 27 or 30 inch monitor and (2) I have resigned myself to the fact that I should expect to pay at least $1,000 for a good monitor, possibly closer to $2,000. What monitor would you recommend? Is it really worth upgrading to a really high-end monitor ($2,000+)? More questions and details inside.

In my free time, I do "semi-professional" photography, primarily 360 degree panorama photography, using a Canon 7D, L series lenses, shooting raw and working with a 16 bit workflow to get the best possible results and colors. I publish most of my photos online, although I also occasionally print them in books or calendars. It almost seems silly to do all that color-critical work on an old, uncalibrated, CRT monitor and I therefore decided to upgrade to a photography oriented, high-quality, LCD monitor.

I currently exclusively use Linux (Mint 12 currently) with software such as dDrktable, Gimp and Autopano pro and have no intention to move to a Mac or Windows PC. It may also be relevant to mention that I live in Europe as there are different monitor models available in Europe from the US.

Having spent way too much time researching monitors lately, I have currently narrowed my choices down to a few options:
The NEC PA271W appears to be a very high-quality 27 inch monitor from NEC for about $1,300. I like the extensive calibration options and the monitor appears to also provide options for hardware calibration. I do not like the 16:9 aspect ratio and am concerned about possible graininess due to anti-glare issues.
The Dell U3011 is often listed as a monitor of choice due to its rich feature set, it's factory calibration and very accurate calibration results that people are getting. The Dell goes also for about the same price ($1,300). It does, however, not do any hardware calibration and cannot emulate other color spaces.

I had pretty much decided to go with the NEC, when I found out on PRAD that hardware calibration, one of the key features of the monitor, appears to not be available in Europe as the Spectraview II software is not available here. There is another monitor the NEC SpectraView® Reference 271 that does appear to do hardware calibration, but it is also double the price from the PA271W, bringing me to a completely different class of monitors. When I go there, I also need to consider brands such as EIZO and basically go back to "square one" to do more research.

Any advise on whether for my usage, it is worthwhile to make that leap to the very expensive professional monitors? It is a lot of extra money to spend and I am not sure if I will get much value out of that higher expense?
Am I constrained by running Linux? None of the hardware calibration tools appear to run under Linux anyway in which case there may not be an advantage of having a monitor that does hardware calibration and then the Dell may be a better option?
Does anyone have experience with the NEC PA271W (not the reference model) and hardware calibration in Europe - can it be done and is it giving good results?

Anything else I am missing? Any help or guidance is very appreciated!
posted by eurandom to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Here's my "help me find a high quality LCD" question from a few months ago. Also this recent question. The HP monitor I settled on has a 27" version for about $700. The Apple 27" display is $1000 and if it's like the iMac display, will be nicer than the HP but not a whole lot.

I was explicitly looking for monitors that were not professional, color calibrated. So the HP monitor may not match. But unless things have changed Linux and Gimp in no way have serious color calibration or profile capability. So I think you'd be wasting your money to buy a professional monitor solely for color calibration; your software won't meaningfully use it. I could be wrong.
posted by Nelson at 8:42 AM on December 31, 2011

What model and year CRT do you use? Even a sub $1000 LCD is better than most pro-grade CRTs from 10 years ago.
posted by Ookseer at 8:59 AM on December 31, 2011

Best answer: I've got an old Dell 24" WPS and am a photography hobbyist. It wasn't terribly expensive. But it has served me well for working with photos. If you calibrate it properly, your prints will come back looking as intended. I printed some photos for a gallery show through Adorama on chromagenic paper (C prints) and they came back just like what I had on the monitor. So I wouldn't fret about spending a ton on a "pro" monitor.

A middle of the road IPS panel is plenty good for a hobbyist. But with any monitor, calibration is key.
posted by j03 at 9:01 AM on December 31, 2011

Best answer: I have a previous-generation 24" NEC (model LCD2490WUXi) that I bought for more or less the same reason as you (amateur photographer). Great, great monitor. Graininess is not an issue, BTW, and if it were, I'd rather have a little of that than glare. I paid just under $1000 for it a couple years ago and the only way it could possibly be better is if it were LED backlit (which would make backlight aging a virtual non-issue).

At the factory, they create a brightness map for the whole display and when applied, it dims the parts of the screen that are overly bright so that the entire screen has uniform brightness. I have never calibrated the color on it, but if you decided you wanted to do this, I'm sure you could find a way to import the US calibration package for it.
posted by kindall at 9:02 AM on December 31, 2011

Just want to reiterate that the HP ZR2740w mentioned by Nelson, above, is a pretty great value in its price range (~$700). It was introduced specifically to address pro users (especially animators and the like) who couldn't justify the expenditure for installing HP's truly high-end ($2500 DreamColor) monitors across a fleet of workstations. I would think that it's a good match for "semi-professional" use, and exceptionally affordable.
posted by Joey Bagels at 9:10 AM on December 31, 2011

Best answer: The ColorHug is an open-source, Linux based display calibrator. If you want to calibrate the output side of your non-mainstream workflow, Wolf Faust has been the right kind of obsessed with this for years.
posted by scruss at 9:16 AM on December 31, 2011

Response by poster: What model and year CRT do you use? Even a sub $1000 LCD is better than most pro-grade CRTs from 10 years ago.

I use a very old 17 inch monitor - A Samtron 76BDF to be exact. I have looked at calibrating it, but my monitor does not give me many options severely limiting how much calibration I can do.
posted by eurandom at 9:31 AM on December 31, 2011

Response by poster: Nelson, I have found that there is a big difference between buying a monitor because it looks "pretty" (like many of the Apple monitors) and buying one because of trying to do accurate photography work and believe that my question is therefore very different from the questions you refer to in your links.

Regarding Linux - this is one of the reason I am looking at a monitor that does hardware calibration and therefore holds the LUT internally: my understanding is that if the monitor has been hardware calibrated, there is no need to software calibrate (loading the LUT in the graphics card) and therefore it should work better in Linux. I could be wrong about that.
posted by eurandom at 9:38 AM on December 31, 2011

CRTs wear out. When I got rid of my old and nice-when-new CRT monitor and got an LCD I found that my CRT was, at that point, half as bright as the LCD, even on full brightness. I bet 80% of your concerns are alleviated by simply getting *any* new monitor.
posted by rhizome at 9:49 AM on December 31, 2011

Dell's U-series IPS monitors go on sale about every six weeks, and will cost you much less than $1k.
posted by mhoye at 10:06 AM on December 31, 2011

My comment up above about Linux is outdated: Gimp has some color management now. So if you get a nicely calibrated LCD on your desktop you may be able to use it meaningfully in Gimp on Linux. Hopefully a real expert on Linux color management will pop in to answer.

As several people have said, any LCD you buy is going to be an enormous improvement over an old CRT.
posted by Nelson at 10:54 AM on December 31, 2011

I thought you needed some sort of special device for pro-level calibration, something which reads the colors displayed on the monitor. Am I misremembering this?
posted by shothotbot at 2:49 PM on December 31, 2011

You remember correctly, but I don't think the OP is at the hardware calibrator level yet.
posted by rhizome at 9:29 AM on January 1, 2012

Response by poster: I thought you needed some sort of special device for pro-level calibration, something which reads the colors displayed on the monitor. Am I misremembering this?

You are correct, for the calibration itself, you need a hardware calibration device. I have one, but may need to upgrade it depending on the monitor I get. However, the quality of the calibration also depends on the monitor itself - does it do hardware calibration (inside the monitor, which tends to give the best results) or does it do software calibration (through the graphics card). I know hardware calibration is considered better, but I am not sure how much difference it makes for my application.
posted by eurandom at 11:50 AM on January 1, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you all for your input. My key take-away is that a good LCD panel should do me well without having to go into a professional range monitor.

I decided to go with the NEC PA271W monitor which appears to be one of the best 27" monitors for photography work without going into the professional $2,000+ range. Due to hardware calibration, this monitor should work well with Linux and there may be a Linux version of the Spectraview II software available, although that is unclear at this stage as I am still waiting for feedback from NEC on that.

I have not been too impressed by NEC's approach of having different models and calibration software in the US and in Europe and for not being able to answer the question on how to obtain the Linux version of the Spectraview II software that is mentioned on their website.
posted by eurandom at 10:55 PM on January 4, 2012

Customer service aside, the electricity in Europe is different than in the US, which could explain different models and maybe software (though the latter is probably more likely evidence of corporate balkanization).
posted by rhizome at 10:13 AM on January 5, 2012

Looks like a nice monitor, I hope you enjoy it! I wish my HP monitor had the light sensor / automatic dimming.

This review gives a view into the confusion with SpectraView US vs Europe. Sounds like it's mostly political, not technical, and frankly embarrassing for a global company.

I'm sure eurandom's already found this, but here's info on SpectraView and Linux. My guess is they just don't want to support the software; if you can get an actual human to see your request I assume they'd give it to you. Alternately you could find a way to plug the monitor into a Windows box for a one time hardware calibration.
posted by Nelson at 10:29 AM on January 5, 2012

This is a 27 inch Samsung LED (which get better reviews than LCD) monitor with very nice specs, selling for about half of the 1, 300 figure, it is 'future ready' in that it has 3d capabilities (and can do 3d up converting, from 2d sources, which several forums seems to suggest is pretty nice [comes with a pair of glasses] to me, the 3d just means it has amazing refresh rates [5MS refreshing]), 3d can be fully disabled, it is but largely the contrast stats, and the fast refresh, it has a lot of settings, and modes, large customizable contrast, tones, brightness, backlight, warmth and coolness. A very customizable display (can even do 'just red, or green, or blue'). It has frame smoothing software, making fast moving images seem less dizzying. Duplicating and inserting interpolated frames between frames It has an "HDR" mode, which has high contrast, and brightness. Making normal images look amazing.

(their marketing materials describe it as:
LED monitor. It delivers unbelievably smooth visuals through its 3D HyperReal engine and the real 120 Hz speed, while also producing brighter 3D images. Other features include the mega dynamic contrast ratio and photo accuracy 100%, which really bring pictures to life.)

Websites suggest it shares a panel with one of Samsungs higher end models. It has HDMI inputs (which can connect to a mac by [displayport>HDMI], or on a PC with DVI-D by a DVI-D converter and HDMI cable. It happens to have a Co-ax input, allowing cable, or an antenna to attach, it has the "samsung Smart TV" firmware featured in their highest end TV models (it is a computer monitor), it has ethernet, and usb inputs for Removable Drives, with videos, or images without a computer or input, it can take a usb-wireless adaptor, allowing for wireless "smart tv" (like, youtube, hulu, netflix, twitter, Facebook, google mail, and other services [like a few free 3d movies from a small selection]).

It is about as thick as a thumb. Beautiful display for seeing the full potential of images.
posted by infinite intimation at 12:56 AM on January 9, 2012

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