The darkroom days are over for most people, and if you work in photography or are a keen hobbyist, you will need a monitor that’s designed for photo manipulation.
How you use your camera, and therefore your editing setup, will dictate what you need; as will the question of how serious a photographer you are.
From bargain-basement options to all-singing-all-dancing displays that will bring your images to life, there’s a lot of choice on offer.
Of, course, you can always just go for the most expensive top-end model, but you’d be much better off working out exactly which monitor suits your photographic needs best. That way, you’ll only spend what you need to, and will end up with the product that’s perfect for you.
Last update on 2022-05-18
How to buy a monitor for photo editing
When you’re working out which display to go for, you should consider the following things:
- Size – as a general rule, go as big as your workspace and budget will allow. Be realistic though: bigger isn’t always better, and if you think a 32-inch monitor is going to be a squeeze, go down a couple of inches. Also consider whether you need your workstation to be portable (if you’re freelance, for example), but try not to drop below 24-inches. Aspect ratio is a matter of personal preference, but 16:9 is the most common.
- Resolution – again, as a general rule, a higher resolution is always better. For a 24-inch display you need at least 1920 x 1080, and 2560 x 1440 is the minimum resolution for a 27-inch display. A 32-inch monitor should have 4K (3840 x 2160) resolution. If you’re going UltraWide (21:9 aspect ratio), 1440p is enough. Always use the native resolution on an LCD monitor for best results.
- Panel – if you’re serious about photography, look for a display panel with In-Plane Switching (IPS) and at least an 8-bit lookup table (LUT). A display with these features can access a palate of 16.7 million colors, giving brilliant reproduction. Top-end panels with a 10-bit LUT or more will increase this number to over one billion.
- Color gamut – this is the entire range of colors available on the monitor. Most will have the sRGB color gamut, but this doesn’t cover as many colors as the Adobe RGB color gamut, so you’ll see an estimate of the colors in your images instead. Wide gamut RGB monitors let you select from a palate of over one billion colors, and are necessary to work with the subtleties contained in RAW 14-bit or 16-bit image files. You’ll generally pay a lot more for a monitor of this kind, but if you’re a professional photographer, you’re going to want access to this level of color manipulation.
- Connectivity – DisplayPort, Thunderbolt, HDMI and/or DVI connections are a must. Check the connectivity options on your PC or laptop before you buy a monitor, to ensure that the two are compatible.
- Calibration – you need to calibrate your monitor at least once a month, and integrated calibration tools make the job easier. If the sensor isn’t inbuilt, check to see whether your monitor of choice is shipped with a colorimeter, which will properly adjust colors. Lower-end monitors come pre-calibrated, which is ideal for beginners who don’t know how to do it.
- Hood – professionals might want to consider a monitor with a hood to block out ambient light. This will give better consistency throughout the day, as natural light changes. If you go for a monitor without a hood, it’s usually possible to buy an add-on at a later date.
5 Great Monitors for Photo Editing
Best all-rounder - BenQ SW2700PT
If you fall somewhere between hobbyist and professional, you’re most likely going to want an option that’s reasonably priced but not lacking in pro-features. Prosumers and passionate amateurs alike love BenQ’s SW2700PT, as it ticks both of those boxes.
Packing a 2560 x 1440 resolution into a 27-inch display, the size and resolution is the perfect balance of compactness and clarity.
Where the balance tips towards professional-grade is the 99% Adobe RGB color gamut. Combined with the IPS panel and a 14-bit LUT, you’ll enjoy the same spectacular color range as you’d find on pro-spec models.
BenQ’s AQCOLOR technology ensures exact color reproduction, and as the brand is active in establishing industry-wide color-related standards, you can really trust these guys to deliver stunning accuracy.
Usability is perfect for beginners, and prosumers will appreciate the ability to customize the controls. BenQ’s Hotkey Puck makes switching between Adobe RGB, sRGB, and black and white modes nice and easy, and the buttons can also be customized to adjust other modes such as contrast and brightness. Another nice touch is that you can preview images in three different black and white presets before actually editing them, which has the potential to save you lots of time.
Calibration is completed during production, so there’s no need to do it yourself. But, if you prefer to be a little more hands on, the Palette Master Element calibration software can be used with a calibrator to fine tune color performance.
The detachable hood is a great added extra, and gives this monitor a real pro-feel. With the hood attached, you’ll benefit from less ambient light on your screen, giving you a more realistic and accurate view of your photos.
Connectivity-wise, there’s a noticeable lack of HDMI 2.0 ports, but we love everything else about BenQ’s offering so can forgive this minor issue.
Dell’s UltraSharp UP2716D is another brilliant all-rounder, and will please hobbyists and prosumers alike. Also measuring in at 27-inches with a 2560 x 1440 resolution, this monitor actually trumps BenQ’s offering in terms of color reproduction by delivering 100% Adobe RGB color gamut. Dell’s version lacks a hood, but other than these minor differences, the two measure up pretty equally.
Best for professionals - NEC MultiSync PA322UHD Monitor
If you earn your money in photography, you’re going to want the very best kit to edit your images on. NEC are known as one of the leaders in the high-end display industry, and their MultiSync PA322UHD is our pick for professionals.
This 32-inch powerhouse has the size needed for you to really get to grips with your images, and the 1000:1 contrast ratio 3840 x 2160 4K resolution is exactly what you’d expect from a monitor of this caliber.
The display is truly amazing, and wide gamut IPS panel technology and 14-bit LUT has the ability to cover 99.2% of the Adobe RGB color range.
Coupled with the white LED backlighting, what you’ll get from this is incredible color accuracy that will let you see and manipulate your images just as you captured them in your video camera. If you photograph weddings or events for a living, you’re going to want this level of control to ensure exact color reproduction for your clients.
For increased productivity, you’ll love both the ‘Picture in Picture’ and ‘Picture by Picture’ modes, as they allow you to display two or four sources simultaneously; handy when you’re working on multiple projects at a time. MultiProfiler™ software is also another great touch by NEC, and this feature allows complete control over the five inbuilt picture modes. This includes the loading of any ICC profile onto the monitor, which will give you impressive color space matching.
Connectivity is in no way lacking, and you’ll find DisplayPort, DisplayPort OPS, 4 x HDMI, 2 x DVI-D Dual Link, and a USB 3.0 hub with DisplaySync ProTM support, which allows you to control two computers with just one keyboard and mouse. With this much choice, you can really customize your edit setup to suit what you’re working on.
As expected with pro kit like this, you’ll need to calibrate it yourself, and there’s a package available which comes with NEC’s SpectraViewII Color Calibration Kit. And, if you want to purchase a hood for your monitor, NEC’s HDPA32 is compatible.
As you’d expect for a monitor of this caliber, the price tag is pretty high, but if you’re serious about your images you’ll understand exactly why it’s worth it.
For something slightly smaller, we’d recommend the Eizo ColorEdge CX271. This 27-inch monitor still packs a powerful punch when it comes to color reproduction, covering 99% of the Adobe RGB color space. The 2560 x 1440 resolution is perfect for a display of this size, and the IPS panel will keep professional photographers happy. EIZO’s ColorNavigation calibration software is also an excellent pro-feature, and will keep your accuracy up image after image.
Best entry-level – ASUS PA248Q Monitor
If you’re just getting into photo editing, or you don’t have a lot to spend, there are plenty of entry-level monitors out there that do a perfectly good job.
Our favorite monitor in the affordable price-range is Asus’ PA248Q, and with this model the computing giant has proven that it’s possible to achieve high color accuracy without breaking the bank.
If you’re just getting into photo editing, or you don’t have a lot to spend, there are plenty of entry-level monitors out there that do a perfectly good job. Our favorite monitor in the affordable price-range is Asus’ PA248Q, and with this model the computing giant has proven that it’s possible to achieve high color accuracy without breaking the bank.
This compact 24-inch display has a 16:10 aspect ratio and a 1920 x 1200 resolution, giving you enough space and clarity to see the detail in your images, even if your workspace is a little on the small side. What’s impressive for this monitor, considering its beginner-level status, is the IPS panel with an 8-bit LUT. This is perhaps slightly let down by its sRGB color gamut limitation, but it’s to be expected with such a bargain monitor. That being said, the 178° wide viewing angle is a nice touch, and will ensure that you experience minimal color shift from pretty much any viewing position.
Asus offers some neat features that feel like a lovely bonus for a relatively low-priced monitor. Customized color adjustment gives you control of hue and saturation, with six separate color adjustments. The smart contrast ratio makes tweaking contrast and sharpness easy: simply adjust the luminance of the backlight to achieve deep blacks and bright whites, for brilliantly realistic visuals.
Connectivity is also impressive for the price-tag, and this monitor is the world’s first to have four USB 3.0 ports. These offer 10 times the speed of USB 2.0 ports, which will save you time on data transfer times and will up your productivity nicely. And, if you’re aiming for a multi-display setup, the DisplayPort, HDMI, DVI and D-Sub connectivity options are ready and waiting for you.
Asus have pre-calibrated this monitor, so it’s good to go straight out of the box. It’s perhaps unlikely that you’d splash out on a hood for this level of editing, but if you really wanted to reduce glare, Asus’ PA24 hood is designed to fit this particular monitor.
There are a couple of minor downsides, such as a less-than-brilliant greyscale performance and a lack of auto-rotation when switching from landscape to portrait, but neither should put you off this brilliant bargain for beginners.
If you prefer Dell, their UltraSharp U2412M is another great entry-level monitor. It’s also 24-inches with a sRGB IPS panel supported by an 8-bit LUT. Where it falls short of Asus’ offering, though, is the lack of pre-calibration: if you want to keep your colors accurate you’re going to need to calibrate your monitor yourself every thirty days or so.
Best UltraWide – LG 34UM68-P
If 16:9 isn’t your thing, UltraWide might fit you better. Usually referring to an aspect ratio of 21:9, UltraWide monitors increase the width of the screen without altering the height, giving photographers more screen real estate to play with.
LG’s 34UM68-P is our cream of the crop when it comes to widescreen. Measuring in at an impressive 34-inches with a resolution of 2560 x 1080, the amount of space you have available to work with really is a joy.
It’s got the IPS panel that you want to see from a monitor of this caliber, but with 99% sRGB and an 8-bit LUT, you’re not going to get the billion colors you’d get from a pricier model. With such amazing sRGB you could fill your digital photo frame with ease.
There’s plenty of control to be had over this wide wonder, and you can customize your display to make multitasking easier. There are 14 different options for your screen, including four picture-in-picture options, and you can easily split and resize your display to suit what you’re working on. It’s a real selling point to have so many options over the massive amount of space on offer, and something that we really love about this LG model.
Connectivity-wise, there aren’t a whole lot of options, but with two HDMI 1.4 ports and a DisplayPort, you won’t be stuck. Calibration is done in the factory, so you don’t need to worry about doing it yourself, but you’ll struggle to find a hood that’s compatible with a monitor of this width.
If you’ve got a little more to spend, Samsung’s CF791 is a stunner of a monitor, and would have topped our picks of UltraWides if it wasn’t so pricey. You get the same 34-inches of display at the same aspect ratio, but connectivity is superior with HDMI 2.0 ports and the addition of a USB port. The deep curve gives this monitor a gorgeous aesthetic, and if you can afford the larger price tag, you may want to consider this Samsung over the LG.
Best for Apple fans - Dell U3017 UltraSharp PremierColor
If you’re a Mac user, and many photographers are, you’ll need a suitable monitor to edit your images on. The most recent Apple Thunderbolt Display was released in 2011, and is a little out of date.
So, if you want something a little more recent, there are plenty of compatible non-Apple options available that perform brilliantly.
Dell’s 30-inch 16:10 aspect ratio beauty boasts a 2560 x 1600 resolution, and is ideal for Apple-using professional or prosumer photographers who don’t want to break the bank. The anti-glare IPS panel with a 10-bit LUT and 99% Adobe RGB color gamut will give stunning color accuracy that passionate photographers will appreciate.
This monitor also has access to sRGB, REC709, and DCI-P3, so you’re covered across all of the most common gamuts. Also you can rest assured that the photos you print with the help of this bad boy will come pristine.
Dell’s Premier Color technology gives you more control over your screen, which you’re sure to love it you’re serious about your photography. Aspects such display temperature, contrast and brightness can be easily adjusted to give you your perfect display.
Connectivity is plentiful on this model, and of course, it’s compatible with Apple products. Two USB 3.0 ports make data transfer quick and easy, and the DisplayPort gives you the option of adding additional screens to your editing setup.
The monitor comes pre-calibrated, but Dell also includes its Ultrasharp Calibration software so that you can create your own picture modes and ensure that color accuracy is perfectly maintained. There’s no hood included and Dell doesn’t make one for this model, so if this something that’s important to you, you might want to shop around for a generic hood before you commit to buying this monitor.
If you decide to stick with Apple, their 2011 Apple MC914LL/B 27-inch Thunderbolt display is your best bet. Thunderbolt technology allows for data transfers that are up to 20 times faster than USB 2.0, making connectivity this monitor’s crowning glory. As we said though, it’s a pretty old model, and you’ll still pay a fairly high price for the Apple logo despite this.
For all but the most serious professionals, BenQ’s SW2700PT monitor cannot be beaten on its photo editing credentials.
With the pro-level Adobe RGB color gamut, you’ll enjoy the same quality of color accuracy as you’d find in a higher-end model, but BenQ haven’t forgotten the beginners, and have packed in lots of features which make it easy to use, too.
The ability to choose whether you want to manually calibrate your monitor is just one of the thoughtful features that make this monitor the perfect all-rounder, and we love the pro-level hood that’s included.
For the incredibly reasonable price, we really don’t think you’ll find a monitor that suits such a broad spectrum of photographers so perfectly.