A comprehensive guide on choosing the best monitor for your video and photo editing work, and beyond. This can also be a useful guide for artists, designers, and any other creative professionals who rely on color heavily. Find out how to pick the best monitor for your needs, and also view some of our suggestions on the best photo editing monitors and video editing monitors at the end of this post. Cover photo by: Peter Stumpf
Why is it Important to Have a Good Monitor?
Color is an important part of video and photo editing, which means having a monitor that lets you see true colors is incredibly important. Everyone’s screen displays color and contrast differently, so it’s best for you as the creator to have a monitor that lets you see an image as accurately as possible. This way, it is guaranteed to look good on any display, even if the image does get altered in some way. You need to be able to see the difference between black, and very, very dark grey.
Monitors come in a variety of panel types. This is the underlying technology of the screen. There are different types because different types have different perks.
TN panels are very common, and cheap to produce. They are best for gaming, because they offer higher response times, often as low as 1ms. However, the color accuracy and contrast ratio is less than desirable. Viewing angles are particularly atrocious. This means that you need to look at the monitor straight-on or you’ll risk seeing shifted or inverted colors. Even looking straight-on, there can be a variance in colors. All of this to say, don’t buy a TN monitor if you’re doing any sort of video or photo work!
The next type of monitor is VA. This type of monitor has more accurate blacks and less backlight bleeding, as well as higher contrast ratios. Viewing angles and color reproduction are solid compared to TN. There are some issues with shades of colors not being displayed incredibly accurately across the entire screen, but overall these monitors are effective for color-sensitive work. VA panels are not often ideal for gaming because they can have a slower response time and some motion blur when shades of colors are displayed. Of all of the types of panels, VA has the widest variety. There are some bad VA panels, as well as some great VA panels, so pay close attention to other attributes if you’re looking at VA monitors.
If you’re looking for the best of the best for video and photo editing, IPS is the best way to go. Of all monitor types, IPS monitors have the best color accuracy, color consistency, and viewing angles. These panels will have a wider range of colors to display. They are ideal for color-accurate work, so when you’re shopping for a monitor for video and photo editing, you should definitely go for IPS. While these monitors have not historically had great response times, they are generally decent for gaming these days due to a combination of faster response times and beautiful colors.
OLED is the latest and greatest panel type, and it offers a lot. These panels have superior image quality, offering high contrast with true blacks, a wide color gamut, great viewing angles, and high refresh rates. These monitors are also thin and light. So what’s the downside? Well, they are incredibly expensive compared to other monitors, and there are very few options. Both of these are due to the technology being so new. The first OLED monitors weren’t available until 2019. The other issue is burn-in, which is when a static image gets literally burned into the panel permanently if it is on screen for too long. You probably won’t get your hands on an OLED display, but it’s something to look forward to in the future.
The resolution of a monitor determines how many pixels you can see. And the more pixels you can see, the more detail you’ll be able to see on the video or image you’re looking at.
Very few displays these days are 720p resolution, and 1080p is now the standard. However, 1440p (2K) and 4K are becoming increasingly popular. Since many video cameras now record in higher resolutions such as 4K, having a monitor to match can be beneficial. What’s the point of editing in 4K if you’re only seeing in 1080p? You’ll be missing out on a lot of detail if you choose a lower resolution. Photos are also taken in much higher than 1080p resolution, so resolution is important for both video and photo production.
Size is also important, and relates closely to resolution. The bigger the screen, the more stretched-out the pixels will be. This is called pixel density. For example, a 1080p monitor at 24 inches will likely look better than a 27-inch monitor of the same resolution because the pixels on the 27-inch monitor will be larger. This may result in an image that is less crisp. Meanwhile, a 20-inch monitor at 1080p may be small enough that you’re getting diminishing returns on pixel density and the overall monitor size is too small to see what’s on the screen.
If you want a large monitor, opt for a higher resolution to get the best of both worlds. Bigger monitors (within reason) help you see your videos and photos larger, and thus more accurately, and you’ll save your eyes by not having to strain to see details. 1080p is ideal for 24 inches, 1440p is best for 27 inches, and 4K is best for 32 inches and higher. If you’re doing any sort of editing work, 24 inches is the minimum size, otherwise you risk sacrificing detail.
Color space determines how accurately a monitor can display colors, and how wide of a range of colors it can display. Obviously, having a greater color gamut is ideal for video and photo work.
Color gamut is measured in sRGB and Adobe RGB. sRGB is standard RGB and is the most commonly used. Adobe RGB has a gamut that is over 30% wider than sRGB, meaning there are more colors, and more vibrant colors. You may think this means that Adobe RGB is better, but this is not always the case since most monitors utilize sRGB. Adobe RGB is great for print work that supports it. If you’re editing video and photo for web use, sRGB will do the trick.
In terms of picking a monitor, make sure that it covers at least 90% of the sRGB gamut. Higher is always better.
After all, you want to edit awesome photos with your Lightroom presets and make sure they look good on any screen.
Bit depth is also an aspect of color space, and monitors tend to come in 8-bit and 10-bit. If you’re doing any editing, purchase a 10-bit monitor. This gives you a huge variety of colors. While an 8-bit monitor can display 16.7 million colors, a 10-bit monitor can display a whopping 1.07 billion! The best way to explain bit depth is in a situation where you are working with a gradient, like a sunset. In 10-bit color, the sunset will have a smooth gradient that gently transitions from color to color. In 8-bit, you’re more likely to see “jumps” from color to color, because the in-between transition colors just can’t be displayed. Of course, you will only see the benefits of 10-bit if your camera shoots in 10-bit!
Outside of a monitor’s ability to show accurate colors, there are numerous other factors you should keep in mind so that you purchase a monitor that fits with your current setup. Here are some of those considerations.
Connectivity: While HDMI is still a standard method of connection, many modern monitors utilize DisplayPort, Mini-DisplayPort, and USB-C. Make sure your computer has a connection compatible with the monitor you want to purchase. Adapters can offer a temporary solution, but may negatively impact the accuracy and performance of the monitor.
Mounting: In order to have a clean desk space, you may want to mount your monitor to an arm, rather than using the included stand. Unfortunately, not every monitor is mountable. If mounting is a concern, look for monitors that are VESA compatible. There are two types of VESA mounts – 75×75 and 100×100 – so you will also need to make sure your monitor and mount are compatible. Fortunately, mounting brackets often have holes for both sizes.
Calibration Settings: You will probably want a monitor with adjustable settings for contrast, saturation, and more. Some monitors may come too saturated, or too warm, out of the box. Color calibration tools are useful to get the most out of your monitor. But you will only be able to take advantage of them if your monitor can be adjusted to a high degree.
As you can see, there is a lot involved in picking out the perfect monitor. There is so much to consider, but this guide will help you narrow down what”s out there and what suits your needs.
Here are a few recommendations we can suggest!
Lenovo L28u-30 – This 28-inch 4K IPS monitor comes in at under $300, making it a great entry level editing monitor. It has more than 99% of the sRGB color gamut. Its 1000:1 contrast ratio is nothing incredible, but you should get some good-looking whites and blacks. Additionally, it has an anti-glare screen, a 4K resolution on a decently-sized 28-inch screen, and both HDMI and DisplayPort connections.
Dell UP3216Q – This 32-inch widescreen monitor from Dell is also a 4K IPS screen, however it comes in around $1500. What makes this monitor so much more expensive than the Lenovo listed above? Well, it has 100% sRGG, 99.5% Adobe RGB, 100% REC709, and 87% DCI-P3. This monitor covers every major color gamut, making it ideal for any designer or editor. It includes built-in tools to help with color calibration. The contrast ratio is good, but standard, at 1000:1. The response time is a bit slow, but this doesn’t matter if you’re just editing. 32-inch widescreen is also a ton of screen space, so you can view your images larger.