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Recommendations for external Monitor with MacBook Pro M1 Pro to use with Photoshop and Lightroom

Explorer ,
Oct 18, 2021 Oct 18, 2021

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I hope this question is within the scope of this discussion group.

I have been working with an iMac (now 27" 2017 version) for a long time.  I am a photography hobbiest- so not a professional.  I do not sell my photos!  I am going to get one of the new MacBook Pro- 14" M1 Pro chip.  I will trade in my iMac.  So now I am trying to figure out what external monitor to get for when I am at home.  In the further out future I may get a 2nd monitor.

 

Given my use case what are factors I should consider in selecting an external monitor (e.g. connectivity- usb-c, thunderbolt; resolution, specific Mac compatibility, other factors).  Are there specific external monitors to consider?  Would there be any rationale for holding off until newer models come out with better specs (and getting a less expensive external monitor for now)?  

Certainly the laptop itself will have it's own screen characteristics that won't be able to be matched with an affordable external dispaly.  

 

Thanks!

 

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Oct 19, 2021 Oct 19, 2021

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In my opinion is important to select a monitor with a wide gamut of colors  that can display more colors than a standard monitor. search for Adobe RGB like this ones

BenQ SW240 24.1" 16:10 $399
LG UltraGear 27GL850-B 27” $496
LG UltraGear 27GP850-B 27” $496
MSI Creator PS321QR 32" 16:9 $599
NEC PA243W-BK 24.1" 16:10 $799
Dell UltraSharp 27 UP2716D 27” $718

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Oct 20, 2021 Oct 20, 2021

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Explorer ,
Oct 20, 2021 Oct 20, 2021

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Very up-to-date links.  Thanks.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Oct 20, 2021 Oct 20, 2021

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Are you intending to make prints, are you at all concerned about soft proofing and getting very close visual matching between the print and the display?

Author “Color Management for Photographers" & "Photoshop CC Color Management"

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Explorer ,
Oct 20, 2021 Oct 20, 2021

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Good questions. I won't be making my own prints but will want to send out some of my pictures for printing.  Not professionally but for personal use and family.  

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Oct 20, 2021 Oct 20, 2021

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@minimejdh wrote:

Would there be any rationale for holding off until newer models come out with better specs (and getting a less expensive external monitor for now)?


 

Not for a hobbyist. There are many good displays out there already. The important thing, even more important than color gamut, is that it be color-accurate. That is, when Photoshop displays a pixel at 73% gray, the display shows you 73% gray and not 72.6% or 73.5%. A good monitor review will measure accuracy. If you own a calibrator, you can create a display profile that can compensate for the inaccuracies of less expensive displays.

 


@minimejdh wrote:

(e.g. connectivity- usb-c, thunderbolt; resolution, specific Mac compatibility, other factors)


 

If you just need it to be a display, all you need is a port on it that you can connect to your Mac. The new 14-inch MacBook Pro has multiple ways to connect to displays. You can use the HDMI port, or if you get an adapter you can use any of the three Thunderbolt/USB-C ports to connect to whatever the display has on the back (HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, DisplayPort…).

 

If you want the display to be a hub for other peripherals like hard drives or a keyboard, you’ll want additional USB ports on it.

 

If you want the display to charge your new 14" MacBook Pro, the display must have a USB-C port providing enough wattage through USB Power Delivery. (The 14-inch’s power adapter is either 67 watts, or 94 watts for the fast-charge version, depending on what you ordered).

 


@minimejdh wrote:

Certainly the laptop itself will have it's own screen characteristics that won't be able to be matched with an affordable external dispaly.  


 

You’re probably right. The Liquid Retina XDR display in the new 14"/16" M1 Pro/Max looks like a major jump over any display a Mac laptop has ever had. If it performs anywhere close to what its specs imply, an external display that can beat it might cost over $1000. In general, if you want to find a sort of approximate match in an external display, look for a 4K, wide color gamut display. (Edit: This used to also say “HDR-capable” but that may have caused confusion. I only mentioned it because it’s a quality of the Liquid Retina XDR display, but HDR that can’t be turned off is not currently desirable for a photo editing display.)

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Oct 20, 2021 Oct 20, 2021

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I still have problems understanding how HDR display technology has any relevance for a real-life practical workflow.

 

There's a reason we calibrate to 100 - 140 cd/m² white and 0.3 - 0.6 cd/m² black. It's because it matches an actual printed photograph in normal viewing conditions - and for most of us, that's where our work ends up sooner or later. A piece of paper can't be whiter than white. The whole point is to preview the finished result, right?

 

Even if your work is exclusively for web or video, this still applies: it brings us all on the same page. It's a common reference that we all share.

 

Fancy specs don't necessarily mean it's "better". It may in fact be totally unsuitable in the real world.

 

As I've repeated countless times here, a good monitor is not about specifications alone. The things that are really important are not in the specs. Does it have perfectly uniform color and brightness from corner to corner and side to side? You can't calibrate your way around that. Does it have a consistent tone curve all the way out to the extremes, so that you get good shadow and highlight separation? How about color casts in the deep shadows? These things are not in the specs!

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Oct 20, 2021 Oct 20, 2021

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I agree, about the least important attribute of a display is it's overall contrast ratio (meaning HDR or otherwise). 

Uniformity, color gamut, ability to calibrate to multiple aim points, far, far more important for photographers. 

Author “Color Management for Photographers" & "Photoshop CC Color Management"

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Oct 20, 2021 Oct 20, 2021

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@D Fosse wrote:

I still have problems understanding how HDR display technology has any relevance for a real-life practical workflow.


 

For video editing, HDR is now very relevant because it’s rapidly gaining playback support on TVs, phones, tablets. For Photoshop and photography, an HDR display is still mostly a problem. If the Liquid Retina XDR was any other HDR display, I would have concerns about its use for photography. But what is encouraging is this line from the MacBook Pro 14/16 inch Overview page: 

 

“Each display is factory calibrated and features pro reference modes for HDR color grading, photography, design, and print production.”

 

That is the same language used for the 32" $6000 Apple Pro Display XDR. Now, of course we can’t assume the new MacBook Pro display will perform as well, but if it provides the same reference modes, then: 

  • The display’s reference modes let you specify different combinations of gamut, white point, luminance, SDR transfer function, etc. I assume those are hardware-based and not ICC-profile driven, and if so, those would represent hardware calibration presets typically found only on high-end desktop displays. 
  • The default reference mode presets include some for HDR digital cinema (not good for Photoshop) and photography/print design (should be OK for Photoshop, if these presets either shut off HDR or apply an SDR transfer function that works properly for photography). 
  • You can’t have reliable reference modes unless the factory calibration is at a certain level of precision. If it is good enough on these laptops, then selecting the Photography (P3-D65) reference mode should, in theory, make it a very good photography monitor. 

 

I have never used that expensive Pro Display XDR, so if there is anyone reading this that has used one, has the factory calibration been good enough out of the box, and do the reference mode presets equal multiple hardware calibration aim points? And does choosing the Photography (P3-D65) or Design and Print (P3-D50) reference mode make it appropriate for a non-HDR photo workflow? If so, there is hope that applying the appropriate reference mode to the new MacBook Pro Liquid Retina XDR display could do the same thing.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Oct 20, 2021 Oct 20, 2021

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quoteif so, those would represent hardware calibration presets typically found only on high-end desktop displays.

By @Conrad C

 

There might be presets, just to get people started. But that's not what you use. On high-end displays you have internal hardware calibration to your own custom targets that match the actual output conditions.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Oct 20, 2021 Oct 20, 2021

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You don't have to use presets, and also, you might misunderstand what is meant by presets in this context. Here they are called “reference modes” as in when you buy a $10,000 TV/video “reference monitor:” The hardware is calibrated to precise industry output standards; that’s what makes it reference hardware. You’re supposed to choose a reference mode that most closely represents your actual output conditions, or at least your contract reference conditions.

 

If you review the page I linked to, it links to how you can create custom reference modes for your own output specs, fine-tune to match your in-house target, and recalibrate if you have a “supported spectroradiometer” (not some $250 off-the-shelf one). If none of the reference mode presets are close enough, do that. (Again, not sure how much of this is supported on the laptop display, but it does mention reference modes.)

 

By the way this discussion is getting outside the scope of the original request because they’re a hobbyist on a budget, unlikely to be creating customized hardware calibrations for specific output conditions. They just need a desktop display with enough uniformity and accuracy for general photography. My digression is about the quality of the new 14/16" Liquid Retina XDR display.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Oct 20, 2021 Oct 20, 2021

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Yes, this is going way outside the original context of the question, so we should probably just leave it here.

 

Still not convinced, though  😉 😄

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Oct 20, 2021 Oct 20, 2021

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My advice for photography use :

Look for a monitor that is uniform across its panel (many are not and most do not even publish any figures on that uniformity because they are not able to deliver).
Don't be fooled by marketing speak into buying a monitor with too high a resolution for its size. For critical assessment of sharpness and noise you want somewhere between 100 and 130 ppi on the screen. That way you can actually see at 100% zoom in Photoshop whether your image is sharp or noisy and such defects are not hidden in a pixel density that the eye cannot perceive.

A 10 bit/channel monitor, if available in your budget, is useful in avoiding banding artifacts, so on such a monitor if you see banding in a gradient then it is in your image. It also has an additional benefit if the calibration tables are held internally.

Budget for calibration and profiling software. For normal use these do not have to cost the earth - the X-rite display Pro is very good.

 

I use Eizo CS2731 monitors which meet all the above but other models may also do the same.

 

As an aside the Apple XDR Pro was mentioned above. When it was launched Apple compared it to a $40,000 Sony reference monitor. In testing that did not hold water. Beware marketing speak 🙂
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtd7UzLJHrU&t=51s

 

Dave

We review the Apple Pro Display XDR 6K monitor using not only objective measurements, but also side-by-side comparison vs a Sony BVM-HX310 reference monitor ...

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Oct 21, 2021 Oct 21, 2021

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Thanks for posting the video. Very instructive.

 

I googled "pro xdr uniformity" and got a number of hits, most of them from macrumors.com. For some reason they call it the "dirty screen" effect - but poor panel uniformity is what it is. People are posting images like this, which, frankly, looks unacceptable at any price:

xdr.png

 

So, again - if you want a decent monitor, go Eizo or NEC. This is what you want to see:

monitor_cg2730.png

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