BenQ SW321C Photographer Monitor review by Stian Klo.
Having a properly calibrated and profiled monitor, is essential for for every photographer and artists. In my workflow, I need to 100% rely on the fact that what I see, is what you – the viewer – see as well.
I work full time as a professional photographer, so it wouldn’t make any sense to work on low quality monitors, if my long term goal is to maintain my position in the business and also continue my creative growth. For this to happen, I need the hardware to help me on the way, and not limit me in terms of technology and features.
This is the reason why I contacted BenQ, hoping to be able to try out their flagship monitor specifically designed for photographers. This line of monitors are called the PhotoVue series. BenQ were kind enough to offer me the chance to review the latest in the line, the SW321C Photographer Monitor.
Unboxing and what’s inside:
The monitor is shipped in a large, hardy and well-protected packaging. My package had a few exterior damages to it, but the inside was fully intact and all parts unharmed – Why couriers can’t treat packages with more respect baffles me. The customised compartments inside the box keeps everything in place and is a very clever design.
Long story short, everything you need to get started is included in the box. No need to splash your cash on additional cables.
– Individual calibration report
– Instruction manual and CD with software and drivers
– Power cable
– HDMI/DP/USB-C cables
– Hotkey Puck G2
– Shading hood for both horizontal and portrait mode
– Screen cleaning roller
– Stand and base plate
Key features to consider if you’re a photographer.
Technology: It’s important to have an IPS monitor. IPS is short for “In Plane Switching”, which means that the overall saturation and contrast doesn’t alter depending on which angle you look at the screen. With a non-IPS monitor, any adjustment you do to an image will be limited by the exact angle/position you are looking at the screen at. Just by moving ever so slightly, the saturation and contrast will vary – which makes it impossible to work with, not online for printing reasons but also for publishing your images on various social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram or even your personal website. This reason alone, is why you shouldn’t even consider a generic non-IPS monitor, it’s simply not suited for accurate post production.
Gamut: Ideally, your monitor should be able to reproduce as many colors as possible – this process is defined by the Gamut. It’s vital that your monitor covers 100% of the sRGB color space which is essential for publishing your material online. Additionally, it should be able to cover as much as possible in the AdobeRGB color space, which allows you to print your images in a correct manner.
Uniformity and contrast: After having defined the number of colors your monitor can reproduce, it’s key that they’re uniformly reproduced throughout the entire panel, void of any variations whatsoever to ensure 100% accuracy. An essential variable when it comes to perfectly reproducing your image, is contrast. On an IPS monitor its recommended to have it set to 1000:1
Highlighted features of the BenQ SW321C
With the above mentioned criterias taken into consideration, lets take a look at what you’re actually getting with this monitor. You will not be disappointed, and quite frankly the fact alone that you can run your portable computer from a single USB Type-C cable (although the cable on the short side) without a connected power supply is a massive game breaker. It provides 60W power, and encompasses all your audio, video and data transfers. Personally, I’ll be using the monitor on my desktop in the office as I prefer the controlled lighting and environment this space offers.
We get an IPS-monitor with LED backlighting and a very high Gamut coverage – 100% sRGB+Rec709 color space and 99% AdobeRGB color space. According to the individual calibration report that’s included, the DeltaE is guaranteed to be less than 2 – meaning that once the SW321C is connected to our computer, it’s ready to go right out of the box. The SW321C is a 32” 4K monitor, and the maximum resolution is 3840×2160 pixels – and at 32” this translates to a density of around 137 PPI.
Lets talk about the surface coating. The SW321C comes with a reflection suppression type coating that I’ve never seen before. It needs to be experienced, and I can guarantee you a screen void of reflection but full of contrast. There’s no LED backlight glow either. Very impressive.
It comes with “Uniformity technology for Screen-Wide Color Accuracy”. Simply put, this means that BenQ’s technology, delicately utilizes high precision apparatus to fine-tune the color and luminosity at hundreds of sub-regions on the entire 32” 4K screen. This technology offers screen-wide accuracy from corner to corner for 100% authentic and consistent viewing experiences.
Paper Color Sync Technology
The SW321C is not only for artists who enjoys publishing their material online, but also for those love to print their own work. Primarily this is down to a few key factors, the matte coating on the monitor which makes it easier to visualize the final product on paper, but most importantly, BenQ’s exclusive Paper Color Sync Technology. This groundbreaking technology helps to reduce the difference in color and contrast between what you actually see on the screen, compared to a physical print. It precisely predicts the end product based on what paper you intend to use and what printer you have at hand. How cool is that ? It’s also possible to adjust your image and post production to alter and perfect the print. In order to use this technology, all you need to do is download and install the free BenQ Paper Color Sync software on your computer, select your choice of paper and printer and you are good to go.
In the end, it’s both a time- and money effective way to proof your prints. Personally, I trust the print lab I’ve used for years for my prints, simply because I don’t have the time to fully master the printing aspect of photography in addition to running two companies and keeping my wife and kids happy. But that being said, with this technology being available with the touch of my finger, I might just have to get a printer now! After all, if you’re anything like me – it’s a pain having to wait for days to see the proofs, then adjust and do the process all over again.
The monitor supports Hardware Calibration, which provides that the correction curves are applied directly to the LUT inside the monitor itself. This allows you to adjust the monitors internal image processing chip without changing the graphics card output data, which often can be limiting, keeping displayed images consistent with the original content without being affected by the settings on the graphic card. The SW321C has a built-in 16-bit (10-bit panel) 3D LUT and can therefore handle more than 65.000 levels per color instead of 256 (8-bit). Well played, BenQ, well played. To perform a hardware calibration, you need to use a calibration probe in addition with BenQ Palette Master Element (PME) software.
Workflow, GamutDuo and Hotkey Puck G2.
BenQ have designed the SW321C to be connected via the choice of HDMI, DisplayPort or USB-C – with the latter being the obvious choice. If you’re using it on a laptop, there’s no need for it’s power supply. Additionally, on the side of the monitor there’s an SD card reader.
One of the ports of the monitor is designed for the Hotkey Puck G2, the tiny external control device included in the package. This device allows you to recall and bring back specific actions in addition to allowing you access to the OSD menu. While I haven’t used it extensively enough for a complete verdict, the key area I found it really useful is switching back and forth between AdobeRGB and sRGB color spaces – this way I can really quickly preview what the image(s) will look like once published online and make precise adjustments in AdobeRGB and take advantage of the vast potential in the monitors Gamut. Really cool feature, and it’s super responsive and simply fun to use.
I’m still breaking in this device and struggling to fully master it – but I’m sure with time I’ll be questioning myself what on earth I was doing before without it.
Additionally, the SW321C comes with something called the GamutDuo function. If you connect the monitor via two connections, ie. USB-C and DisplayPort, you can simultaneously display your image in two different color spaces, further enhancing your control and speeding up the whole process.
Who is the SW321C monitor for ?
Photographers and videographers who are seeking the ultimate in a super high resolution large surface area monitor, with extremely high Gamut coverage and next to no reflection. It’s definitely changed my editing process and finished product for the better, and I wish I got it sooner – it’s the ideal fit for my needs. Not only does it fit my needs, but it also comes with Pantone Certified for graphic artists and prepress, CalMAN verified for video editing, Light Space CalMAN video calibration ready, and as mentioned above, the brand new, exclusive and very interesting Paper Color Sync software for perfecting your printing experience. This software matches what you see on the monitor to the print, making it as congruent as possible.
It’s clear that BenQ have really done their research and understood the need for exact color accuracy for photographers. For this reason, they have developed and included AQCOLOR technology in the SW321C monitor to guarantee maximum color fidelity, smooth graduations and natural color transitions.
A big thank you to Petter and Bengt at BenQ for giving me the opportunity to try out this masterpiece of a monitor, greatly appreciated. More information and technological specifications can be found at BenQ’s website.