The monitor is a crucial part of any digital photography computer. This lesson outlines the considerations in buying and setting up a monitor.
The type, quality and setup of your monitor has an enormous effect on how your images appear on your computer. A good quality monitor that is properly calibrated can bring your photos to life, and display them with accurate colour. A really cheap monitor may simply not be able to properly display your images because it is limited in the colours it can show. Even a good monitor that is not calibrated will produce inaccurate color.
If the colour in the monitor is not accurate, then any time you spend adjusting and perfecting your images may be wasted. If your monitor is too magenta, then the adjustments you make will produce greenish images when they are printed or viewed on a calibrated monitor. This can result in frustration, embarrassment, and even loss of income.
Monitors come in 2 basic types: A Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) monitor is the big old-school type of monitor that used to be standard on any computer. These monitors age, they are big and heavy, they generate a lot of heat, and use a lot of electricity, compared to flat panel monitors. CRT monitors are being phased out pretty quickly, due to these drawbacks.
If you are using an older CRT monitor, it is essential to calibrate it regularly. These monitors tend to have a significant colour shift over time, and therefore show inconsistent results. In most cases, CRT users should be replacing their monitors with flat panel monitors as soon as possible.
Flat panel monitors
Flat panel monitors are also called LCD monitors. They are smaller, lighter, and more energy-efficient than CRTs. Initially found on laptops, most computers now come with flat panels rather than CRT monitors. There is a wide range of quality between different flat panel monitors.
Each flat panel monitor has a light source and a colour LCD film. The light source provides the illumination, and the colour film blocks the light in order to create the image onscreen. The quality of each of these components, along with the electronic controllers in the monitor determine the overall quality of the monitor.
The backlight provides illumination for the monitor. In the least expensive monitors, the backlight is provided by very thin fluorescent light tubes. These are relatively inexpensive to make and can provide a good image.
Newer and more expensive monitors may use Light-emitting Diodes (LED) as the backlight. They have a better quality of light, and are more energy efficient. Some can dim to match a dark working environment, and get very bright if you are working outside. Some LED monitors even have the ability to dim the backlight behind dark areas of the photo in order to produce more contrast.
Calibration and profiling
In order to get a monitor to display colour as accurately as possible, you need to calibrate the monitor with a colourimeter. This is a device that sits on the front of the monitor screen and reads the colour cast of the monitor and creates a monitor profile that neutralizes the color. If you do not use some kind of colourimeter, then the colour you are seeing might be wrong.
The movie in Figure 1 outlines the process of profiling your monitor.
Figure 1This movie outlines the procedure for profiling your monitor. Courtesy of class='trademark'>™.