Friday, January 20, 2012

The Professional Photographer's LCD Monitor: NEC's PA301W-BK-SV - 30"

Note: Actual product images will be added to this review very soon!
When it comes to monitors, the market is flooded with a myriad of LCD of panels with prices plummeting (save for the Japanese tragedy causing semiconductor and display panel prices to spike a bit). The choices are plentiful, but the real question is how does one tell them apart if you're a discerning professional seeking only the best.

To simplify your choices a bit, you've got two categories of displays. Twisted nematic (TN) and In-Plane Switching (IPS). To put it simply -- if you care about color quality, saturation, high contrast ratios, then IPS is the only way to go. TN Panels have their place in mid to low end laptops and displays that don't demand the utmost in display quality. Response times used to be a trade-off for IPS panels, but with the latest displays - this simply isn't the case any more.

The NEC PA301W boasts a very respectable 7ms response time - but that's not where it it really shines. the -SV version of this monitor (PA301w-BK-SV) comes complete with a calibration system designed to zero on on the perfect color reproduction under a 10-bit color system.

This unit comes packaged like a tank. The box is probably double the width that it could have been, but ensures adequate protection even with cross country ground delivery. Cables are plentiful and generously lengthy. You've got every cable you'll ever need, including power cables for international use. NEC didn't cut any corners here.

With a cup on top for size reference:

Nice long cables included along with every power cable you'll never need for any country:

Convenient handles for lifting:

Well protected base

Sitting on your desk, this display is a thing of beauty. Although the thickness of the unit is more than your average LCD, it's nowhere near noticeable even on a smaller sized desk. You won't have to make any furniture purchases to accommodate this beast. The included stand is sturdy and allows for your traditional horizontal and yes, even vertical orientation!

Photography Workflow - Lightroom:
As a professional wedding photographer, I spend a considerable amount of time post-processing RAW images using Adobe's purpose written Lightroom software. If you spend as much time in Lightroom as I do, you know how valuable every pixel your screen becomes. Having 30" (2560 x 1600) of real estate is an absolute delight. You're able to keep the tools you need including usable thumbnails, histogram, adjustment sliders and even collection details while still having more than enough left for actual editing. Some wish there were more pixels packed into this display - but I assure you - 30" with 2560x1600 works out to the pixel size being not too small, nor too coarse. There are 27" displays out there that run the same resolution and although the pixel pitch is finer - that's not necessarily a good thing when it comes to photo editing. Believe it or not, you want to be able to "see" the pixels so that you can determine the absolute sharpness of a particular image.

Photography Workflow - Selecting Picks:
The first step in most work-flows for photographers is selecting images and categorizing them as "keepers" or "discards", etc. A critical part of this is checking to see if your images are tack-sharp. On a 24" or smaller monitor - this necessitates having to zoom in to the image and pan around a bit to ensure it's got the sharpness you desire. With a 30" display, this task becomes as simple as glancing at the image in the center of your screen - without having to hide the critical histogram and detail information mind you - and flagging it with a simple keystroke.

Photography Workflow - Developing:
In the develop module for lightroom, the NEC display size allows you to neatly stack all the tools you need on one side of the screen for quick access while working simultaneously on the actual image the the size you need. Gone are the days of zooming in and out to make slight corrections. I find myself using adjustment brushes and color enhancements without having to zoom and pan. This is a huge time saver and allows seamless editing of different areas of an image without fiddling too much with controls. Simplicity - that's what we're all after.

Color and Calibration:
The color gamut, or the ability of the display to display a particular range of colors within the AdobeRGB space on this display are among the lowest in the industry. Our test display arrived with color accuracy values, referred to as Delta-E below 2.0 - which is near perfect. However, should your display's color reproduction shift over time and to ensure consistent color accuracy - the optional SpectraViewII calibration hardware brought the display to values that are closer than I've ever seen to optimal. If you're debating on weather or not to get the SV model - debate no further: Given that the primary reason for getting a display of this caliber is to ensure optimal color reproduction in your images, this feature is well worth the extra bread. NEC tells me that the display also features a built-in backlight sensor, which means that once the display has been calibrated, the brightness will stay stable for the life of the display.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for Professional Photographers: In conclusion, while there are other displays on the market in the 30" category, few have gone the extra mile to build a display panel that is tailor made for image processing and graphics professionals. Make no mistake - this isn't a consumer grade product, and nor does it perform like one, or for that matter - priced like one.

Technical Specifications
Video Inputs TWO DVI-D (Dual Link) w/HDCP, TWO DisplayPort 1.1a
Panel Type P-IPS 10-bit with CCFL Backlight - 0Z100223UW
Pixel Pitch 0.25 mm
Colors 1.07 billion (30 BPP color w/appropriate GPU)
Brightness 350 nits
Contrast Ratio 1,000:1
Response Time 7 ms (GTG), 12 ms (max)
Viewable Size 29.8" (75.6 cm)
Resolution 2560 x 1600 at 60 Hz
Viewing Angle 178 degrees horizontal and vertical
Power Consumption (operation) 165 watts (typical), 90 watts (eco)
Power Consumption (standby) 1.7 watts (standby), 0.2 watts (off)
Screen Treatment Matte/Anti-Glare
Height-Adjustable Yes: 5.9 inches (landscape), 1.2 inches (portrait)
Tilt Yes: +30 degrees, -10 degrees
Pivot Yes: Landscape and Portrait
Swivel Yes: +/- 30 degrees
VESA Wall Mounting Yes: 100 mm x 100 mm
Dimensions w/ Base (WxHxD) 27.1" (688.0 mm) x 18.4-24.3" (466.4-646.4 mm) x 11.9" (301.6 mm)
Weight 41.5 lbs (18.8 kg) with stand
Additional Features Integrated USB 2.0 Switch (2 upstream, 3 downstream, 500mA), self calibration support with i1D2, 10-bit color, quick warmup
Limited Warranty 4 years
Accessories Power, DVI-D, DisplayPort, and USB cables, 4x VESA screws
Price PA301w: $2299, PA301w-BK-SV: $2549