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BenQ SW321C Photography Monitor Review



Introduction


I’ve been using the BenQ Photography monitors for a few years now with great satisfaction. A good monitor is very important if you’re working with colour a lot. Especially for photographers and videographers it is important that the colours are ‘accurate’. For me as a photographer, it’s important that the images I worked on can be seen in the ‘right’ way by people all over the world. I say ‘right’ in because everyone’s monitor and even everyone’s eyes and how they perceive colour is different. But it’s important that we’re at least as close as we can get to getting it ‘right’.


I sometimes see images from people online that look way too red or too green. This can be often the problem of people having a low quality monitor. To them, the images might look fine on their screen, not knowing that their screen colours are way off. For everyone else, the colours just look weird. And that’s something you don’t want. This is of course an extreme example, but getting colours ‘just right’ is an art by itself, and you don’t want a bad monitor to mess that up.


Now my photography is known for being quite vibrant and people often tell me ‘your colours are ‘just right’’. I work a lot with colour and before I was a photographer I was a graphic designer. Needless to say, colours are extremely important to me. Seeing which colours are off, and fixing/matching colours in the color wheel, using complementary colours are all things I daily work with. I try to achieve a great harmony in colours in my images. Therefore, I need to see all the available colours. I need a very wide colour Gamut that is able to display 100% sRGB (used on the web) and as much as possible in the AdobeRGB color space for printing.


Now you might ask yourself: Do I really need a professional photography monitor? In general, I also use my iMac or Macbook pro to edit my photos. The colours are not ‘bad’, but they’re not as accurate as a professional monitor like the BenQ photography monitors. To get that little bit of extra accuracy for both online and especially print, a professional monitor is definitely recommended. And not only that, you also need to calibrate it. And here goes as well: a calibrated iMac screen is not nearly as precise as a professional monitor, simply because the colour Gamut is not that wide. So yes, professionals need it. And if you want to take colours to the next level as a hobbyist and print a lot, it is recommended.




The BenQ 321C First Impressions.


BenQ asked me to check out this display. As I also have the SW271 model that I reviewed a couple of years ago I was eager to try out this new screen. My very first impression when the box arrived was: Wow! That’s big! I remember back in the days when we had 15 inch monitors to work on. 17 inch was considered big. And our televisions were 32 inch. That was considered a large tv. Nowadays I work on a 27 inch monitor, but this is another step up. I was actually doubting if this wouldn’t be too big for me. But it wasn’t, more on that later.


Upon opening the box it’s everything what you would expect from BenQ. I always really like the presentation and especially the completeness in which they deliver their monitors. Everything you might need is included. There’s a factory calibration report on the box and this monitor already looks very good right out of the box. But for the best accuracy, you need to calibrate it with a hardware calibrator.


Along with many cables, BenQ even includes a cleaning roller with the screen to clean the special matte coated screen.


Next to all the cables, like 60w USB-C cable, normal USB cables, power cable and a HDMI cable there is even some kind of cleaning roller included to clean this matte screen. This monitor can be connected with just one cable (the usb-c one) that gives you all the signal including all the power for all the ports this monitor has: 2x HDMI, Displayport, 2x USB, a card reader and ofcourse the USB-c port. I connected the monitor to my Imac and was a little bit disappointed that the cable wasn’t slightly longer. I know, it’s a default length for a usb-c cable but because of the big size of the monitor, it would have been nice if they included a 50cm longer cable. For this, I bought a UGREEN USB-c extension cable which worked fine. Be careful when buying longer usb-c cables, because most of mine simply didn’t work for me.


The shading hood as seen from the side


When we open up the box more we immediately see the shading hood. Not all monitor manufacturers are putting their shading hoods with their professional monitors for free. BenQ always does it, which is great. Already familiar with BenQ shading hoods, it look me less than 5 minutes to put the hood on the screen. Putting it on and taking it off is a breeze and takes you only a few minutes.


And then… the screen. This monitor is really great to look at with its matte coating. It’s an IPS panel meaning contrast and colours are not changing when you look at it from different angles. BenQ tries to bring this look ‘close’ to a paper look with this coating. While obviously a screen can never look like paper, they certainly did a great job with this matte coating.


And finally there’s the BenQ puck that has evolved over the years. Even the looks of it. For the people who don’t know the BenQ Puck: it’s an extra round device that you can use to quickly control your monitor. You can easily switch to different (assignable) colour spaces that way, and to my excitement: you can also use it to quickly adjust brightness with the turning knob. I’m not sure since when they added this in a round knob on the puck, but my sw271 didn’t have this. The puck also looks way more premium than the puck of 2 years ago. I know, it’s just a puck, but it’s in the little details :)



Features


As already mentioned above the BenQ monitor is packed with features. Here are a few of the most important ones for me as a photographer:

  1. Color Gamut: The most important property of a monitor is that it can show as much colours as possible. This monitor can display 100% of the sRGB Color space (used online) and 99% of the AdobeRGB Color space (used in print).

  2. IPS: It’s an IPS panel meaning the saturation and contrast doesn’t change when looking from (slightly) different angles on the screen.

  3. Uniformity: It’s important that a display is uniform, meaning that it’s not darker or brighter or has (small) colour shifts throughout different areas of the screen.

  4. Contrast: The contrast of this monitor is 1000:1 which is great for an IPS panel.

  5. Size and resolution: 32 inch with 4k resolution (3840 x 2160).

  6. Hardware calibration: The ability to calibrate this monitor with external hardware calibration. ’Normal’ monitors are driven by the computer’s graphics card, but professional monitors like this one have their own chip, making it much better.

  7. 10 bit with 16 bit LUT for smooth transitions between contrasts and colours.

  8. Paper Color Sync: A new tool/technology introduced by BenQ to simulate your images on the screen for print. More on this later.


Using the monitor


When using the monitor everything feels familiar with BenQ’s earlier monitors. As I mentioned before, the matte screen just looks great. Its just nice to look at and doesn’t even feel too big. The subtle shading of the material in combination with the matte (almost paper-like) look is just very satisfying. Images really come to life. BenQ calls their color accuracy technology AQCOLOR, designed for accurate reproduction of creative work like graphic design, photography and video with smoother color gradations, natural color transitions and subtle shading.


You’ll find 5 buttons to control the simple menu system of the monitor along with the on/off button.


The ability to quickly add and remove the shading hood is very convenient. Because I simply don’t always want the shading hood. I often use it, but sometimes I use 2 screens with my Imac, and I just quickly remove the shading hood for an easier workspace. Done in 2 minutes. And for extensive editing sessions, the shading hood is recommended.


Now I went from 27 inch to 32 inch and was asking myself it this was too big. For me the answer is simply no. Everything just looks great and the sharpness of this screen is perfect. I can see every little detail in my images and as I am a perfectionist, I just love it. Also, next to my 27 inch iMac, it actually doesn’t look too big. This is mainly because the iMac has a much bigger ‘bottom’ below the screen.


The 32 Inch BenQ (without the shading hood here) doesn’t look too big next to the 27 inch iMac


Another very welcome addition from this size is video editing. Next to photography I occasionally shoot videos. I work in Adobe Premiere and After Effects and this bigger screen makes my whole lay out so much easier to organise. And a nice add is the HDR support on this monitor (that I actually haven’t used myself yet) that should be useful for people working a lot with the HDR video format.

The monitor can easily be set in height with the strong yet flexible stand. Simply pull the monitor up and down and it will stay in place. You can even set it in portrait mode, one of BenQ’s functions introduced from early on the line.

Calibration


While this monitor is already great out of the box, anyone that buys a professional monitor should calibrate their monitor with a calibration device. I have the X-rite i1 Display pro that was recognised immediately by the monitor and via Benq’s own software ‘Palette Master’. The process is quite straight forward and very fast, and should be done every few weeks. If you have questions about Palette Master, I recommend this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rjRoIe0-mo

The ease of use of this monitor is pleasant. I can quickly adjust brightness with the puck, and choose different color spaces with the separate buttons. There’s also a GamutDuo option in which you can split the screen and see the same image in 2 different color spaces. For this you have to connect the screen with 2 cables (for example the usb-c and the displayport).


Paper Color Sync Technology



BenQ's Paper Color Sync simple interface.


As mentioned earlier, BenQ released a new tool/technology with this monitor called Paper Color Sync. In short: this is a very easy to use software (free to download) in which you put your picture’s information, your printer and the paper type. The monitor will then adjust itself and simulate the colours as how they would look on the print. This technology is extremely useful for printing and can save you a LOT of time!


Normally I ‘soft-proof’ my images by downloading paper profiles and simulating it in Lightroom or Photoshop. I then have to readjust the contrast and colours a little bit to make it look good on the print. This is different for each printer and paper type so is very time consuming. It’s also not always as accurate as I would want it to be. Paper Color Sync changes this.


This technology is made for this monitor, taking in consideration how the screen looks: with its special matte coating and look and the shading hood on. As BenQ knows their technology exactly, it also knows exactly how things will look with certain printers and papers. In theory, it is way more accurate then soft proofing with LR and PS.


The only ‘negative’ of this tool is that it currently supports only a few printers and paper types. I really hope that BenQ will greatly expands the support of this tool as this is already a game-changer for prints, but it could be much bigger with more options of printers and paper.



To end


This monitor is simply great. It’s packed with features, has a beautifully matte coated screen to look at and let’s not forget the design of the monitor itself that I didn’t really discuss in this review yet. Mainly because the design of this monitor is similar to the other BenQ monitors, but I just always love how they look. With their premium matte materials the look and feel is just very pleasant. The new hot puck with buttons and a knob for brightness is not just a gimmick but super handy to use. She stance takes seconds to attach to the screen and the screens sits very sturdy yet very smooth on the stance, making it possible to easily move the monitor up and down.


Then there’s the price which is around 1800 euro. 1800 euro is a lot of money, but this monitor is definitely not expensive. It’s a very complete package with all the features you need, paper sync technology and the added shading hood. And of course all the cables are included. You even get a cleaning roller :) . This completely package is not expensive for its price point. You simply won’t find anything better.


With its 32 inch and 4k resolution, your photos really come to life. Is it too big? To me, it’s not. It’s actually perfect. I honestly expected that I needed more time to get used to this moving from 27 inch but within a week of of using this monitor, I simply can’t go back


So the question is: Do you need this monitor? If you’ve already got an older and smaller (BenQ) professional monitor, then seeing this monitor might trigger you to upgrade. If you do, you’ll not be disappointed.


If a professional monitor is something new for you and you’re looking to get your colours to the next level, both online and for print, then a professional monitor like this one can definitely help. Professionals ll not hesitate to buy this monitor if they’re in need for a new new monitor for their professional photo or video-editing. And if you’re a hobby photographer and have the money to spend on such a screen, I would totally recommend getting it.


Check out the monitor on BenQ’s website:

https://www.benq.eu/en-eu/monitor/photographer/sw321c.html


Buy on Amazon.


Feel free to ask me any questions. Cheers!


Albert