Professional photographers don’t just need world-class cameras in order to do the best job possible – the rest of their hardware needs to be up to the highest possible standard as well. This includes sourcing the best gear for the critical post production process and that, in turn, calls for a computer and monitor combo that’s up to the task.
For PCs, that means having a rig with the processing power, graphical grunt and memory allocation to ultra quickly be able to handle all sorts of photo editing applications. It’s well worth searching around to find a system that offers loads of storage, a neat design and quiet operation as well, because all of these things will help to make a photographer’s life so much easier.
When it comes to monitors there are certain key attributes that come to the fore. Screens must be able to support the display standards that you’ll be using for your work, and a new monitor must also, as a matter of course, have accurate colours, great contrast, broad gamut coverage and a resolution high enough to deliver as much screen real estate possible. Beyonyd that you need to be looking at the ports, connections and extra features that a panel includes, because all of these things have the potential to improve your workflow. We’ve gone hands-on with a top-class photoediting PC from Chillblast as well as three stunning professional monitors to find out which one has the power, quality and features to improve your working life for good.
THIS CHILLBLAST RIG will set you back a cool £2850, which is a hefty price to pay perhaps but it’s one that still substantially undercuts lots of other workstation systems out there. That money nets you a Core i9-9920X, one of Intel’s Skylake-X processors, which means it uses an older architecture that’s been beefed up with extra cores and better clock speeds.
It has twelve cores with Hyper-Threading, which means it can handle twenty-four concurrent tasks – ideal for photo-editing and postprocessing, where some applications take advantage of high core counts. It also means that tough multi-tasking will be swatted aside by this CPU.
Elsewhere, the CPU runs at 3.5GHz with an all-core Turbo peak of 4.2GHz. That’s important, because some apps like Photoshop, Lightroom and Capture One rely on single-threaded power just as much as multi-threaded ability. This means that this CPU is great for tough photo editing and processing even if it’ll be overkill for hobbyists. It’s better than the Core i9-9900K, which is often used in work machines, and while that chip has slightly better single-threaded speed than the Chillblast’s CPU, that small gain won’t make a huge difference, while the i9-9920X’s four extra cores are capable of delivering more noticeable gains.
Chillblast has paired the CPU with 32GB of DDR4 memory, which is the ideal amount for photo work, even if its 2,666MHz speed could have been faster.Windows 10 Home sits on a 250GB Samsung 970 EVO PLUS, and this is one of the fastest SSDs available, with read and write speeds of 3,290MB/s and 2,346MB/s. Windows and applications boot in seconds and complex files save and load with rapidity. We do wish the drive was larger, though.
Secondary storage comes from two 3TB Seagate Barracuda hard disks in RAID 1, which means data is mirrored, keeping files safe even if a drive fails. You get 2.72TB of usable space, which is fine, and this machine also has a Blu-ray rewriter.
The Gigabyte-made Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 graphics card has 6GB of memory and an overclock, which means it has enough power to handle photography workloads. It helps that plenty of apps, including Adobe Photoshop, use GPU acceleration, and that the latest Nvidia Turing architecture is used here.
However, the GTX 1660 has downsides. It doesn’t have the dedicated cores to improve AI performance or to use Nvidia’s much-hyped Ray-Tracing. For this you’ll need a pricier RTX 2060. And, because it’s a consumer GPU, it isn’t ISV-certified and it also only supports 10-bit colour in DirectX12, not in OpenGL. That’s a shame if you need those settings for professional applications, even though Chillblast can change the GPU to an appropriate Nvidia Quadro card.
The Asus PRIME X299-A is a solid motherboard with good practical features: it has four spare memory slots and supports up to 128GB of DDR4, and it has two spare PCI-E x16 slots with multi-GPU support. The board has two PCI-E x4 slots and one PCI-E x1 connector, which are handy for expansion cards. There are no bandwidth restrictions, either, so all of those slots run at their peak speeds.
Elsewhere, the board has a spare M.2 connector and eight SATA ports – perfect for adding storage. The motherboard serves up four USB 3.1 ports that use the slower Gen 1 standard and only single USB 3.1 and Type-C connectors with the faster Gen 2 protocol.
The PRIME has connectors for front-panel Gen 2 connectivity, but the Fractal Design Define R6 only has slower front-panel USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports. That’s the only misstep from an excellent chassis. Its side and front panels have sound-dampening material and build quality is impressive throughout, the case being rocksolid and subtly-designed.
The interior is neat, which improves airflow and accessibility, and the Corsair Hydro H100x watercooling unit in the roof doesn’t impede on the memory slots, while the small graphics card means the bottom half of the motherboard is easy to reach.
Around the back there are two 2.5in mounts for adding SSDs, four free hard disk bays and a circuit board with connections for extra fans. The Chillblast, as expected, delivers superb performance. In the Geekbench benchmark the machine returned singleand multi-core scores of 5,020 and 38,073 points. The former figure is a little behind the i9-9900K, but it’s still easily fast enough to scythe through apps like Photoshop. And the Chillblast’s extra cores delivered that multi-core result, which is around 8,000 points better than the i9-9900K.
In Cinebench’s OpenGL test the CPU and GPU combined to score 185.8fps – better than many Core i9-9900K machines with beefier GPUs. The machine’s processing score of 2,887cb is about 1,000cb ahead of the more conventional CPU.
SiSoft Sandra’s tests further illustrate the Chillblast’s photo abilities. In that application’s CPUbased image processing benchmark the Chillblast scored 1335.71MPix/s. The Core i9-9900K, on average, scored around 550Mpix/s.
In the multi-media test the Chillblast scored 1737.88MPix/s – about twice the pace of the i9-9900K.
Impressively, the Chillblast ran without thermal issues. CPU and GPU temperatures are fine, and the machine only produced a low-pitched fan rumble during tough tests. It’s easy enough to live with, especially if you’re using speakers or headphones.
IMAGES: This Chillblast PC has been put together specifically to address the requirements of photo professionals and it comes with all of the components required to speed up postprocessing tasks.
The Chillblast is an impressive machine. You’d have to pay loads more to get a significant leap in performance and, right now, the Fusion has enough power for any photo-editing and post-processing task. The GPU has enough grunt, there’s plenty of memory and storage is decent. The case is tidy and accessible andw the fiveyear
warranty is generous.
Problems are minor. The memory and storage could be slightly more generous, while certain users will need an ISV-certified GPU that supports 10-bit OpenGL colour, but these are relatively minor points. For the vast majority of professionals this well-built, powerful PC will do everything that’s required and much more.
THE PHILIPS MONITOR carries the most affordable price tag of any of the products in this review, which suggests that it’s punching well above its weight. It features an IPS screen with an Ultra HD resolution, 10-bit colour and a 31.5in diagonal – so it’s physically larger than the BenQ. Its density is lower, at 140ppi, but it’s still crisp enough for photo work. It’s also factory calibrated to deliver a sub-2.0 Delta E.
However, while well priced, there are inevitable trade-offs, and this screen isn’t perhaps aimed at the very top end of photo professionals. While it can handle 100% of the sRGB gamut, Philips only claims 87% Adobe RGB coverage, but that will suffice for many. On the plus side the Philips impresses with physical versatility. It’s got 180mm of height adjustment, which is more than virtually anything else – including the BenQ. It’s got tilt and swivel options, and it can be used in portrait mode, while its round base and metallic stand looks more attractive than the BenQ’s staid grey design.
On board it’s got four full-size USB 3.1 ports, although they’re all on the rear, which makes them a little inaccessible. There’s a Gigabit Ethernet port, a pop-up webcam, and a USB Type-C connector that supports DisplayPort and delivers 65W of power. If you want to run peripherals, networking and a laptop from this monitor, that’s all possible as well.
The Philips also reads how much light there is around the screen and adjust brightness accordingly. That’s not ideal for maintaining uniformity during photo-editing. Another consideration is that you don’t get HDR and its associated features on this screen, because the Philips only uses DisplayPort 1.2.
Out of the box, the Philips lived up to its calibration with a reasonable Delta E of 1.76, and a contrast level of 1,370:1: this is impressive and it’s bolstered by a reasonable black point of 0.24cd/m2.
The peak brightness of 328cd/m2 is short of Philips’ quoted 350cd/m2, but it’s still ample for mainstream work. That decent contrast was maintained across all screen modes. The sRGB mode saw the Philips return its best results, with an average Delta E of 1.08 and a colour temperature of 6,575K – close to the 6,500K ideal. However, other results reflected the panel’s affordable status. Its maximum Delta E often plunged beyond 8, which means some wayward colours. At factory settings and in Photo Mode the colour temperature sat at a slightly chilly 6,874K, and in Photo Mode the average Delta E declined to a middling 2.4. Gamma usually hovered around 2.1 rather than 2.2. The BenQ was consistently better.
Gamut measurements also limit the Philips’ ambitions. It handled a reasonable 96.2% of the sRGB gamut, but it only rendered 77% of the DCI gamut and 70.5% of the Adobe RGB gamut.
Uniformity, too, is a tad mediocre. The left- and right-hand edges both see 15% of the backlight’s strength vanish, although that’s at full brightness – the impact will be lessened at lower levels. The Delta E veered by up to 8% on the edges. These results aren’t awful, but they will be noticeable during high-level photo-work.
The Philips’ middling uniformity and colour results and lack of high-level features preclude it from numerous top-tier tasks. However, it has enough quality for mainstream photo work, especially due to its impressive contrast and Delta E averages. It’s also versatile thanks to its physical design and port selection. If you need a panel for mainstream photo work alongside other office tasks, it’s definitely worth a look.
THE EIZO COMES with a price tag adjacent to £4000 but, on the plus side, it does also feature a spectacular specification. It’s a 31.1in IPS screen that uses the 4,096 x 2,160 DCI 4K resolution – which means it has extra horizontal pixels when compared to Ultra HD. The screen uses 10-bit colour with a 24-bit 3D LUT, and it supports hybrid log-gamma and the perceptual quantization curve for HDR.
Eizo claims that this panel can display 98% of the DCI-P3 gamut used for cinema and HDR and it supports the Rec. 2020 standard used for broadcasting. It handles Adobe RGB at 99%, and the entire CMYK colour space used for some print-based work. There are pre-set modes for all of these options, and the panel adds PQ and HLQ options for HDR content alongside Rec. 709 and sRGB options. Luminance warnings appear if the screen can’t display areas of an image with the correct brightness, and it can also highlight aspect ratios alongside the display areas from other devices.
Meanwhile the built-in calibration sensor can save profiles, run auto-calibrations at set intervals and be used while you’re working on other things.
In terms of connectivity, the Eizo has two DisplayPort 1.2 connections and two HDMI 2.0 ports, and it’s got three side-mounted, full-size USB 3.1 ports, one of which can supply10.5W of charge. However, there’s no Type-C, no Gigabit Ethernet and no card reader. The screen has 154mm of height adjustment alongside tilt and swivel, and it supports 100mm VESA mounts and includes a shielding hood. On the downside, however, it doesn’t support portrait mode, it weighs a hefty 12.4kg and it’s a little wobbly.
By default the screen employs Rec. 2020 mode. The average and maximum Delta E figures of 0.34 and 1.05 are fantastic, and the colour temperature of 6,428K is ikewise impressive. Contrast sits at a good 1,263:1 and the black point is a spectacularly deep 0.08cd/m2. The panel displayed 99.8% of the sRGB gamut, 97.7% of the Adobe RGB gamut and 97.6% of the DCI P3 protocol, which is high enough to work with all three.
The default gamma of 2.34 is a tad wayward, but that’s a tiny complaint. Uniformity isn’t perfect, with the screen’s brightness deviating by up to 11% in the corners but, again, the differences are hardly noticeable.
The Eizo’s benchmark results deviated in different screen modes, but that’s to be expected as the panel pivots to different protocls. The key point is that the Eizo’s screen is accurate and versatile and it handles every option with aplomb, whether you’re working with photos, cinema-quality video or CGI content.
This is a monitor that has the quality levels for the most demanding photo-editing jobs, and it’ll also handle cinema and broadcasting jobs alongside CGI, colourgrading and everything else. It’s a great performance that’s bolstered by loads of features.
This screen could be a tad more uniform, but that’s a minor issue. In every key department the Eizo justifies its huge price. However, as always with expensive products, it’s only worth shelling out if you truly need to be working with the very best kit and you feel you need the features it provides.
ABOVE: The Eizo monitor is a high end professional oproduct with a price tag to match. Particularly impressive is the built-in calibration sensor.
THE BENQ PHOTOVUE SW271 has a solid specification – especially considering its £979 price. It’s a 60Hz IPS panel with an Ultra HD resolution and a 27in diagonal, which means a density level of 163ppi, delivering ample crispness. It’s a 10-bit display and there’s a 14-bit 3D LUT. The screen has been factory calibrated, and is certified by Pantone and CalMAN. BenQ claims good mainstream gamut support, including 100% sRGB and 99% Adobe RGB coverage, but makes no claims about more professional gamuts, like DCI-P3 and Rec.709.
The SW271 also has good versatility. Portrait mode is supported and there’s a generous 150mm of height adjustment. It tilts and swivels, and is compatible with 100mm VESA mounts. A shielding hood is also included, and BenQ’s USB-based Puck controller switches between screen modes.
The BenQ weighs 9.3kg, and it looks fine – smart and subtle. The port selection is good: you get two HDMI 2.0 sockets, a DisplayPort 1.4 connector and two USB 3.1 ports. There’s an SD card reader and a USB 3.1 Type-C socket that supports DisplayPort and 10W power delivery. The BenQ also supports hardware calibration with X-Rite and DataColour colorimeters.
The monitor’s OSD is easily controlled by nononsense buttons, while the OSD itself is simple, sensibly-organised and fast. It’s got all of the usual options alongside more professional settings, including the ability to switch gamma between 1.6 and 2.6.Despite all this, however, the BenQ’s out-of-the-box performance isn’t great. Its Delta E of 3.2 is mediocre, and its contrast ratio of 813:1 low.
Other screen modes are better. In the sRGB, Adobe RGB and DCI-P3 modes the BenQ’s Delta E improved to around 0.7, colour temperatures remained close to the 6,500K ideal and gamma sat at a near-perfect 2.23. Uniformity is impressive, with modest brightness or colour deviation throughout. Those solid colour results are bolstered by an sRGB coverage level of 99.1%.
The BenQ’s 96.8% Adobe RGB level is reasonable, if a little short of the firm’s claims, while its 84.4% DCI-P3 coverage is too low for HDR work.
The BenQ’s contrast was never particularly impressive: it hovered around that initial 813:1 result in most tests, and rose to around 1,000:1 when calibrated and when using the DCI-P3 and HDR modes. We’d prefer the latter figure across all modes. And, while the BenQ’s average Delta E figures are good, its max Delta E levels hover around 3.7, which is a tad high.
Overall this is a monitor with impressive features, loads of connectivity and versatility, and we like its core specification – it has accurate colours, great uniformity and enough gamut ability to handle mainstream photo work. It’s also very affordable. However, contrast is low when compared to pricier panels, so you don’t get the depth of colour you’ll find elsewhere, or that you may demand for high-end photo work.
ABOVE: The BenQ monitor comes with a great spec for the price and it also supposrts portrait mode for those looking to work in this orientation.
The Chillblast PC huge amounts of power on offer from the twelvecore CPU, which means there’s enough computing ability here to handle any photo task. The GPU speeds things up, and the rest of the components are impressive, even if they could have been a little better in some areas. It’s a shame that the PC doesn’t include an ISV-certified GPU, and certain applications will be hamstrung because the consumer GPU doesn’t support 10-bit colour in OpenGL, but it’ll do a great job for most professionals.
The three monitors all have their advantages. The BenQ isn’t too expensive as far as professional panels go, and it has loads of features, good core image quality and a 4K resolution – so it punches above its weight. The Eizo, while expensive, is stunning, with a huge range of professional features and stonking image quality. It’s got very few weak points. While the Philips is a good screen, and more affordable than both of its rivals, it doesn’t quite have the features or quality to handle the very top end professional photo work, but will nevertheless do a fine job for those lower down the scale.
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