Are LCD Flat Panel Displays Ready For The Digital Darkroom?
How To Choose And Use The Newest LCDs Page 2

The Sony SDM-S204 has a button control adjustment for backlight. So, I turned the backlight level down from 100 to 50, and then the highlight tones in the photo image displayed normally. I then calibrated and profiled the LCD using my ColorVision Spyder and I was ready to begin work. I'd just made some shots with my Canon Digital Rebel in the flower fields near where I live and used LaserSoft SilverFast DCPro to acquire, convert, and color correct the images. I then moved on to scan some slides with my Minolta DiMAGE Scan Elite 5400 using SilverFast Ai 6. Then, once all these images were input and saved, I opened them with Photoshop and applied any minor tweaking of Levels and Hue/Saturation as I usually do before cleaning and applying any retouching and again saving the image as a final complete file for printing or other output.

Sony's SDM-S2O4 20" LCD Display
Sony's SDM-S204/B Flat Panel LCD offers maximum performance with UXGA high-resolution panel combined with a slim bezel and small footprint to achieve optimal productivity. Sony created this new generation to facilitate high-demand applications like engineering, desktop publishing, and, of course, digital photography. The price of this LCD is $1199. For a full list of specs, visit Sony's website at: www.sony.com.

I then replaced the Sony LCD with my Sony CRT normally used with that computer and repeated the entire process with the same original images from my camera and slide scans.

Shortly the LaCie Photon 20 Vision II LCD display arrived. After unpacking I set it up and installed it on another of my systems. The LaCie display controls differ considerably from those provided with the Sony SDM-S204. The one control (backlight with the Sony) was not available, but another "lightview" control provided a screen brightness control that seemed to function similarly to backlight level.

Lightview on the LaCie provides options for two basic levels, Day and Night, and I would assume Day setting (brighter) is for a room illuminated by window daylight and Night setting (darker) for a room illuminated by artificial light. Under each of these two primary categories of screen brightness setting are three usage options: Text, Movie, and Photo. Obviously I selected Photo under the Night heading for my workroom.

Although this Night/Photo setting provided a perceptually similar screen brightness I had found worked with the Sony with backlight set at 50, I thought I should measure the amount of light all of the monitor/displays produced after calibration and profiling. To do this I got out my trusty handheld Sekonic digital studio incident light meter, and with a new battery measured each display's output with the screen filled by a New white image document created by Photoshop. Both my Sony CPD-G520P and CPD-E540 CRTs measured the same EV level. The Sony SDM-S204 measured 1.1 EV brighter, and the LaCie measured 1.2 EV brighter. In other words, the LCDs, even after being adjusted to a darker setting for photographic work, still produced a screen brightness slightly more than twice what the CRTs produce. Incidentally, for the sake of perspective, the LCD displays, set at their default standard full brightness setting for general computing use, measured two full EVs more light, or four times more light than a calibrated and profiled CRT monitor.

Again with the LaCie I repeated the processing of digital camera files, made scans, edited and retouched in Photoshop, as well as made test prints with an Epson Stylus Photo R800 printer. I then repeated the same work with that computer using the Sony CRT. I then switched the LCDs using each with a different system, again calibrating and profiling the display for the new system, and ran yet another full set of input, editing, and output tests.

LaCie's Photon 20 Vision II LCD Display
The LaCie Photon 20 Vision II is a brilliant color LCD flat panel display for graphic professionals. The Photon 20 Vision II includes a fully adjustable stand for both height and tilt, as well as the ability to pivot from landscape to portrait orientation (Windows software support only). Additionally, the Photon 20 Vision II comes with a sturdy metal optional hood to shield the screen from extraneous illumination. The price of this LCD is $1299. For a full list of specs, visit LaCie's website at: www.lacie.com.

Test Conclusions, Evaluations, And Recommendations
I hoped that my testing and use of the latest in LCD display technology would discover whether a user can achieve the same level of perceptual color control as when using the best consumer CRT monitors. In terms of color fidelity of an image input from a digital camera or a film scanner, I found that once the LCD brightness level was adjusted downward and then calibrated and profiled the differences between using these new LCD displays and a CRT are minor. This conclusion was also supported by using software analysis of the generated profiles.

The software involved was courtesy of CHROMiX (www.chromix.com), and is called ColorThink. It provides a multidimensional representation of the analysis of the data that is included in an ICC/ICM profile file. One of these representations of the profile file content is 2D Graphing, which produces a color picture that visually defines the color space of an ICC display profile. On the basis of a comparison of these 2D Graphs of Adobe RGB (1998) color space, there is very little difference in the range of colors reproduced by these new LCD displays and CRTs that could substantially affect perceptual color control and adjustment.

Other dimensions of how an LCD display affects photographic image processing are not so easily measured. However, the fact an LCD display reproduces photographic images with a larger range of brightness values effectively enhances the perceived internal contrast between image tones. This is a positive value to functions like cleanup and retouching with Photoshop. It's easier to discern differences in tone that are image flaws and correct them accurately and smoothly with Photoshop brush tools like RubberStamp. In addition, work like retouching that involves acute perceptual concentration is noticeably less tiring, as LCDs do not exhibit the subliminal flicker of the image that is characteristic to CRTs. Likewise, the greater perceived contrast and tone distinction working with an LCD makes doing many manipulative and creative tasks with photo images easier. When you are selecting an image with Photoshop's Lasso or blending feathered image objects to make a composite, it is easier to see subtle distinctions of tone that provides more exact control over what you are doing.

On the output side, I had a more objective basis of comparison in prints of the same image reproduced both from a system fitted with one of the LCD displays and the CRT monitors. The prints made from LCD-generated images were somewhat darker than the same image produced and printed with a CRT-monitored system. Likewise, a photo image file saved with a system running an LCD transferred to a system with a CRT, when opened in Photoshop, appeared noticeably darker on screen. My assumption is that the longer brightness range of the LCD, when calibrated and profiled "effectively," produces a higher gamma than the 2.2 gamma to which it is adjusted by color management software.

This assumption seemed to be confirmed because the print darkening was more pronounced when I used ColorVision's OptiCAL software than when I used their PhotoCAL software to calibrate and profile the display/monitors. Looking at this discrepancy in print output image density, it seems logical that with a longer brightness range produced by LCDs the midpoint gray would be placed further up the scale, considering that both scales begin at zero, or blackpoint. Then, without compensating gamma correction by the color management system, the midpoint gray as displayed by an LCD is mistakenly assumed to be the same value as it would be for a CRT monitor display of that image, and prints it darker than it appears on the LCD.

Based on my use and testing of these new, high-performance LCD displays, it is evident that the problems with small color gamut and limited display performance controls of earlier generations of LCD displays have been resolved. I can also report that these new 20" models fully support effective digital photography computing. This conclusion, however, assumes that these new generation LCD displays are used and set up with adjustments that support working with photo images, as well as custom calibration and profiling. It is, of course, up to each individual whether the smaller desk footprint, lighter weight, and better image contrast of these LCDs justifies their cost, which is currently twice that of a professional quality 21/22" CRT monitor. Personally, as soon as my budget allows, I'll add one to my workroom if for no other advantage than the LCD is much better and easier on the eyes for cleanup and retouching, as well as for doing creative manipulation and compositing work.

Breaking News--ColorVision's New Spyder2 & Spyder2PRO Monitor Calibration & Profiling

In just a few years ColorVision's Spyder colorimeter and PhotoCAL/OptiCAL monitor calibration and profiling solution has gained great popularity as a most effective and affordable color management solution. Now, a new generation, the Spyder2 and Spyder2PRO, is available with a newly designed colorimeter monitor sensor. The products feature new photo sensors for greater accuracy, as well as a re-engineered package that provides more effective baffling and an easier transition between using them for CRTs, LCDs, and laptops.

The new ColorVision Spyder2 also includes new software that is Wizard-driven and even easier to use. As important is the new Spyder2 software that includes a more precise Gray Balance function for precise neutral tones, as well as new Tonal Response Algorithms that provide the smoothest of value gradations and color transitions for more controlled work and superior matched print quality.

The ColorVision Spyder2PRO package option provides more advanced critical functions, including the ability to produce matched performance between monitors in a multi-system work environment. The advanced features include PreCAL for precise RGB gain balancing and luminance adjustment. Spyder2PRO also produces a graph window to check and adjust Curve responses for each channel, allowing for a customized tonal response. In addition, the Pro software supports use of the Spyder2 colorimeter to make discrete color readings of screen colors. The ColorVision Spyder2PRO package includes ColorVision's DoctorPRO, a Photoshop plug-in that supports output profile editing. This makes the Pro package an input through output products that yields
fine-tuned results.

For more information on the Spyder2 and Spyder2PRO, as well as availability and pricing, visit ColorVision's website at: www.colorvision.com.

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