If you're a photo or video editor, you know how important a good monitor is for color accuracy.
In the past, this meant spending in excess of $1,000. However, in the last couple of years I've seen a significant improvement in the quality and color accuracy of monitors in the under $500 category with few reviews accurately describing the best budget options available.
In this post, we'll review these changes in technology and give you a shortlist of monitors that, in my opinion, should do a fantastic job for photo and video editors at an affordable price.
Looking for a pro-level 4k monitor under $500? The BenQ PD2700U should be on your radar. Out of the box, it has a bright sharp image as well as calibration that's good enough for most.
Panel and Color Accuracy
The panel for the BenQ is a W-Led IPS edge array. It features 10-bit tech through 8-bit+FRC. This allows for 100% coverage of the sRGB space. In addition to accuracy, you also get great viewing angles as well as minimal color shifting.
And while those who depend on color accuracy may still need to calibrate the PD2700U, for me, it was good enough with the pre-calibration that BenQ sent with its guarantee in the SRGB/Rec.709 space.
For brightness, you get up to 400 nits which, along with HDR, and a tight pixel pitch gives you very detailed imagery.
Connectivity was decent with DisplayPort which makes it easy to daisy-chain your multi-monitor setups. However, this design does not include a USB-C connector.
Overall, this is a great monitor for the price. For me, the color gamut coverage was good enough at this price range for an HDR monitor. If you need DCI-P3 coverage, USB connectivity, or a 144Hz refresh rate, you’ll probably need to dip a bit more into your wallet. And while the design of this monitor is fairly basic, ultimately, you’re getting a no-nonsense feature-rich monitor for a bargain price of $500.
My Pick Under $300 - Dell UltraSharp U2415 or U2515Hx
Simply purchasing an IPS monitor without the correct features or panel quality won't net you a good picture. Calibration can help, but those in this price category may not have the budget or experience to do a professional calibration.
For this reason, I really like the Dell UltraSharp U2415 along with the other monitors in this series including the 25", 27", 29" wide, and 34" curved options. It simply comes with a better calibration out of the box, than other very good options in the same price category and Dell guarantees that each monitor will arrive with a deltaE of <3 with 99%sRGB coverage.
Vs the UltraSharp U2417HJ
*Another really good option would be the newer version of this monitor, the Dell UltraSharp Wireless charging U2417HJ. It's guaranteed to have 96% sRGB coverage from the factory at deltaE <4. Still, at a lower price and arguably better out of box calibration, the U2415 will be preferred by many.
Vs the Dell UltraSharp U2515Hx
I use two of these monitors in my studio. I like the 25" size because the 27" seems to be too big for my eyes and the 24" a bit too small. In addition, this monitor is a quality 1440p option on the cheap at just under $300.
It has the 16:9 aspect ratio when compared to the 16:10 of the 1920 x 1200p U2415; however, for me, the higher resolution was more important. The 2560 x 1440p resolution, for me, is the perfect option for editing and gaming.
Out of the gate, it's crisp, clear, and tuned at 99% with a delta. I highly recommend it. Again, the 27" is too big for me; however, it definitely is the more popular option out there. That being said I like Dell's new 4k 27" option if you're going that route which I've listed below.
U2415 Tech Specs Continued
With 2 HDMI connectors, 1 Mini DisplayPort, 1 DisplayPort Out, 1 audio line out, 5 USB 3.0 ports downstream, and 1 USB 3.0 port upstream the U2415 fixes many of the issues I had with the previous generation model. Still, those using older graphics cards will notice the lack of a DVI output.
Built-in cable management adds a seamless look and VESA 100mm holes for mounting allow you to place it just about anywhere.
Picture and Panel:
The Dell U2415 has a 1900 x 1200 resolution that gives you more vertical screen real estate to work with with a 16:10 aspect ratio.
Want more Resolution?
However, those who want a higher resolution may opt for the 25" 1440p version, the U2515Hx, and 27" 4k version, the U2718Q. Both of these monitors carry the standard 16:9 aspect ratio and vary on connectivity when compared to the U2415.
Compared with the previous generation Dell U2412M, the Dell UltraSharp U2415 has a better factory calibration, USB 3,0, MHL, touch-sensitive controls, and a thinner and more appealing bezel. The panel itself is an AH-IPS panel from LG that's capable of producing 16.78 million colors and has a light anti-glare coating on the front.
Ultimately, this monitor is color accurate enough for most, but those who work in branding and need true 8-bit accuracy may want to consider a pricier option. It comes pre-calibrated out of the box and is overall a great value for what you pay.
This monitor, as well as the U2312HM, also make good options for those looking to watch video or play games as shown in my IPS gaming monitor review.
My Pick Under $500 - Dell UltraSharp 27 4k U2718Q
It's hard to ignore the additional screen real estate you get with the Dell UltraSharp HD 4k U2718Q. That, along with 99% sRGB coverage at deltaE <2, gives you a solid monitor for around $500.
Put alongside my Macbook Pro 13 the colors and quality look exactly the same. Not only that, it's also plug and play and got rid of the monitor sleeping issues that previous generations had.
Not 5k? No Problem.
Compared to a 5k monitor, you'll get slightly better text on the 5k and a bit more screen real estate. Still, in your day to day work you likely won't notice.
The design of the U2718Q is similar to the other monitors in Dell's UltraSharp Series. It gives you height, pivot, and tilt adjustment and features a nearly bezel-free design. For me, this makes it easier to work on. From the side, the monitor is fairly thin but does have a bit of bulk to it for the included connectivity options and stand.When you lift it, you can just feel the quality.
Color Accuracy and Gaming - LG 27UD58-B
If you're looking for a monitor that is 4k, somewhat color accurate and is great for gaming, I'd recommend the LG 27UD58-B.
This monitor comes with Freesync built-in. So, when used with an AMD graphics card you're gaming experience will improve markedly. Even when used with a GPU from NVIDIA, the screen looks crystal clear.
For color accuracy, you get 10-bit color in the form of 8+A-FRC. This S-IPS panel, with wide viewing angles, has decent brightness, a good black stabilizer setting for those dark locations, and 99%+ sRGB (NTSC 72%) gamut. If you're willing to tweak the settings, you'll find you get even better results.
This is a great deal for under $300. You get 4k, a good gaming experience, and relatively accurate colors.
Asus PB278Q - A Budget Large PLS Option
If screen real estate has a premium in your line of work, then the Asus PB278Q should be somewhere near the top of your list. With a 2560x1440 resolution, you get more pixels to work with and the 27" height and pivot adjustable screen is easy to work with.
The panel itself is PLS, a competitor to IPS, with some inherent advantages over your traditional IPS monitor. These include slightly better viewing angles for color and contrast as well as a higher level of transmittance. The result is more light to each individual cell which allows for a brighter display or a better PPI count.
In terms of black levels, the Asus PB278Q Eye Care Option is comparable to other IPS monitors out there. Color accuracy is better than average out of the box and calibrating this monitor will give you decent results.
It is listed as 100% sRGB color reproduction in Asus' specifications; however, with its LED backlighting you get more like 79% of the AdobeRGB gamut available which is still good for the money you spend.
Those who need a bit more contrast and sRGB quality should stretch their budgets and go for the Dell U2713HM. Otherwise, the Asus PB278Q is a solid option for around $150 cheaper.
Asus PA248Q - Another Downgrade in Panel and Upgrade in Price
If you're willing to pay twice as much and want a P-IPS panel, then Asus' previous model the Asus PA246Q ProArt is a good option. That being said those looking for decent color accuracy will find another worthy option in the PA248Q.
Asus PA248Q vs. Dell U2412M
It's a lot like the U2412M in that it was changed to a less expensive E-IPS panel and has tilt, swivel, and height adjustment ergonomics.
When comparing connectivity it has the advantage including four USB 3.0 ports, a headphone jack. HDMI, VGA, DisplayPort, and DVI port.
This monitor is really a lot like the U2412M. Both have 1920 x 1200 resolution. Your best bet may be to compare the two for price and then go with whatever one happens to be cheaper that month.
What Brand Do you Trust the Most for your Editing Needs?
Photo Editing Panel Guide
TN Vs. IPS
Perhaps you've heard the term IPS, or in-plane switching when referring to the panel types of monitors. These panels are known for wide viewing angles, color accuracy, and previously a steep price.
TN or twisted nematic panel monitors are your typical consumer option because of their inexpensive prices and quick response times. These monitors typically are 6 bit with less than desirable viewing angles.
e-IPS vs. p-IPS Vs. H-IPS
There's a lot of confusion when it comes to IPS panel types and their categories. What should be done is some type of standardization in these names; however, here is what technically should be associated with each of these names.
This is a cheaper-to-produce IPS panel that has become very popular as of late. Typically, the color gamut associated with these types of monitors is not as good as Pro-IPS or H-IPS panels but is still much better than what you see on a typical monitor. For those that don't necessarily have to have brand color sensitivity, then these types of monitors should be good enough. Typically monitors in this category are advertised as 8 bit with 16.7 million colors; however, in the case of some of the least expensive models are more 6 bit with A-FRC or 8 bit simulated. TFT Central's recent article expands upon this.
Most modern IPS panel models are made in this format with horizontal IPS pixels arranged in vertical lines.
The "p" in p-IPS stands for professional and typically means that a particular IPS monitor has a wider color gamut. While many of these models say they have a 10-bit color palette of 1.07 billion very few do and as in the case of e-IPS some which are advertised are actually 8 bit with AFRC simulation. True 10-bit monitors will exceed the 8-bit+AFRC module monitors in price.
There are many other IPS options available in the market. Overall, pay attention to customer ratings and reviews for a more accurate depiction of what you're getting in a monitor.
Why I Like the Extra 120 Pixels - 1920 x 1200 vs. 1080p
You typically pay a little more for a monitor that's 1920 x 1200p vs. one with a standard high definition or 1920 x 1080p resolution. If you're a photo or video editor, then you'll enjoy the extra vertical space as it will let you see more of the overall picture.
If you simply want an IPS panel monitor for work, then you'll like how much more of each document that's available to you without scrolling. Either way, in my opinion, it's well worth the extra cost for something that saves times and allows you to see more.
2560 x 1440p
If you need additional screen space to work with, consider a monitor with a 2560 x 1440p resolution. These are typically more expensive, but often very useful.
Response time is simply the amount of time it takes for a pixel to go from black to white and then back again. This is especially important in situations where blurred motion can be a problem.
Refresh rate is the amount of times per second a frame is drawn on your screen. Standard monitors have a 60Hz refresh rate while some monitors have 75, 120, 144Hz, or even more. If your PC can not produce more than 60 frames per second, it's not important to have a refresh rate beyond that.
Overall there's a lot to like about the direction that monitor price and quality is going in. Advances in technology mean that even at lower prices consumers get color accurate options with wide viewing angles and more responsiveness.
If you're a beginning photo editor, you shouldn't need anything beyond what's on the sRGB scale. If you're an expert that needs additional color accuracy, you'll need to dive into monitors that cover the Adobe RGB space.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2013 Brandon Hart
Photo and Video Editing Monitor Open Discussion Area
Tom P on July 27, 2020:
Useful information. I'm a retired Art Director but want to keep working on still images without breaking the bank. Thanks.
Tom on November 09, 2019:
What is your opinion on the monitors stating colour being in AdobeRGB instead of sRGB.
Karan Takulia on May 03, 2018:
Hi I'm a photographer/videographer. I have a rather simpler problem.
No body is mentioning the maximum brightness on the monitors, or am I missing a jargon somewhere.
I had bought Dell U2414H 23.8-inch LED Monitor after a bit of research last year. Now the monitor works like a charm
BUT! I realized the highest brightness level is not high enough. And i was over-compensating by making the images brighter than they should be. As a result my edited images were coming out almost one stop higher brightness.....
Now I'm stuck with this monitor which i can't use for editing purpose.
I'm looking at another monitor to purchase in this price segment but nobody is talking about max brightness! whats the point of color calibration if the brightness of the monitor is poor :'(
DOGO on March 02, 2018:
There has been a lot of talk about the Dell UltraSharp HD 4k U2718Q's color inaccuracies and having too much gain. I know there was a fix that came out. Do you know if with the fix, this monitor is worth buying for editing and color grading? Thanks!
Nahid on January 28, 2018:
Are those good for programing?
Kelvin on January 09, 2018:
What about the ViewSonic vp2468?
Igor on November 07, 2017:
Thank you for this great article! I'm a filmmaker and I'm starting now with color grading in Da Vinci Resolve. What would you choose between Dell U2417HJ (260€) and Asus PB277Q (308€, with 4k resolution and 27'')? I'm editing using iMac 27''. Thank you for your help.
meow meow on October 26, 2017:
just spent the past few days doing tons of research into computer monitors, after being out of the loop on this sort of thing for many years. have been MUCH in need of an upgrade
came across your article here early on in my search, and it was something i referred back to many times. after in-depth research on countless different monitors and all of the ins and outs of them, i ended up going with the Dell UltraSharp U2515H, partly as per your recommendations here
just wanted to say a huge thank-you for writing this article and helping steer me in the direction of a monitor i'm very confident i will be more than pleased with!! looking forward to many years of gazing my beeeautifulll new screen :)
PaulJ on November 16, 2016:
How about the Dell UP2516D?
Brandon Hart (author) from The Game on October 23, 2013:
I don't believe I referred to BenQ in this particular article?
Ramesh on October 22, 2013:
Don't ever buy BenQ, it is a waste of time!