Back in January of 2017 I reviewed the BenQ SW271 Photographic Monitor and made the closing comment that it offered extraordinary performance at its price point and that it was exceptional value for money. Those comments still ring true today, but now there is a new kid on the block and it is time to find out if the new SW271C can tople its older brother off the podium. I had planned for this to be a video review, but the COVID lockdown here in Victoria has meant I have been unable to get over to the film studio to shoot the video – as such I have decided that rather than hold this review up any more I would write it instead. I have been working with and evaluating the SW271C now for several weeks and as a result there is quite a bit to talk about with this new display. I have tried to avoid doubling up on things already stated about the SW271 in my previous review, but as the SW271C is really a ‘dot’ upgrade some repetition is inevitable.
Let’s start by looking at the key features of the SW271C and how it compares to its SW271 sibling.
SW271C Key Features
- 4K (UHD – 3840*2160) 27″ Screen
- Direct Hardware Calibration Support, with 3 slots available
- Wide gamut (99% of AdobeRGB)
- USB-C, DisplayPort and HDMI inputs
- Matte IPS panel
- Excellent and adjustable stand, supports 90 degree pivot (includes support for the hood in pivot orientation).
- Comes as a package with most cables and a high quality monitor hood
- Pleasing professional design
- 2 USB-3 ports and an SD card reader built in
When it comes to features the SW271C is pretty much fully loaded and ticks all the boxes for photographic requirements. At 27″ screen size the monitor is large enough for a double page spread, but not so large and imposing that it feels like it’s dominating the work space. With full 4K 3840 x 2160 resolution it is extremely sharp and renders fine detail beautifully on its zero glare matte screen. The monitor supports high quality direct hardware calibration with three available slots and a wide gamut Adobe RGB colour space. It also includes a fantastic monitor hood (the best I have seen) and easily adjustable stand. The software that drives the hardware calibration is intuitive and easy to use and the monitor itself includes a variety of connectivity options and USB-C inputs.
Improvements over the SW271
- The USB-C port is now powered – it can deliver up to 60w of power to your attached device
- Uniformity is improved, and now applies to all colour modes
- Supports HDR10 and HLG for HDR video work
- Compatibility tested with SDI/HDMI products from Black Magic and AJA
- Full 16 bit 3D LUTs
- Pantone Validated, Calman Ready, Calman Verified and supports video calibration with LightSpace’s Light Illusion
- Upgraded ‘Hockey Puck’ to the much more svelte V2
Out of the Box Assembly and Quick Start – The new BenQ SW271C comes in the standard BenQ style box. These boxes are oversized and feel close to indestructible. When you open the box, you are greeted with a simple diagram giving you instruction as you go, making the process clear and easy. The packaging is a credit to BenQ and shows attention to detail with respect to the customer experience. It is fair to say that these monitors are packed and delivered as a premium level product. The only packaging I have come across recently that matches BenQ is from Apple.
Like its predecessor, the SW271, the SW271C includes a black envelope with an individual calibration report for the monitor you have received. The report includes information on the delta-E scores and uniformity. BenQ guarantee a DeltaE of less than 2 in the centre of the panel (which is excellent). Uniformity is measured across the panel at 25 different points. Also included are details on the gamma tracking and DICOM. This sort of attention to detail will be greatly appreciated by any photographer who considers accurate colour important.
Assembly is simple and straightforward and only takes a few minutes. The monitor base is attached to the monitor arm. You line up two triangles, and twist. Then a thumb screw on the base can be screwed in to make this joint permanent. The monitor arm is then simply clipped into the waiting mount on the back of the monitor. The stand itself is extremely well engineered, solid, and with excellent movement in all directions. The stand should work in just about any space.
Like its predecessor the SW271C includes an outstanding monitor hood that feels extremely solid and should certainly last the test of time. The hood itself snaps together and is lined with black velveteen to absorb reflected light. Where as the majority of lens hoods on the market feel flimsy and warp with time the BenQ hoods remain stiff and strong and are quite simply the best I have experienced to date. I very much appreciate the way the parts clip together with precision and the resultant rigidity of the entire hood is excellent.
Calibration of the SW271C – BenQ have two pieces of software relevant to the SW271C. These are (with links to download):
Paper Color Sync – A simple program to color match screen to print.
Palette Master Elements – BenQ’s direct hardware calibration software. This software is a definite must install and must be used to properly hardware calibrate the display.
It is worth noting that all SW271C monitors are factory calibrated so you can begin working on them straight out of the box. However, it is quite likely the pre-sets won’t be optimal for your actual work and thus a hardware calibration is recommended. You will almost certainly want to dial down the brightness out of the box. Generally I like to calibrate my displays to 80 candelas in my studio; which provides a near perfect screen to print match. However, your mileage may vary depending on the ambient light in your viewing environment. Generally speaking a setting somewhere between 80 and 120 candelas will suit most environments. If you are unsure of where to start I would recommend a setting of 100 candelas as a starting test point.
Hotkey Puck – The SW271C ships with a revised and updated Hotkey Puck that allows the user to switch between Adobe RGB mode, sRGB mode and Black & White modes with ease. The hot key buttons can also be customised to map other modes or OSD settings, such as brightness and contrast to bring added convenience to photographers. The Hotkey Puck is a nice addition and it is worth taking a bit of time to properly understand its uses and how it might save you time in your own workflow.
Real World Use – In Real world use the first thing you notice on turning on the SW271C is the high resolution that a 4K screen provides and the subsequent desktop real estate that this resolution enables. If you are used to working with a lower resolution display the vast real estate that this sort of display offers will be a revelation to you. Depending on how close you sit to the screen and the quality of your vision you may need to implement some scaling to increase the text size. In my studio I sit quite close to the monitor and have no problem reading text on the SW271C without the need for any software scaling (as long as I have my glasses on!) Like the previous SW271, colour rendition is excellent on the SW271C and the UHD resolution makes for a powerful and versatile work space.
My daily use for a monitor such as the SW271C involves the editing, post production and printing of digital files in Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud. I also use applications such as in-Design, Premiere Pro, Final Cut and other image related programs and plug-ins. On the whole most of my time is in the majority spent in Lightroom and Photoshop and thus this is the area that my comments are most related.
The colour rendition of the SW271C is exceptional and when combined with the excellent uniformity the display offers it is extremely easy to judge tone and contrast when processing RAW files. Uniformity is noticeably improved over the already very good SW271 and this alone makes it a worthy successor. For those of you who place a large emphasis on printing (as I do) you will find the BenQ SW271C to offer superb performance. In fact, it offers performance that far exceeds its modest price tag.
I am primarily a stills photographer who only occasionally works in video so I confined my testing to predominantly sill images. The video I did pass through the SW271C looked excellent to my eyes and videographers should be extremely happy with the performance of this display. During the review I tested several 4K video pieces (including HDR content) as well as upscaled 1080p video content. I also tested 4k UHD HDR content and was very impressed with the results. Videographers will be pleased by the inclusion of HDR10.
Conclusion and Closing Thoughts -The combination of size, performance and attractive price point in the SW271C make it just about perfect for the photographer looking for the highest level of performance without breaking the bank. Whilst the SW271C is slightly more expensive than its older brother it does include several key upgrades – perhaps the most important of which is its outstanding uniformity. The reality is that even at the slightly higher price it still offers unmatched value and performance for both professional and serious amateur photographers. With a three year warranty and full 4K Adobe RGB colour space the SW271C is unmatched in my experience at its price point and offers the best bang-for-buck performance in the market place today. Highly recommended. Full details of the BenQ SW271C can be found on BenQ’s website HERE.
Full Disclosure – In the spirit of full disclosure I would like to be clear that BenQ provided me with the SW271C test unit at no cost. I also want to be clear that although I am officially an ambassador for BenQ they have in no way tried to influence my review and instead specifically asked me to be thorough and rigorous in my testing of the SW271C. I only ever accept products to review on the clear understanding that I will be completely impartial and report anything negative I find as well as anything positive. Since I am using these products in my own workflow being clear, honest and forthright is my number one priority.