BenQ W11000H 4K UHD THX DLP Projector Review Part Two

A couple of days ago I published Part One of this two part review of the new BenQ W11000H 4K UHD DLP Projector.  Part One covered a brief history of projection for the home from CRT projectors up to the current state of play with 4K UHD Projectors. In part two we are going to look in detail at the BenQ W11000H 4K Projector.

When BenQ offered me the opportunity to review their brand new top of the range 4K UHD THX certified projector I literally jumped at the opportunity. Not only was I keen to see how it compared to the Marantz VP11-S1 I had been using in my cinema for better part of the last decade (see part one of this article) but I was as keen as mustard to see what sort of advantage 4k UHD would offer over high end 1080p presentation in a room and space I was intimately familiar with. I was even more keen to see how I could take advantage of the increased resolution to even better display photographs in my home (skip forward to the conclusion if you want an immediate answer).BenQ W11000H Projector: In brief, the BenQ W11000H is a single chip DLP projector that uses 4.15 million micro mirrors and XPR dual position actuator fast switching to produce its whopping 3840 x 2160 resolution with 8.3 million distinct pixels for each frame. With a resolution that’s four times higher than Full HD 1080p, 4K UHD reduces pixel blur for awe-inspiring clarity and crisply defined fine details. The W11000H is also the worlds first THX certified 4K UHD DLP Projector. THX certification guarantees accurate content reproduction as directors intended. With 100% Rec. 709 color accuracy, precise gamma, ideal colour temperature, enhanced uniformity, super high native contrast ratio and pre-calibration THX mode, the W11000H produces the best and most accurate out of the box picture quality I have ever seen from a consumer projector (regardless of price). But I am getting a bit ahead of myself and we should first look at the chassis and features of the W11000H before we dive in depth into its image quality.

The chassis of the BenQ W11000H is essentially identical to the previous W11000 model. Its quite large (470.7mm wide by 224.9mm high and 564.7mm deep), quite imposing and definitely makes a statement. This isn’t a projector you just plonk down on a coffee table, fire up and then pack away when you are finished. The W11000H is really designed for custom installation and thus its most likely home is going to be in a dedicated space such as a media room or home cinema. The matt black chassis of the W11000H is really built with the sole purpose of delivering the best possible picture quality through the enormous lens centre front.  Photographers will appreciate the optics on this projector before they even turn it on. The projector body itself is large and is a nice matt-black finish that wont draw undue attention to itself in a dedicated space. Lets be honest though, you don’t buy a projector like this for the look and design. You buy it for the incredible picture quality that a high end 4K projector can display.

The projector has front facing ventilation that includes an intake and exhaust for cool and hot air. The airflow design is superb and allows for easy installation in tight places. In my own cinema ventilation was somewhat of an issue with my previous projector so I really appreciated the thought and attention to detail BenQ made in this department. If you are planning to install this projector in a hush box (it really doesn’t need one as its super quiet in operation) you will likewise find the airflow design beneficial.The top of the projector includes only two control knobs for the physical 65% vertical lens shift and 27% horizontal shifting of the lens. Although lens shift can be accomplished in software there is no substitute for optical adjustments of this order. The level of adjustment is quite substantial and facilities placement off centre in both the vertical and horizontal planes. This design gives you a lot of flexibility in projector placement. In my own cinema I was able to place the projector on a shelf at the rear of the room and use lens shift to optimise the image. According to the BenQ literature there is no loss of image quality by shifting the lens. In my own tests I found this to be absolutely true. Pixel geometry remains perfect even at the extreme ends of the lens shift.

The W11000H offers a hidden control interface under a sliding cover in the event you need to control the projector without the remote control. The inputs, include power and HDMI and are located on the side and are separated to avoid any video interference. The only other compartment is the bulb replacement panel on top, which given the lamp life you are unlikely to need access to for years.

SetUp: I am going to assume that anyone who purchases a projector of this calibre is either knowledgeable enough to set one up on their own, or plans to have it professionally installed (I would recommend professional installation if you have not tackled something like this before). In my own case, I was able to unbox and install the projector in about 30 minutes. I would wager that hardest part of setup for most people will be mounting the actual projector and aligning it with the projection screen. The projector is quite heavy at just under fifteen  kilograms and the addition of a friend to help mount the unit will be appreciated by many. If you are installing into an existing space with a pre-installed screen be sure to use the calculator BenQ provide to work out your projection throw distance before you start drilling any mounting holes in your ceiling.

Features: The list of features included with the W11000H is quite extensive, but setup is extremely straight forward. The W11000H includes 2 x HDMI (HDMI 1: HDMI 2.0 and HDCP2.2; HDMI 2: HDMI 1.4a and HDCP 1.4), PC (VGA), USB (Type mini B for firmware upgrades), LAN, RS232, DC 12 Volt Trigger and an IR port if you need to run an IR extension.

The supplied remote control with the W11000H is of an excellent standard. Its large, with clearly labelled back-lit buttons and feels really solid in the hand. The fit and finish of the remote is of a premium standard and matches nicely with the projector chassis. All of the required controls are easily accessible.

HDR: The W11000H projector is turbo charged with HDR10 support with BenQ including Auto HDR colour rendition and cinema optimised technology. The high dynamic range performance of the  W11000H ensures greater brightness, contrast range and overall image depth. The net result is you get to experience every detail of 4K video content for the best possible cinema experience. Dolby Vision is not supported at this time , but is likely to come via a future firmware update.

Image Integrity and Colour Accuracy: The W11000H uses DMD DLP technology to avoid inherent alignment issues that can occur with multiple planes. The projector generates razor blade sharp images and accurate colours free from artifacting such as blur, shadowing and interference patterns for immaculate clarity.

Precision 14-Element 6-Group Lens Array: Photographers will more than appreciate the super high resolution 14-element lens array found in the W11000H. The array is structured into six groups with metal barrel and cell framework resulting in greater light penetration than traditional 1080p projector technology. The results are outstanding color performance, clarity and sharpness across the entire screen. The lens architecture in the W11000H is class-leading and optimised specifically for 4K content. The lens also includeds a fantastic True Zoom function. The W11000H’s lens system uses only the highest grade glass for superior light penetration and optimal image quality. Proprietary low-dispersion lens coatings minimise any chromatic aberration and ensure you benefit from all the clarity in your favourite 4K UHD content.

Immaculate True Zoom: The W11000H’s True Zoom system adjusts focus automatically to deliver visually perfect focus without the need to refocus the projector after zoom changes. The three focusing lens groups adjust simultaneously with the zoom lens group to negate any curved field for immaculate cinemtatic performance and high precision clarity across the entire image. It might seem like a trivial thing but I really appreciated this feature during the setup procedure. You only need to achieve optimum focus once. Once focused you can alter the zoom at your leisure without having to refocus the lens.

100% Rec.709 Color Accuracy: Factory calibrated to 100% Rec.709 the W11000H does indeed look pretty spectacular right out of the box (well done BenQ!). With this performance you can indulge in the truest color image reproduction possible in your home cinema. Those of you who follow my blog will know that its a pet peeve of mine that most displays ship from the factory in ‘flame thrower’ mode. It was a revelation to turn on the BenQ, switch it to ‘Cinema’ mode and find it just about perfect out of the box.

6X RGBRGB Color Wheel: Of all DLP projector components, the color wheel has the greatest effect on color. Achieving perfect balance between color accuracy and brightness requires high precision and stringent quality control. Because even nanometer differences create great differences to color spectrum, BenQ CinematicColor™ uses precise nanometer-level references to test over 20 combinations of color wheel angle and coating. Each color wheel is carefully fabricated with high-pure-color coatings to meet Rec. 709 color gamut requirements and reproduce the true color of Hollywood films. Does all of this engineering show in the final result? Absolutely. I have seen three chip DLP projectors that don’t look this good.

Factory Calibration Report: Using special instruments and software, each CinematicColor™ projector is tested and adjusted for precise D65 color temperature, gamma, black level, white level, neutral gray, RGBCMY color tracking, hue, saturation, brightness and output from different interfaces based on ITU-R Rec. 709. Collecting all data for individual CinematicColor™ factory calibration reports, BenQ are the industry’s only brand to adopt such high standards of colour gamut and gamma calibration to exceed Rec.709 standards. Users who care about colour accuracy (which photographer doesnt?) will really appreciate this level of performance and certification typically only found in very expensive and very high end professional products.

Dynamic Black Technology and Active Iris: Active iris controls the amount of light through the optical system for ideal contrast. Dynamic Black™ analyzes scene brightness levels to optimize light output and contrast. Bringing out subtle details in shadows and preventing bright scenes from washout, W11000H delivers impressive contrast for true blacks and amazing picture depth, details, and clarity. 

Cinematic Wide 2.4:1 Anamorphic Format: Available at local BenQ dealers, optional Panamorph Paladin anamorphic lens delivers the immersive 2.4:1 aspect ratio of commercial cinemas without letterboxing, delivering 2 million more pixels for increased brightness and detail to recreate full cinema experiences right at home. *Select “Anamorphic 2.4:1” or “Anamorphic 16:9” in menu with anamorphic lens. * As of this review I have not had access to the Paladin lens to test this feature. In my own cinema I am somewhat limited by a short throw distance of 3700mm and as such would be limited to quite a small screen with the Paladin. The Paladin lens is best suited to those with ample room for longer throw distances.

Input switching
The projector only has two HDMI inputs (A HDIMI 2.0 and a HDMI 1.4) which is typically not an issue given most people would run HDMI sources into an amplifier or video processor, then a single HDMI out to the projector. While that may be the most common setup, there are two available inputs and switching between them is possible via the remote control (although the projector is slow to recognise and lock onto the new source once switched).

Picture Quality: With its THX certification (certification card included with projector) you can have confidence that even out of the box this projector is going to produce an outstanding image (and it truly does). The built in display modes do a very nice job of providing a jaw dropping experience right out of the box. The projector can of course be custom calibrated to suit the environment it has been installed in and I would assume that most people who purchase this projector will employ an ISF certified technician to custom calibrate the projector for their sources and room to eek out every last drop of performance. That said, the performance I was able to achieve out of the box in ‘cinema’ mode was absolutely phenomenal. BenQ are to be congratulated on providing such a wonderful result straight out of the box.

Years ago (perhaps 20 years or more now) THX released a limited edition laser disc to demonstrate their THX speaker systems called ‘Wow!’ It was an extremely impressive montage of George Lucas film clips cunningly edited together to blow the listeners socks off. I still recall the first time I watched and listened to this disc and I remember it was a serious ‘Wow!’ moment. I relived that moment when I watched my first native 4k UHD DVD through the BenQ W11000H. The picture quality is simply jaw dropping. For lack of a better word… Wow! It should be noted at this point that the black levels on this projector are sublime with inky blacks of seemingly infinite depth. The projector produces the best black levels I have yet seen from a consumer projector in my viewing room.

Whats Missing: While BenQ get a lot of things right with this projector (most notable of which is the incredible image quality), nothing is perfect and there’s a couple of small omissions that could be added in future versions.

Blanking: One feature I really miss on the BenQ W11000H (that was on my Marantz VP11-S1) is ‘blanking’. Blanking gives you the ability to shift (and hide) the edge of each side of the projected image by one pixel at a time. Blanking is extremely useful to ensure a perfect picture to edge of screen match. The lack of blanking on the W11000H means you need to take extra special care to align the projector with the screen during setup. Its not a deal breaker (far from it) and if you are planning to run an external video scaler (such as a Lumagen Radiance Pro or similar) then it becomes a non issue since any blanking can be done internally by the outboard scaler.

Motorized Zoom: A motorised zoom function with lens memory positions would have been a nice addition for those running scope 2.35:1 systems who want to overscan their movies (to avoid having to purchase an anamorphic lens) and need multiple lens position memories. Whilst BenQ do offer an anamorphic lens option, the ability to overscan the image and use lens memory positions to shift between 2:35:1 and 16:9 material would have been a nice option. You can still run a 2.35:1 Constant Image Height setup with the BenQ without an anamorphic lens but you will need an outboard video processor such as the Lumagen Radiance Pro.

ISF Menu: The W11000H includes a password locked ISF menu. When I enquired with BenQ about access to the password I was told that “not even BenQ have it and that it is only for ISF technicians in the BenQ factory”. Fortunately I still have some connections in the Audio Visual world and I reached out to my contact at the Imaging Science Foundation and was able to obtain the password (If you read Part One of this review you may remember that I am actually an ISF certified technician).  Hidden in the ISF menu is the ability to set picture parameters for both night and day. ISF simply call this ISF Night and ISF Day. All it really does is give the ISF technician who is calibrating your projector the ability to set parameters for night and day viewing that are then ‘locked’ and not user adjustable.

Addendum – Please don’t write to me and ask for the ISF password. I am not allowed to disclose or share the password (sorry!) You can contact the Imaging Science Foundation or your local ISF technician for further information.

Conclusion: The W11000H sits squarely at the top end of the consumer range and as such, you should set your expectations of pricing and performance accordingly. The BenQ W11000H 4K Projector with HDR, will cost you round $8,999.00 AUD. If that doesn’t dent your wallet and if you have some spare cash, there is also an option to add a 2.4:1 anamorphic lens to the projector to deliver the aspect ratio offered at commercial cinemas (see notes above).

In conclusion, the BenQ W11000H 4K UHD Projector produces an image that is simply jaw dropping. There is no other superlative I can think of that more accurately describes the sensation of experiencing this projector with high quality UHD 4k content. Whilst the premium price tag might scare some away it is worth keeping in mind that just a few years ago the sort of image quality offered by the W11000H was simply impossible in home projection – it was science fiction. Even then the best that was available was horrendously expensive (think exotic sports car pricing) and wasn’t a patch on the W11000H’s performance.  The W11000H is simply the best consumer projector I have yet experienced. Wether you are displaying the latest 4K UHD movie, 1080p Blue Ray, 4K Netflix, or photographs from your computer, the W11000H produces gorgeous images that will leave you swimming happily in a pool of your own drool. If you are looking for the best possible performance the buck stops here. I give it my unequivocal and highest recommendation. 

A note on Price vs. Performance: Over the last few years BenQ has been consistently (and quietly) producing products that offer performance well above their price points. Their recent batch of colour accurate monitors (such as the SW271) for photographers (recently reviewed on this site) were groundbreaking in their performance for price. The W11000H treads the same path, offering a level of professional performance that far exceeds its very modest price point. Smart consumers will recognise that these products are absolute bargains; offering performance that far outweighs the cost of investment. As someone who has owned displays and projectors that cost many times more than the BenQ offerings I can unequivocally report that I don’t believe you can do better for the money.

BenQ W11000H 4K UHD THX DLP Projector Review Part One

Introduction: It isn’t too often you read a projector review on a photographic website but projectors actually have a lot of applications in the photographic industry and over the last couple of years I have found an increasing need and use for projection in my print workshops (as well as using projectors to display photographs to friends in my own home). As a result, I recently updated the projector I had been using and wanted to share my findings on the upgrade as well as comment on how projection technology has matured over recent years in light of this recent upgrade; and lastly how you might utilise projection in your own home to better display your photography.

Because of the length of this review I have broken it up into two parts. Part one is a little about the history of home cinema projection (from my perspective) and how the technology has evolved and Part two is the review of the new BenQ W11000H projector. If you aren’t interested in the history (I think it is interesting see where we came from) then you can just skip forward to Part two (which I will post in the next few days).Where we Came From: By way of a brief history, As well as my photographic background I also have an extensive background in high end home cinema. In my previous life in the 1990’s and early 2000’s I designed a great many home cinemas for clients and was (and still am) both an ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) certified technician and a Level II THX Certified technician. I was also certified by CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association) in home cinema design. My designs won several ‘Best Home Theatre of the Year’ awards from CEDIA. When I say I designed home cinemas, I am not referring to your generic home theatre in a box solutions, bur rather to high end custom home cinemas designed to properly replicate (and in many cases significantly improve on) the movie going experience. When I first started designing home cinemas the only real projection option available was 3-gun CRT (Cathode Ray Tube). CRT projectors were extremely large, extremely expensive and extremely dim by cinema standards.  In order to get any sort of reasonable light output you either had to run a very small screen in a completely dark room, or stack projectors for additional lumens (light output). Stacking projectors was neither cost effective nor convenient. It took up a huge amount of space, put a huge dent in your wallet and required significant and frequent alignment (CRT projectors were prone to ‘drift’ which meant they needed frequent calibration). In hindsight, they were quite honestly more trouble than they were worth most of the time. However, they were the only game in town before the advent of LCD, DLP, DILA and Laser and if you wanted a home cinema projector, CRT was about you’re only choice. Of course in those days if you wanted to display your photography on the wall you used a slide projector (remember slides?). At the time I was using a Leica slide projector on a portable screen I would set up whenever I wanted to do a slideshow. The result was good, but it was quite a hassle to setup and prepare.
With the advent of advancing digital technologies the game changed in home cinema projection and it was finally possible to get truly bright large screen projection at a reasonable price point (compared to what it used to cost with CRT). The very first projectors utilising these new digital technologies were quite honestly pretty awful by todays standard, but they were a quantum leap in brightness over the previous CRT units.

Fast forward a decade or so from the advent of digital projection and the technology continued to mature to the point where the CRT was completely dead and digital projection (be it single chip or 3 chip DLP, LCD, DILA or Laser) was providing excellent 1080p High Definition content on just about any size screen you could want at a price point that was affordable for many who were constructing dedicated home cinemas utilising projection. Of course, much depended on your screen size, and room application, but there was a product for just about every application and budget. It was also around this time people started using projectors to display their photographs instead of traditional slide projectors. Along with film and the Dodo, slide projectors went the way of the dinosaur.

In the space of just a few years 1080p HD content became the defacto standard for home cinema. It was around this point in time (a bit over ten years ago) I purchased and installed a Marantz VP11-S1 1080p single chip DLP Projector in my house. It was at the time an extraordinary, industry leading projector with a superb Konika Minolta glass lens. It was single chip DLP and not super bright (around 700 lumens), but it was ‘razor blade’ sharp with outstanding on-board video processing. It had a variable f-stop allowing you to tailor the black level to your environment and it provided a great deal of adjustment to obtain the best possible picture. Once properly calibrated it was regarded at the time as one of the finest single chip projectors on the market at just about any price (and it wasn’t cheap at around $17,000 USD MSRP.) I used it for the next ten years on a 92” acoustically transparent SMX THX projection screen in a dedicated light controlled room for both movies and for photographic slideshows. The Marantz VP11-S1 remains to this day an outstanding 1080p projector that stacks up very well against just about any other single chip 2k projector south of about fifteen grand. During the many years of ownership I also used the projector for slideshows of my photography as well as for screening photography documentaries (and general movies).Fast forward to today and digital resolution has continued to increase to the point where now have a number of new projectors coming into the market place offering 4K UHD resolution as well as HDR10 capability (Dolby Vision is also starting to make an appearance). The game has changed; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say the game has evolved. With the advent of 4K Projectors capable of HDR it is now possible to obtain image quality in home via projection that was up until this point pure science fiction. Enter the BenQ W11000H 4K UHD THX Certified DLP Projector. The world’s first THX certified 4K UHD projector that is HDR capable and that can display photographs (and movies) in a resolution previously unavailable in the average home. Part two of this review will focus on the BenQ W11000H and will be published in the next few days.

 

Canon EOS 1DX MKII Firmware Update – V.1.1.6

In case you missed it (like I did), Canon has recently released a minor firmware update for the EOS-1D X Mark II.

Firmware Version 1.1.6 incorporate the following fix:

  1. Fixes a phenomenon in which the camera may not function normally when images are simultaneously displayed on the camera’s LCD monitor and an external monitor (via HDMI output).

Download EOS-1D X Mark II Firmware 1.1.6 at Canon USA

It is always worth downloading and installing the latest firmware even if you feel the listed fixes are not relevant to your photography. Manufacturers often make other undocumented improvements in firmware updates.

How to Beat the Airlines Flying with Camera Equipment

Short of dropping and smashing an expensive camera or lens there isn’t much else that puts abject horror into photographers like the thought of being forced to check their expensive camera equipment on their next aeroplane flight. The mere thought of handing over tens of thousands of dollars of camera equipment to the airline muppets that will subsequently treat it with utter disdain is the stuff of nightmares. For many photographers I wager the process of actually getting their beloved camera equipment safely onto an aeroplane is frequently the most stressful part of their next photographic odyssey. As a result I decided to share my experience on how best to get your precious camera equipment safely onto your next flight.If you shoot with a light weight mirrorless camera system with only one or two lenses or if you only carry one camera and one lens then this article probably wont mean much to you. However, if like me you shoot with large Pro DSLR’s and multiple large telephoto lenses then I am going to share what I have learned (although the airlines wont love me for it) when it comes to the often difficult and stressful task of avoiding checking your expensive camera equipment.

When it comes to packing your camera gear to carry onto the plane for your next adventure I recommend you actually check items such as tripods, tripod heads, filters etc. inside your main luggage. Basically anything that does not have delicate electronics inside it should be checked to both minimise the weight and size of your carry on but also to free up more room for more lenses and cameras. I always check my tripod (and tripod head), and accessories such as filters, battery chargers and anything else that does not have delicate electronics inside it. All of these items can be safely wrapped in jackets and clothes and transported with relative safety. In all my many hundreds of flights I have never had any of these items damaged in the cargo hold. If you are really paranoid about these items then pack them in a Pelican case and then place the pelican case inside an old duffle bag.

In relation to airline carry on restrictions; it is important to understand that there is no standardisation amongst the airlines for the amount, size and weight of your carry on luggage. The requirements vary wildly between airlines and perhaps more importantly the enforcement of the restrictions are very much at the whim of the airline employee you happen to score on the day. Their state of mind and mood (and first impression of you) is as likely to have as much impact on your ability to get your camera equipment on board as any ‘official’ airline regulation. If you are unfortunate enough to encounter an employee drunk with power and hell bent on enforcing their interpretation of a regulation you could be in for a very tough time. All I can really advise in this case is that you remain calm, polite, smile and no matter what remain the voice of reason. Loosing your temper and getting frustrated will just make said employee dig their heels in even further and it will ultimately result in you being forced to check your equipment. If there is one thing I have learned over the years of flying and dealing with airlines its that loosing your patience and temper rarely gets you anywhere.Your Choice of Camera Bag: Choose your carry on camera bag with great thought and care. There are a multitude of bags on the market from which to choose and they vary greatly. You want a bag that is as light as possible when empty and that holds as much as possible (or at least as much as you need to carry). The bag should fit most airlines size restrictions and should ideally be black or a very dark colour to avoid attracting unnecessary attention. Your carry on camera bag should also be easy to transport and not be a burden to schlep through airports. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss individual bag models in detail, but personally I grew tired some time ago of backpacks without rollers and nowadays prefer the convenience of a roller bag which I then re-pack for shooting into a backpack at the other end. The backpack gets filled with items such as battery chargers, tripod heads etc. and placed inside my checked luggage. The roller bag is literally just for transporting my cameras and lenses from home to my destination. Airline Status: In short, airline status counts. If you have one of the higher status levels with your chosen airline you are far less likely to encounter a troublesome employee intent on forcing you to check your gear. I can recall several instances where I was approached and queried on my camera bag by an airline employee where I was able to quote my status and shut down the approach with a friendly nod and smile.

Likewise, if you are flying business or first class (which frequently come with much larger luggage allowances) you are far less likely to encounter problems with your carry on camera equipment. If you are flying economy without status then you do need to be a lot more careful about managing your carry on equipment.

Just a quick note on status. It has been my experience that pretty much any status you might hold below the very top tier of an airline is virtually worthless when it comes to any perceived privilege you might be lucky enough to receive from an employee. It is the easiest excuse in the world for an employe to deny you whatever they like because you are ‘gold’ and not ‘platinum’. I recommend you therefore consider carefully quoting your level of status to an employee if you are not truly top dog. Even if you do hold top status be careful how you deliver this information. Any perceived arrogance is likely to be dealt with swiftly and I guarantee you will ultimately loose the battle.

Airline status comes with many benefits over and above access to airline lounges that assist with getting your camera gear onto the plane. Frequently status allows you to board before the general population which means you are far more likely to secure an overhead bin for your bag on a full flight. I have used my status to board quickly on countless flights and it has always enabled me to secure overhead storage. I try to avoid being the very first to board as this draws unnecessary attention to my carry on camera equipment, but I do try and board in the first dozen or so people when possible.

When I first started flying for my photography more than ten years ago now I had no status with any of the airlines and simply could not afford business class (or even premium economy) seating.  I was lumped with the herd from checkin all the way to my final destination and speaking candidly these were my most difficult times when it came to carry on camera equipment.  When I look back at all the flying I have done over the last decade there has been only one occasion when I was forced to check my camera equipment and it was on one of my very first flights to New Zealand with a low cost airline that shall not remain nameless (and with whom I shall never fly with again after they subsequently stranded me in Tasmania – thanks Jet Star). It was more my lack of experience in knowing how to deal with the employee than the actual process that resulted in my gear being thrown in the hold with the general baggage. Thankfully it arrived undamaged at the end of the flight, but it was a stressful time for me.

Special Assistance Boarding: Those who require special assistance during boarding such as those with children or those in wheelchairs or those with some other ailment that slows their boarding process are usually boarded first. If you have a disability or something that does slow you’re boarding process you should absolutely take advantage of it. I broke my ankle many years ago quite badly in a surf accident and frequently have trouble with it being stiff and sore. It doesn’t really slow me down, but I do have a letter from my doctor that I can produce to help me board an aircraft early if I feel it is warranted. I don’t suggest you try this approach unless you have something in writing from your doctor to back it up. In the few times I have used this reason to board early I have never been asked for proof. However, I always carry my doctors letter just in case.

The Additional Seat: Musicians often purchase an additional seat on a plane to transport their expensive and delicate instrument without having to place it in the cargo hold. Whilst this is potentially an expensive option, it is a viable one and I have purchased an additional seat on short connection puddle hops in the past on several occasions. An additional seat removes the stress of the entire carry on process. Just be sure to advise the airline at the time of booking that the additional seat is for a camera bag. It does tend to throw the airline into confusion when you check in for two seats as one person.

The Check-in Procedure: When you approach the check in counter don’t be too obvious about the size of your camera bag. I always approach the counter with a smile and friendly hello and I always ask the attendant about their day. You would be amazed how far a little friendly banter can get you and more often that not it has been my experience that the attendant is more than happy to actually be spoken to like a human being and will as a result frequently help you with better seating requests as well as anything else you might need. There is a side benefit to befriending your check in attendant in that it frequently side tracks them from their routine procedure. As a result they quite often simply forget to ask about carry on luggage. Lastly, the check in attendant often also mans the gate where you board the aircraft. Offending them at the check in counter might cause you problems later on at the gate.

If you are travelling with a friend or companion consider checking in one at a time. One of you can hang back and mind the camera bags whilst the other checks in. You can then swap and thus avoid having to actually take your camera bag to the check in counter.

If you are extremely concerned about your camera bag being weighed during the check in procedure consider removing heavier items and putting them in large vest pockets (always wear a photography vest with large pockets when travelling). You can then have the bag weighed at check in and replace the items at your convenience. The benefit of this approach is some airlines tag the weighed carry on with an “approved carry on” tag. If you have one of these on your bag you are more or less home free. When I do score one of these tags I always hang onto it for as long as I can and will re-use it if possible.

The International Connection: If you have flight connection with different carry on restrictions you can actually advise any employee who might query you on your carry on luggage that you have just come off an international connection that allowed you to carry your equipment onto the plane. Of course, their decision to subsequently allow you to carry it onto their flight is wholly at their discretion but this excuse has worked for me in the past on several occasions. Much depends on the temperament of the employee and your responses.

You can also play this the other way and advise the attendant you have a very tight connection at the other end and cant risk checking your bag for fear of missing you’re connecting flight. Again, I only advise you adopt this approach if you legitimately do have a tight connection. It’s extremely easy for anyone to check on your next travel movements and honesty is quite frankly the best policy.

Signing Over Responsibility: If you score an employee who is forcing you to check your camera equipment you could try explaining (politely) to them that the equipment is extremely delicate and very, very expensive. And that checking it in the hold will surely result in thousands of dollars of damage to the delicate IS / VR systems in the many lenses.  If you are forced to check it you will require the airline to sign responsibility for the equipment. Of course, this will put the employee immediately on the back foot and force their hand. Either they will seek a supervisor to deal with you or more likely simply explain to you that it is not airline policy to sign for responsibility. In this case, all you can really do is advise them that without someone signing responsibility for the equipment you simply cannot allow it to be placed in the hold. I admit, I have not had much luck with this approach but it is worth keeping in the back of your mind as a potential option when all other avenues seem closed. I do recall one stand off (I forget which airline) where the employee at the gate simply refused to allow me to board with my camera bag. At this time there were probably another one hundred people behind me all waiting to board. I decided to force the attendants hand in this instance and politely advised them that I could not therefore board the plane and would they please arrange to offload my checked luggage. Frustrated by the thought of this the attendant simply gave up and waved me onto the plane. I was lucky in this instance and if you decide to play this bluff you need to be prepared to follow it through.

But I am a Professional: In all of my travels this is probably the most common excuse I hear used from other photographers (it is also the worst possible excuse). I do not advise you tell anyone you are a professional photographer when travelling (least of all an airline employee). If you happen to be unfortunate enough to encounter a savy employee you may be asked to produce a carnet (a passport for your photographic equipment). If you do not have one you could be opening up a huge can of worms that is absolutely not in your best interest.  Additionally, if you get pulled into customs or immigration you could end up in a much bigger mess as you are interrogated for your reasons of travel. You absolutely do not want to be asked to produce a work permit unless you are legitimately travelling for work and have all of the required paperwork in order. I advise you always travel as a tourist unless all prior arrangements are made for professional travel.

The Lithium Ion Battery: In the never ending quest for safety the airlines have actually done photographers a significant favour in recent times that you can use to your advantage in certain situations. Many airlines now forbid the packing of lithium ion batteries in checked luggage (as a potential fire hazard). This being the case, if you encounter an employee who seems intent on making you check your camera bag you can politely inform them that it contains a significant amount of lithium ion batteries and that for safety reasons and airline regulations it cannot be checked. I used this excuse quite recently on a flight from Italy to Oslo just as I was about to board a full plane. I was singled out at the gate because of the size of my camera bag and told I had to gate check the bag due to space restrictions on the plane. I simply informed the attendant of the lithium ion batteries and was quickly ushered onto the plane.  If you are asked to remove the batteries from the bag you might have to tell a little white lie about them not being removable. I leave that up to you. Either way, by informing the employee of the batteries you are complying with the airlines restrictions and requirement that you actually inform them of batteries in checked luggage. Don’t underestimate the power of this option. It is highly unlikely any attendant is going to force you to gate check equipment containing lithium ion batteries. And if they do, you should request a supervisor.

The Fail Safe Vest: Always wear a photography vest with lots of large pockets when you fly. Not only is a vest a great place to store items such as wallets, passports, sunglasses, iPads etc. its also a wonderful way to carry camera equipment. If you find yourself in a situation where everything else has failed and the attendant is just simply unwilling to allow you take your camera bag onto the plane then simply start unloading your gear from your camera bag into the many voluminous pockets on your favourite photography vest. In all of my many years of travel I have only ever had to do this a handful of times and on each occasion the attendant stood dumbfounded as I reduced the weight of my bag to the enforced restriction. I guarantee this approach will annoy the attendant beyond measure, but there is absolutely nothing they can do about it and you will get your cameras and lenses onto the plane (even if they force you to check the empty bag to make themselves feel better about the encounter).

A side benefit to wearing a photography vest when you travel is you can store all metal items (such as keys, phones, etc) inside the pockets and then just remove the vest for screening at security without having to fumble through all your clothes pockets for all the different items. I never fly without my photography vest.

Lastly, always keep in mind that being polite, temperate and calm is going to be far more productive than becoming angry and frustrated with an airline employee. At times this can be very difficult and on occasion I have become frustrated in some situations. Honestly, this has never worked in my favour. Try and remain the voice of reasoned calm and you are far more likely to win any over any airline employee.

Travel safe.

BenQ SW271 27″ Wide Gamut Adobe RGB UHD 4K HDR Monitor Review

In January of 2017 I reviewed BenQ’s outstanding SW320 31.5” 4K Wide Gamut Adobe RGB monitor for photographers. It offered groundbreaking performance at its price point (Read the Full Review). The SW320 review followed on the heels of my earlier review of the BenQ SW2700PT 27” Adobe RGB Monitor (Read the Full Review). Since my review of the SW320 BenQ has subsequently released the newer and slightly smaller SW271. The SW271 is a 27” 4K UHD monitor that utilises a 10-bit panel with 99% Adobe RGB, 100% sRGB colour space coverage as well as support for HDR content. The SW271 was designed to build upon the success of its SW2700PT predecessor and thus it takes image quality to the next level with the addition of 4K UHD resolution and HDR capabilities.

Back when I reviewed the SW2700PT 4K monitors were not yet widely available and those that were on the market were exceedingly expensive. Much has changed in the last eighteen months or so and there are now a wide array of 4K monitors on the market from which to choose. To be clear, the SW271 is a 27” 4k monitor that is primarily aimed at the middle to higher end of the photography and video market. It is in essence the next generation of the SW2700PT with increased 4K resolution, expanded input options and HDR support and capability. As you will see from my review, it offers an incredible amount of bang for your buck.

When I reviewed the SW320 I was inconclusive on the supposed benefits of the HDR feature in real world applications. Now, a year on from that review I have had the time and experience of a lot more testing and it is clear that HDR capability does make a difference. Where the difference really shines in my experience is when playing the latest crop of 4K Ultra HD HDR disc titles. On the HDR ready SW271 they are simply jaw dropping. If you own a 4K Ultra HD DVD Player then you should definitely plug it into your SW271 and load up a 4K HDR title just to see how good video can look these days.

*Note – To view HDR content from your device, ensure that you use the HDMI cable provided with the SW270 monitor or a High Speed HDMI Cable or Premium High Speed HDMI Certified Cable.

Specifications – There is no need to regurgitate a complete list of the SW271 specifications as those are already available on BenQ’s website. See the SW271 page on BenQ’s website for full details. In brief, the most important key features are included below.

Key Features – 

Access to 99% Adobe RGB + 100% sRGB Colour Space With IPS technology

27″ 4K UHD Resolution

High Dynamic Range (HDR10) via HDMI

Hardware Calibration With Palette Master Element Software

USB-C for transmitting data and video signal with one cable

Shading Hood & Hotkey Puck for switching between picture modes as included accessories Appearance –– Externally the SW271 is not dissimilar to the previously reviewed SW2700PT. Don’t be fooled though; the new SW271 display is bristling with the latest technology and represents a not insignificant advance in capabilities and performance. There are a few small cosmetic differences between the models with the new SW271 having a slimmer bezel and the OSD buttons have been moved from the bottom edge to the front.

Out of the Box – Every single BenQ SW271 ships with an online factory Calibration Report. This detailed report includes some very useful information including Uniformity Measurements and Dealt E reports that tell you just how your individual SW271performed when tested before it left the factory. It is worth noting that the report is serial number specific and not batch specific so BenQ are testing each and every monitor. These sort of calibration reports are normally only found in much more expensive displays such as those from the NEC SpectraView Line and the Eizo Colour Edge monitors. The mere fact the BenQ SW271 ships with this sort of individual test report speaks volumes to the sort of high quality display BenQ have produced and the care and attention to detail they have invested in this new display. The report is nicely presented in a branded envelope on the inside of the box. A copy of the individual calibration report included with the supplied SW271 as tested is included below:

Out of the box the BenQ SW271 is very simple to set up and in less than ten minutes I had the stand fully assembled, the display plugged in (via HDMI) to my MacBook Pro and the system fully operable. It is worth noting at this point that the SW271 does utilise the latest USB-C port to transmit video and data with only one cable. So you can do the hardware calibration without having to run a seperate USB cable if you utilise the USB-C connection. The USB-C port displays 4K content and offers an up to 5Gbps transfer rate. Since neither of the current Macs in my studio include USB-C I did not test this capability and instead relied on the HDMI cable for video and the USB for calibration. Until such time as USB-C becomes more prevalent I expect many photographers will do likewise. As I wrote when I reviewed the SW320 I am extremely impressed at the quality of the display stand and ease of installation. It’s a pet peeve of mine that many manufactures of high end displays  often include such cheap plastic stands. These manufacturers would do well to take note of the quality of construction and attention to detail BenQ have lavished on their current monitor range.

SW271 Performance – Just like its larger brother the SW320, the SW271 ships in ‘flame-thrower’ mode and out of the box was far too bright for my viewing environment. I know manufacturers do this to try and impress viewers who will no doubt see the display first in a brightly lit fluorescent showroom but I really wish they wouldn’t. It would be preferable to have the display at a comfortable default with an option for store keepers to switch to the ‘super bright’ mode for store display. Once I had calibrated the SW271 to a more reasonable 120 Candelas (a light level appropriate for my studio) and D6500 Kelvin I was able to properly assess its performance and make direct comparisons against other displays.

BenQ Palette Master Software – Just like its larger brother the SW320, the SW271 requires the use of profiling software to access the internal monitor hardware Look up Tables (LUT), and for that you need the supplied Palette Master Element software. For Apple users, the supplied software is installed as an application. I don’t own a Windows machine so did not test the software under a Windows environment.

The SW271 ships with the BenQ Palette Master Software; but it can also be downloaded for free from the BenQ website. By using the Palette Master Element software and a calibrator (primarily the X-rite i1 Display in my case), you can tune and maintain the colour performance of the monitor at its most optimal state.

The BenQ SW271 currently supports the X-Rtie i1 Display Pro / i1 Pro /i1 Pro 2 , and Datacolor Spyder 4/5 colorimeters.  I tested all of these during my time with the SW271 and all performed without issue.

Note: The X-Rite ColorMunki Display is not supported. Xrite does not support its use with third party software (Not BenQ’s fault).

BenQ provide a user friendly instruction manual with the Palette Master Software that you can download from their website.  There is both a basic and advanced mode to choose from. The instructions are clear, concise and easy to follow. Download the PDF Manual  HERE.

Palette Master is supported on Win7 or above and Mac OS 10.6.8 or above.

Rather than repeat myself, If you read my review of the SW320 you will find a link to a video that goes into more detail about the Palette Master software.Driving a 4K UHD Display – I tested the SW271 with both a 2013 6-core Mac Pro with 64 gigabytes of RAM and dual AMD FirePro 500 video cards and a late 2013 15” MacBook Pro with an NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M 2048 MBMB and both were able to drive the display at its full native resolution. Like my tests on the SW320, I did notice the fan kick in more often on the MacBook Pro when driving the SW271 than with the previous SW2700PT. This is to be expected as the video card is being driven harder with the higher resolution display. There were however no ill side effects and system performance and speed appears unaffected in general day-to-day use. In general, there is now more software on the market that properly supports 4K displays and there have been numerous updates to both Apple and Windows operating systems for better 4k compatibility and performance. BenQ do publish a compatibility guide for the SW271 on their website HERE.

Advanced Black and White Mode – The BenQ SW271 also includes an advanced Black and White mode that allows you to view your photos in a black and white film effect. You can choose from three different black and white presets to preview your photographs in before you perform actual adjustments in Lightroom or other image editing applications. I am not a black and white photographer so I didn’t test this feature other than to quickly check it actually functions as advertised; which it does. Black and White photographers should definitely test this feature to see if it fits within their workflow.Gamut Duo – Matching its larger sibling like-for-like, the BenQ SW271 is likewise equiped with a feature BenQ call GamutDuo. GamutDuo enables you to view content simultaneously on the screen in different colour spaces side-by-side for easy comparison. I found this new feature quite useful to soft proof images going from Adobe RGB colour space to SRGB for the web. By viewing the two images side by side it is very easy to see the differences. Users who have to re-purpose their photographs for different colour spaces are likely to find this a very useful feature. To activate the GamutDuo feature you switch to PIP/PBP mode.Hotkey Puck – Like both the previous generation BenQ SW2700PT, and the 4K BenQ SW320, the SW271 ships with a 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.4K Display Comparisons – Comparisons between the previously reviewed BenQ SW320 and the SW271 are going to be inevitable so lets get those out of the way (since I have both displays side by side in my studio). Perhaps most importantly there is the obvious size difference between these two displays and the corresponding price differential. Whilst the SW320 offers a 31.5” panel, the SW271 comes in at a more modest 27”; which I suspect may be a more convenient size for many people and most office / studio spaces. Side by side there is quite a noticeable difference in their physical size. The SW320 includes a larger bezel and as such appears significantly larger. The SW271 with its much slimmer bezel does present itself with a more edge to edge finish and as such does make the SW320 look somewhat dated in its design. In terms of price the SW320 can be purchased for around $1,500 USD. The SW271 again comes in at a more modest $1,100 USD.

Both the BenQ SW320 and SW271 are UHD (Ultra high Definition) with a resolution of 3840 x 2160. Obviously with its smaller screen size the SW271 has a higher pixel density which does result in slightly smaller text when driving the display at its native resolution. For image editing applications the difference is mostly irrelevant and I suspect the choice of the SW320 or SW271 will simply come down the individual users preference for monitor size, available work space and budget.

Measuring colour gamut between the BenQ SW320 and SW271 is a pointless exercise since for all intent and purpose they are identical in real world applications. Both produce 100% of the SRGB colour space and both produce 99% of the Adobe RGB space. Any subtle differences in gamut are nothing more than a quibble. Side by side in my studio they are to my eyes identical in their colour rendition and accuracy.

When I reviewed the SW320 I noted a noticeable and significant improvement in uniformity over the SW2700PT and outside of the extreme corners it measured almost as good as the much more expensive Eizo CG-318. I am pleased to say the SW271 picks up this improved uniformity over the last generation SW2700PT and at least in my own unit performs ever so slightly better in the corners than the larger SW320. This is remarkable performance, regardless of price and BenQ are to be commended for their efforts in obtaining this exceptional level of uniformity.

Shade Hood – Knowing that ambient lighting can obstruct colour accuracy, all BenQ SW series  photographic monitors include a detachable shade hood to reduce screen glare to deliver the most accurate colours possible. The shade hood included with the SW271 can be used in portrait orientation as well as in landscape orientation (a very nice design consideration). Just like the hood included with the SW320 what I really appreciated is the solid build quality of the shade hood that ships with the SW271. It feels like a high quality addition to the display and not a cheap plastic after thought; like it does on the much more expensive Eizo CG-318 display (it’s a real niggle for me that this six thousand dollar plus display has such a cheap flimsy hood). As I noted in my review of the SW320, the Eizo CG-318 shade hood looks positively cheap and nasty in side by side comparisons.

Once secured in place the shade hood for the SW271 feels extremely robust and is nicely finished inside with anti-reflective black flocking. Another nice touch is the addition of a small operable window at the top of the shade hood to pass a colorimeter through for screen calibration. Quite honestly, the shade hood included with both the SW320 and SW271 are the best I have seen regardless of the brand or price of monitor.The Bezel and Stand – Attention to small details is very important in high end displays and I was very pleased to see that the ultra slim bezel of the SW271 is finished in a dark grey matt that minimises any potential bezel reflection. This sort of attention to detail might sound trivial but it ensures an optimal result when you are working for hours at a time in front of the display. The monitor’s stand has been redesigned in a minimalist style, with a sleek L-shaped neck that streamlines with the monitor frame.  It looks great on my desk and will likely fit well in most studio spaces. The stand is easily assembled without tools. There is some facility for cable management and over all the stand feels very solid and well made.

Real World Use – In Real world use the first thing you notice on turning on the SW271 is the incredible resolution that a UHD 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 SW320 without the need for any software scaling.  On the SW271 with its smaller size and higher  pixel density I occasionally have to squint and lean in a little to read text without implementing any software scaling. Colour rendition is excellent on the SW271 and the UHD resolution makes for a powerful and versatile work space.

My daily use for a monitor such as the SW271 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 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 SW271 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.  For those of you who place a large emphasis on printing (as I do) you will find the BenQ SW271 to offer very good 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 SW271 looked extremely good 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.

Conclusion – The BenQ SW271 is an exceptionally well constructed high quality UHD HDR wide gamut monitor that offers users native 4k resolution, colour accuracy and uniformity at a price point that is extremely appealing. The monitor is simple and easy to assemble and operated without issue out of the box with both my laptop and main desktop computers.

Picture quality is exceptional with excellent linearity and uniformity across the screen that matches the much more expensive Eizo CG-318 in all but the extreme corners. This is outstanding performance that photographers and other graphic artists will really appreciate in daily use.

The display hood is extremely well constructed and provides a very solid black around the screen when working. The screen itself exhibits very low reflectance.

The BenQ SW271 monitor offers the big and accurate colour space I need in my photography and the power of the 14-bit 3D hardware LUT means there is no banding or posterisation in any of the test images I tried when reviewing the screen. I tested the SW271 with a wide range of my own photographs as well as a large suite of ISF (Image Science Foundation) test images designed specifically to trip up displays (ISF test images are designed to show up weaknesses in displays not often found in general viewing). The SW271 performed without issue on all counts. BenQ quote a Delta E of 2 on their website for the SW271 and the sample monitor supplied measured an impressive Max ∆E of 1.11.

Overall the BenQ SW271 is a superb display that offers a huge UHD resolution workspace in combination with a wide gamut Adobe RGB display at a price point that is extremely competitive.   In fact, it is hard to argue with the value proposition BenQ brings to the table with the SW271. With a street price of under $1100 USD you get a colour accurate display with 4K resolution that packs HDR, hardware LUT and a suite of features tailored for photographers. The SW271 quite simply offers extraordinary performance at its price point and is exceptional value for money. Highly recommended.

Full Disclosure – In the spirit of full disclosure I would like to be clear that BenQ provided me with the SW271 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 SW271. 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.