BenQ SW321C 32″ Wide Gamut Adobe RGB UHD 4K Monitor Review

Ever since BenQ released the BenQ SW2700PT 27” back in 2016 (Reviewed here on my Blog and also on the Luminous Landscape website) they have been shaking up the photographic world with their high performance, budget priced monitors.  When I reviewed the SW2700PT and the SW320 (reviewed HERE)  I actually wrote that they offered exceptional performance at their price point – that still stands today.

BenQ SW321C Review – Recently BenQ released the update to the SW320, the  32” SW321C 4K UHD Wide Gamut Monitor. I have been testing a production sample of this monitor in my studio for the last couple of months and have now had the time to write a complete review of this new display. To be clear, the SW321C is the direct replacement for the previously reviewed SW320. Everything I wrote about the SW320 still stands with the SW321C; with the added benefit of several improvements (notably an improvement in corner uniformity). It is also worth noting some additional specification differences between SW320 and SW321C:

  1. SW320 did not have USB-C port but SW321C has USB-C port with 60W power delivery.
  2. SW321C has A.R.T. panel which has less glare and reflection.
  3. SW321C have Paper color sync software (I will review this in full at a later date)

The SW321C builds upon the success of its predecessor (the BenQ SW320) whilst continuing to set a new performance benchmark for wide gamut 4K monitors at a low price point. In addition to its UHD resolution the SW321C takes image quality to the next level with the addition of HDR capabilities (not found in the much more expensive Eizo CG-318 I also reviewed a couple of years ago). According to the supplied literature from BenQ, High Dynamic Range (HDR) increases the overall dynamic range between black and white so the resulting image appears closer to what your eyes see in the natural world*. In real world tests the benefit is tangible and noticeable. HDR is one of those features that once you get used to, you wonder how you ever lived without. *To view HDR content from your device, ensure that you use the HDMI cable provided with the SW321 monitor or a High Speed HDMI Cable or Premium High Speed HDMI Certified Cable.benqsw320-2In short, the new SW321C 4K UHD monitor offers extraordinary performance with a true 10-bit panel with 99% Adobe RGB, 100% sRGB colour space coverage as well as supporting HDR content. The knock out punch is that it continues to do so at a price point previously unheard of for a monitor of this size with these features. You simply cant find these specifications and performance at a price point anywhere near what BenQ are asking and that makes this a very special product indeed.

The overall quality of colour reproduction on screen has been further improved from the SW320. In side by side comparisons the SW321C outperforms its older brother in colour fidelity and most notably in corner uniformity.

Specifications – There is no need to regurgitate a complete list of the SW321C specifications as those are already available on BenQ’s website. See the SW321C page on BenQ’s website for full details.

Out of the Box – Every single BenQ SW321C 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 SW321C performed 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 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 SW321C 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.

Out of the box the BenQ SW321C is a breeze 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 seems to me that with every new model BenQ have continued to refine and improve their display stand and ease of installation.  The ‘tool-free’ assembly is most welcome and other manufacturers would do well to take note.

SW321C Performance – Like many displays the SW321C 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. Once calibrated however to a more reasonable 120 Candelas and D6500 Kelvin I was able to properly assess the SW321C’s performance and make direct comparisons against other displays.

BenQ Palette Master Software – To get the very best results from the SW321C, the profiling software you use needs 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 SW321C 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 (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 SW321C currently supports the X-Rite i1 Display Pro / i1 Pro /i1 Pro 2 , and Datacolor Spyder 4/5, X-rite i1 studio, ColorMunki Photo, and Spyder X colorimeters.  I tested all of these during my time with the SW321C and all performed without issue. 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. 

Driving a 4K UHD Display – Before you rush out and purchase any UHD or DCI 4K display you should make sure your computer can actually drive the display at its native resolution. In my case I tested the SW321C with both a 2013 6-core Mac Pro with 64 gigabytes of RAM and dual AMD FirePro 500 video cards and a late 2019 13” MacBook Pro and both were able to drive the display at its full native resolution. 

Advanced Black and White Mode – The BenQ SW321C 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.bwmodeGamut Duo – The BenQ SW321C is equiped with a very cool feature called 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.gamutduoHotkey Puck – Like the BenQ SW320, the BenQ SW321C ships with a The Hotkey Puck that allows the user to switch between Adobe RGB mode, sRGB mode and Black & White modes effortlessly. 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.

Shading Hood – Knowing that ambient lighting can obstruct colour accuracy, all BenQ SW series photographic monitors include a detachable shading hood to reduce screen glare to deliver the most accurate colours possible. The shade hood included with the SW321C can be used in portrait orientation as well as in landscape orientation (a very nice design consideration). What I really appreciated is the solid build quality of the shade hood. 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. In fact, the Eizo CG-318 shade hood looks positively cheap and nasty in side by side comparisons. Once secured in place the shade hood feels extremely robust and is nicely finished inside with anti-reflective black flocking. BenQ are to be commended for providing a shade hood with the display of such a high quality. 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 the SW321C is the best I have seen regardless of the brand or price of monitor.shadehood

The Bezel and Stand – Attention to small details is very important in high end displays and I was very pleased to see that the bezel of the SW321C is finished in a dark grey matt that minimises any potential bezel reflection. I am told from the factory that extensive testing was done on various bezel surfaces in order to achieve the best result and most optimal viewing experience for photographic professionals. 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. In addition to coating changes, 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 shipped in two pieces and 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 SW321C 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 screen without the need for any software scaling. Daily life in a UHD environment under MAC OS X just works provided you have good enough eye sight to read the small text. If (like me) you like to work on a single monitor then you recognise the high value of having significant desktop real estate; something the SW321C provides in spades. Colour rendition is excellent on the SW321C and the UHD resolution makes for a powerful and versatile work space.

My daily use for a monitor such as theSW321C 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.

Like its predecessor, the SW320, working in Adobe Lightroom on the BenQ SW321C is a joy and a pleasure. It has always bothered me that the side panels in Lightroom are fixed and not tear away (yes, they can be hidden, but I prefer tear off). The SW321C has so much screen real estate and resolution to play with that the fixed panels are now an absolute non issue for me. I used to have to hide the panels to gain resolution for the actual image on the horizontal axis for a standard 35mm ratio image. On the SW321C however, the extra screen real estate provides sufficient resolution to negate this need and the side panels can now be left open all the time. This might seem like a very small benefit, but in real world use it’s actually extremely beneficial to my workflow. Again, your mileage may vary.

The colour rendition of the SW321C 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 SW321C to offer truly outstanding performance. In fact, it offers performance that far exceeds its modest price tag.

Conclusion – The BenQ SW321C is a superbly constructed high quality UHD wide gamut monitor that offers users exceptional resolution, colour accuracy and uniformity at a price point that puts competitors to shame. The monitor is simple and easy to assemble and operated without issue out of the box with both my laptop and main desktop computers. Overall 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 very extreme corners (it is actually so close to the Eizo as to be nothing more than quibble). This is outstanding performance that photographers and other graphic artists will really appreciate in daily use.

The SW321C is also packed with features from the previous SW320 including GamutDuo and an Advanced Black and White mode that photographers are sure to find beneficial in their workflows.

When I reviewed the Eizo-CG318 Display I niggled that the HDMI ports really should have been version 2.0 and not 1.4 on a display at this price point. I was extremely pleased to see that the BenQ SW321C includes the very latest HDMI (again at a price point well below the Eizo).  

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.

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 SW321C 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 as well as upscaled 1080p video content.

The BenQ SW321C monitor offers the big and accurate colour space I need in my photography and the power of the hardware LUT means there is no banding or posterisation in any of the test images I tried when reviewing the screen. Like my previous tests on the SW320, I tested the SW321C 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 SW321C performed without issue on all counts.

I feel it is extremely important that calibration software is intuitive and easy to use. In fact, the simpler the better in most cases as it means there is less chance of users making a mistake during the calibration process. To BenQ’s credit, the supplied Palette Master software is easy and intuitive as well as ensuring accurate calibration of the display. If you purchase an SW321C be sure to use the Palette Master Software to ensure you are accessing the Hardware LUT for the best possible results.

Overall the BenQ SW321C 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 puts the competition to shame.  That is quite a combination that I feel will again see BenQ continue to shake up the marketplace as photographers rush to embrace a display that offers performance and a feature set previously found only in much more expensive displays for those with much deeper pockets.

Full Disclosure – In the spirit of full disclosure I would like to be clear that BenQ provided me with the SW321C test unit at no cost (at least I have received no invoice to date). 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 SW321C. 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.

Canon EOS 1DX MKIII Initial Auto Focus Impressions

Today Canon announced the hotly anticipated EOS 1DX MK3 and I have spent some time this morning doing some preliminary testing of the all new auto-focus system. I wont bother to regurgitate the already released specifications of the new camera as these can easily be found across the web on just about every photography related news website already. Instead, I am going to focus on my initial impressions now that I have had a chance to play with and test the camera.

If you are familiar with the Canon EOS 1DX MKII then the 1DX MKIII is going to feel like an old friend. In the hand it feels just about identical to its predecessor, with a few small exceptions and improvements. Firstly, the weight reduction; although only approximately 100 grams on paper, the reduction is quite considerable and noticeable in the hand in actual real world use. It is not as light as a Sony A9, but if you add the vertical grip to the Sony and the extra batteries to make the Sony equivalent to the Canon in size and capability then the differences between them closes considerably. If you are in the market for one of these cameras I would not base your decision solely on any weight differences between the models. When paired with a 400mm f2.8L IS MKIII or 600mm f4L IS MKIII the entire package is easily hand holdable for extended periods and literally comes in pounds lighter than the Nikon equivalents. Secondly, the back-lit buttons are an absolute god send (not sure how we ever lived without these) and will be a real boon in low light situations.  Thirdly and the real kicker for me is the new back-focus button that allows me to move my focus point whilst continuing to focus instead of having to move my thumb off the auto focus button and onto the joystick and then back again. This is a game changer for me and will absolutely mean less moments with wildlife will be missed in the field.  The newly designed back-button focus button that enables you to slip your finger over it and move the focus points took less than a few minutes for me to get used to and I cant wait to employ this new tool in the field.

My preliminary (and I stress this is preliminary only at this stage) testing of the entirely new auto focus system in the 1DX MKIII is that it is incredible and on a par with the Sony A9 MKII when the mirror is locked up (I just spent a week in Canada with a clients A9MK2 and Sony 400mm f2.8 and have a good feeling for how this camera performs when shooting Snowy Owls). Focus points go right out to the edges on the EOS 1DX MKIII and the ability of the camera to lock on and track its subject at speed is extraordinarily impressive. With the mirror down in DSLR mode the focus is significantly improved over the 1DX MKII. The additional focus points are more than welcome and the ability of the camera to track in this mode is significantly improved over the 1DX MKII.  It remains to be seen, but I believe that in the field, when I am lying down on the ground (which I am doing most of the time with wildlife) photographing my subject that I am quite likely to use the 1DX MKIII camera in mirror-up mode to take advantage of the extra focus points out near the edges and the eye and face tracking capabilities that this mode facilities. Of course, when hand holding the camera I will use the optical viewfinder. In effect, what Canon have delivered with the EOS 1DXMK3 is a DSLR camera that offers all of the benefits of a mirrorless camera (except the weight saving of the optical prism) when the mirror is locked up. The only downside to locking up the mirror is that there is no EVF in the 1DX MK3 (something I am actually very pleased about – especially in the cold climates I shoot in) and thus you have to use the rear LCD screen when in this mode. Obviously, hand holding with the mirror locked up is not ideal as it forces the user to hold the camera out from their face to see the rear screen. But, when lying down and shooting this is absolutely a non-issue, allowing the user to gain all of the benefits of the extra focus points and tracking.

In addition to the improved auto focus Canon has also simplified the auto-focus case modes. Case 1, 2, 3 and 4 remain effectively identical to the Canon EOS 1DX MKII, but Case 5 is all new and employs ‘deep learning’ (Canons term for Artificial Intelligence)  to better track the subject. In layman’s terms, the camera in Case 5 effectively tries to learn from the subjects movements to automatically adjust sensitivity and tracking. I have to do further testing of this new case to see how it performs over a more significant period of time, but I am extremely impressed at the initial results. I will be leaving for the Ross Sea region of Antarctica in just a few days so will unfortunately not have more time to test this camera prior to my return.

2019 A Retrospective and 2020 Whats in Store?

As is tradition on my blog, every year I do a “What’s in Store” post for the new year as well as reflect back, and wrap up the year that was (its a great way for me to keep a record of my travels and photography and also helps me prepare for the coming year). 2019 was a frantic year and when I look back at all the destinations and all of the photography its actually hard to reconcile that it all happened in a single year. It was a year that included many superb photographic destinations and some really incredible experiences (Cuba and Mongolia were an incredible way to finish the year).

In equipment terms 2019 was relatively quiet for me with no major changes to my camera body line-up; although I did update several lenses including the 600mm f4L IS MKII to the MKIII version and the 400mm f2.8L IS MKII to the MKIII. I had not planned to update either lens, but the significant weight savings (and redistribution of that weight) offered in the new MKIII versions was too much for me to resist. This year I did supplement my two Canon EOS 1DX MKII’s with a mirrorless EOS R for my landscape photography. I really feel that the mirrorless offering from Canon is just fine for landscape and general work, but falls well short of my needs as a wildlife tool. Of course, we are now staring down the barrel of the new Canon EOS 1DX MKIII and I expect to take delivery of this new camera early in the new year.

My gear pick for the 2019 year (I always choose something I actually own) is the Canon 600mm F4L IS MKIII. The new MKIII offers very considerable weight savings over the MKII. Perhaps more importantly though is the way in which the weight has been redistributed with the bulk of the weight now at the rear of the lens. This makes the entire lens much easier to handhold for extended periods. 2019 will be very interesting in the equipment arena.  As above, I expect to take delivery of the new Canon EOS 1DX MK3 early in the new year. I think it is safe to say that I expect the majority of new lenses Canon releases in 2019 to be in RF mount only. We are also likely to see a new mirrorless camera from Canon – either a replacement for the EOS R, or a higher specification machine. I suspect we will get a high mega pixel mirrorless offering.

Last year I am gave the nod to Inherit the Dust by Nick Brandt for my book pick of the year. For 2019 I am giving the guernsey to Vincent Munier’s  Tibet. Vincent has continued to produce absolutely superb imagery that is subtle, yet powerful. His photographs are highly emotional and Tibet contains some beautiful work that will be enjoyed across countless viewings. I definitely recommend you check it out and consider adding it to your library. Over the course of this year I also published my own favourite twelve photographs here on my blog. Please be sure to check them out and let me know what you thought.

In competition terms, 2019 was a great year for me with the overall win as the Victorian Nature Photographer of the Year. This was the third year in a row I have taken out either the Documentary or Nature category. I was also a finalist in the 2019 Documentary and Landscape categories as well we being a finalist  in the AIPP Australian Professional Photography Awards – Nature Photographer of the Year.  As I have written before I have stopped entering competitions that judge only the digital image and instead have focused my efforts only on print competitions.

2019 was also another massive year for me both with destinations visited and the huge number of international miles travelled. The year kicked off in mid January with a winter scouting trip for Snowy Owls to Canada (Read the Trip Report).  This scouting trip proved extremely fruitful with fantastic photographic opportunities of these magnificent owls in a winter setting. As a result of this scouting trip I will be leading a sold out workshop to this part of Canada early 2019 (I am actually leaving for Canada December 28th).

At the completion of my Canada trip I had a few days at home before I made my way up to Finland for my winter wildlife workshop (Read the Trip Report). Winter in Finland is an absolutely wonderful time of year to visit and photograph in this region of Scandinavia. On this workshop we had really fantastic encounters with Golden Eagle, Otters, White-tailed Eagles, and more. One afternoon alone we spent several hours photographing wild Otters as they played and fished in the partially frozen lake. This was a shoot none of us are likely to quickly forget as it was extremely cold with temperatures hovering around -35ºC as we lay on the frozen lake.  We also took advantage of the snow covered landscape.

From Finland I travelled to Iceland to lead my annual expedition to photograph Arctic Fox on the north-west peninsula in Winter (Read the Trip Report).  This was the third time I have taken a small group with me into the nature reserve as this is an area very near and dear to my heart. During the expedition the participants made between ten and twenty thousand plus photographs per person which gives you a really good idea of just how many incredible opportunities and encounters with Arctic Foxes we experienced during our time in the Nature reserve. Many of our encounters lasted several hours and on multiple occasions we had the luxury of choosing our backgrounds and angle of view for our photographs.

From Iceland I travelled north to Svalbard for both a small group snow mobile expedition to photograph Polar Bears and other wildlife on the sea ice in Winter (Read the Trip Report) and to subsequently lead my annual winter workshop in search of Polar Bears, Arctic Fox, Reindeer and dramatic Arctic landscapes (Read the Trip Report). For the Snow Mobile expedition we spent around a week exploring the archipelago of Svalbard in winter via snow mobile in temperatures as low as -30º Celsius in search of Polar Bears. As well as our encounters with Polar Bears we also photographed Arctic Fox and Reindeer.

From Svalbard I travelled much closer to home and lead two back to back workshops to the Great Ocean Road in Victoria and onto Tasmania (Read the Trip Reports). Both of these workshops were structured to provide outstanding and varied opportunities for landscape photography as well as the opportunity to see and experience the wild coastal region of the Great Ocean Road and World Heritage Wilderness areas of Tasmania. Both of these locations offer world class landscape opportunities, yet both remain relatively unknown on the world stage (at least for now). We photographed the fantastically varied landscape of these two locations and also enjoyed the fantastic fresh food and produce both of these locations are well known for. To those of you who have enquired about future Tasmania workshops – the short answer is ‘yes’, but not in the next couple of years.

After Australia I returned to Svalbard for my yearly expedition north of Longyearbyen to photograph Polar Bears living and hunting on the sea ice (Read the Trip Report). With our small group of just twelve photographers and our ice hardened expedition class ship we were perfectly prepared for ten days of Arctic photography under the midnight sun and it turned out to be an absolute gem of an expedition. July and August are just a fantastic time of the year to visit Svalbard. With twenty four hours of daylight (the sun never sets this time of year) the opportunities for photography are literally non-stop and we took advantage on many occasions to photograph late into the evening and early hours of the morning. This was the first time I witnessed an actual Polar Bear kill and it was incredibly exciting. The stalk and kill happened right in front of our ship as we were parked alongside a large ice-flow. It was a magical moment rarely witnessed and even less rarely photographed.

After a short break I travelled to the Faroe Islands (Read the Trip Report) where I led my first landscape workshop to this wonderful series of remote islands. The Faroe Islands offer some of the most rugged and beautiful sea cliffs I have been fortunate to experience and photograph. During this workshop we explored many of the islands and hiked many kilometres as we explored the region. We also took the opportunity on several occasions to photograph Puffins along the cliff edges. 

From the Faroe Islands I returned to Australia to re-equip before I returned to Iceland where I led two back-to-back expeditions to the East Coast of Greenland with Daniel Bergmann (Read the Trip Reports). For these two expeditions we flew by private charter flight from Reykjavik in Iceland to Constable Point on the East Coast of Greenland where we boarded our sailing ship, the Donna Wood. For both our expeditions we chose to sail north to the rugged and scenic Bjørneøer Islands (Bear Islands) where we made landings at both sunset and sunrise for contemplative landscape photography. Along the way we photographed many of the gigantic icebergs that drift as giant sentinels silently through the fjord system. For our landings in this area we were blessed with a magnificent iceberg with a full arch that was grounded against a stunning mountainous backdrop and we spent many hours in this location with the late afternoon and early evening light. The landscape topography in these islands is a landscape photographers paradise with beautiful boulders and stunning back drops in every direction. The East coast of Greenland remains, in my experience, one of the most incredible locations on earth for landscape photography. I will be returning to the East Coast of Greenland in both Winter and Summer 2020 and 2021. Look for  more details on my website at www.jholko.com

From Greenland I travelled to Finland for my October 2019 Wolverines and Wolves of Finland workshop. This workshop was dedicated to the photography of Wolves, Wolverines and Bears. I arrived a week early to pre-scout many of the locations I wanted us to try to photograph in order to ascertain which hides (and in what locations) were having the most activity and at what time of the day. By pre scouting I ensured we had the best possible opportunities with the most action for our time in this beautiful part of Finland. This was well worth the effort and time as everyone who participated in this trip came away with a spectacular portfolio of photographs. In particular, we had absolutely outstanding opportunities with a wild wolf pack and I will be sharing some of these photographs over the coming months both here on my blog and in the Finland portfolio on my website.

After Finland I travelled to Camaguey in Cuba to open my new exhibition ‘Antipodas’ with friend Paul Murray.  Thanks to Paul’s and our curator Juan Carlos’s extensive preparations the opening was a smash success and the the exhibition has now moved into its next phase and location in Santiago de Cuba. From Santiago de Cuba the exhibition will move to Havana before it concludes late February 2020. This was my first visit to Cuba and I found it a fascinating melting pot of cultures and an absolute street photographers paradise.

I then wrapped up the year with a personal trip to Mongolia to photograph the Pallas Cat (Read the Scouting Report). This was most likely the most difficult shooting of my career with extreme cold and many hours and days spent searching for this elusive wild cat. During the two plus weeks I spent searching the vast lunar-like landscape of Mongolia in winter I had less than half a dozen photographic opportunities with the Pallas Cat. Nevertheless, I was able to capture some photographs that I am extremely happy with and I will be sharing them online here over the coming months.

All up I led a total of twelve separate international workshops and expeditions in 2019  spread across the globe (not including personal work such as my trip to Cuba and Mongolia as well as one-on-one Print workshops). A quick count tallies up well over sixty plane segments and over sixty thousand exposures (not all keepers unfortunately!) It was a fantastic (although frenetic) year and I just want to thank all of you who I was fortunate to meet, travel and photograph with throughout the year. It was real privilege to share in such remarkable destinations with so many fantastic passionate photographers – thank you.

2020 is ready to get underway and I am really excited about whats in store. In late December I will be returning to Canada to lead my sold out workshop to photograph Snowy Owls in winter. This workshop has long been sold out, but there are still a couple of spaces left for 2021 if you are keen to join me to photograph this beautifully majestic owl in a winter setting.

From Canada I return to Australia for just a few days before I leave for the South Island of New Zealand where we will depart on my thirty day sold out Antarctica Ross Sea Expedition. During this expedition we will also be visiting some of the sub-Antarctic islands including Snares Island (home to the Snares penguin) and MacQuarrie Island. This will be my first visit to the Ross Sea region of Antarctica and I am really excited about what opportunities we will have during this expedition. In particular, it is my hope that we may encounter and have the opportunity to photograph Emperor  Penguins on icebergs!

After the Ross Sea I will have a few days at home before I head north for Iceland and my annual Arctic Fox expedition to the Hornstradir Nature reserve. For this expedition we will be staying in a small remote cabin that is rustic, but functional and clean and we will have up to 10 hours of good light during the day with which to photograph the Arctic foxes. With luck, we may also see and photograph the spectacular Northern lights. The 2020 expedition has long been sold out, but there are still a few places on the 2021 expedition – just drop me a note to register your interest.

From Iceland I will travel directly to the east coast of Greenland to lead two brand new SOLD OUT expeditions via snow mobile for both Polar Bear and Musk Oxen in a stunning winter setting. I have been utilising snow mobiles in Winter in the Arctic for quite a few years now and have found the opportunities afforded by exploring via snow mobile to be truly unique and very special. This year I am moving my operations for Snow mobile from Svalbard to Greenland specifically to take advantage of the opportunity to photograph Musk Ox in winter.  Due to the continued expressions of interest I will likely have a similar offering for 2021 – details to come soon.

At the conclusion of the snow mobile expeditions I will lead my SOLD OUT annual winter ship expedition in Svalbard in search of Polar Bears, Arctic Fox, Reindeer and Arctic landscapes. The main focus of this expedition will be Arctic winter light, landscape and wildlife. In April the light conditions in Svalbard are magical. The 2020 expedition is long sold out and places are already limited for the 2021 expedition. If you would like more information or would like to reserve one of the remaining places for 2021 please drop me an email at any time.

After I finish the winter season in the Arctic I will have a few weeks break back in Australia before I head back north for my midnight sun Summer Svalbard expedition. We will depart from the small town of Longyearbyen and sail up to the edge of the permanent pack ice where we will spend our time searching for and photographing the king of the Arctic. With 24 hour daylight under the midnight sun we will have hours and hours of light for photography.  Whilst Polar Bears and other wildlife are the main attraction on an expedition such as this it needs to be said that the landscape opportunities in Svalbard are nothing short of breathtaking. Soaring bird cliffs, plunging glaciers and dramatic mountainous scenery means there is quite literally something for every photographer. If you have never been to Svalbard you should absolutely put it on your bucket list. There are still a few places available if you would like to join us.

From Svalbard I will return to Australia for a brief respite before I head to Russia for my first expedition to Wrangle Island. I am really excited about the opportunity to travel and photograph in Wrangle Island. Reports from expeditions earlier this year included sightings of up to fifty Polar Bears on several expeditions.  I will be offering Wrangle Island again in 2021 from August 16th until August 30th 2021 and details will be on my website very soon. Drop me an email for further details or to register your interest.

After I complete Wrangle Island I will head back to Australia and onto Greenland where I will lead a ship based expedition to Scoresby Sund on the East coast of Greenland.  This expedition is a ‘fly-in, sail out’ trip that will depart from Reykjavik via charter plane and land at Constable Point in Greenland. Flying to Greenland saves us two days sailing across open ocean and means we have more time for exploration and photography. We will then sail back to Iceland at the conclusion of our expedition. This 2020 expedition has long been sold out, but there are still a few places available on the 2021 expedition. Be sure to check out the Adobe Spark presentation HERE.  Just drop me an email to register your interest. You can check out a portfolio of photographs from Greenland on my website at www.jholko.com

After Greenland I will return to northern Finland to lead my new workshop for Wolverine and Wolves in a fiery Autumn setting. I first scouted this trip in Autumn two years ago and found it to be an absolutely superb time of the year for both Wildlife and Landscape photography in Northern Finland. At this time of year the Wolverines and Wolves are active and the bears have not yet begun to hibernate. Additionally the Autumn colour is in full swing which makes for outstanding backgrounds. This workshop is for a small group of just five photographers – only two places remaining before it will be sold out.

 In November I will again return to Union Glacier, deep in Antarctica to lead a sold out expedition to photograph Emperor Penguins. This will be my fifth expedition to Gould Bay and it remains one of the most amazing and incredible experiences I have had anywhere on earth.  I was last in Gould Bay back in 2018 (Read the Trip Report) and next years expedition will be my fifth sojourn to Union Glacier and the remote sea ice at Gould Bay. This is a region of Antarctica that is extremely remote and that is home to one of the largest Emperor Penguin colonies in Antarctica.  It is an absolutely incredible place to visit and photograph these remarkable birds. Due to rising costs this may well be my last expedition to the sea ice of Gould Bay.

And finally to round out the 2020 year I will return to Mongolia in December to lead a small group of just five photographers on an exploratory expedition in search of the enigmatic Snow Leopard.

For those of you that have managed to make it this and would like a hint of what else is further down the track: I am working on a new expedition to South Georgia in October of 2021. At this time of year there will be heaps of snow to photograph the King Penguins, the Elephant Seals will be fighting and importantly the pesky and ferocious fur seals will not yet have arrived en mass. I am not quite ready to start taking bookings as yet, but you can pre-register (no obligation) now if you want to secure a place.

Lastly and certainly not least, I want to wish all of you a very safe and happy New Year and may 2020 be one of amazing light and experiences for all of you. See you in the New Year!

BenQ W5700 / HT5550 4K UHD DLP Projector Review

Introduction: More than a year ago now I wrote a fairly extensive two-part review of the BenQ W11000H 4K Projector and gave it a very enthusiastic thumbs up. It was a breakthrough product in the projection arena and offered a level of performance and value not seen previously at this price point. If you have not read the review I recommend you take a moment to at least read Part One to get an understanding of not only my background in the arena of projection, but also a brief history of home cinema projection and its uses in photographic applications.

In the fullness of time, the W11000H has subsequently been superseded by the incrementally upgraded W12000H which is currently now being phased out (technology moves at a rapid pace in this arena these days). The reason BenQ is retiring the W12000H is there is a new kid on the block that has yet again substantially broken through the price and performance barrier. I make no bones when I say the level of performance in the new BenQ W5700 was the realm of science fiction just a few years ago; irrespective of price. The fact that BenQ can now produce a product that offers the highest level of performance at this price point whilst providing consumers with this much value is nothing short of remarkable. The BenQ W5700 is sold in North America as the HT5550.

There was quite a palpable buzz in the marketplace when BenQ announced the W5700 earlier this year (2019) and for some time demand for the product outstripped supply. I have been eager to get my hands on this new projector for many months and was delighted when a review sample arrived on my doorstep a month or so ago.

 

Color Reproduction: If you have read any of my BenQ LCD photographic display reviews (or my review of the now retired W11000H projector) you will already know that BenQ are a company that takes colour reproduction extremely seriously. As a photographer and as an ISF (imaging Science Foundation) certified video engineer, accurate colour reproduction is a subject very near and dear to my heart. Most manufacturers do not go to anywhere near the effort and trouble that BenQ do to ensure colour accuracy in their display products.

The accurate reproduction of colour in both photographic displays and projectors (which I use to display my images during print workshops) is hyper critical to the production of high quality photographs. If you are at all serious about your photography (and movie and TV watching) you absolutely owe it to yourself to ensure that your display device is capable of producing accurate colour and that it has been properly calibrated. In fact, if you have not calibrated your display you are absolutely robbing yourself of the very significant benefits of accurate colour reproduction.

BenQ have taken this aspect of image reproduction to the extreme with its latest W5700 projector. This projector is not only capable of reproducing full Rec. 709 (HD) and DCI (4K UHD) colour gamuts but can also do it accurately and all at a retail price of just $3,999. This is quite simply a ground breaking offering in a product anywhere near this price point.

BenQ actually take their colour reproduction seriously enough to individually calibrate each of the W5700 projectors to exacting tolerances before it leaves their facility. Each unit is hand tweaked by an in-house technician to have a Delta E of less than 3. Delta E is the measurement used to gauge colour errors in a display. Any error of 3 or less is considered imperceptible to human vision. 

Resolution: The W5700 has a native resolution of 3840 x 2160 which is UHD or Ultra High Definition. In reality this falls just short of the DCI 4K standard of 4096 x 2160 which is more commonly associated with cinema. Virtually all consumer displays that are marketed as 4K are 3840 x 2160 UHD with only a small handful of them conforming to the DCI 4K standard. It should be noted that the W5700 uses the same standard as the UHD alliance for 4K. If you are a videographer you may well prefer the UHD standard as many of the digital video cameras on the market shoot video in this format.

Internally the W5700 achieves its 3840 x 2160 resolution with a Texas instruments 0.47” Digital Micro Mirror Device (DMD). By flashing its two million + micrometer sized mirrors four times in very fast succession the projector is able to display 8.3 million pixels. This visual trickery enables the W5700 to reach its UHD resolution. If you want a truly native 4K panel inside your projector then your wallet needs to be prepared to drop a great many thousands of dollars more for your projector.

About: The W5700 looks both svelte and bespoke with its beautiful curves and lines that are both modern and designer in nature. As far as projectors go this is about as beautiful as one could wish for. Finished in a dark matt charcoal black the W5700 has a centrally mounted lens and forward facing air vents. The chassis itself is wider than longer which should make installation easier for those in small rooms. Certainly and in my case, I greatly appreciated the proportions during installation in my small room.

It is clear from the first glance that there has been a lot thought given to the overall design of the W5700; with well considered features such as a small hood that covers the top of the lens to prevent dust build up. Venting for heat dissipation has also been carefully considered and implemented in the W5700.

In regards to the optics, the W5700 has a 4K UHD optimised all-glass lens array that comprises of 11 different elements. The super-high resolution 11-element lens array is structured into six groups with metal barrel and cell framework, far outshining 1080p projector technology with greater light penetration for long-lasting 4K intensity with accurate colour performance, clarity, and sharpness across the entire screen. An all glass lens of this quality and at this price point is something rarely seen in projectors. Keeping in mind that my previous W11000H costs more than twice as much as the W5700, side by side I can see no difference in on screen sharpness and acutance. Make no mistake; the lens in the W5700 is a superb optical light path and you can expect razor sharp images with this projector.

The W5700 is a DLP projector and uses a lamp with a specified life of 4,000 hours in Normal mode (as reviewed), 10,000 hours in Eco mode and a whopping 15,000 hours in smart Eco mode. BenQ have used an Osram lamp that is capable of 2000 ANSI lumens that provides a quoted contrast ratio of 30,000:1. Lamp life is one area of projector technology that has significantly improved in recent years as evidenced in the quoted lamp life hours. Even heavy users should get many years of use before needing to replace the lamp.

I was more than pleasantly surprised to find that the W5700 includes a dynamic iris which is an unexpected and very welcome addition at this price point. The dynamic iris is used in conjunction with BenQ’s HDR Pro technology to improve the projectors tone mapping capabilities. In plain english, it enables the the projector to produce a deeper black on screen. As expected the W5700 has full HDR10 and HLG support. Personally, I find myself susceptible to visual detection of the dynamic iris shifts on screen and found I prefer to leave this setting off most of the time. Your mileage may vary, and it is worth taking some time experiment.

The W5700 includes two HDMI inputs which are both HDMI 2.0b/HDCP 2.2 compliant. Each input supports a full 18 GB bandwidth signal. Also included on the back of the projector is a single USB A input, a single USB B input, a LAN connection, RS232 connection and a 12-volt trigger. I am told that unlike the W11000H that I have now replaced, the W5700 has user upgradeable firmware.

A printed manual is included inside the box (thank you BenQ), a power cord for the projector, remote control and an envelope with the individual calibration report for your W5700. The remote control is a good improvement over the W11000H with large back-lit buttons that enables easy navigation in a room with heavily controlled lighting. I never understood why some other projector manufacturers do not provide a back lit remote knowing full well it needs to be operated in a dark room. 

Setup: The W5700 provides a lot of flexibility with placement both due to its chassis design and its ability to project a 100” image at just three metres distance. Zoom and focus of the lens are manual only and are controlled via an inner and outer ring control on the lens barrel. Since zoom and focus are more or less set once and forget having to do these manually is not a problem.

The W5700 has extensive vertical and horizontal lens shift capability which are both controlled via chassis mounted dials. The lens shift provides a lot of flexibility for placement for those who need to mount the projector off-centre. Digital keystoning is included, but is unlikely to be required given the extensive lens shift the W5700 includes. I never recommend using keystone to correct a projected image in any case as it is always detrimental to the overall image resolution. If you need to use keystone in your system to correct geometry errors you should seriously consider alternate placement for your projector.

The W5700 includes the full suite of calibration controls via its on screen menu. A 2-point gray scale is included, along with a user selectable gamma control and six point colour management system. Everything is provided in a logical easy to ready layout that any competent calibrator or knowledgeable user can navigate.

Calibration: In order to make critical observations of a displays performance it has to be calibrated and viewed in an ideal viewing environment. In my case, I installed the W5700 in my dedicated cinema room that I use to show video and display images during my print workshops. I used both an X-Rite i1 Pro 2 Spectrophotometer and X-rIte  i1 Display Pro Colorimeter to make my measurements. Both meters were tripod mounted and measurements were taken from my 92” Screen Research 4K Projector screen. I put the projector through a few days of heavy use to let the lamp settle into hits sweet spot before I began a calibration.

The W5700 includes seven different picture modes including Cinema Rec 709, D Cinema, User, Vivid TV, Bright, Silence, and HDR10. HDR10 is only available when the projector receives a HDR signal. BenQ recommend (and I agree with them after performing my own calibration and testing) Cinema Rec 709 for accurate HD colour reproduction and D Cinema for accurate 4K DCI colour reproduction. The W5700 will automatically switch to HDR10 picture mode when fed a HDR signal. 

Once calibrated in Cinema Rec 709 the W5700 exhibits extremely accurate grayscale tracking and I want to note that in my experience very few projectors I have calibrated or tested can match the grayscale tracking of the W5700. At this price point this is exemplary performance.

The HDR10 picture mode exhibits grayscale tracking that comes very close to the performance measured in Cinema Rec 709 picture mode. In HDR10 mode the W5700 does come up just short of the full DCI colour gamut, but still offers excellent performance. It is possible to turn off the HDR10 mode which will force the projector to convert the HDR signal to SDR. Doing so will enable you to get the full colour gamut accuracy of the Cinema Rec 709 mode and some users may prefer this. The W5700 can reproduce the full DCI colour gamut in D Cinema mode. There is no doubt that overall the W5700 offers reference level performance.

All of my testing was done an acoustically transparent Screen Research Clear Pix II 4K micro woven screen that measures 92″ diagonally. The screen is housed in a custom shadow box covered in black felt in a fully light controlled room. Of course the final colour accuracy in your own home is heavily dependant on your screen, screen surface type, viewing environment and ambient light. However, given the included suite of colour management in the W5700 it should be possible to get a great result in many different situations.

Performance: The W5700 offers nothing short of dazzling performance at this price point. Images are razor blade sharp with deep, rich blacks and a great sense of depth and dimensionality. Black levels are no doubt helped along by the W5700’s dynamic iris. Flesh tones are natural and colour reproduction is outstanding with rich, vibrant and saturated colours.  You can expect colour reproduction from the W5700 that meets or exceeds that of projectors that cost many thousands of dollars more. HDR material absolutely pops with superb depth and contrast that I have not experienced in a projector anywhere near this price point. Comparatively, it looks very similar to my previous W11000H which sold for more than twice as much. In a blind test I would be hard pressed to know which was which.

The level of image detail with 4K UHD transfers is simply jaw dropping and really has to be experienced first hand. As a photographer I know and understand the importance of optical quality and it is very clear that BenQ has included a lens that offers little in the way of compromise in the W5700. The overall image is exceptionally film-like with no hint of digital artifacting.

On area of improvement that is extremely welcome is the W5700’s ability to quickly detect and lock onto the HDMI signal. My previous W11000H was quite slow to lock signal – a small niggle that I am pleased to see has been rectified.

Conclusion: In summing up the W5700 one has to keep in mind that this is a projector that retails for less than $4000. Quite simply the performance offered at this price point, as noted in my introduction, is ground breaking. It was unequivocally the stuff of science fiction just a few years ago and  I believe, one would have to spend many, thousands of dollars more to find incremental improvement; and even then any improvement may be imperceptible to all but the most critical eye. In terms of colour accuracy, the W5700 offers exemplary performance that defines the reference that many other manufacturers would do well to follow.

As I stated in my review of the W11000H; Smart consumers will recognise that products such as the W5700 are absolute bargains; offering performance and value 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 (or even close to it.

When considering if the W5700 is the right projector for your needs you should defiantly take into consideration your screen size and viewing environment and how they will impact overall performance in your room.

Associated Review Equipment

  • Screen Research 92” Clear Pix II 4K Ultra High Definition Acoustically transparent THX Certified Projection Screen – mounted in a custom black felt shadow box
  • Acurus Muse ATMOS Home Cinema Processor configured for 5.4.2 with Front Height and Rear Height
  • Cary Cinema 5 Power Amplifiers (2 amplifiers for total of 10 channels of amplification)
  • M&K S300 MKII THX Ultra II Left, Centre and Right speakers
  • M&K S300 MKII THX Ultra II Tripole Surround Speakers
  • M&K X12 MKII THX Ultra II Dual 12” Powered Subwoofers (two subwoofers)
  • Triad In-Ceiling Bronze ATMOS Speakers Front Height (two speakers)
  • Triad In-Ceiling Bronze ATMOS Speakers Rear Height (two speakers)
  • AudioQuest King Cobra Analog Interconnect Cables
  • Fibre HDMI Cables

How Many Mega Pixels in the Canon EOS 1DX MKIII

Canon Rumours recently posted a CR2 (that means it came from highly credible source) rumour that the Canon EOS 1DX MKIII will come with a 24 mega pixel sensor. Read the full rumour HERE.  As I noted in my post about the 1DX MKIII announcement, I feel it highly plausible and likely that 24 mega pixels is the final number we will see in the EOS 1DX MKIII. Of course, its possible that the final number may be higher, but I quite honestly doubt it. 24 Mega Pixels is more than sufficient for virtually any application these days (and working Professionals know it). In my own workflow I am regularly making stunning prints as large as 40″ x 60″ with the 20 mega pixel files from the Canon EOS 1DX MKII.