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Tips & Tricks

Can You Match Your Camera LCD and Computer Display Brightness? – Q&A

By Matthew Saville on October 21st 2013

Question

On certain cameras, (in this case the Nikon D700) …images seem to look nice and bright on the back of the camera, but then when they are on a computer monitor they look much darker and under-exposed. What’s up? This hasn’t been noticeable on previous cameras…

can-your-camera-lcd-match-your-computer-monitor-1 can-your-camera-lcd-match-your-computer-monitor-2

Answer

Yes, the Nikon D700 is just the same as any other camera- the LCD brightness can fool you.  If you notice this on one camera more than another, this is simply because each camera’s LCD brightness is a little different even at their default settings, plus each has it’s own variety of options in the camera menu.  More and more DSLRs these days even have automatic brightness settings, such as the Canon 5D Mk3 and the Nikon D800.   The D700 doesn’t have an auto-brightness LCD, however to be honest I dislike the option anyways.

Having said that, there’s not much you can do to “fix” the discrepancy from camera to camera, let alone from camera to computer.  Yes, I usually set my camera LCD brightness to be +1 or +2 in extremely bright sunlight, and -1 or -2 in extremely dark conditions.  However other than that, I simply leave my LCD brightness at zero, and I rely FAR more heavily on my histogram and my “blinking highlight warning” than the LCD itself.

Never trust the LCD for brightness / exposure, especially if you find yourself shooting in dark conditions often like I do. (Wedding receptions, milky way in the middle of nowhere, etc….) The bottom line is that your LCD lies to you. There is absolutely no correlation between LCD brightness and a proper exposure, within reason of course. What I mean is, I’ve seen images that look “good enough” on the camera but are actually 2-3 stops under-exposed when you check the histogram.

And that, right there, is the main answer to any issues with image brightness from your camera to your computer-  check your histogram! Or, my preference, check your histogram every now and then, and more frequently use your “blinking highlight warning” feature…

Now, don’t confuse my issues with LCD brightness and the camera’s histogram.  The histogram on your camera LCD only lies a teeny-tiny bit, for RAW images, not nearly as much as the actual LCD brightness in general.

The reason the histogram on a camera “lies” is simply because it is based on a JPG preview of the actual RAW file.  This really isn’t a problem for most general shooting conditions, and is most likely NOT the source of any large discrepancies between your camera and you computer.

However if you’re still concerned about your camera histogram (or the highlight warning) and you want to reduce any “lies” from it, I’ll give you one small tip-  use a neutral picture style in your camera, and in extremely contrasty situations maybe turn your contrast down a few clicks even.  Also, nail your white balance.  This will ensure that your camera histogram and highlight warning are very, very accurate to the original RAW image data.

So, we’ve done all we can for understanding our camera LCD, and not getting fooled by it.  Now, regarding your computer display. Yes, setting the monitor brightness and getting calibrated is great.  However unfortunately, calibrating your monitor will usually do very little other than correct the colors. Even a calibrated monitor can still “throw you off” if the brightness settings are wrong, actually.  Especially, as with shooting conditions, if you do your computer editing in extremely bright or extremely dark conditions.  (Both of which are un-advisable, of course)

However I don’t think that a computer display being un-calibrated is the problem in most cases, because 99% of the time people have their computer screen too bright, not too dark, for accurate tonal adjustments. So in this case your images would all appear too bright compared to your camera, not the other way around.

So, more importantly than the actual calibration itself is following the instructions for adjusting your display brightness and contrast. Your calibration process will walk you through this at some point.

Also, you really really really ought to get an IPS display with a 178 degree VERTICAL (not just horizontal) viewing angle. This will make a world of difference when gauging your shadow detail brightness on your computer. You know how on a laptop usually, you bob your head up and down and the brightness of shadows changes dramatically? Yeah, that’s what you want to avoid like the plague.

[Rewind: A Practical Guide to IPS Monitors]

Anyways, I think that’s the main problem here, the camera LCD brightness and understanding how to gauge exposure on your camera, NOT the computer display or the difference between the two. So, start using your histogram and highlight warnings more!

Of course if you have an un-calibrated monitor it is good to get it calibrated at least once, especially if it’s a PC display. If you don’t want to invest in a Spyder etc. device, you can usually rent them from a local shop for $5. Unless your display is on at full brightness all day every day, you really only need to calibrate every few months or so. And honestly your monitor probably shouldn’t be at maximum brightness for proper color correction, anyways. As I mentioned before, follow the instructions for monitor brightness and contrast for whatever calibration device you rent.

Last but not least, just know that your in-camera settings are never going to match what Adobe gives you. The bottom line is that Adobe’s default RAW processing is disgusting. It’s flat, dark, and un-exciting. However that is just the price we pay for getting such good editing latitude.  This is what advanced RAW processing and presets are for. It is unfortunate that our RAW images look bland compared to the vibrant beauty of the in-camera processing, but then again if our images were THAT perfect in-camera, we’d just shoot JPG anyways right? (Hey, some people actually do- more power to them!)

Recommendations

Dell Ultrasharp displays on B&H Photo are always a good buy if you are on a budget but are looking for the absolute best overall tonal representation.  Here at SLR Lounge we own probably a half-dozen of them.  The Dell U2212HM is our favorite for lower budgets, at around $200 it is one of the best displays that offers great viewing angles.  Yes, the more affordable ones are not going to get the same color perfection as a $2,000-$3,000 display, however honestly for most photographers “line of work”, that quality of a display is just not necessary.  Unless you like to photograph neon signs and 70’s workout styled photo shoots with all those “hot” colors.  ;-)  But I digress.  The main thing you want is the IPS categorization, and that 178 degree vertical viewing angle for optimal shadow brightness accuracy.

Also, of course, the SLR Lounge Lightroom Presets and Camera Raw Presets are very, very worthwhile for anyone who is struggling with RAW colors and quality.

Lastly, our favorite computer display calibration device is the Spyder Elite 4 or any similar Spyder device.  We have used them for years without fail!  The Spyder 3 series are also awesome.

Until next time, take care!

=Matt=

Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ben

    Blah blah blah that’s a long way of saying USE YOUR HISTOGRAM. Problem solved.

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  2. Janusz

    Matthew,

    Do you know or maybe you have used any Eizo low budget display worth recommendation? Btw. Your d700 looks like brand new ;)

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    • Apollo

      The low level Eizos costs quite a bit and still they lose to Dell U2713H and Asus alternative. (Not U2713HM). The expensive Eizos cost a lot but they are from other planet!

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  3. Joe

    In the $500 range for professional IPS, I recommend the Asus PA249QA or the older PA246QA that I have. They have a 99% and 98% Adobe RGB gamut range, respectively, and produce 1.07 billion colors vs the typical 16.7 million colors. Both also have a 12-bit lookup table (LUT) for better and longer-lasting color accuracy.

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  4. Joe

    I didn’t even know that the 5d3 had automated display brightness until I made it home from a wedding this weekend to find that all of my dance floor photos were about a stop and a half under-exposed but looked great in the dark venue. What a stupid feature! I turned it off yesterday but thought it was interesting to see it mentioned here too.

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