BenQ SW321C Review: The Best Monitor for Pro Photographers?

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If you're a professional photographer, you should care not only about how your images are made, but how they're processed and edited. Adjustments to white balance, color and contrast in software like Adobe Lightroom require an accurate computer display. The default displays of your average MacBook Pro are beautiful, but they have many issues, from glare to accuracy.

This BenQ SW321C review will look at the features and benefits of this professional photography monitor. We'll look at why an external display like the SW321C dedicated to pro photography offer superior performance that are worth the upgrade over consumer monitors.

BenQ SW321C Specifications

In this BenQ SW321C review, we'll look at a lot of details of this professional photography monitor that aren't just specs, but those can be important, too. Here are the specicifications for the SW321C:

Screen Size31.5 inch
Panel TypeIPS
Backlight TechnologyLED Backlight
Resolution (max)3840 x 2160
Brightness250 nits
Native Contrast1,000:1
Viewing Angle178º range horizontal, 178º range vertical
Response Times5 ms
Refresh Rate60 Hz
Color Gamut100% sRGB, 95% P3, 99% AdobeRGB
Color ModessRGB, Adobe RGB, B+W, Calibration (1-3), Custom, DCI-P3, DICOM, Display P3, HDR, M-Book, Paper Color Sync, Rec.709
Aspect Ratio16:9
Display Colors1.07 Billion Colors
PPI137
Display Screen CoatingAnti-Glare
Color Temperature5000K, 6500K, 9300K, Custom, User Defined
Gamma
1.6 – 2.6, sRGB

BenQ Packaging

Naturally, the packaging of a product is of lesser importance than the product itself. However, I feel it is worth pointing out that BenQ packages the SW321C in the maximum of recyclable material.

Almost the entire container and packaging of the monitor is cardboard, which may be easily recycled. While there are a few bits of high density foam that pad the monitor, 95% of the packaging is cardboard. I was personally excited to see this approach. Well done, BenQ.

Factory Calibration and Perfect out of the Box

The BenQ SW321C is calibrated at the factory and each monitor comes with its own performance spec sheet.

The factory calibration reports details:

  • Color gamut measurements
  • Uniformity measurements
  • Gamma
  • DICOM

One of the most interesting aspects for me in this is the uniformity measurements, as the screen uniformity is one of the aspects that is most apparently in day to day use. My BenQ321C unit shows uniformity of nearly 100% across the screen and where there are deviations, the variation of only 1%. This uniformity is exceptional compared to consumer displays, which I have personally found to show much more variation.

Uniformity variance on small displays is much less of a noticeable issue, but are easily seen on large displays with the larger required viewing angles that exacerbate any differences. This makes uniformity one of the most easily appreciated aspects of the BenQ SW321C for me personally.

Design of the BenQ SW321C

Overall, the design of the SW321C is unassuming and utilitarian, but there's an honest beauty in this approach that means it fits in with nearly any aesthetic. There are no chrome accents or polished, chamfered edges, no translucent plastic that might catch stray light. Even the BenQ logo is simply screen printed on the lower bezel.

The plastic used for the display's hardware is a simple: a subtly textured dark gray, which seems to fit in with any sort of style unobtrusively. Black would have been too severe. Somehow BenQ's choice of this cool gray is perfectly utilitarian and understated, which I love.

At first glance, the aesthetic seems simple, but this is only a superficial read. More to the point, the design choices are extremely intentional and have everything to do with the experience of a performance monitor.

On closer inspection, there's nothing glossy or reflective on the front of the display. There is nothing to take your attention away from the image. This is a small but important decision that indicates BenQ's focus on delivering the highest quality visual experience.

Even the use of wide bezels, at least half an inch at the narrowest, serves to create a visual blocker of the display's image. This separation against any background distractions that might serve to compete is a quiet feature that aids in focus. The bezel is a physical moat around the image itself. Add in the supplied monitor shade and you have even more of an immersive experience.

While this is a review for the SW321C, these design features carry over to the other models in BenQ's professional photography line. This includes 32″ BenQ SW320.

Ergonomics and Height Adjustment

While a monitor isn't something that we generally think of as possessing ergonomics, the BenQ SW312C offers extremely good flexibility in terms of this feature. What I mean here with the ergonomics is the adjustability of height for optimal viewing.

In this regard, the SW321 is excellent, allowing for a very wide range of heights with the default base stand. The display can be set to be as low as about 1″ off the desk to a height of 8″. This range easily accommodates a huge range of preferences.

For me personally, I like to have the top of the monitor roughly at or just slightly above eye level. This allows me to view the center of the screen in a natural, relaxed downward angle that reduces eye strain. The low setting of having the display sit about 2″ over my desk is perfect for this preference. This is more important for the fact that the dimensions of this 32″ monitor are already quite large and the height of the display relatively high.

The height of your desk, the height of your chair and how you sit in it all will inform the proper height of your monitor. BenQ's attention to ergonomics here are excellent and I love the adjustability of the SW321C in this regard.

Often, in consumer monitors, monitors are given a tilt option but not necessarily easy height adjustment. In particular, it's not often to have the ability to set a very low height to allow for my preferred setup without a VESA mount, which can be bulky and requires an additional purchase. I love that that SW321C has such a versatile base with height adjustment by default.

In addition, the stand for the SW321C accommodates both vertical and horizontal use by default. Again, pretty incredible flexibility.

In this BenQ SW321C review, I cannot understate how easy and flexible the adjustments for this display are. I've had to use a VESA mount to get the same level of height adjustment in the past. Those mounts always come with their own caveats where one adjustment to height also adjusts the distance to the mount's clamp. Here, BenQ offers supreme ergonomic adjustments out of the box without compromise.

User Interface and Controls

On the monitor itself, the input of the SW321C are controlled by 4 buttons to the left of the power button. Pressing any of the buttons will bring up a visual display with quick options. These include access color mode, brightness and then the full menu of settings. Only the power button features an LED. Per the design aesthetic, I'm glad to have this as the only possible distraction surrounding the image.

Most importantly, the physical controls and menu are an elegant solution that surfaces the most commonly used controls — color mode and brightness.

I've used other monitors that prioritize input or that bury common features in menus. BenQ's prioritization is a welcome and smart decision. More on the ability to quickly change brightness below.

Hotkey Puck G2 Controller

One of BenQ's innovations is the Hotkey Puck G2. This is a small input device with a jog dial with 5 dedicated keys that is included with the SW321C. This controller is used to change display settings from the basic to the complex, including brightness, color mode switching between sRGB, P3, B&W and AdobeRGB, and more.

By default, rotation of the dial controls monitor brightness and I love this quick access. We know that display brightness is crucial to not only eye comfort and fatigue, but also to making precise image decisions.

I love that with the Puck I can intuitively and easily change the brightness level of the monitor to give me the best possible image based on ambient lighting conditions. In the daytime, I can easily increase brightness when it's needed, and at night I can dial down the brightness to suit my needs and the ambient so easily.

While monitor brightness is a basic function, the fact that it's so easy to change instead of being buried in a menu or only accessible by a fiddly user interface makes this BenQ decision of the Hotkey Puck G2 so brilliant.

In addition to monitor functions, the Puck can be set to control volume or mute. However, this control appears to be for attached devices only, not as an global system control.

Included Monitor Shading Hood

Included with the SW321C is a shading hood. This is a professional monitor feature that acts in a similar to a lens hood, blocking stray light. This protection further reduces glare and is ideal if you need to use the monitor in uncontrolled situations. Think on-location for a digital tech in a very bright room, or other instances where lighting cannot be controlled.

In addition, the shading hood creates a more immersive experience by physically blocking possible distractions.

BenQ includes both vertical and horizontal shading hoods with the SW321C. This is a great item to include and speaks to the professional stature of this model. Everything you need for the best possible experience is included right in the box.

Personally, I haven't used the shading hoods. For one, my desktop setup is in a fairly controlled environment where there aren't light sources that create glare. In addition, I have peripherals set up around my monitor (including the beautiful BenQ Screenbar Plus). With my Nikon Z 50 on a boom just to the side of my display and a Samson Q2U microphone on a book to the right, my current setup both doesn't require the shade or accommodate it.

All that said, it's a great value that BenQ includes the options for horizontal and vertical shades by default. If your desktop setup is in a situation near windows or where lighting can be either unpredictable or uncontrollable, the shades are huge asset that make for the ideal viewing experience.

Connectivity

The BenQ SW321C offers very good connectivity options, including a built-in SD card reader, USB-C port with 60W power delivery, and two USB 3.1 ports.

Card Reader SD/SDHC/SDXC/MMC
HDMI (v2.0)2
DisplayPort (v1.4)1
USB-C (PowerDelivery 60W, DisplayPort, Data)1
USB Type B ( Upstream )1
USB 3.1 ( Downstream )2

Between the inclusion of USB-C, DisplayPort and HDMI connectivity, all the standard options are available.

For a lot of photographers, connecting the BenQ SW321C to your MacBook Pro may replace the need for an extra hub if your needs aren't too heavy.

Use as an Primary External Display

I'm using the SW321C connected to a Mac Pro. I'm a fan of systems like the Mac Pro, Mac Mini and now the Mac Station over a combination system such as the iMac for flexibility and modularity.

If you're a Mac user, I'd always advocate for using an external display for your desktop set. This is true even if you use a MacBook Pro as your main machine, which I know is very common among professional photographers. This setup can be ideal. You have portable solution for work on location and on the road, and then you can use an external display like the SW321C for the ultimate desktop viewing experience.

In addition, what you get with this setup is not only more real estate, but flexibility and ultimately better quality. With the M-line of Apple Silicon, we're seeing incredible performance with their MacBook line. There's very little reason not to get the best of both world's with a portable setup that can also have a world class display in the SW321C for critical work.

Overall Display Performance

The overall visual performance of the BenQ SW321 is, in a word, excellent. From the first minute of using the display, I admit that it was love at first sight. The display is a gorgeous 32″ inches at the diagonal, but the real estate is just one part of the experience.

Out of the box, the monitor is calibrated from the factory to precise standards for “out of the box accuracy.” This is a monitor that literally requires nothing to look great and gives you the confidence that you have exceptional accuracy from day one.

Colors pop off the screen vividly. The 4K resolution renders beautiful crisp details. The 10-bit color depth showcases gradations with smoothness and subtlety.

The specs of the SW321C are impressive, as you would expect a monitor of this calibre and cost should be. 100% sRGB display, 99% AdobeRGB display and 95% P3.

A Superior Matte, Anti-Glare Screen

One of the main reasons to go with a professional photography display like the BenQ SW321C is for the superior anti-glare treatment of the screen. Glossy screens look amazing under the right circumstances and are convenient for casual viewing and non-critical work.

However, for demanding viewing, glare can be an issue that can prevent the accurate viewing of detail, obscure parts of the image or at the very least cause distraction to the task at hand.

To this end, all professional displays are universally anti-glare and this is precisely the approach that BenQ has taken with all of their displays. The SW321C's matte screen showcases beautiful color and contrast.

While glossy screens are truly beautiful to consume content with as a viewer, I'd argue that the inky blacks of glossy displays can hide perceived shadow detail and distort the apparent visual range. These considerations are not a factor for the consumption of media in a non-critical context; a glossy screen has its place to be sure.. However, as content creators and artist, an anti-glare screen is essential for detail work, whether it is photography retouching, image editing or processing RAW files.

Edge to Edge Display Evenness

One remarkable feature of the SW321C is that the monitor features incredibly even brightness and uniformity across the 32″ display. This is no small feat. Display uniformity among small displays isn't often an issue because the distance from the center to the corner is relatively small, and thus the viewing angle is proportionally small.

With a large display like the BenQ 32″ SW321C, the viewing angles from the center to the corners is much greater. This larger difference means greater viewing angles need to be accommodated along with uniformity for color, contrast and brightness.

Here, the BenQ shines, implementing what they call “BenQ Uniformity Technology” to offer an even experience from the center to the edge. I've used ultra-wide monitors in the past that have suffered from visible unevenness from the center to the edge, but I am happy to say that the SW321C has zero trace of these issues. From the aforementioned calibration report, the difference in unformity is less than 1% on any given part of the screen, with most parts being 100% identical.

Compare this to an extreme case of IPS glow in a consumer monitor like my previous monitor, the LG 34UM95 34″, which I returned.

Pictured here is an extreme case of IPS glow shown in an LG 34UM95. You can see the extreme variation in brightness and color shifts that are notorious to IPS glow in a consumer display. The BenQ SW321C has ZERO traces of these issues by comparison.

Aside from IPS glow, lesser displays would show low contrast, increased apparent brightness or weird color shifts toward the edges of the screen, due to poor viewing angle consistency.

Even with a huge 32″ screen, the SW321C is incredibly even and BenQ's tuning of their displays is readily apparent. While most non-expert eyes aren't trained for color accuracy, even unevenness of a display is readily apparent to untrained eyes. The uniformity of the BenQ is a standout feature and one that any user will see day to day.

4K Resolution Monitors for Photography

Previously, I've used an LG 34″ Ultrawide with 3440 x 1440 resolution and a 21:9 aspect ratio. The 3340 x 1440 resolution is considered 2K. The SW321C's 4K resolution is 3840 x 2160 pixels.

Realistically, how much of a difference is going from 2K to 4K? It's not night and day. I was happy with the 2K resolution as a viewing experience and 4K in a smaller horizontal scale does give higher PPI. 4K gives plenty of detail at normal viewing distances with very crisp details.

16:9 vs 21:9 Ultra-Wide

More important than the precise resolution, I would say that I much prefer the 16:9 aspect ratio of the SW321C to the 21:9 aspect ratio I was using in the past. The 16:9 ratio means that the elements on the sides or extremes of the display are simply closer to the center screen than they are in a 21:9 display.

There's less eye or head movement to see everything you need to see. It's a subtle difference but one that's immediately noticeable and I find it more comfortable overall. In addition, the 16:9 screen gives more height to the real estate of the screen (all things being equal) and again, this gives you more usable real estate in the center of the screen, where it's most comfortable to look without eye movement or head movement.

Color Accuracy and Display Performance

The color accuracy and rendition of the BenQ 32″ SW321C is essentially flawless — as you'd expect at this price point. The specs tell the story best here:

  • 100% coverage of sRGB
  • 99% coverage of AdobeRGB
  • 95% coverage of P3

In other words, what these numbers translate into are industry leading specs on par with the best of premium competitors. More to the point, BenQ's price point is dramatically lower. The very comparably spec'd EIZO ColorEdge CG319X retails for $5,739 vs the $1,999 price point of this SW321C, for example.

The real world take away from the BenQ 32″ SW321C offers the best image quality in a monitor that I have seen and the one that offers the highest quality experience I've used.

As a photographer, sRGB and AdobeRGB are my main concerns for display. AdobeRGB is important for client delivery and sRGB is important as the most common color gamut for real world applications on screen.

That said, for it it's all the other details about the BenQ SW321C that come through as most exceptional and which make this monitor more than the sum of its parts. Ease of use, the thoughtful details, ease of adjustability and use for stunning performance out of the box make this BenQ professional photography monitor a true winner for me.

Furthermore, the anti-glare screen and accuracy of colors, the adjustability of brightness to suit any condition and more all add up to an experience that is a pleasure to use. From global edits for RAW processing in Adobe Lightroom to retouching or other detail work, the accuracy and precision of the SW321C make these tasks a joy to use. My photos look amazing, the details pop, and I'm able to work with the minimum of fatigue even with all-day editing sessions.

BenQ SW321C vs Apple Studio Display

With the 2022 introduction of the 27″ Apple Studio Display, I feel it's worth making a minor update to address some points of comparison.

The stock Apple Studio Display starts at $1,499. Add on the Nano textured glass and height adjustable stand, and the cost is $2,299. Compared to the BenQ SW321C, Apple charges a premium for what I'd argue are essential features for professional work — anti-glare screens and complete ergonomic adjustment.

In addition, the Apple Studio Display offers less real estate and arguably very few advantages for professional photographers.

For a more direct comparison, the 27″ BenQ SW271C is $1,599 for the same screen size and the value of BenQ's line is more apparent with these built-in features. In all the most essential ways, I feel like BenQ is the winner here.

BenQ SW321C Review Summary

I hope that this BenQ SW321C review has been helpful if you're considering a professional photography monitor. This is a perfect display for photographers who want the best possible viewing experience for their work.

The setup of the BenQ SW321C is dead simple and what you get is a monitor that gives you professional performance at a fraction of the price of some alternatives. Out of the box, the 32″ SW321C offers incredible ease of use.

This display is full of subtle details that speak to BenQ's intent on providing a superior product and flawless experience. The truth is that all professional monitors will hit nearly identical specs. For me, the intuitive user interface, the emphasis on the most common functions (brightness, input, color mode) and more tell the true story.

BenQ has created a beautiful flagship display that takes the worry out of your monitor solution. Gone are the worries about color accuracy. The worries about missing detail due to screen glare. The worries about uniformity or viewing angles. The SW321C just delivers. It might not be flashy, but it works to perfection. The ideal of a tool that works as transparently as possible to deliver the goods without getting in between you and your digital images.