The Lacie Photon 18 Blue Flat Panel Display

The LaCie Photon 18 Blue LCD flat panel display.

The LCD flat panel display advantages are well-known--a smaller footprint, lower weight, greater energy efficiency, and more consistent color performance over the lifetime of the monitor. Until recently however, the LCD flat panel display has not provided the color gamut needed for photographic image processing.

The LaCie Photon 18 Blue, an 18" LCD flat panel display, has been added to the company's line of Electron Blue CRT monitors that have achieved a strong reputation in the graphics community. In addition to good color image reproduction, the 1280x1024 resolution, brilliance and sharpness, the Photon 18 Blue offers the digital photographer a level of critical image viewing advantageous to work in the digital darkroom. There's also an ergonomic bonus--the monitor can be rotated 90 for either portrait or landscape viewing, easily accommodating photo images made in either format.

It may not be immediately apparent and self-evident to a photographer just starting out doing digital darkroom image processing, but the quality of the results with computer processing is entirely dependent on what can be seen of the image on screen. Every action taken, from acquiring images with a scanner through adjusting them in Photoshop to printing them with an ink jet, rests entirely on how the image is perceived as it is displayed on screen. Adjustments to alter the image quality are made on a perceptual basis, and if your monitor displays little of what is in an image file you have little control over what will result. In essence, the more of what is displayed in the image data the more effectively and accurately a photographer can adjust the values to result in a desired quality of output. So my evaluation of this new graphics monitor, the LaCie Photon 18 Blue, was to determine any advantages it offers.

Working With The LaCie Photon 18 Blue LCD Display
The LaCie Photon 18 Blue supports both analog and digital output from either a PC Windows or Macintosh computer graphics card. It is easy to install and set up, but differs enough from the typical CRT that the instructions should be read and followed precisely. In addition, there is software which must be installed to facilitate rotating the monitor from landscape to portrait mode and back. Finally, the optimum resolution for this monitor is 1280x1024 pixels, so it is advisable to be sure your computer provides sufficient graphics card performance support for this resolution at a True Color setting of 16 million colors. If necessary, you should upgrade by either adding memory to your graphics card or installing one which will support the optimum resolution and color depth. In this regard, both my Windows 2000 machine with a Matrox Millennium G400 Dual graphics card as well as my older Macintosh G3 provided good support and effective performance for the Photon 18 Blue display.

I began getting acquainted with the Photon 18 Blue by installing it on my Windows machine first. I did this to take advantage of the Matrox Dual monitor output running both my Sony CRT and the Photon 18 Blue side by side. My first challenge was to see if I could match the calibrated color balance of my CRT with the Photon 18 Blue.

Using the controls on the LaCie I was able to come close, but the preset color temperatures of 6500 or 7500 Kelvin with the Photon 18 Blue did not match, so I returned the LCD controls to their default settings. Then by switching output plugs, I used the Matrox software control to adjust the Photon 18 Blue and was able to achieve a match with the Sony CRT's hardware color temperature setting of 6500 Kelvin.

Then, with the Photon 18 Blue connected to the primary output channel of the Matrox card, I wanted to at least simulate calibration even though I had only a preliminary ICC/IM profile for the monitor. The finished version that would go out with models released for sale was not quite ready. I did this by first returning the Matrox software adjustments back to zero, and then opened Photoshop's Adobe Gamma and entered the same adjustment values in the setup provided. I then named and created a color management ICM profile through Adobe Gamma. This eyeball method of creating a monitor profile is less than ideal, but to date there are no monitor sensors made for calibrating LCDs. That's to come later. (By the way, if you have a monitor sensor, don't use it on an LCD! The suction cups will cause permanent damage!) When calibration tools are available for LCDs you will not need to re-calibrate frequently, as there are no phosphors in an LCD that deteriorate as they do in a CRT. The only significant and likely affect of aging on color performance may be from the LCD's backlight source, and that should be minor and slight over time.

I use my Windows PC as much for e-mail, writing, and business computing as I do for image processing. It did not take me very long to switch the Photon 18 Blue to portrait mode, as all kinds of typical computer activity is advantaged by a vertical screen format, even the mundane business of web browsing. You hardly ever have to scroll a page, especially at the high 1280x1024 resolution of this display.

Even if you never use the Photon 18 Blue for graphics applications, just reading text with this display is an incredible advantage because it is so crisp and distinct, with every letter clear and easily readable no matter how small the font size. Other computer uses which are at least collateral to photographic image processing, like using a DTP application (Adobe PageMaker in my case) to create documents that include photos is also enhanced by the LaCie display. Again, the high resolution combined with extreme sharpness and screen image brilliance makes aligning type on a page, or placing an image inside a frame, easier and more precise.

On a Windows PC for all kinds of computing, even web page viewing with a browser, the Photon 18 Blue set to portrait orientation provides a much better view of typical vertical pages, including thumbnails in Ulead Album displaying many more images sharply, making it easier to find a photo with less scrolling.

Digital Darkroom Applications
Before I got too attached to using the Photon 18 Blue for everyday stuff, I moved it to my Mac to do some work more within the realm of the digital darkroom. But before anything else, I repeated the calibration and profiling of the monitor using Adobe Gamma and set the profile in the Colorsync setup. I then began by making scans of a selection of slides made with different films and with images of many unrelated subjects until I'd filled a couple of CDs. The scanning experience was enhanced by the clear, brilliant quality of the display readily responding to changes I input to adjust the pre-scan. Whether this actually resulted in scans that were true to what was perceptually intended had to wait until I burned CDs and opened the images on my other Mac, which I now use for most of my image editing. Photoshop color management is set up the same with both of my Macs using the Adobe RGB 1998 workspace, so theoretically the image quality in the scans should appear the same. That is just what I discovered, other than a slight hue shift which I attribute to the crude "eyeball" monitor profile I had created for the Photon 18 Blue.

After making scans, my usual task is to clean up dust, film flaws, and scratches, as well as apply any retouching that is needed. Because LCDs are sharper and more brilliant compared to CRT monitors, I was anticipating a positive experience with the Photon 18 Blue. I was not at all disappointed. Dirt, scratches, and flaws are more obvious and distinct visually, and the process of filling them in with Photoshop's Rubber Stamp tool was more precise and easier because I could see better what I was doing.

Last on my list of things to do with the LaCie flat panel monitor running on my Mac was to print some of the images I'd scanned. I used my Epson Stylus Photo 1270 to do this, mostly because I've used this printer most and know best how it should output images in prints on Photo Paper. The results were consistent with what I had discovered opening the scanned images with my other Mac. There was a minor hue shift which I believe is the result of the limitation in how I profiled the monitor with Adobe Gamma. I was able to correct for this easily with a color adjustment applied with the Epson printer driver.

The prints also reflected a little less saturation than what I would usually expect. This is a quite logical result as the LaCie Photon 18 Blue reproduces an image that appears more brilliant than I am used to with my CRT monitors. So, I would assume if I worked with the LaCie flat panel regularly that I would soon adjust my perception, and readjust my image values accordingly. In other words, working with an LCD flat panel takes a little getting used to if you're used to working with a CRT. There is a difference in how each displays images.

Portrait retouching was made easier to accomplish effectively and efficiently by the sharpness and brilliance of the image displayed by the Photon 18 Blue, as well as in a format that matched the orientation of the image.

Evaluation And Recommendation
At the outset I indicated that the LaCie Photon 18 Blue is the first LCD flat panel monitor to be offered specifically for graphics computing, including digital photography. This is because it overcomes the color gamut and quality limitations of previous flat panel computer displays. My use, which I believe is fairly critical, convinced me the Photon 18 Blue can be used by a digital photographer for photo image processing as effectively as a CRT for color correction and adjustment. (I am assuming, of course, that the units offered for sale will be accompanied by ICC/IM profiles which accurately characterize the monitor's performance.) All of the rest of the advantages of a flat panel display, including its small footprint, lightweight, brilliance, sharpness, and the stability of its color performance just add to that basic image quality capability. All this adds to its desirability as a digital darkroom component. The ability to be rotated and used in either portrait or landscape mode just makes the Photon 18 Blue's attractiveness all the more irresistible. But there has to be a downside, and that is a list price of $2295.

All of my CRT monitors are 19" models, which I find are a comfortable size. The actual size area (18") of the Photon 18 Blue is the same for all practical purposes, but its sharper image, and higher 1280x1024 resolution provided a greater, more efficient workspace. In addition the Photon 18 Blue comes with an easily attached and removed hood, which if your room illumination is not ideal, improves the viewing quality of the screen image. So, for my money I would be inclined to compare this LaCie flat panel not with my 19" monitors but with larger 20 to 22" CRTs. The reason is I have found the highest resolution I can go to obtain adequate image sharpness with a 19" CRT is 1182x870. To match the Photon 18 Blue's optimum 1280x1024 would demand a 21" CRT with all of its bulk and weight, as well as a cost closer to the price of the LaCie flat panel. If one of my monitors needed replacement today, I'd surely find a way to afford the LaCie Photon 18 Blue. For more information, visit LaCie's web site at:

Technical Specifications
Viewable Area: 18"
Dot Pitch: 0.28mm
Technology: LCD (Liquid Crystal Display)
Maximum Resolution: 1280x1024 pixels at 75Hz
Horizontal Scan Range: 24-80KHz
Vertical Scan Range: 56.2-75KHz
Control: On-screen display
Connectors: Analog VGA 15-pin. DVI to ADC for digital connection
Warranty: Three years
Dimensions: 17.9x18.1x10.3"
Weight: 24 lbs
List Price: $2295