Colour Management - that is, the precise control and reproduction of colour throughout your full digital workflow - is the essential key to achieving high-end work in the photographic and video domains. Indeed, it is the key to quality in any area of the modern digital visual arts.
Traditionally, work in the studio or out in the field has been hampered by the lack of affordable, good, and easily portable equipment for the making of, and assessment of, colour accurate work.
BenQ have tackled this problem head on with a new series of accessories for their excellent and very affordable SW240 monitor.
Here follows our initial evaluation of this exciting new system.
IMPORTANT: The following information (including quoted specifications and images) is based on late generation prototypes - everything is thus still subject to change so PLEASE DO NOT RELY ON THIS INFORMATION FOR ANY FINAL PURCHASING DECISIONS.
BenQ are still refining the system further, and gauging interest. So the best thing to do is register your interest for further news. Once we have the finalised product details, we'll of course be creating product pages based on those final versions.
(All that said, we expect what is discussed here to be really quite close to the final versions!).
A long wished for tool is an affordable, calibrated, on location monitor. Not some 7 inch toy to squint at, but a generous sized, high quality screen for professional colour work.
As per our evaluation, the BenQ SW240 is a highly affordable mini marvel, and a bit of a watershed moment in monitors. For the first time ever, just $699 buys you a great quality, colour accurate AdobeRGB monitor with direct hardware calibration support.
It's so affordable, in fact, that it opens up fundamentally new possibilities in photography and video production.
A long wished for tool is an affordable, properly calibrate-able on location monitor. Not some 7 inch toy, but a generous sized screen for proper focus, lighting and colour assessment, yet one that's still easy to transport and work with, and robust enough to handle the rigours of on location work.
Until now, you either had very expensive options from the 'broadcast studio' worl, or compromised solutions - for example there's a world of mini HD monitors people attempt to squint at that are, in practise, barely useful for real work.
The BenQ Accurate Colour On The Go platform is for people who want to do professional level colour work on location, or in the field.
This is an increasingly common scenario - modern workflows simply don't always allow the luxury of returning from location work to the studio for long editing sessions under ideal conditions. In this new fast paced world of social media, content needs to be produced quickly - but of course still to high quality.
Rather than struggle in the studio with compromised solutions like low quality laptop screens, or squinting at mini monitors, the best solution lets you do all the things you need to do right there, right then. Check your lighting, and exposure. Are your skin tones spot on? Nail your focus and be sure about it - because we all know there are no second chances with on location work - it's just too expensive.
BenQ's Accurate Colour On The Go is a new platform from BenQ with the SW240 monitor as the centrepiece. (We call it ACOG for short!).
(Soon to be...) Available as a complete package, or as modular parts to be bought as needed, Accurate Colour On The Go is a series of accessories that make it easy to transport, set-up, and use the BenQ SW240 in your studio, on location, or even way out in the field.
The monitor itself is suitable for both video and photographic work. With Direct Hardware Calibration support and a 24" wide gamut panel (99% AdobeRGB, 95% DCI-P3, 100% Rec.709/sRGB), it has the key features you need to be sure about colour.
These new, cleverly designed accessories add portability and protection to the package. Put together, this opens the door to a new level of confidence and quality for on location work.
There are 5 accessories. We'll look at each one in more detail below.
Hard Travel Case - Suitable for putting straight on the plane, this is a robust hard plastic case for long distance travel.
Soft Travel Case - Significantly lighter case suited to shorter travel - around town, car travel etc.
Soft Hood - Light weight, portable monitor hood - key for sheltering the monitor from stray light during location work.
Tripod/Light-stand Mount - No table? No problem! Just mount the BenQ SW240 straight to a stand.
Battery Pack - Working way out there, or just sick of cables cluttering your life? Power your colour accurate monitor on location by battery.
All of these accessories have been designed and field tested right here in Australia, with input form Australian professionals and road/plane testing across the country.
Early prototypes have in particular been used by two folks you may remember from our Japan Trip reports earlier this year.
Dan Avila - World class destination photographer.
Alex Cearns - Possibly the most successful, and certainly the hardest working, animal photographer we know!
Before we go into the accessories in more detail below, why not check out a couple of videos featuring these fine people using the system in the field.
Alex Cearns demos the new BenQ Accurate Colour On The Go platform
Dan Avila living the good life out in the Yukon with BenQ
As mentioned, the system is comprised of five accessories. You will be able to buy a whole kit (including monitor if you don't already have one), or just the parts your need.
Lets looks at them each in turn.
There are two main transport accessories, and three system accessories.
The BenQ Accurate Colour On The Go Hard Case is a beast.
Anyone who is familiar with classic hard cases from Pelican and Vanguard will immediately recognise this. This particular case is made by Vanguard and is designed to be completely travel proof. Load it up (and it can fit your full system - it's not small!) - and throw it in the hold, safe in the knowledge that no harm will come to your valuable equipment.
With built wheels and trolley handle, it's a suitcase for colour accuracy that is easy to whiz around the airport - and it's built like a tank.
What's really new and innovative, though, is that the case itself can be used as your actual workspace (see Dan's video above!).
Built into the lid of the unit itself is a monitor mount. This is an absurdly simple one click mounting system for the BenQ SW240. The SW240 comes off its regular stand with just the push of one simple release button. It can then be clicked in to this case in seconds, ready for transport and use. Throw it in the back of your car, and get pro level colour accuracy right out in the field.
How cool is that?
My only reservation with this accessory is the weight of it. Of course if you're used to on set work, particularly in the video domain, heavy hard cases are completely normal. But be aware that this thing, even without the monitor in it, is a fair weight to bear...so you're definitely going to need some extra baggage allowance if you're taking this on a plane!
As supplied, the bottom of this case is basically an empty space - most folks will want to get a custom foam insert cut to hold other equipment - be it your camera system, or you laptop, mini-PC..whatever you need really.
Ben Q Accurate Colour On The Go Hard Case Specifications
The Soft Case is the much lighter weight transport system designed for more local travel. Over the years we've had many folks looking for easy monitor cases for transport around town so this is a really nice option to see from BenQ.
(Perhaps we'll even convince them to make another version in a 27" size - given 27" is the most popular monitor size now!).
It still provides good protection, and is ideal for tossing into the back of your car for example. And it is a fraction of the weight of the hard case.
Internally this case has the standard adjustable, Velcro attached foam inserts typical of any camera type bag. There's a large main space for your computer and the battery, and several side pockets for accessories and lenses. Plus a large zippered pocket for cords and knick knacks.
Ben Q Accurate Colour On The Go Soft Case Specifications
Portability is great, but without power you can't make any of the magic happen.
Often, you'll have mains power nearby and you can of course use that as you normally would.
But cords on set are a menace, and sometimes power just isn't there when you need it to be. For these scenarios, BenQ have designed a powerful portable battery pack that can keep the SW240 going for an 'estimated 15' hours.
We all know those things tend to be overstated, but suffice it to say you should get a good day's work out of the monitor using the battery pack and I haven't seen it run down to empty in my office yet. Conveniently, it's also got a standard USB port on it for emergency charging of your devices (i.e. phone) as well - although it can't do both things at once given one output is DC and the other AC - there's a switch.
(Of course, remember a battery like this has to come in the cabin with you if you're travelling by air!).
One reservation we have here is there is only one AC output on this battery. It would be a big improvement if there were two, for example to use this to power a NUC or Mac Mini, to drive everything. BenQ tell me an adaptor is theoretically possible but they haven't yet tested this.
Ben Q Accurate Colour On The Go Battery Specifications
Very often on set the last thing you really want to add to the mix is a large workstation table.
Especially when you're shooting tethered, having a big table holding your monitor is just a hassle and distraction.
To solve this, and as seen in Alex's video above, BenQ have created an Accurate Colour On The Go Tripod Mount for the BenQ SW240.
This accessory comes with a number of adaptors for mounting to most tripod heads or light stands. Just screw on the mount, clip on the monitor and boom, you've got a full 24" panel that you can safely put just about anywhere on your set.
This is ideal for shot review during live, tethered shooting. Check focus, exposure, and colour accuracy right there in real time - on a proper 24" panel. You just can't see critical focus properly on tiny camera screens, or mini monitor panels.
With this sort of setup, you (and those pesky art directors!) can be sure you've got what you need, right then and right there.
The portable soft hood is designed to shield the SW240 monitor from stray light.
Particularly out of doors, but also on sets with lights all over the place, it can be hard to get an accurate view of the monitor without a hood in place thanks to stray light falling across the screen.
I've left this one till last as I think this is the least successful accessory in its current form. It may be I'm spoiled as I regularly use the incredible Eizo magnetic hoods, but I find the Velcro mounting system here to be inelegant, and I think the hood is a little too large and thus prone to sagging. It's also just not as polished looking as the rest of the system, with a bit of a home made appearance to it.
It's deep and certainly shields a lot of light, so it's functionally sound. It doubles as a protection mechanism for the front surface of the monitor when it's in transit, in either the hard or soft cases. My big issue is the thin Velcro mount is not wonderfully stable feeling and I don't love having a Velcro strip on my SW240 when this is not in use. I realise there are no magnets in the SW240 bezel, so it's not possible, but when you've used a good magnetic system for this same task, this feels like a real compromise in comparison. But again, it definitely does perform its function, it's just lacking the refinement and good looks of the rest of the system.
In many ways this is the only place the Accurate Colour On The Go feels like a retro fit rather than something that was conceived along aside the monitor itself - I'd much prefer this if it used the same mounting system/holes that the standard (included) SW240 hood uses. Honestly, I'd personally probably be inclined to take the standard hood on location, even though it is a bit fiddlier to put up and take down as it is normally designed just to be permanently installed.
(Our images of this hood don't match the one we have here for testing, so for now I'm leaving those out of this article as they're just not an accurate representation of the current prototype).
So, with these 5 accessories, BenQ have designed something that has the promise to be quite special.
This system will allow creatives to work on location at a higher quality level than was previously possible, or at least not possible at the sort of price level BenQ is currently talking about.
Given the affordability of the monitor itself, it's high quality, and the platform these accessories create - we can see a lot of potential uses for this technology. We're looking forward to getting the final units and pricing from BenQ, and in the meantime if you want to view the prototypes we have a full set in house now. Just get in touch so we can put some time aside to show you the system.
And don't forget to register your interest with BenQ (and of course pop Image Science in as your preferred retailer!).
Here are some example scenarios, and a list of the BenQ accessories you might choose for these conditions.
We expect many folks will just buy the whole set, but again the accessories will each be available separately, as well.
Real Estate Video Production
The mansion is clean, you've checked the weather and the golden hour is going to be epic.
Working right there on location you can do the shoot (even tethered to the monitor if you wish).
With the shots/footage in hand, you can precisely check focus and colour. No 7" mini monitor can really show you how your footage is going to look up on some enormous home OLED, but a 24" screen can give you a truly accurate view.
You can even edit your footage ready for delivery and use in the property marketing campaign, right there, and have it back in hand ready for publishing that night.
Documentary / Natural History Photography
Take the BenQSW240 safely in its hard case to foreign lands.
Use it to set up a powerful, high quality edit suite back at your hotel. Run the whole thing off battery if you like, and do your edits on the balcony with a well deserved G & T in hand as the sun goes down.
You can edit your images to print ready quality, and thanks to the glory of wireless and the internet, start delivery of your images to the editor whilst very much still out in the field.
You, and your editor/art director can rest easy - confident you've got the shots and told the story.
You've built the set and lighting is perfect...but you've got the art director breathing down your neck.
Shooting tethered directly to the SW240, mounted on a tripod (who has a desk on set?!) - the whole team can immediately assess the results - colour, focus, the works.
Have a second SW240 ready (or something like the SW271), and a retoucher on hand, and they can begin the post production work even as you're still shooting. The job is done in less time but to a higher quality - everybody wins!