After serving me extremely well for about eight years, I finally decided to retire my dual 23″ Apple Cinema Display setup. The release of ultra-wide 34″ monitors in 2014 drew my attention, particularly the LG 34UM95. This monitor features an extremely wide 21:9 aspect ratio and boasts 3440 x 1440 pixel resolution. There are many impressive specs that recommend this monitor for the general user or perhaps gamer, but the pressing question for me is, does the LG 34UM95 cut it for the professional photographer?
3440 x 1440 Resolution
The LG 34UM95 features a resolution of 3440 x 1440 pixels. Personally, I feel like this is a sweet spot between standard resolutions and 4k monitors. The pixel density is increased enough to produce noticeably crisper text and UI elements over standard displays, but not enough to make non-high DPI web images look like complete garbage. This is most readily a benefit for web browsing or using applications that don't have high DPI UI elements.
The 34UM95's screen is fantastic. It features a matte screen that reflects no ambient light to a degree that is distracting or detrimental to photo work, in my opinion. This is one area where this LG holds a big edge over Apple's own displays and iMac options, which feature glossy displays. Glossy displays are beautiful in the color and contrast they offer, but suffer massively when it comes to reflections.
Overall image quality is basically perfect. Beautiful saturation, great contrast, blah blah blah. Honestly, if you're interested in this display, just trust me, the quality is great. I don't mess around with the gear I use, so frankly if the image quality weren't up to par, I wouldn't have even considered this monitor.
The LG 34UM95 comes in two main flavors, standard and Thunderbolt. The latter features two Thunderbolt ports that allow daisy-chained connections, so this can be a nice option if you have Thunderbolt-compatible equipment. In addition, you get 2x USB 2.0 and 2x USB 3.0 ports for your entertainment.
I opted for the Thunderbolt version, but there is a slight premium for this feature. I paid about $75 more the Thunderbolt version (total price $675) at the time of my purchase, but the prices do fluctuate — at the time of this review, the non-Thunderbolt version is over $200 cheaper. I considered $75 a fair enough bump in price, but if I were facing current prices, I'd just go with the standard version and have no regrets.
One reason for opting for the standard version is that I have found that the display can take 10-20 seconds to wake up from powersave mode when using Thunderbolt. Using a Display Port cable, the wake-up time is 3-5 seconds, and for this reason I have opted to just use Display Port.
There are very few adjustments with this display. Basically, you're limited to tilt with the stock base, and the mount features two height settings about one inch apart. To get more flexibility than that, you're going to have to either use a stand, or use a VESA mount on this display.
All that said, I find the height of the screen perfectly fine. I'm using the higher mount setting, and sitting at an ergonomic height to my desk, this height puts the top of screen just about eye level — my preferred height for displays. So for me and my preferences, no further adjustments are necessary, but your needs may vary.
Using an Ultra-Wide Display for Photography
If you've never used an ultra-wide display, the added real estate is extremely useful for productivity and photography work, but not necessarily in the way you would think. Very rarely do I have windows perfectly tiled to completely use 100% of the screen space. The reason is that with a monitor this wide, doing any kind of critical work or even primary viewing at the very edges is not optimal (for me and my work). I still use the center of the screen for most of my viewing, whether it's web browsing or working in Adobe Lightroom or Adobe PhotoShop.
What the extra room on the sides is extremely useful for is all the stuff that I don't need to see on a regular basis, or can glance at very quickly — tool palettes, sidebars, and other UI elements that don't require a lot of constant use or detailed attention.
Furthermore, with the massive real estate of an ultra-wide display, you have more freedom and flexibility for optimizing workspaces that are impossible with smaller displays. Expanding the width of toolbars (such as the Develop pane in Lightroom) can give more granularity of adjustment and a less cramped UI experience.
In applications like Adobe Photoshop, I take advantage of expanding every single tool palette that I regularly use already and tile these at the edges/sides of the display. No need to hunt for certain palettes to go through the process of expanding them only to collapse them later — all the tool palettes and panes are always accessible and always ready to use. These sorts of small workspace tweaks can make for a huge difference in the fluidity of using programs like Lightroom and Photoshop.
For the photographers, I'll make this analogy. Having an ultra-wide display is like having an extra-large camera bag. It just lets you cram in all the extra bits of kit that you might not need every single shoot, but you have the extra room when you need it. You don't have to choose between this or that, because everything just fits. For me, using an ultra-wide display is pretty much like that. I have the massive real estate when I need it, and this in itself is a beautiful thing.
Using Ultra-Wide Displays for Non-Photography Work
For general, non-photography work — web surfing or general business/work stuff like using spreadsheets, viewing PDFs, etc, the ultra-wide format definitely offers a ton of benefits. For these kinds of uses, I feel like the real estate lends itself to multiple tiled windows, and I'm less concerned about having one main window dead center in the screen, especially if I just need to occasionally refer to a doc or window.
34″ Display for Media
For watching films or streaming Netflix, the 21:9 ratio is really actually fantastic. With most cinematic films, the image will perfectly fill the screen, as the 21:9 ratio is the same native aspect ratio. With 16:9 content such as HDTV, you'll have vertical bars on the sides.
Since the full 3440 x 1440 resolution is above that of the standard 1920 x 1080 of HD content, when you watch media full screen everything short of 4K video will be scaled. The effect is a noticeable loss in sharpness (when viewed at normal sitting distances from your display), but it's not a huge deal, especially if this is your primary screen for consuming TV and films.
It's worth noting that the built-in speakers of the LG 34UM95 are pretty much garbage. Very flat, almost no projection — you're best bet is dedicated speakers or headphones with this one.
Ultra-Wide vs Dual
The best part of using a single ultra-wide display, for me, is the ergonomic advantage of being able to just look straight ahead and having that central real estate back. This is huge.
With two displays, I was always angled off to either the right or the left, resulting in a constant back and forth. It might not sound like that big of a deal to look 30º to either side when using two monitors, but for anyone who uses computer displays for critical work as much as photographers, it really makes a huge difference in usability.
Angling off to one side and then referencing other elements on the second screen adds up to more muscle fatigue and eye strain. And while I never paid much attention to this added stress while using the two screens, I love the experience of just using one display once again.
In addition, with one ultra-wide screen, I feel like there's a much better focus on the workspace. With less eye movement and less muscle movements, I'm able to concentrate more on the work of photo editing, processing, and retouching with just that much more focus. For me, this just translates into better, more efficient work.
The 34UM95 comes calibrated from the factory and includes an individual certificate of calibration that shows the particular color response of your monitor. Here you can see the calibration chart for my display.
I found this factory calibration to be excellent, to the point that there was no discernible difference between calibrating separately with a Datacolor or X-Rite calibrator. I'm going to revisit calibration with this monitor shortly, as calibration must be maintained, but I was very impressed by the out-of-box factory calibration of this display.
Calibration must be performed regularly for the most consistent results, but at least you can know that the out-of-box performance is excellent if you do not have your own calibration equipment.
Quality Control Issues with LED-lit IPS Displays
It has to be noted with any IPS display that there is definitely the potential for quality control, and the 34UM95 is no exception. The main elements to look out for are backlight bleed or “flashlighting,” and what is called IPS glow.
Backlight Bleed / Flashlighting
I've used two copies of the 34UM95. The first model I received had excellent overall image quality, but did suffer from what I'd consider intensely high backlight bleed and “flashlighting” in all four corners. I should note that for actual work in the main programs I use — Photo Mechanic, Adobe Lightroom, and Adobe Photoshop — backlight bleed was never truly detrimental to the effect that it would critical work. The instances on the first monitor, despite being extremely visible on a completely black screen, were basically undetectable during normal photography work.
Despite being a a music photographer, who regularly has to edit concert photography with very large portions of black in images, backlight bleed was almost never very noticeable in editing or processing. The reason being is that critical parts of the image were almost never in the extreme corners of the frame where these display defects were present. More often than not, the corners of the screen are taken up by UI elements like tool panes or control palettes.
Furthermore, even with large portions of the corners effected by light bleed, the center of the screen was completely perfect in terms of image quality. And the center of the display is where I do my most critical work. Contrary the wistful thinking of having windows completely tiling an ultra-wide display, for me, the productivity benefit is being able to put non-critical elements at the edges — the center of the display is still the prime real estate.
For non-photography work, like watching movies, backlight bleeding was more noticeable, particularly for very dark, prolonged scenes. Backlight bleed is one of those things that you cannot “un-see,” so once you know it is there, it's very hard not to notice it or even start to look for it. If you read reviews of the 34UM95 on Amazon, you'll see that backlight bleed is the primary reason for every single negative review.
The main reason I returned the first screen is that, even if I knew that the backlight bleed had almost zero effect on my work, it would be very mentally distracting simply knowing it was there. I know my obsessive tendencies well enough that it would have driven me crazy.
The two units of the 34UM95 that I've used have exhibited IPS glow, an effect that can look similar to backlight bleed, but is generally found at more extreme viewing angles. In my experience, IPS glow on the 34UM95 starts about 20-30º, so whether or not it's visible or has a big impact on one's critical viewing will depend on the distance you sit from the screen. For my particular setup, I'm sitting about 24″ from the screen, and I can detect IPS glow in the corners. Moving to view the sides of the screen more directly makes the issue go away entirely.
I find the IPS glow acceptable on this LG 34″ for one main reason. I'm never looking at critical parts of the image at the very extremes of the frame where IPS glow is a factor, simply because the center of the screen is the most comfortable to use and view. Thus, it doesn't really bother me.
Amazon was amazingly accommodating in the return. They actually sent me a second display without having to return the first unit, at my request, so I could compare the two side by side. If that's not great customer service, I don't know what is.
I am extremely happy to say that the replacement unit is almost entirely free of backlight bleed. There is a hint in the lower left corner, but it's about 5% of the level of the first display. Basically, this second unit that I'm keeping is as perfect as I could expect.
LG 34UC97 — This is basically LG's curved version of this display. The reason I didn't go for this display, despite some claims that the quality control was superior on this model, was that a curved display isn't ideal for me for photo editing.
Dell UltraSharp U3415W — Dell's answer to the 34″ curved ultra-wide field.
Samsung S34E790C — Samsung's curved 34″ ultra-wide display.
ASUS PA249Q — This 24″ display is not an ultra-wide model, but it does off 99% Adobe RGB and 100% RGB rendering. If this color gamut is essential to your workflow, this is a solid display for your consideration. I didn't go with Asus because I prioritized real estate over color gamut, as most of my clients do not require Adobe RGB output.
Should You Roll The Dice?
After using this monitor for the last five months for my photography work, I am extremely happy with the LG 34″ 34UM95 ultra-wide display. The quality of the image this display gives me is a real pleasure to use for editing, processing, and retouching.
I'm still confident that the backlight bleed would not have had a significant effect on photo work, owing to the fact that I do use the center of the screen for all critical viewing. While I was extremely critical of ISP glow when I initially received this display, in actual use of the monitor over the last several months, I don't even notice the variation anymore. It's one of those things that you will certainly see if you're looking for it, but, at least for my own use of the LG34UM95, in practical use it was a total non-issue for me.
Moreover, I think that the LG 34UM95 is such a good monitor if you get a good copy that it is worth a roll of the dice, particularly if you order from a retailer that has a solid return policy (which you should be doing anyway!). In this regard, I don't think that there's a reason not to purchase this monitor if its specs fit your needs.
Where to Buy
I cannot highly recommend buying this screen from Amazon.com enough. Their customer service on this item was perfect — case in point, getting a replacement unit shipped before I'd even returned the original, just so I could compare the two units.
Living in NYC, even if I could have picked one up in the store, the hassle of transporting the display still tips in favor of Amazon.com. If you are able to test out a unit in a brick and mortar store, or are very easily able to exchange units, go for it, otherwise I give Amazon.com my highest recommendation for where to buy the LG 34Um95.