Leveling up my photography in 2020

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, per se. However, I do have a few goals in mind for the coming year, and one of them is to continue getting deeper into photography.

I kind of already started down this road in the summer when I bought a backdrop kit and some lights to take some headshots for a friend. Between the lights, stands, and modifiers, that was a sizable investment which would have been overkill for just that one session. So I brought part of the lighting kit with me on vacation a few times to take family photos. It was a little bit of a pain to lug the equipment around, but having a real 200Ws light on hand made it possible to take portraits I couldn’t have otherwise gotten in the bright Florida sun.

We had a New Year’s party at our apartment, so I set up a DIY photo booth using the backdrop, an iPad, and some Mylar fringe from the party store. The iPad, which was mounted to the front of the camera’s tripod, was running the Fuji Remote app which can remotely trigger the camera. During setup I manually exposed the camera and turned on face detection with a wide autofocus zone. The photo booth didn’t get as much use as I’d hoped, but the user experience and the results were pretty good! At the end of the night I was able to print off a number of snaps on my Instax printer and give them to friends who were leaving.

My S.O. absolutely hates this jacket.

One hiccup I did experience was forgetting to manually set the camera’s white balance. My exposure captured no ambient light so I hadn’t bothered to gel the flashes, but of course during metering the warm ambient house lighting is all the camera had to work with. Between this and the family photos I took over Christmas, I had a number of shots that needed batch processing. This pushed me over the edge to abandon my Photos.app-exclusive workflow and buy a copy of the recently-released Capture One 20.

Capture One is widely regarded as the best third-party RAW processor for Fujifilm cameras with an X-Trans sensor (like my X-T20), and the paid-for version can apply processing in multiple layers with gradient or hand-brushed masks. I have some sunset shots that could benefit greatly from more hands-on development, so I dropped one of those shots into Capture One and got to work. I’m happy with what I can achieve so far, but of course this illuminates yet another problem: my monitor (an NEC EA274WMi) is limited to sRGB, and the pinks and reds of a beautiful San Francisco sunset demand full Adobe RGB support.

So I did what came naturally: I built a spreadsheet and devoted several hours of my life to analyzing every available Adobe RGB monitor that met my criteria. I might have been tempted to just buy the UltraFine 4K from the Apple Store, except I wanted a monitor with multiple inputs so I can toggle between my laptop and my desktop when working from home. Unfortunately all of the LG’s competitors (that is, 4K monitors with multiple inputs and at least 99% Adobe RGB coverage, whether 8-bit + FRC or true 10-bit) are in the $1,000 price range, nearly a third more in price than the LG. I did find an old Lenovo model listed on Adorama for around $550, but I’m dubious about its true availability and it’s an 8-bit panel lacking FRC so I certainly would have been unhappy with the banding.

Then I found what seems to be the holy grail: the $500 Monoprice Vivid 27″ monitor. It uses the LG LM270WR4 panel which all of the $1,000 models seem to use. This panel is not as dense as the UltraFine 4K (163ppi vs 186ppi), but I’ve never been a stickler for the sharpest Retina rendering. The monitor has 2 HDMI inputs and one DisplayPort 1.2 input—I don’t need USB-C or an integrated hub because I’m primarily driving this from a 2013 Mac Pro or the HDMI output on my laptop’s Thunderbolt dock. I don’t need integrated speakers because I have an outboard DAC feeding a pair of AudioEngine A2’s. I don’t rotate my monitor at home, but if I wanted to do so I have a VESA stand lying around I could employ. In all, this seems like the no-frills solution I need. My only worry is that this is such a new product that long-term reliability hasn’t really been tested. The 30-inch version has some pretty scary reviews, but Monoprice is a good company and I trust them to make right on any problems. And in the worst case scenario, that’s why I bought it with a credit card.