Display Calibration and Sharpness


Today’s Question: I have question after reading your recent Pixology article on monitors. I have a Dell monitor and I calibrate it with a DataColor Spyder 5 Pro. When prompted, I can adjust contrast to Spyder specifications. The Spyder sets the white point, color temp, and brightness. But nothing I described sets the resolution; I set that myself. So how do I know if the sharpness in my image is transportable versus unique to my monitor setting?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The display calibration does not impact the resolution setting of the display. For optimal sharpness I recommend setting your display to the native resolution through the operating system.

More Detail: Display calibration helps ensure optimal accuracy of your monitor display in terms of color and tonality. I therefore strongly recommend calibrating the display periodically with a package that includes a colorimeter device that measures the actual behavior of the display. For example, I recommend the Calibrite ColorChecker Display (https://bhpho.to/3XCDf6x), though the Datacolor products are also very good.

However, this calibration will not do anything related to the resolution, and therefore relative sharpness, of the display. The resolution needs to be set through your operating system.

While most recent high-resolution displays perform very well at just about any supported resolution, you’ll generally get the maximum perceived sharpness with the display when you set the resolution to the native value. This will be the highest resolution supported, and the resolution promoted as being the actual resolution for the display.

When you set the display resolution to something less than the maximum resolution, the image you see is scaled, which causes a slight degradation in the perceived sharpness of the image on the display.

It is worth noting, by the way, that it is also best to evaluate the sharpness of an image at a zoom setting in the software (such as Photoshop or Lightroom Classic) of 100%, or an “Actual Pixels” zoom setting. This ensures that one pixel in the image is represented by one pixel on the display, rather than the image being scaled on the display.