This is a review of the LG UltraFine 5K computer monitor for photographers, by wedding photographer Geraint Roberts.
If you’re a MacBook Pro user, or heavily embedded in the Apple ecosystem, the LG UltraFine 5K (or its smaller 4K sibling) appears to be a no-brainer. If Apple still made its own monitors, they would be like this, minus the plastic construction.
If you’re a PC user, this monitor isn’t for you. LG and Apple’s implementation of two DisplayPort streams over one Thunderbolt 3 cable requires Mac-specific hardware components. Users outside of Mac OS can only reach 4K resolution at 60Hz.
Despite its age, introduced back in 2016 with the Touch-Bar MacBook Pros, the venerable UltraFine 5K has more than kept up with current monitors—albeit without HDR features.
Based around the gorgeous 5K (5120 X 2880) 60Hz panel found on the 5K iMac, with just over 1 billion colours, the LG UltraFine 5K still looks great and is pretty much unmatched in resolution unless you buy the behemoth Dell 8K.
LG UltraFine 5K | Specs
The black plastic bezel may not be very ‘Apple-esque’, but this monitor definitely connects well with the Macbook or Mac Mini line of computers.
- Display (max): 5120 x 2880 pixels
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Screen Size: 27″
- Dimensions: 24.63 x 2.12 x 14.77 in
- Weight: 14.11 lbs
Design & Features
Clad in black plastic bezels, the aesthetics of the LG UltraFine are up for debate, and I personally feel that this is one area that LG skimped on. Though understated and clean, they’re very uninspiring, with the same thickness as iMac bezels – a far cry from the bleeding-edge design of newer competitors.
The metal stand is very sturdy and gives confidence when picking up the monitor. That being said, the display wobbles from small vibrations such as typing when extended to maximum height.
Though not so much of an issue when editing photos, I would suggest lowering the height when writing emails and blogs. It’s not a major gripe, but other monitors of this class wobble a lot less.
LG also includes a VESA mount in the box, so you could easily attach the display to a mounting arm, adding further flexibility down the line.
The built-in ambient light sensor on this monitor lets it automatically adjust the brightness to match your surroundings, just like a MacBook. This is something I turn off for photo editing, as I like to set my display to 350 cd/m² to ensure a consistent exposure brightness.
The integrated 1080p webcam is a welcome improvement over my MacBook Pro 720p camera and makes for ‘good-enough’ quality FaceTime and Skype calls when chatting to clients and friends.
(If you want to upgrade for better video conferencing capabilities or discover which webcam works best with Zoom, we suggest buying something external such as one of the Logitech models.)
Microphone quality is also strong, equally on par with the iMac and MacBook Pro lines. With two built-in 5W speakers, audio is a little ‘tinny’, and slightly under-powered when compared to iMac Speakers. They can get fairly loud, but don’t pack much in the way of bass or clarity.
An advantage of using a 2016 or newer MacBook Pro with the LG UltraFine 5K monitor is being able to plug directly in via the included Thunderbolt 3 connector, for the full 5K experience straight out of the box.
In addition to this, 85W over the same cable is enough to power a 15” MacBook Pro, a handy one-cable solution. This eliminates cable clutter and also means you can keep your charger in your bag.
Ports on the back are limited to 3 USB-C ports at 5 gbps, slower than a fully fledged Thunderbolt 3 port. These also don’t reach the 10 gbps of the USB-C standard, meaning external drives won’t be run at full bandwidth.
It’s unfortunate there’s no inclusion of an SD card reader or ethernet, as the Thunderbolt protocol fully supports both. If you’ve already got the dongles, you can plug them into the USB-C ports to work around this, theoretically giving you access to any port.
The first time you turn this display on, you will say ‘Wow’. Then you’ll push your face as close as you can to the screen to check how close together those pixels are. At 218 pixels per inch, outlines are very sharp and defined.
The 10-bit, 1.07 billion colour panel supports full coverage of the P3 gamut, as well as 100 per cent of sRGB and 92 per cent of AdobeRGB while maintaining an impressive 1200:1 contrast ratio at the full 500 cd/m² maximum brightness.
I suggest calibrating yours with an X-Rite ColorMunki. Straight out of the box the LG Ultrafine 5K colour calibration matches the P3 gamut of the current MacBook Pro. This is great for videographers, but not quite up to scratch for photographers that make prints.
The glossy IPS panel with 178° viewing angles really makes colours punch, with inky blacks and bright whites complementing the crisp images and text on screen. It’s very hard to go back to using another monitor once you’ve used this one.
Reflections are well-controlled, and can easily be overcome by cranking up the brightness – 500 cd/m² is blindingly bright, easily usable in sunlight if you’re in an office with many windows.
With an average 14 ms response time at 60Hz, you won’t be playing any games on the UltraFine 5K, but it’s perfect for us photographers. It’s also great for doing any video editing and grading work.
Scaling is set natively at Apple’s ‘Retina’ setting of 200%, so really you’re working on a 1440p canvas at twice the pixel density. You can change this in settings of course, but be aware that text starts to get very small past a certain point.
LG also provides an app via the Mac App Store called ‘LG Screen Manager’ which lets you change scaling and resolution or update the firmware of the monitor. This is a handy tool for configuring your monitor how you like it.
Coming in at over $1500 new, the LG UltraFine 5K is a sizeable investment for those wanting a professional photo editing monitor. It’s in the same price bracket as the the BenQ SW271, also a great choice.
I picked up mine for $999 refurbished off Amazon, saving $749. If you don’t mind having a reduced 90-day warranty, check here to see if there are any more on offer, as this is a great choice. Mine performs perfectly, with no dead pixels, and is probably just as good as new.
If you don’t need such a large screen, or don’t need the 5K resolution, the LG UltraFine 4K is a great choice at around $500 refurbished. This display pairs really well with the smaller 13” MacBook Pro, too.
LG UltraFine 5K Review | Final Words
I feel this monitor is targeted at a certain niche of Apple users who prefer simplicity and ease of use over the best available colour accuracy or having access to more than just USB-C / Thunderbolt 3.
The LG UltraFine makes a compelling argument for Apple users who want to bridge the gap between the older Thunderbolt and Cinema Displays but are still holding out for Apple to redesign a newer display later this year.
I’d recommend getting the refurbished model, as you save a fair amount of ‘Apple tax’ buying it through this route.
For the next iteration, I’d like to see HDR 10, some better speakers, and slightly higher Adobe RGB coverage. Overall, I’d recommend the LG UltraFine 5K, for its stunning display and unparalleled ease of use with Apple products.
Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.