Projector Buyers Guide for Photographers

Photographers are a growing segment of projector buyers, and we know that photography has some special requirements when choosing a projector. So we have put together this buyer’s guide specifically for artists who want their projected images to match their creative vision.

Photography and Projectors

[ image: Brian Adams of Brian Adams PhotoGraphics sits with clients using the Panasonic PT-AE1000U ]

Projector Basics

Brightness, contrast, and resolution, oh my! Basic projector specifications aren’t complicated, but you do need to know a little about them before you start shopping for one. Here’s a brief rundown of the basic specs you need to understand.

Projector Brightness

Brightness is measured in ANSI lumens. Simply put, more lumens equal more brightness. The amount of brightness you need will depends on a couple things.

  • Size of your audience.
    • Larger audiences require larger images, which in turn require brighter projectors. It’s hard to go wrong with more lumens, but more lumens will cost you more. So finding the balance is key.
  • Amount of ambient light in the room you are projecting in.
    • If you travel with your projector to client meetings you might want assume the worst case scenario for ambient light. But if your projector will stay put in a controlled environment, just about any brightness will do.
Projector Brightness Chart for Photographers
Ambient Light Audience Size Lumens Suggested
Low 2 – 10 people 1700 – 2200 lumens
Some 10 – 100 people 2200 – 3500 lumens
High 101 – 500 people 3500 or more lumens

Contrast Ratio in Projectors

Photographers probably know more about the importance of contrast than most projector buyers, but let’s talk about the contrast projectors can deliver. So, a higher contrast ratio means more difference between the black and white portions of the image and more shades of gray in between. A high contrast projector should also deliver a clearer and brighter image than a low contrast projector, right? Not exactly.

Photographs have more subtleties and depth of color in the images than PowerPoint presentations, but still images that are generated by a computer are in reality more similar to PowerPoint than they are to video display. If you want your projected image to match the one you see on your LCD™computer monitor, you really only need to achieve a contrast ratio of around 400:1. Typical contrast ratios of LCD monitors range from 350:1 to 1000:1. Movie buffs usually are striving for the highest contrast ratios because they want the deepest blacks and richest colors, photographers on the other hand, often complain that ultra high contrast projectors ‘blow out’ details and intricacies in their still images.

Realistically, a projector used to display professional photographs should have a contrast ratio of at least 400:1. However some manufacturers are more conservative when publishing their specifications, so a lower contrast projector may still do an adequate job, even if the specs don’t compare on paper. Contact a Projector Expert for the inside scoop on what the images look like in real life.

Historically DLP™ projectors have had higher contrast ratios than LCD™ projectors. LCD™ projectors, however, have contrast ratios that fall into the desirable range for photographers displaying still images. Below we have created a quick reference chart comparing DLP™ and LCD, in case you didn’t take the time to read all this.

Quick Tip: Some projectors, including several from Panasonic, offer light sensitive contrast adjustments that can make the image look punchier in brighter light without altering the appearance of the colors.

The Right Resolution

Resolution is essentially the number of pixels that make up the image, but you already knew that. You may have heard that the easiest rule to follow is to match the computer and projectors resolution. But computers have outpaced projectors in developing higher resolution output. So to start, just make sure that your projector can scale to that resolution of your computer, or vice versa.

Also related to resolution is aspect ratio. The majority of the projectors sold around the world are either 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios. Laptops with widescreen resolutions are increasingly more common, and may be a good choice for some photographers.

Projector Resolutions for Photographers – the Pros and Cons

SVGA (800 x 600 pixels) – 4:3 aspect ratio

  • Pro – Lowest price.
  • Con – Some photography presentation software programs may not be compatible.
  • Con – More visible pixels when displaying large images.

XGA (1024 x 768 pixels) – 4:3 aspect ratio

  • Pro – Best value per pixel.
  • Pro – Many can display HD video.
  • Pro – Matches most of the presentation and sales software on the market (such as Ron Nichols’ Proselect).
  • Con – Not widescreen native. (But can scale to widescreen with visible “black bars.”)

SXGA+ (1400 x 1050 pixels) – 4:3 aspect ratio

  • Pro – High resolution display for very sharp, clear images.
  • Con – More costly than lower resolution displays.
  • Con – Fewer model options available.

WXGA-H (1280 x 720) – 16:9 aspect ratio

  • Pro – Very popular for those who want widescreen native display.
  • Pro – Likely to have higher contrast ratios because they are designed for home theater.
  • Con – “Black bars” along the sides of the image when displaying 4:3.

HD (1920 x 1080) – 16:9 aspect ratio

  • Pro – The best looking picture on the market under $3,000.
  • Pro – Future proof HD resolution.
  • Con – “Black bars” along the sides of the image when displaying 4:3.
  • Con – You must have an HD source to produce an HD picture.

Quick Tip: Video projectors also have ‘lines’ of resolution, which is usually just the number of vertical pixels. You will see video resolution referenced as 480p, 720p, or 1080p (the ‘p’ is for progressive scan). These video resolutions are also typically widescreen format.

Projectors also have a lower resolution (or fewer pixels) than digital cameras. Projectors maximum resolutions (for consumer use) top out at SXGA+ (4:3 format) and HD 1920 x 1080 (16:9 format). There are higher resolution displays available, but the costs are prohibitively expensive for most buyers (exceeding $10,000). Here is a quick chart with mega-pixels broken down for you into horizontal and vertical pixels.

Common Digital Camera Resolutions
Mega-Pixels Horizontal Pixels Vertical Pixels Aspect Ratio Total Pixels
0.3 640 480 4:3 307,200
0.5 800 600 4:3 480,000
1 1,280 960 4:3 1,228,800
2 1,600 1,200 4:3 1,920,000
3 2,048 1,536 4:3 3,145,728
4 2,272 1,704 4:3 3,871,488
4.1 (Canon 1D) 2,464 1,648 3:2 4,060,672
5 2,560 1,920 4:3 4,915,200
6 3000 2000 3:2 6,000,000

[ source: Wikipedia ]

Want to learn more about projectors and photography? Click here to read the complete article.

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August 2007 Projector Coupon Codes

Coupon Codes for Projectors and Packages

Projector People is now offering special savings on projectors for home theater and business with our special Coupon Codes. Coupon codes are for blog readers only!

Mitsubishi HC5000BL and HC5000

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Epson Home Cinema 1080

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or select Epson Home Cinema 1080 Home Theater Packages!

[ Restrictions apply. Call for details. ]

Offer valid through August 31st, 2007!

Epson Pro Cinema 1080

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Offer valid through August 31st, 2007!

Optoma 1690 projector

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Mitsubishi HC1500 projector

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Enter the corresponding code into the promotions box once the product has been added to the cart.

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Review by Joshua Massre


Usually a movie will have a logical plotline that is simple to follow, right? Every once in a while a movie will have a plot point that makes no sense when it occurs, but it is usually tied up by the end of the movie. It is even more peculiar when a movie makes no sense at all. Sometimes a movie will be heavily cut by a studio, be it because of budget, time or content status. It happens all the time. Most of the movies in theaters are at least slightly different than they were when first conceived.

There are plenty of examples of this over the years. One of the most prominent examples of this is with the movie Once Upon a Time in America. The film stars James Woods, in what he considers his best performance ever, and Robert DeNiro as Jewish gangsters. The film chronicles their rise from young hoods in the 1920s to powerful crime lords in the 1960s. Sergio Leone

Projector Buyers Guide for Educators

Projector People Podcast

It’s that time of year again! The future leaders of the land will be back in the trenches, eager to learn, well-behaved, and interested. At least that’s how it should be. So we thought now was a good time to provide a handy buyers guide for one of our most important assets, our educators.

Our recent Education Buyers Guide Podcast is also available for you to download. We will cover a few of the things we discuss in the podcast below, but the Podcast includes additional information that may be of value. Find our Podcast here.

What do Educators need to look for in a projector?

Educators, or those who purchase AV technology for schools, often have similar concerns when buying projectors. In our experience some of the primary concerns are cost (value), longevity and durability, and features. There are other concerns including security and networkability that may arise when the projectors will be permanently installed.

Cost and Value

As you can imagine, budgets vary widely for AV equipment for schools. Some schools may be looking for high-end projectors that can be added to their LAN, while others may be looking for a low cost projector to replace an older unit. The cost of a projector usually hinges on three basic specifications; brightness, resolution, and features. We will talk about features in a moment, but for now lets focus on brightness and resolution.

Projectors for Education


Resolution is a more black or white issue because there are fewer options, and in most cases a projector can scale to the resolution you need – though the image may not look perfect. Basically you want to match the resolution of the projector to the resolution of the source (i.e. a computer, VCR, DVD player, etc.) that you will be using. In a school setting the best resolution is typically XGA (1024×768 pixels). If you have SXGA+ (1400 x 1050) resolution computers, then an SXGA+ projector may be a good choice for you. However, they are significantly more expensive than XGA, and XGA projectors can almost always scale to SXGA+ resolution.


The brightness of a projector is measured in lumens. Ambient light and audience size will be the determining factors for the number of lumens you need. Larger audiences require larger screen sizes, which require brighter projectors. Ambient light can often be controlled in a school setting, but lights on presentations are preferable to low light.

  • 2000 – 2500 lumens will be sufficient in most classrooms with 40 students or less.
  • 2500 – 3500 are recommended for classrooms from 40-100 students.
  • 3500 or brighter in rooms with over 100 students may be necessary if the room has a lot of ambient light.

These are just general guidelines. Please feel free to call and speak with a Projector Expert if you think your school may be an exception to any of these general rules.

Projector Discounts for Schools?

Schools and other non-profit companies may receive additional discounts from many manufacturers we carry when they are purchased from an authorized reseller. Sometimes our prices are already discounted beyond the manufacturer discount, so be sure to call and ask a Projector Expert to get your best price. You can ask about programs like the NEC Star Student program.

Longevity and durability

Longevity is a concern for a lot of users, but in a school setting this is amplified due to the large number of end users and potentially less cautious audiences (aka students). The good news is most projectors have reasonably durable plastic casing. Some manufacturers’ offer a more ‘industrial’ design, like NEC, Mitsubishi, and Epson, but what may be even more important is the technical support and warranty offerings. Watch for longer warranties when you buy from authorized resellers (like In some cases a warranty for both the projector and the lamp may be extended specifically for educational institutions. Call and talk to a Projector Expert to learn more about these special offers.

Projector Features

As is true for the durability factor, ease of use is also a concern because there are so many end-users touching the product. Features like automatic setup and source detection help take out the “technically challenged’ factor. Other great additions include faster shut down and start up times, a real benefit when projectors are going from location to location in a single day. Listen to our Podcast to hear more about this and other features for educators, including more on projector networking.

Here is a quick look at some features for the educational environment.

Projector Features for Educators

  • Multiple inputs (a VGA, s-video, and composite input are recommended)
  • Integrated speakers (5 watt or better is desirable)
  • Audio output for external speakers
  • Longer warranties (3-years is usually the longest manufacturer offering)
  • Wall-color correction technology (project on a blackboard with great looking color)
  • Quick start-up and shut down (save time and extend battery life)
  • Automatic set up and source detection

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