Pro Video - What you Need to Know - On Camera Video Monitors

20.04.2014 12:08

On-Camera Video Monitors

Courtesy B&H PhotoVideo

An on-camera monitor can be a tremendously valuable tool for professional video production. Most cameras have a built-in display, but often times a camera’s built-in display is rather small and—especially when it comes to shooting with HDSLRs—they are sometimes fixed in one position on the back of the camera. An on-camera monitor will provide a larger and higher-quality picture, and can be mounted in any number of positions, facilitating optimal viewing angles. Moreover, the best monitors are packed with features that help the camera operator to fine-tune exposure, color temperature, and other camera settings.

In this article, we will take an in depth look at several different on-camera monitors and help you decide which of these options might be best suited to your needs. First, we will start with some of the more advanced models but we’ll also suggest some good entry-level options along the way. Finally, we’ll also discuss the basic functions of an on-camera monitor and explain some advanced features like focus peaking, waveform, vectorscope, and more.

Marshall Electronics V-LCD50-HDI

The V-LCD50-HDI On-Camera Monitor from Marshall Electronics features a 5” display with 800 x 480 resolution, a 600:1 contrast ratio and brightness rated at 300 cd/m². This monitor has a single HDMI video input, which makes it ideal for use with an HDSLR and other types of cameras that generally output video exclusively via HDMI. It also has a peaking filter and a false-color display feature.

When activated, the peaking filter displays the image in black-and-white and superimposes red highlights over any sharp edges in the picture. This helps to ensure that your subject is in focus. The false-color filter helps to fine-tune exposure values by superimposing patches of distinct colors over parts of the image that match corresponding IRE measurements. It may sound confusing—and it is—but once you get a sense of what each color means, it can be a great help. It is also one of the best ways to nail optimal exposure without expensive testing equipment.

Other key features include image flip, freeze frame, HDMI auto color space, and ratio detect. The Marshall Electronics V-LCD50-HDI runs on four AA batteries or via the included power supply. The monitor also includes an adjustable shoe-mount adapter, a battery charger, and a complimentary sun hood, to help block glare when working in an especially bright environment.

Marshall Electronics V-LCD51

The Marshall Electronics V-LCD51 is a nearly identical monitor that is available with a variety of different battery plates, which allow users to power the monitor with popular, third-party batteries.

B&H sells the V-LCD51 in the following varieties:

It bears mentioning that these battery plates are also sold separately and can be easily swapped out for one another, so you won’t be locked into one particular type of battery. B&H also sells the V-LCD51 in a bundle with the IndiePRO Tools LINK SDI to HDMI converter, which allows you to use the monitor with cameras that only output video via SDI.

ikan VK7i

The VK7i On-Camera Monitor from ikan features a 7” inch display with 1280 x 800 resolution, an 800:1 contrast ratio, and brightness rated at 400 cd/m². The LCD utilizes IPS technology (in-plane switching), which enables not only a wide viewing angle of 170 degrees, but also exhibits more faithful color and exposure values when viewed from odd angles. Other key features include peaking, false color, clip guides, frame guides, DSLR scaling, movable pixel-to-pixel, a still compare function, H/V delay, on-screen tally, and rear tally lights.

This monitor also has inputs and outputs for HDMI, composite, and component signals. In addition to control dials for adjusting brightness, contrast, chroma, and sharpness, a series of buttons on the front of the panel can be programmed to govern the monitor’s various functions. Much like the Marshall monitors, B&H offers the VK7i in a bundle with a variety of popular battery plates, including:

Deluxe Kit is also available. These kits include the VK7i monitor, a battery, and monitor of your choice, an AC adapter, an SM103 shoe-mount adapter, a sun hood, and a hard carrying case.

ikan D7w and D5w

The D7w On-Camera Monitor, also from ikan, is a significant step up. This is among the most fully featured monitors in this category. The 7” IPS LCD panel features 1280 x 800 resolution, an 800:1 contrast ratio, and brightness rated at 400 cd/m². However, what really makes this model stand out from the rest are its built-in waveform, vectorscope, and RGB parade functions, as well as both HDMI and SDI inputs and outputs.

The SDI interface is a longtime broadcast standard, and some of the more high-end video cameras will feature SDI exclusively. The fact that this monitor features both SDI and HDMI means that you can use it with, for example, either the Blackmagic Cinema Camera (exclusively SDI) or the Canon 5D Mark III (exclusively HDMI). The only other way to achieve this kind of flexibility would be to invest in a dedicated SDI/HDMI converter.

The ikan D5w is a very similar, yet more compact option. The D5w features a 5.6” ISP LCD screen with 1280 x 800 resolution, a 400:1 contrast ratio, and brightness rated at 300 cd/m². Like the larger D7w, the D5w has HDMI and SDI inputs and outputs, waveform, vectorscope and RGB parade. It also has a rubberized housing, which gives this monitor a pleasing, tactile feel.

Elvid RigVision CM-7L

The RigVision CM-7L from Elvid features a 7” LCD screen with 1024 x 600 resolution, HDMI, and Composite RCA inputs, an integrated sun shield, a headphone output, and a few rather unconventional features, such as a shutter-release button, an autofocus button, and a “bulb” button. What makes these features unconventional? Well, they are not often found on a video monitor. However, having embraced the idea that video is often shot on hybrid cameras like DSLRs, Elvid has created a monitor that services both video shooters and still photographers.

The monitor also includes an NP-750 lithium-ion battery, a battery charger, an AC adapter, IR remote control, adjustable shoe mount, a neoprene case, and a set of seven different shutter-release cables for interfacing with a variety of cameras. You may want to have a look at the specifications page for a thorough list of compatible cameras.

IndiPRO Tools Pro5

The Pro5 from IndiePRO Tools is an entry-level on-camera monitor. The 5” display features 800 x 480 resolution and a 600:1 contrast ratio.

The monitor has a single HDMI input and a variety of confidence features, including monochrome and color peaking, blue-gun, underscan, and adjustable RGB values. The Pro5 is available with one of the following battery plates:

These kits also include a removable sun shade, an AC power supply, and an adjustable ¼”-20 ball-head shoe mount. B&H also offers these monitors bundled with the IndiePRO tools SDI to HDMI converter, so you can use this monitor on cameras that output via SDI exclusively.

Monitor/Recorder Combos

This is a somewhat new category of video monitors that combines the traditional functions of a monitor with a portable video recorder. When portable video recorders were first introduced, their chief appeal was their ability to record your footage in a higher quality and in a more post-production-“friendly” format than that of most cameras’ built-in recorders. In the past few years, manufacturers have realized that they can add a significant amount of value by combining a portable video recorder and a monitor in one device.

The Atomos Ninja 2 is one such combo device. It features a 4.3” screen with 800 x 480 resolution, HDMI video input and output connections, and a video recorder that utilizes Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHD video formats. For recording media, the Ninja 2 uses 2.5” SSDs or HDDs; a 750GB drive will have enough space for approximately 16 hours of footage.

The Atomos Samurai Blade is the next step up. Like the Ninja 2, this monitor-and-recorder combo uses either Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHD and 2.5” SSD or HDD media. However, the monitor is a 5” IPS LCD touchscreen display with 1280 x 720 resolution. In order to support many of the more high-end cameras, the Samurai Blade features HD-SDI connections for inputting and outputting video signals.

Finally, the Odyssey 7Q from Convergent Design is a monitor-and-recorder combo that features a 7.7” OLED display with 1280 x 800 resolution, a 3400:1 contrast ratio, touchscreen technology, and a range of built-in image-analysis tools that include waveform, vectorscope, focus peaking, histogram, false color, RGB parade, zebras, image flip, one-to-one pixel mode, reticle markers, and a horizon indicator. Of course, the video recorder is no slouch either. The Odyssey 7Q uses proprietary 2.5” SSDs to record in either the Avid DNxHD format or—with an ever-growing number of available, paid firmware upgrades—such high-quality formats as 12-Bit ARRIRAW, 4K with the Sony F55, Canon C500, and more.