What distinguishes an exceptional field monitor from the rest of the pack?
While that is a subjective question, I believe that most directors of photography would agree that the answer involves a monitor you can trust and that adds value to your project without being a drain on it, either physically or financially. As cameras become ever-more sophisticated and offer ever-higher resolutions, field monitors must keep pace to avoid becoming the weak link in the production chain.
Whether or not the development of field monitor technology follows Moore’s Law is uncertain, but there is no doubt that much progress has been made in the past decade, with many units now including features than didn’t appear even on studio monitors 10 years ago. Further, the current generation of monitors is smaller and lighter than seemed possible in the cathode ray tube era.
Another innovation and adaptation found in the latest models is modularity—particularly in terms of inputs and outputs, which nowadays tends to be a real moving target.
Marshall Electronics has embodied all of these advances in its V-LCD series of modular camera-top monitors, which includes 5.6”, 7” and 9” models. They all offer a full feature set, along with HDMI and other I/O modules.
For this evaluation I opted for Marshall’s V-LCD90MD-3G , which includes the base unit with a preinstalled MD-3GE module, providing an additional 3G/HD/SD-SDI input with loop-through. Its modular design allows you to select the I/O combination you need, and even to swap modules in the field as needed.
This lightweight 9” LCD monitor features high brightness (600 nits) and a 1000:1 contrast ratio. It sports a 176° viewing angle and has a native resolution of 1280 x 768 pixels.
The monitor includes many user-friendly features from Marshall’s acclaimed V-LCD70 field monitor series and offers additional niceties such as a video waveform display with stereo audio bars, four-color peaking filter to simplify camera focusing, false color filter, variable pixel-to-pixel function with 15:9, 16:9 and 4:3 modes, and an input crop selector with auto or manual scaling.
Other new features include multiple DSLR presets, six other user-selectable presets, and backlight control.
The monitor supports multiple digital formats and allows users to custom-configure front-panel function buttons for 32 uses. It offers RGB gain and bias controls as well as a manual gamma adjustment, adjustable IRE zebra filter and polycarbonate screen protector.
All of Marshall’s MD series LCD picture monitors are equipped with an HDCP-compliant HDMI input with pass-through, HDMI auto color space and aspect ratio detection, a selection of 10 battery adapters (from Anton/Bauer, IDX and others) and a choice of input and/or output modules.
The LCD90MD-3G is Marshall’s newest lightweight (2.3 lb.) 9” portable field monitor. As mentioned above, it can be powered from a wide range of batteries or from an AC source. My evaluation monitor came with a V-Lock mount, so I used IDX Endura 80 batteries with it when mobile and the AC adapter when stationary. Oddly enough, the AC option on the power source selection switch is labeled “12 V,” as opposed to “batt” for battery. For some users this could be a source of confusion.
There’s also a smaller power switch with an indicator that glows bright green when the unit is on. This green glow feature is incorporated in the unit’s input switch and the four assignable buttons—all glow when actively engaged.
The input choices on the 3G model I evaluated were between the built-in HDMI and 3G HD-SDI. Initially I found it a bit annoying that this choice is visible on screen for just five seconds. It took me a few tries before I was able to switch from the default HDMI input to HD-SDI (3G). (I should note that input options may be left on screen indefinitely via user settings, but this quickly leads to a cluttered screen.)
Actually, I found little need to switch back to HD-SDI, but I learned to deal with the five-second window, should it be necessary.
As this monitor is so feature-laden, I don’t have the space to mention everything, so I’ll just hit the high spots and describe some of the more interesting and useful features.
The input crop feature is a handy tool that bears some similarity to “focus assist” on many cameras, except that you can focus in on any part of the image, not just the center. The result is a detailed view of a portion of the image area, such as a face. The rest of the image area is simply not displayed; however, the full image can be restored quickly by turning off the input crop in the scaling submenu.
I found that setting up a crop is a four-knob affair, with each knob controlling cropping on a given side of the image. I also discovered that the same process can be used to create custom aspect ratios ranging from 1:1 to 2.39:1 or more. Preset crops include full screen, 4:3, 16:9 and custom.
Another handy feature is the ability to reduce or exclude the on-screen information that’s normally visible when you’re using some of the popular DSLRs for capturing video. The monitor has four preset crops to accommodate several popular DSLR cameras: Nikon 16:9/3:2 and Canon 16:9/3:2.
The monitor offers a pixel-to-pixel mode, useful when shooting busy subjects where moiré could be an issue. This operating mode provides display of images at native resolution and aspect ratio without compression artifacts. The images are automatically cropped in the vertical and horizontal directions for display at the native resolution. (1920 x 1080 images are cropped at both edges, while 1280 x 720 images will show black bordering on the 1280 x 768 pixel screen.)
In my exploration of the monitor’s feature set, I found three color temperature presets in the color submenu: 5,500° K, 6,500° K and 9,300° K. You can also fine-tune the monitor’s color balance by adjusting the bias and gain controls to achieve a particular look and to assist in matching cameras on multicamera shoots.
The monitor’s peaking function is well executed to enable precise camera focus. It lets you choose what color you use to highlight the image detail being scrutinized. Choices are red, green, yellow or blue. You can also adjust the threshold to heighten or lessen the intensity. (It helps to choose a color that is not present in the element you want to put in precise focus.)
I got pretty good results with yellow highlighting in a scene that incorporated a shallow depth of field and plenty of dark subject matter. I then switched to red highlighting as the principal subject matter got brighter. With the color overlay selected and the element you want to monitor for critical focus selected, sharp focus is achieved by racking the camera’s lens while watching the color overlay presentation. It will move from object to object in the scene, with the color standing out on whatever object is in sharpest focus.
I wish I’d had more time to experiment with the false color function, which is used to set and fine-tune exposure. As you adjust the iris, certain features in your image change color in response to changes in brightness and luminance. You tweak exposure via your iris control while watching some pretty interesting psychedelic color changes take place.
I also appreciated the multi-functionality and high resolution of the waveform monitor feature, which appears as a picture-in-picture display and occupies less than 20 percent of the overall screen real estate. Despite occupying just a fraction of a fairly small screen, the waveform display added precision and clarity to what might otherwise be murky subjective adjustment decisions. It sure beats lugging around a standalone dedicated waveform monitor to gauge exposure.
The LCD90MD-3G is a compact and complex high-resolution field video monitor with many of the key features that are found in good pro studio monitors. This abundance of features leads to the only real negative about the product: while its user interface is fairly user friendly, it could be intimidating to DPs accustomed to more basic field monitors.
I expect the V-LCD90MD will be a great monitor for any pro who wants maximum control over the imaging process and who isn’t intimidated by a studio-style monitor while shooting afield.
The LCD90MD could be a commercial shooter’s best friend or a news cameraman’s boogeyman, depending on how much time he or she spends in getting familiar with it. However, the device will serve perfectly well as a confidence and imaging monitor right out of the box with its factory default levels in place. With just a bit of study and experience, it can help most pros take their game up a notch without really impacting overall camera package weight and bulk.
Product:Marshall Electronics V-LCD90MD-3G 9” field monitor
Pros: Features modular I/Os with a familiar (Marshall) interface, but with advanced studio monitor features including waveform analysis, scalability, peaking focus assist with adjustable threshold, color/false color, DSLR presets and most aspect ratios, freeze frame, 32 assignable options. All rapidly adjustable via the rubberized jog select dial.
Cons: A bit pricey. Switches are small (but sturdy). No analog I/Os despite many digital options. This is a fairly complex “small” field monitor, so there may be a learning curve to take full advantage of its many advanced options.
Bottom Line: A very portable, solid studio-quality HD field monitor with an ample, sharp screen for precise visual and waveform analysis and confidence viewing. It has a user-friendly interface familiar to Marshall monitor users for fast access to a full palette of features at a fair price.
MSRP: V-LCD90MD $1,699, V-LCD90MD-3G $1,899, $99 battery adapter
Marshall V-LCD90MD Specifications