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Resolution, Recording Capabilities and Contrast Ratios: Monitoring a Range of Camera-Top Monitors

A spigot pouring hot coffee is about the only thing you can’t find on a camera-top monitor these days. With the emergence of 4K cameras in the digital production market, shooters need to be able to see all the additional detail they are recording. Fortunately, there are on-camera monitors offering so many features that “electronic viewfinder” (EVF) seems almost a dismissive description. To learn more about the state of the art in video camera displays, I asked several manufacturers to detail their latest models and explain their benefits to shooters.

Atomos

Atomos Shogun

The new 4K Atomos Shogun—which combines a 4K/HD recorder with a 7.1-inch display, playback deck and cut edit suite—enables users to record direct from the camera sensor to a choice of Apple ProRes, DNxHD/DNxHR or raw in 10-bit 4:2:2 quality onto affordable media. Shogun’s 7.1-inch, 1920 x 1200, 320 ppi IPS monitor offers a suite of setup tools including 3D LUTs, 2:1/1:1 zoom, waveform and focus assist. Other features include XLR audio monitoring with 48V phantom power, playback capability on screen or out to a larger monitor, and editing capability on the fly with cut in/out points and favorite/reject tagging.

“The Atomos Shogun makes 4K affordable, manageable and accessible to more filmmakers and helps accelerate the changeover from HD to 4K, all while making production simpler and more affordable,” says Atomos CEO Jeromy Young. “The current Shogun model includes not only the main Shogun unit but a case full of starter accessories to get productions recording straight away, including HPRC hard case, AC adapter, SSD media cases, D-Tap adapter, 5200mAh battery, battery charger, XLR breakout cable and SSD docking station.”

Blackmagic Design

Blackmagic Video Assist

Blackmagic Video Assist, announced at the 2015 NAB Show, is a portable, all-in-one professional monitor and video recorder that can be used with any SDI or HDMI camera. Blackmagic Video Assist adds professional recording and monitoring to any camera and features a bright, high-resolution 5-inch monitor for checking focus, framing and reviewing shots, along with a broadcast-quality HD recorder for saving video files.

“The Blackmagic Video Assist has been designed to help videographers like readers of Digital Video magazine shoot better video on any type of camera by combining the best of our monitoring and recording technologies for on-set monitoring and professional recording into one easy to use, very compact product,” says Grant Petty, CEO, Blackmagic Design. “Customers can use it to improve the quality of their DSLR shoots, and to breathe new life into older camcorders that use expensive proprietary media. Blackmagic Video Assist is perfect for use on digital film projects to allow recording to HD files while the camera simultaneously records raw. It’s an amazingly versatile product that customers can use with any camera and on any project.”

Boland Communications

BVB07, BVB09

Part of the DayBrite series, Boland’s high-brightness BVB07 (7 inches, 1,500 cd/m2 brightness) and BVB09 (9 inches, 900 cd/m2) LCD monitors are designed for on-location use, offering quick setup and shooting capabilities.

“If you are running Steadicam or want to place the unit atop a C-stand, the included table stand doubles as a cool little yoke, with 1/4-20 holes on the top and bottom for easy mounting options,” says Gary Litwin, national sales director at Boland Communications. “Both models also feature SDI-to-HDMI and HDMI-to-SDI cross-conversion, so when mounted for camera-top viewing, they are easily used to loop signal out to a director’s monitor or through a wireless transmitter.”

Convergent Design

Odyssey7Q+

In addition to sophisticated recording options including the ability to capture 4K/UHD video in 10-bit over HDMI, the Odyssey7Q+ monitor/recorder also features advanced display specs. The Odyssey7Q+ features a 7.7-inch OLED 1280 x 800 monitor with true blacks, accurate colors, 3400:1 contrast, extended color gamut and a 176 degree viewing angle. The unit supports preset or custom 3D LUTs for preview color correction, allowing the operator to view in one mode while sending a “corrected” image to the client. It uses standard CUBE files, with the ability to store hundreds at a time.

“The Odyssey7Q+ and Odyssey7Q support more raw output cameras in more ways than any other device in the world,” says Mike Schell, president, Convergent Design. “Depending on the camera, we record in the manufacturer’s native raw format, encode into CinemaDNG, process and record in Apple ProRes, and can record up to 240 fps. It’s an incredibly versatile and powerful machine—and it is also an excellent portable monitor.”

Flanders Scientific

BM090

The Flanders Scientific BM090 is a lightweight, color-critical, full HD resolution (1920 x 1080) 9-inch LCD monitor with 3G/Dual Link/HD/SD-SDI and DVI-I inputs. This unit features full 12-bit video processing and an 8-bit panel capable of reproducing over 16.7 million colors on screen. The BM090 is equipped with a power-efficient LED backlight offering long-term reliability and calibration stability in addition to Rec. 709, SMPTE C and EBU color gamut coverage.

“The Flanders BM090 is the perfect choice for large camera rigs,” says Kris Merkel, marketing manager and director of product marketing at Flanders Scientific. “It has all of the standard features that set FSI’s products apart from other monitors in this class, including 18 scopes and meters, the ability to monitor two live pictures side by side, luma color for exposure check, 16-position DIT LUT import, 16-channel audio disembedding, CalMAN and LightSpace CMS support and more.”

ikan Corp.

VX9w

With its 8.9-inch, 1920 x 1200 IPS LCD panel, ikan’s VX9w on-camera monitor displays dazzling imagery from all angles. In addition to 3G-SDI and HDMI input and output signals with lossless component and composite, the unit boasts waveform, vectorscope, RGB parade, histogram and audio meters. The rugged, all-aluminum body, durable Gorilla Glass and table stand (that doubles as a yoke for attaching to a light stand) make the VX9w the perfect choice for a location shoot or the edit suite.

“Together with the recently released D12 model, the VX9w ushers in a new wave of ikan monitors with full HD/IPS panels, premium construction materials and on-screen tools for fine-tuning image capture,” says ikan product manager Dariel Resendez. “Our challenge has been to program as many high-end features as possible into these new units while maintaining pricing that makes them accessible to a variety of budgets, and I’m confident we have succeeded.”

Manfrotto

Digital Director

Manfrotto, a member of the Vitec Group, will soon start shipping Digital Director, an iPad holder/tethering system that turns an iPad Air into an external monitor for Canon and Nikon DSLRs. The Digital Director app enables all the key parameters of these DSLRs to be monitored and dynamically modified in real time (exposure, ISO, shutter speed, aperture, manual focus, white balance, image quality, focus camera/drive modes, battery status). Shooting remotely via the iPad Retina Display, the app enables real time “live view” monitoring and adjustments.

“The Digital Director’s live view can be seen over a USB cable at either half screen or full screen,” says Thomas Howley, product manager at Manfrotto. “With its touchscreen focus, anywhere you touch on the screen will direct the camera’s center of focus. You can also control key parameters such as ISO, shutter speed, white balance and f-stops straight from the iPad. And since Digital Director is an app, you can expect regular updates with new features.”

Marshall Electronics

V-LCD70-AFHD

The latest addition to Marshall Electronics’ 7-inch monitor family, the V-LCD70-AFHD is a high-resolution (1024 x 600) on-camera display that brings together many of Marshall’s trademark features on one versatile monitor. The screen is a bright 500 cd/m2 with a 700:1 contrast ratio.

“The V-LCD70-AFHD offers a wide range of professional features that are geared toward videographers and DPs, as well as pros shooting commercials and corporate videos,” says Devan Cress, director of sales for Marshall Electronics’ Broadcast AV division. “These include multiple inputs, picture-in-picture, image flip, screen markers, peaking filter, false color and zebra filters. The V-LCD70-AFHD’s menu is fully accessible from the front of the monitor, where adjustments can be made to color, exposure and picture orientation. The aspect ratio of the image can be adjusted from full screen to 4:3, 14:9 and 16:9. The V-LCD70-AFHD is designed for the videographer who moves between HD, 3G and analog formats and needs a field monitor that adapts to every situation.”

Panasonic

BT-LH910

Panasonic’s BT-LH910 is a high-performance, portable 9-inch LCD monitor with LED backlight for color accuracy. The monitor’s IPS LCD panel with 1280 x 768 (WXGA) resolution suits both field and studio applications. With 176 degree vertical and horizontal viewing angles, the BT-LH910 delivers high-quality imagery and color accuracy.

“This is a high-performance portable monitor with exceptional imagery, color accuracy and professional interfaces including HDMI and 3G-SDI,” says Steve Cooperman, senior product manager at Panasonic. “Ideal for field applications, the BT-LH910 can be utilized on camera as an electronic viewfinder, on location, in mobile vehicles or for live settings.”

Plura Broadcast

PHB-3G Series

Plura Broadcast offers a number of on-camera monitors in 7-inch, 9-inch and 10-inch form factors from three different product series: the PHB, PBM and VF (ViewFinder). Plura’s latest is the PHB-3G Series, which includes 7-inch and 9-inch LCD panels for outdoor monitoring. Rugged, versatile and portable, PHB-3G Series monitors support up to 1,300 cd/m2 of brightness, allowing outside use without a hood or sun visor.

“Readers of Digital Video should consider using these monitors because of their powerful indoor and outdoor capabilities and benefits,” says Ray Kalo, president of Plura Broadcast. “Whether in direct sunlight on an outdoor film shoot, under the glaring lights of sports and live event stadiums, or with normal indoor use for corporate video and studio production, the PHB-3G series delivers stunning picture quality and accurate color reproduction virtually everywhere.”

SmallHD

502

SmallHD’s 5-inch 502 monitor provides a full high-definition (1920 x 1080) display with a dense, 441 ppi screen that gives the camera operator a tack-sharp image. The 502’s LCD color capabilities rival that of OLED, producing 85 percent of the NTSC color gamut (100 percent of Rec. 709). The compact, 7.4 ounce monitor offers a large feature set, including a wealth of focus and exposure assist tools, plus the ability to import 3D LUTs. The 502 supports 3G-SDI and HDMI input, output and (soon) cross-conversion.

“The most exciting thing about the 502 monitor is how you interact with it,” says Dale Backus, CTO of SmallHD. “Adding a joystick to the interface gave us the flexibility to introduce a fast and simple user experience. Moving the joystick upwards will instantly zoom the source image, while left and right will switch between different pages or ‘views’ of your image, each with unique customization toolsets.”

Sound Devices

PIX-E7, PIX-E5 and PIX-E5H

Sound Devices is becoming a major player in on-camera monitors. The company’s Video Devices PIX-E Series line of camera-mounted recording field monitors includes the 1920 x 1200 7-inch PIX-E7, and the 1920 x 1080 5-inch PIX-E5 and PIX-E5H. Featuring LCD displays, a full suite of precision monitoring tools and SDI and HDMI I/O, these new monitors combine easy-to-access controls with an intuitive touchscreen interface. The PIX-E Series units are capable of recording 4K and Apple ProRes 4444 XQ edit-ready files to mSATA-based SpeedDrives.

“For starters, the PIX-E Series monitors feature compact, die-cast metal housings and a 500 nit bright, sunlight-readable LCD display protected by Gorilla Glass 2,” says Paul Isaacs, vice president of marketing and product design at Sound Devices. “PIX-E’s combination of tactile buttons and an intuitive touchscreen interface makes it a ‘best-of-both-worlds’ solution for anyone seeking responsive control.” Isaacs goes on to describe the PIX-E5 and E5H as “presently the world’s most compact 4K recording monitors, making them an ideal option for DSLR shoots or any applications in which the current market solutions are too cumbersome.”

Transvideo

5-inch StarliteHD

Transvideo’s 5-inch StarliteHD 16:9 professional monitor packs a lot of features in a smartphone-sized package. This high-resolution 3G/HD-SDI monitor, which weighs just 7 ounces, offers all the functions an operator or focus puller may need. Its technological innovations include an interchangeable front system and a removable 3x magnifying eyepiece used in combination with peaking and pixel-to-pixel display to deliver better clarity for the focus puller than direct access to the camera’s eyepiece.

“The new 5-inch StarliteHD has a revolutionary smart-corner interface that provides direct access to the functions without going through convoluted menus,” says Marianne Exbrayat, president of Transvideo International U.S. “The same on-the-fly philosophy applies to the built-in recorder/playback with auto-record. Traditional HD production tools include waveform, histogram and vectorscope, and the 5-inch StarliteHD accepts all HD standards, with delay of less than one frame. The monitor also generates camera and lens reports.”

ViewZ

VZ-070PM-3G

The ViewZ VZ-070PM-3G is a 7-inch multiformat ENG/EFP monitor that supports 3G-SDI direct inputs up to 2K. Using a commercial-grade IPS panel with 12-bit processing, the VZ-070PM-3G monitor reproduces colors accurately and offers greater viewing angles. Its features include 1:1 pixel mode, waveform/vectorscope display, histogram, audio monitor display, false color and UMD support.

“Unique to the ViewZ monitor is the built-in SDI-to-HDMI and HDMI-to-SDI converter, as well as the ViewZ exclusive jog dial for quick access and selection of the monitor’s control menu,” says Barry Rubin, sales director of the broadcast division at ViewZ. “To top it all off, ViewZ offers a two-year advance replacement warranty.”  

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