The Bigger Picture

The Bigger Picture 

Adding a monitor to the mix can deliver numerous benefits, from enabling you to share live footage with clients and crew through to the unlocking of a host of useful extra functions.

For those with long enough memories, those early digital cameras with their tiny LCD viewing screens will surely be amongst those things that will not be missed. Low resolution and impossible to see in daylight, they made life very difficult for those attempting to blaze a trail for new technology.

Fast forward to today and there’s been a sea change in what’s being offered, both in terms of size and quality, so why, you might ask, should it still be necessary to supplement them with a separate monitor that will add to the expense of the kit and the amount of gear you need to be carrying about? Look closer, however, and the benefit of such a way of working very quickly becomes clear, especially if you happen to be one of the growing army of professional photographers who are looking at the potential of bolting on a filmmaking service to run alongside their stills production. 

“Monitors for your hybrid camera are incredibly helpful for a huge range of reasons,” explains Jake Ratcliffe, CVP’s prominent in-house technical expert. “For a start, if you’re shooting with a DSLR or a mirrorless camera, having a larger monitor to work with will help with composing your image as well as making sure there are no errors in your frame that you could miss if you’re working with a smaller screen.

“They can also be handy for other people on set to view what’s going on. You could, for example, set up a client viewable monitor so that they can be up to speed regarding what you’re shooting while not being next to the camera. They can even be used wirelessly, which makes them extremely versatile across a range of different uses, such as being used by a focus puller, for example, who needs to be able to see the transmitted image clearly to be able to execute accurate focus pulls.”

In recent years the addition of a recording facility has also made a huge difference, adding a host of benefits that can effectively massively upgrade the camera they’re being used in conjunction with. They can upgrade the quality of the recording and also free the camera from the straitjacket of recording limits, often set at just under 30 minutes, allowing the user to record in more robust formats such as ProRes while, with some models, it’s also possible to capture more bit depth and chroma subsampling. 

‘Recording monitors have become hugely popular because they can turn the camera you’re working with into a much more fully-featured video model,” says Jake. “Along with the recording facility, they also come with the ability to add loads of awesome monitoring assists and features that are often not otherwise included, such as false colour for exposure.’

One of the most high-profile and influential models since its introduction at the NAB Show in Las Vegas in April 2018 was the Atomos Ninja V, which combined an affordable price point with the ability to add ProRes Raw, the highly-rated new standard for Raw video capture, to the mix, a potential game-changing moment.

It was announced that Olympus had become the eighth brand to support this format, joining Panasonic, Canon, Sigma, Sony, Nikon, Z Cam and Fujifilm to work in tandem with Atomos. The ability to work with a format such as Pro Res Raw is becoming increasingly important, since it gives filmmakers enormous latitude when adjusting the look of their images, extending brightness and shadow detail and helping to make HDR workflows much simpler.

“If you’re a photographer wanting to do more video work then shooting in ProRes Raw could be an awesome option,” observes Jake, “as correcting and colouring is more like what you would expect when shooting Raw stills. Of course, regular ProRes is still a great option, but ProRes Raw files use up less data and allow you to have the full flexibility of working with Raw files with all of the information they possess. Just bear in mind however that ProRes Raw is currently best processed in Final Cut Pro X, and you won’t get the same flexibility right now in Premiere Pro, although it would be nice to think that this will change in time.

“There are other advantages to working with the Ninja V beyond this, however, such as a wide range of really useful exposure tools. A lot of mirrorless cameras come with features such as Zebras but not many have False Colour built-in, which, in my opinion, is one of the best tools out there when it comes to understanding where your image and exposure are sitting.” 

Further Advantages

While Atomos is undoubtedly one of the major players in the monitor market they are by no means the only player and there are some seriously good alternatives out there to consider. The Blackmagic Video Assist range, for example, is very highly rated and offers access to Blackmagic Raw (BRAW), a much-valued codec that gives you visually lossless images that are ideal for high resolution, high frame rate and high dynamic range workflows.

“The Video Assist range is a very capable alternative to the Atomos models,” confirms Jake. “BRAW in particular is a fantastic option and, if you’re working with a camera that’s compatible with it then you’re in luck because it’s currently one of my favourite compressed Raw options. On top of that the Video Assists are very well put together devices and one benefit over their Atomos counterparts is their use of SD cards as their recording media, which makes storage more affordable and readily available. 

“Obviously, there are lots of other monitors in all shapes and forms and with CVP’s equipment agnostic approach we can walk you through the options to make sure we recommend the product that’s most suitable for your requirements, at whatever price point that might be. Portkeys, for example, make some fantastic monitors right now, such as PortKeys PT5 II. Z CAM had also just released its EVF, which could be an option if you’re looking for a solid electronic viewfinder that you’ll be able to use across a range of cameras. 

“SmallHD also make some of my favourite monitors which integrate fantastically with Teradek’s solutions if you require wireless video. One of their big selling points is the fact that their monitors are ultra-bright and have been designed to be fully visible outside even on the sunniest of days and that can make a huge difference.

“If you’re going to be working regularly on location, ease of viewing is something you need to be considering, and I would recommend picking the brightest monitor you can afford. To do this you’ll need to be aware of nits, which is the unit of measurement often used when discussing the luminance of displays such as monitors. SmallHD’s 702 Touch monitor for example is a 7in version that features an impressive 1500 nits coupled with really high resolution. It’s also a good idea to buy a sun hood for your monitor if you’re looking to improve performance l further still.”

Size Matters

Another thing to consider when choosing a monitor to work with is the size, and it might be easy to consider that bigger is always better. Sometimes it undoubtedly can be of course, but there are also times when the better choice would be a smaller unit size, and it’s a matter of considering what you might primarily be using the monitor for and how it’s going to be mounted.

“How you mount your monitor completely depends on how you intend to be using it,” explains Jake. “Mounting it on-camera can be as simple as attaching it to a cold shoe ball head, such as the Manfrotto 492LCD, and popping it onto your camera’s hot shoe. However, I would recommend getting a cage and building your rig around that. We help people build their camera configurations every day at CVP, so we can certainly help you to find one that suits.

“If you do prefer to work with an on-camera monitor the two most common sizes to consider are 5in and 7in, and the choice of which one to go for is a matter of personal preference. For myself, I find 5in monitors very usable and, for rigs where I want to keep the weight down, they’re an obvious choice.”

If your client or other members of the crew would benefit from access to live footage a bigger monitor could be the best solution. Check out the aptly named Atomos Sumo19, a 19in 4K monitor/recorder for an idea of what’s available. This should be big enough for those outside the shooting area to be kept fully up to speed on how the production is going.

The really good thing about monitors is that they are something you can retrospectively invest in if you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford from the outset. While they’re not hugely expensive these days – that highly usable Atomos Ninja V that will unlock so many extra facilities – you can still make the further investment down the line.

For all photographers looking to make a move across into video production, the monitor has pretty much become a ‘must have’ accessory, so take a closer look and make your mind up about the one that will best suit the needs of your business.

Jake Ratcliffe

One of CVP’s resident team of technical experts, and a self-confessed camera nerd who gets way too excited over kit, Jake’s background mirrors that of so many creatives these days. After graduating with a degree in photography he took up a freelance career and found that many of his clients were asking for video services so, rather than turn the work away, he started to teach himself the filmmaking basics. Having been based at CVP for four years now, Jake epitomises the ‘equipment agnostic’ approach of the company and devotes his time to advising customers who might be looking for impartial feedback on which products to invest in as they look to make the same journey into motion.

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