Size Matters: External Monitors

on March 28, 2016

When you first start shooting, the first thing you’ll probably do is try to get that “cinematic look” by taking advantage of your sensor’s shallow depth of field.  Rack focus pulls are gorgeous, and one of the things that you just can’t do on a camcorder very well, much less your smartphone.

But you probably noticed that NAILING your focus through your viewfinder can be a difficult task, and even though your LCD screen made things a little easier, spending a day training your eye on that little monitor will give you mental fatigue and drain you of the energy that SHOULD be spent composing the shot and making more important decisions.

This is where an external monitor comes in.

Your LCD is probably around three inches, and some of the other “entry level” monitors are five inches- but to be honest, my iPhone is bigger than that, and it’s just not enough real estate.

Seven inches seems to be the sweet spot.

I have an Aputure VS-3, but they have since come out with a refresh on the VS-1 and VS-2 called the “Fine” models, which has incorporated the features of the VS-3 from the previous generation.

The first thing you notice when you start working with an external monitor is that it is MUCH easier to pull focus and compose off of a 7″ monitor than the back of your camera.  I recently started using the Aputure VS-3 monitor for my shoots, especially client shoots.  Clients LOVE having a big screen that they can see, and having them hover over your shoulder on every take is a sure-fire way to make sure you don’t get the shot you want.

This monitor uses an IPS display, which is important for a few reasons: it has a pretty faithful rendition of color, but more importantly, the IPS panel allows you to see the monitor from a wider variety of angles.  You don’t want to have to keep readjusting your monitor for every take.  The less time you spend fiddling, the more time you spend shooting and the better your images will be.

This monitor also has an HDMI passthrough, which if you’re in a studio environment, means that you can have this as your monitor as you shoot, and then run another feed to a big screen TV for video village or even to an external recorder.

Those are the big obvious things that a lot of monitors have, but there are a few features that kind of blew me away for a monitor is this price range.

False Color:  This is one of my favorite built-in features of Magic Lantern, and even after I bought an A7RII, I would still bring along my Canon JUST for the false color.  This monitor has it built in. Focus Peaking: Another feature that Magic Lantern has that is built into this monitor.  It means that my workflow is similar to what I’ve been using with Magic Lantern, and if I’m doing a multi-cam shoot, and one of the rental cameras doesn’t have ML installed, there’s no hiccup in production.

Focus Peaking: Another feature that Magic Lantern has that is built into this monitor.  It means that my workflow is similar to what I’ve been using with Magic Lantern, and if I’m doing a multi-cam shoot, and one of the rental cameras doesn’t have ML installed, there’s no hiccup in production.

Powered by Sony Batteries:  When I first got my monitor, I was worried that I had to buy yet ANOTHER type of battery to power this sucker.  Then I looked in my closet.  Sony has been manufacturing this SAME LINE of batteries for decades.  I had a camcorder with four batteries in the case, and after a quick overnight charge, they all worked fine.  I can get about six hours off of one of the big Sony NFP-970 batteries.

Director’s Monitor:  This monitor also has a headphone jack and a 1/4-20 thread on the bottom.  If I’m working as a DP for another director, it’s very easy to just set up an extra tripod and attach a long length of HDMI and have a mini Video Village set up in minutes.

The biggest FEATURE of these monitors, however, is their price point.  Every other “budget” monitoring solution clocked in at around the $500 price point, and as of this writing, the VS-1fine comes in under $200 on Amazon, and the VS-2 fine is just under $300.

 

I’ve had the chance to talk with the guys over at Aputure, and they do some really groundbreaking things creating cost-effective solutions for independent filmmakers.  While they have made a name for themselves with their High-CRI LED light panels, I think that these monitors are the hidden gem in their arsenal, and they will change the way you interface with your camera, and consequently, the way that you shoot.