Shooting with your camera’s built-in viewfinder or swing-out confidence monitor often leads to unfortunate focus and exposure mistakes. On the other hand, the thought of carrying around a large broadcast monitor to assist is inconvenient, if not impossible, in many production scenarios.
Enter the compact, professional monitoring category, products lightweight enough to mount onto your camera and run effectively via batteries. Packed with high-end features, these monitors possess image quality to greatly enhance your focus and exposure measurements on set. Some pull double-duty as RAW and/or ProRes/DNxHR recorders, also improving on the camera’s onboard compression abilities while providing convenient backup.
Let’s take a look at three contenders in this production niche: the ATOMOS Ninja Flame, Convergent Design’s Odyssey7Q+ and SmallHD’s 702 Bright. These onboard monitors improve what you’re able to see as you shoot, designed to mount directly onto the camera and connect via HDMI/SDI, as well as function in bright, outdoor conditions.
SMALLHD 702 BRIGHT
Among the 702 Bright’s key strengths are mobility and convenience. Weighing 481 grams, this is the smallest and lightest unit. It looks and feels like a large cell phone, or phablet, but is considerably more rugged.
As its name implies, the 702 Bright has an especially brilliant 1920×1080 LCD screen well suited to outdoor viewing at 1,000 nits with optically bonded anti-reflection coating. It doesn’t have touch-screen capabilities, instead featuring a hardware joystick and buttons to access menus. I found myself trying to press the onscreen displays occasionally to dismiss dialogs etc., but this is a mobile phone habit easily overcome. The 702 doesn’t possess recording capabilities, but it can save stills to SDHC cards.
The 702 accepts both Sony NPF L Series and Canon LP-E6 camcorder batteries, easy to uncover at your nearest electronics shop. It also has a phone-like onboard OS that makes it easy to design your own interface—just load the functions you desire and divide them into pages that are easily toggled between. One highly welcome feature is a built-in tutorial taking you through the main steps to set up and customize your own control layouts.
The 702 was impressively bright and easy to handle outdoors. I thought the lack of touch screen would be a drawback, but in practice, the ability to navigate the screens with just a joystick was a plus, especially when working fast. Price: $1,499. smallhd.com
CONVERGENT DESIGN ODYSSEY7Q+
The Odyssey7Q+ is strikingly bright, sharp and even across its flat front surface, thanks to its 1280×800-resolution OLED touch screen. In addition to being an excellent production monitor and recorder, it also offers Apollo, a versatile 4-angle switcher (as a paid option for an additional $1,795). With four HD-SDI inputs and one HDMI input, the Odyssey7Q+ can be used as a one-piece production studio to produce very high-end work.
Toggling over to Apollo’s 4-angle quad view mode from the standard view takes a few minutes. Once in the mode, you see all monitors up simultaneously and have the option to cut or dissolve by touching the desired angle. The switch is saved to a single file with locked time code that you can easily export back to isolated angles, or just stick with the live line cut for really fast turnarounds.
The Odyssey7Q+’s interface was the easiest to learn. All options are within one menu choice deep, with easy-to-press (if a little small) text buttons. You press once to toggle and long-hold to access the item’s options. It’s all very quick and intuitive. Of the group, the Odyssey was the least apparently bright in direct sunlight, so you’ll want to add the sun hood accessory to really get the most out of it.
Weighing 560 grams without batteries, the Odyssey7Q+ is the middleweight of the monitors and handles nicely. It’s completely silent, using heat sinks instead of a fan. The unit did get warm on the back, but not too hot to hold. Mounting and formatting the 2.5-inch standard SSD media is easy and fast to set up. The unit also includes a SATA to USB 3.0 cable, allowing you to mount media right to your computer desktop.
Monitoring options include all the bells and whistles such as waveform/false color and histogram. As with all monitors in this review, the Odyssey7Q+ also has 2.35:1, 1.85:1 and 1.33:1 aspect ratio guidelines and more, with over 15 LUTs built in that include ARRI EE Log C, Canon C-Log, Sony S-Log and RED. (As an important aside, the Log viewing modes for all of these monitors are nondestructive and for preview purposes only. Always remember, you’re still only recording whatever comes out of the camera.) Price: $1,795. convergent-design.com
ATOMOS NINJA FLAME
As one of the newer units on the market, the ATOMOS Ninja Flame aims squarely at 4K (and up)/RAW/HDR production—all popular choice in professional production these days. The unit has some heft at 620 grams, but also rests at a comfortable angle when loaded with its NPF750 batteries for quick tabletop setups.
The Ninja can record up to 4K UHD 24/25/30 with all the key flavors of ProRes / DNxHR codecs. Its HDR modes are quite extensive and make things interesting by displaying up to 10 stops of latitude that digs into the LUT and HDR capabilities of today’s RAW cameras.
To really get the most out of the exceptional latitude offered by this monitor, there needs to be a higher degree of calibration done so that what you’re seeing on the monitor corresponds to what the camera is capturing. It has a ton of LUT presets (S-Log2, S-Log3, C-Log, V-Log, etc.), with Gamma and Gamut settings for many different cameras from Sony, Canon, RED, Panavision and more—plus the ability to load your own.
The Ninja was the only monitor with a reasonably quiet fan instead of a heat sink that cuts off automatically during recording, but it can kick back on during playback. Its 1920×1200 IPS LCD screen is incredibly bright (at 1500 nits) and very sharp, although the touch screen can be sensitive to stray touches. The Ninja has full-sized HDMIs for input and pass-through output.
The waveform and scopes can be set up in different sizes and locations with brightness and transparency levels that are easily adjustable. The Ninja also features a metadata tagging menu to mark specific shots to export XML for your editor and others at the touch of a button.
This enables the Ninja to pull double-duty for both DIT and the script supervisor who might just be fighting over the controls on set. The Ninja’s OS is a bit more complex than the others with many graphical icons, so you’ll want to learn them as you work to really get the most out of this unit. Price: $1,295. atomos.com
IT’S A BUYER’S MARKET
What surprised me most about these monitors were their differences in features while remaining within a price range of a few hundred dollars. I’m a little more accustomed to cameras with prices that vary from the sub-$1,000 4K DSLR compacts up to the high six figures for fully equipped RED and ARRI offerings.
The monitor niche is clearly more of a buyer’s market, but it still pays to decide which features are critical for you when buying an onboard monitor.
The 702 Bright is a nice, compact unit with an easy-to-customize interface. It’s a solid upgrade from a camera’s built-in monitor/EVF. The 702’s specifications don’t include a ton of features, but it does give you the most critical ones such as advanced LUT management, waveform monitoring/RGB parade, focus peaking, zebras, flexible power and more. If you need a low-profile, very bright and sharp monitor to take just about anywhere, the 702 Bright is a great option.
The Odyssey7Q+ is an incredibly versatile option. I found its menu system the most straightforward with every conceivable option easily accessible at anytime. It also seemed a bit sharper than the others due no doubt to the different technology of OLED vs. LCD at play. The unit’s ProRes, DPX and RAW options (for supported cameras including the ARRI ALEXA, Canon C300 and Sony FS5) can handle a wide variety of production types, from field reporting up to capturing plates for visual effects. This is such a jack-of-all-trades unit, it’s quite possibly the last HD monitor you’ll ever need.
The Ninja Flame represents state-of-the-art monitoring and recording. The challenge is viewing the accuracy of the actual exposure vs. the appearance of how the final graded footage will look. For this reason, many DPs will use two monitors on location, one set to RAW and the other to LUT—or they’ll toggle on one monitor between LUT applied and RAW so they can evaluate both exposure and aesthetics.
The HDR mode of the Ninja allows you to see the LUT applied, as well as the proper full gamma range of the raw exposure simultaneously, allowing far more accurate decisions on the exposure and the appearance of your work. Any good DP knows a great shot should be both well exposed and highly stylistic. The Ninja gives you enhanced capabilities to compose HDR material in the most interactive and accurate ways possible.
Any of these monitors offers a big upgrade from an onboard viewfinder or flip-out monitor. If you primarily seek better monitoring and LUT profiling, consider the 702 Bright. To add recording and the option of a live multi-camera switcher, step up to the Odyssey. For next-generation HDR/LUT capabilities, why not try the Ninja. Whatever monitor you go for, you’ll gain a lot more confidence during production and achieve better exposures and sharper focus in all situations.