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Best & Most Affordable DSLR Monitors

If you’re a filmmaker working with DSLRs you’ve undoubtedly encountered the problems associated with trying to make focus and framing decisions based off what you see in your viewfinder or LCD screen. This can be an incredibly difficult task, especially if you’re over 14 years old and your vision isn’t quite what it used to be. There has been some amazing technological progress being made that makes it easier for filmmakers to see the images they are capturing on larger screens. Monitors are one of the tools that are helping filmmakers accomplish this goal.

Monitors are generally easily attachable to the hot shoe of most DSLR cameras. Other filmmakers opt to attach them to the rail or cage support system of their DSLR rig. Most monitors are relatively small usually ranging between 5″ – 9″. Which may not seem like a lot, but it’s much bigger than the 2″ – 2.5″ LCD screen on most DSLRs.

Things to consider when buying a monitor for your DSLR

1. Size: The size of the monitor is a major feature to consider. Generally speaking, larger is better (as long as you’re not losing too much quality). Larger monitors will help you precisely set your focus and will allow you to see compositional details on a larger screen.

2. Cost: The cost of the monitor is another major consideration. Most monitors for DSLRs cost between $300-$2000. Of course there are monitors that fall outside of that range, but you’ll find the majority of monitors fall somewhere within that price range.

3. Resolution: The resolution of the monitor is very important for many reasons. As we’ll discuss in more detail below, HDMI outputs from most DSLRs don’t actually output HD footage. For this reason having a monitor with a good resolution will be essential to ensure you’re getting the sharpest focus possible.

4. DPI: The DPI (Dots Per Inch) is more relevant to photographers than it is to filmmakers. Where resolution measures the “lines” of an image, DPI measures how many “dots” make up an image.

5. Connectors: Some of the best connectors you can have on a monitor are BNC plugs. They will allow you to transfer the highest resolution and will ensure the closest color matching on your monitor. Another huge benefit to BNC cables is that they lock into the camera. However DSLRs are not currently equipped with a BNC outputs. Instead DSLR users are generally given the following options: HDMI, component, and HD-SDI inputs.

6. Special Features: Some monitors also come equipped with special features such as the ability to monitor the levels of the image or color matching settings.

Canon DSLRs can’t output HD video to a monitor so why bother?

First of all, if you’re shooting using a Canon DSLR, such as the 5D, t2i (550D), t3i (600D) or 60D, you are not going to output an HD signal to your monitor even if the monitor is an HD monitor. This might seem a bit confusing because most monitors are connected using an HDMI cable capable of carrying an HD signal. However, these cameras only output around 480p resolution (640 x480 – which is not HD). That is why it’s even more important to choose a monitor with a good resolution if you’re using it for focusing.

So you’re probably wondering if there is a workaround with the Canon DSLRs? Well, sort of. Essentially you need to add additional firmware to your camera made my Magic Lantern. The good news is that this firmware upgrade is free and has been well tested by thousands of filmmakers using Canon DSLRs for their video projects. These testers have given the software mostly good reviews. The new software will completely change the functionality and look of your DSLR menus. However, it should be noted that the Magic Lantern firmware upgrade doesn’t work on the Canon 7D and you’ll need to change your current canon firmware back to the factory default version to install the Magic Lantern software. It’s also uncertain as to whether your camera’s warranty will be voided if you need to send your camera in for repair after adding the Magic Lantern firmware (read more about the warranty issue here).

The software provides many other features other than just being able to output a high resolution HDMI signal. You can also monitor peaking (zebra stripes), custom crop marks, on screen audio meters and manual gain control to name only a few of the many great features that Magic Lantern offers.

Why use a DSLR Monitor?

You are probably wondering why you need to use a monitor in the first place. Well in fact, you don’t really NEED to. It’s too easy to let your camera investment balloon out of control by purchasing all of these add-on accessories. However, you will likely find that a monitor is a helpful tool for a variety of reasons. Continue reading below to see if a monitor would be a good investment for you.

1. Focus: You might be wondering why you can’t just zoom in, find your focus, and then zoom back out to get your correct framing. It is possible to do this on “parfocal” lenses, but on non-parfocal lenses (or prime lenses) you can’t do this with any sort of precision.

Okay, so now you might be wondering why you can’t just use the ever so helpful “expand focus” feature that allows you to zoom in (while you’re not recording) to find your focus. This is also a great feature, but it can’t be used while recording so if your camera or subject is in motion during a shot you won’t be able to rely on this feature. DSLR monitors are very helpful for focusing on the go. In fact, the ability to pull accurate focus is one of the main reasons to buy a monitor in the first place.

2. Framing: The increased size of the monitor helps you see the details of your frame.

3. Articulated screen: Most monitors have adjustments that allow you to position the screen in a way that is comfortable for you. This means if your camera is above your head, you can point the monitor down towards you so you can still see the image. Some DSLRs, such as the Canon t3i, have articulated LCD screens so this may not seem like a huge advantage. However, most DSLRs don’t have articulated screens so the ability to change the angle of your monitor is a major bonus.

4. Multiple people can see what’s being captured: A monitor also allows more than one person to see the image at the same time. For example, with a monitor both the director and cinematographer can stand behind the camera and not have to squint to see the small on-camera LCD screen.

What are the best DSLR Monitors to Consider if you’re on a budget?

There are many different options available. The “best” option will be one that matches your technical requirements and falls within your price range. Most of the manufactures we’ve listed below offer an assortment of models at various price ranges. We’ve included the most popular DSLR monitor companies for you to browse through.

SmallHD

Marshall

Ikan

What about using your iPhone or iPad as your monitor?

Technically, it is possible to use your computer and even your iPad as a monitor if you plug your camera into your monitor. However, this setup has obvious limitations as soon as you want to move your camera away from your computer. There are some crack technology options available if you want to move your iphone or ipad monitor around with your camera but, as far as we’re aware, this pirate technology is not available to the general public yet.

“The image in my monitor looks squished” – Understanding effective resolution

You might have already purchased a monitor but you might notice that when you record that the images sort of “squishes” or it might just not look right. You might notice that the monitor is not entirely filled with the image. There might be black bars on the sides (pillarbox) or the top and bottom (letterbox). If that’s the case, you need to learn a little bit more about effective resolution to understand why this is happening. Luckily, SmallHD has produced a video that makes this issue easier to understand.

Direct Link: http://vimeo.com/15753661

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9 Responses to Best & Most Affordable DSLR Monitors

  1. Brian Kaufman March 6, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    Small correction, the 7D does output HD via HDMI. I believe it’s the only one of the current line of HDSLRs from Canon that does this (perhaps due to the dual Digic 4 processors). It looks excellent on a big plasma compared to the output of say, the 5DMkII.

  2. Film School March 6, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    Thank you for the correction Brian. We’ve updated the post with the correct information :)

  3. Brian Kaufman March 6, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    Sweet! Thanks for the excellent article!

  4. Andy LAferme March 21, 2012 at 2:36 am #

    Very Helpful, I am sure this info is the same for 600D, would love to use my ipad as a monitor as I already have one

  5. Oli Girling May 31, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    Great post. Hopefully soon we will see Magic Lantern getting clean uncompressed HDMI out on some of these DSLR’s.

  6. JoJo August 20, 2012 at 4:02 am #

    Teradek Cube and Ipad…. is that the best solution despite e price

  7. Wellington Trenard December 5, 2012 at 2:01 am #

    As far as DSLR not having HD output you only mention Canon. Does this mean all Nikon DSLR output HD?

  8. Dave December 13, 2012 at 6:23 am #

    Great article, but I think its worth mentioning the focus & exposure assist functions available on some monitors.

    I can personally recommend this monitor: http://www.fastforwardtime.co.uk/dslr-peaking-monitor-5d?filter_name=monitor

    It has several software functions, which are very handy, such as peaking filter which puts pink marks on areas of sharp focus, as well as histogram and false colour filters for ewxposure.

  9. Fermion Galeano January 20, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    So after reading and watching the video carefully I need to ask you this, since I own a canon 600D, HD wont be a thing cause is not feature on this camera but you talk about then getting better resolution, so, what would you say I need to look into to get better resolution and focus? What monitor?

    King regards;

    Fermin.

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