Pardon my hiatus friends, thankfully i’ve been very busy shootin this last few months.
One tool i’ve been using on a regular basis is what i like to call the “Light meter for the digital age”. That is to say a small, high quality monitor. In this case the Small HD DP4. This is a truly unique monitor, that holds an interesting place in my tool kit.
I won’t spend too much time on specs, other than this brief over view. Its a 800×480 16:9 1080 capable monitor, with HDMI, and component inputs. MSRP at SmallHD is $749 with the EVF attachment included. Its specifically designed to be used with an eye cup attachment that turn this small monitor into an EVF (Electronic View Finder). This is extremely advantageous to the modern digital cinematographer, because more often than not, the digital cameras we use tend not to have viewfinders that are in logical, or convenient places. More often placed on as an after thought it seems. At last we now have a system that gives you freedom to place the EVF where ever you wish.
Physically the DP4 monitor has a fantastic fit and finish. You could say an almost “MacBook Pro” like build. Smooth milled aluminum, with a silky texture, beveled edges, and all power, and buttons are smoothly contained in one body. The removable Eye Cup, is also thoughtfully designed, but is made of plastic. The eyecup has a great feature, a rare earth magnetic locking mechanism. Its an elegant means of securing the evf in its open and closed positions. You can see the magnets in the image above on the left side. The unit comes in a very sleek black box, with a short HDMI cable, 90 degree HDMI adapter, USB cable, collapsable sunshade, screen protector, EVF eyecup, rubber eyepiece, wall AC power unit, and a screen wipe.
I have a lot of ground to cover, but right now i want to talk about using the thing….
In the 4 months i’ve had this monitor, ive brought it to every corner of the USA and soon, will be taking it to Africa to complete a feature film i am DPing. I have not had a single electronic hitch. It is reliable, rugged, and stands up to abuse quite well.
Whats awesome about the DP4 is this: as a SmallHD DP6 user for about a year. I have grown spoiled by its high resolution, plethora of tools, and beautiful build quality. When i received the DP4 i was not expecting it to perform to the same standard as the flagship monitor, figuring the lower priced unit would be lacking….. Truth is, it performs slightly better. Its color accuracy is better, its latency (the refresh rate, and speed of processing from the camera signal) is almost nil, and despite the “lower” resolution, its smaller size makes it appear to be equally sharp. Its like they shrunk a DP6 and added more features. Its my new weapon of choice for travel jobs. Its half the size, weight, and gives me all the same tools. At the same time, if i ever need it, its a EVF for bright sunlight use, or handheld. Some early DP4 adopters will be pleased to know that the Rubber eyecup has been updated, and eliminates a lot of the problems associated with the old system. The old cup would fall off rather easily with a small bump, and when using diopeter or ND on the eyepiece, it made the problem worse. I JUST received the new eyecup, and its a godsend. Love it. In fact, i had to re write a portion of the article to mention the fact that this problem was solved. So, hats off to you SmallHD. Thank you for listening. You can see below, the old rubber cup on the right, and the new improved design on the left. The portion that connects to the EVF is longer, and is built like a bellows to adjust to various accessories for the EVF eye piece. Very secure and comfortable.
I want to return briefly to its latency performance. All monitors have latency issues. Its the simple physics of the onboard computer processing the image, scaling it to the panel then displaying it. (as informed from the manufacturer) The DP4 has one of the most powerful image processing circuits in the business. What this means is you get the least amount of lag in the image from the camera. This isn’t a big deal when using it in “normal monitor” mode, with no eye cup, but it can be disorienting when using a EVF with one one shut in hand held mode, if your movements aren’t matching what you see. it can be a dizzying experience.
Apart from the physical standpoint, the tools it offers are phenomenal, AND flexible. I have used the DP4 on Jobs ranging from short films, big budget commercials, documentaries, a feature film, and corporate video. I have used it on, the 5D, F3, RED, 7D, and the HPX 170. This is why i call the DP4 the “Digital Lightmeter”. I take it on every job. I know its image, and its tools are perfect for the modern workflow, especially its 2 types of false color. The DP4 was the first to include the new kinds of false color, False color HL and False Color HML.
The difference being that the FC HL, stands for High/Low. It shows a black and white image, with only the clipping points being represented with color. Pure clipped black (signified by Blue), and pure clipped white (signified by RED). This is critically important when shooting dimply lit scenes, and being able to isolate the “black” out from the rest of the FC range, is helpful in establishing your fill lights, and knowing where you are losing detail. On the contrary, the white clipping indicator of FC HL is equally important in out door scenes so you can see exactly where your video signal is getting lost.
I have been using Sony’s F3 camera on a regular basis with the sLOG function, which gives you a wider dynamic range. I have been living by the false color as an exposure tool, as it gives me a “wysiwyg” interpretation of my exposure. Critical for maintaining all the information the signal has to offer.
The beauty of false color is that it is useable on any camera system with a HDMI tap. I will be using the DP4 as a EVF on my soon to be delivered RED scarlet. The beauty of the DP4 is that its scaleable to every camera system i’ve come across.
Lets take the DSLR for example. I shoot with the 5D every so often, and we all know about its short comings in as far as its drop to SD resolution while recording, and lack of proper exposure tools in video. The DP4 solves these issues for me and even saves my eye sight by not having to strain my eyes looking at a tiny screen on the back of the DSLR. The DP4 like the DP6 has scaling presets built right in, clearly labeled, Canon REC, Nikon REC, DSLR Playback. No more guessing, losing portions of your screen, no more taping monitors, no more hassle. Speaking of taping monitors, how many times have you been trying to shoot for scope, only to find your self marking the monitor with tape for framing. Finally the DP4 has built in marking lines for 4:3 and 2.35:1. Very very handy. I just shot a feature film that was to be cropped for scope, and the marking lines saved me for the handheld scenes.
Lets take this one step further. Anamorphic lenses are now all the rage with the indie community. The built in custom scaling options mean i can de squeeze the image and still be able to focus, frame and use my exposure tools. Makes shooting with anamorphic, not only possible, but simple and easy.
Power: The DP4 has some VERY convenient features in this department. Its power system is completely built in, That is to say, no need for removable, battery plates. Unlike the DP6 which has the removable Canon battery plate, the DP4 has built in canon battery plates and a DC power input, that are counter sunk, and flush with the back of the monitor. When not in us they are out of the way and safely tucked behind the monitor. The DP4 can run on one single canon battery for almost 3 hours. I wound up shooting a short concert for a friend, as a favor, nothing major, just the 5D. So i grabbed my 5D, and stuffed the DP4 into the camera bag, and ran out the door. I forgot to bring spare canon batteries. I was faced with a dilemma. I had one half charged Canon battery and one fully charged battery. I figured, get the concert in the bag, so I put the fully charged battery in the camera, and though “Run the DP4 for 20 min or so, till the battery runs dry”. An hour later, the DP4 was still running strong off a single half charged battery. The DP4 does have a slot for two batteries, so the runtime with both, is close to 6 hours. I usually use a D-tap cable to power the DP4 and 6, so i rarely use the Canon batteries. When attached to a AB 90wHr battery, the DP4 has remained on for over 12 hours, with the battery indicator on the battery showing 50% remaining charge. Great on power.
I now want to take this time to discuss some of the problems and issues i’ve encountered.
Despite all the positive atributes, not every product can be 100% perfect.
The main issues are as follows:
1: The lack of a built in diopeter is somewhat of a pain. It is recommended to buy a separate screw on diopeter. The problem with that is it makes the end of the evf a little longer.
2: Sun light burn. The optics in the eye cup are actually quite nice. The edge to edge sharpness is great, and the image is sharp. There is however a caveat, if the sun ever finds it self at an angle perpendicular to the panel with the EVF component covering the panel, it can focus the suns rays and like a magnifying glass burn the panel. With a little care, and utilizing the ability to fold up the EVF, its easily preventable, you just need to be aware. Small HD recommends buying a screw on ND6 filter for the end of the eye cup. It cuts out just enough sunlight to prevent burn, and allows you to comfortably use the brightest setting of the monitor, where its contrast ratio is the highest, and thus performance is best. It does however interfere with the Rubber eyecup, and if you need to use a diopeter and the ND the rubber eyecup will be difficult to attach without tape.
3: 1080 24psF. The DP4 does not display 108024psF. (at least the unit i have) It will view 59.94 1080i no problem, but the screen goes black when PSF is used. this presents a problem when using a KIproMINI with a camera like an F3. The KIpro will record 1080 59.94, but it will require an additional step to remove the pull down in post, making it less convenient. Not the end of the world, but an inconvenience nonetheless. The Sound Devices Pix 240 ProRes422 recorder however, will automatically remove the pulldown and convert the footage in to 24P onboard, making the issue non existant.
In conclusion; Every camera nowadays has an HDMI port, and if it doesn’t, chances are you’re using an off board recorder that can convert an SDI signal to HDMI. Reflecting the increasingly smaller and smaller cameras, a small monitor that keeps the weight and size of a rig down is a blessing. The high image quality, tools, ergonomics, customer service, convenience and flexibility the DP4 provides the shooter is fantastic. The simple fact that like its big brother the DP6, the DP4 can grow with you, and be used on every camera system you come across, from the GH1 to the Epic.
The New Eye cup will be shipping this upcoming week! Starting 12/19/11, Maybe even earlier! Check www.smallHD.com for more information.
Until next time,
I will be reviewing the Duclos 11-16mm T2.8 Zoom!