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Anyone who has ever set foot on a film set likely saw a half-dozen actors and crew members standing over a camera operator’s shoulder, watching the shot through a screen attached to the camera. The sweeping images we see on movie screen are first visualized by looking through a camera, but the second step before anything rolls is to view them through a larger monitor. Attaching an external monitor gives a closer approximation of how each shot will translate to the big screen, and as an added bonus, other people on set can watch the footage take shape.
The wide selection of external camera monitors on the market can be intimidating, in part because it seems like an easy purchase at first glance. After all, it looks like a very small TV that just shows what the camera is already capturing. How hard can it be to pick that out? But external monitors serve a wide range of functions, and each one is designed with specific uses in mind. Some monitors are simply displays, allowing a director and cinematographer to view potential shots in an expanded format. On a larger screen, flaws are more noticeable and colors are less likely to be distorted, giving you a better idea of what your finished product will look like. They also allow you to apply frame markers to compose shots with precision. More advanced monitors include tools that help with focusing, zooms, and real-time color correction. The monitor often serves as a more effective way to control many of the camera’s functions. And quite a few of the highest end monitors come with recording capabilities, receiving a signal from the camera but capturing it with a higher bitrate. This allows you to obtain higher quality footage than your camera would otherwise be capable of on its own. Finally, some on-camera monitors exist to capture footage and transmit it to a much larger monitor somewhere else on set via a wireless signal.
Any filmmaker can benefit from viewing their shots on a wider display than what the camera provides, so an external monitor is a must-have for any project. That said, it is important to narrow down exactly what you plan to do with yours and select a model that fits your specifications. And even a perfect monitor is useless if your camera doesn’t shoot or export the kind of footage it’s designed for, so comprehensive research is necessary. IndieWire has scouted the market for the best external monitors for a variety of budgets, and the eight best choices can be found below. Whether you are looking for help with recording and color grading or simply want a large display screen, attaching one of these monitors to your camera is certain to enhance both your filmmaking experience and the finished product.
Blackmagic, known for their popular Pocket Cinema 4K cameras and their professional URSA line, has made one of the best external monitors money can buy. This recording monitor utilizes Blackmagic’s RAW codec, allowing you to maximize image quality without taking up massive amounts of storage space, or requiring you to convert images before editing. It supports resolutions of up to 4K, has two slots for SD cards, and is highly compatible with Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve post-production software. While the synergy with other Blackmagic products is a nice bonus, it is far from a necessity, as this monitor works with most film cameras.
To put it bluntly, this premium monitor excels in every category. It has one of the brightest screens on the list, displays some of the most vibrant colors, and has one of the longest battery lives. SmallHD’s proprietary software allows you to begin professional-level color grading before you even yell “action!” It is often said that the best filmmakers shoot with editing in mind, and those equipped with this high end monitor will be able to seamlessly integrate the two processes to create something truly special.
This professional-grade monitor is the gold standard for outdoor shoots, with an insanely bright 2200-nit screen and a 1000:1 contrast rating. Those specs ensure flawless colors, and it comes equipped with a multitude of monitoring tools used for setting exposure. If that wasn’t enough, it also has recording capability and Bluetooth connectivity. Compatible with virtually every input and setup, it even allows you to control internal features like shutter speed and focus when used with certain camera models.
This touchscreen recording monitor is aimed at cinematographers who are truly serious about their craft. It captures 4K footage in a variety of frame rates with ease, so you can rest easy knowing this monitor will be able to handle any project. The extremely bright, 1000-nits screen is absolutely pristine. In addition to capturing and displaying the highest quality footage, it contains focus peaking, multiple tools for exposure-setting, and even inputs to record audio. The Atomos Ninja V is one of the most well-rounded monitors on the market, and is certain to please even the most discerning filmmaker.
The next entry in the Atomos line of monitors is essentially the Ninja V without the recording capability. If you like the multitude of features on the Atomos Ninja V, but want a lower budget option, look no further. The Atomos Shinobi does not compromise on the display quality or monitoring tools, so using it will certainly enhance the shot composition of any film project. The Shinobi is also more compatible with entry-level film equipment than its older brother, since many cameras are not even capable of outputting footage at the resolutions the Ninja V captures. This is an excellent choice for anyone looking to dip a toe into the world of high end monitors.
This seven-inch, non-recording external monitor is one of the best values on this list. It features a large, bright screen and a variety of tools including focus peaking that will take your visuals to the next level. For the low price, your return on investment will be sky-high. Most other monitors only contain HDMI inputs, but this one also has a DSLR hookup, giving you more flexibility to plug it into older cameras. The durable design means that you can use this for years, even if you drop it on your first day of shooting.
This relatively-inexpensive external monitor possesses many of the bells and whistles normally reserved for high end models. In addition to its excellent 1000:1 contrast rating, it contains a user-friendly touch screen, focus peaking technology, and a slot for an SD memory card. If you don’t need your monitor to record, but you want more than just a display, the Andycine A6 Plus is an excellent compromise.
The Feelworld F79 is one of the most popular budget camera monitors among young filmmakers, and it isn’t hard to see why. The HDMI and DSLR-ready display screen is a perfect entry-level camera monitor. It does not record, but the seven inch screen will improve any camera. And the 800:1 contrast rating is nothing to sneeze at! Lightweight, portable, and easy to attach, this is also an excellent choice for shoots that require a lot of handheld or moving shots.