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Camera Onboard Monitor Comparison Test by Francios Archer

Camera Onboard Monitor Comparison Test by Francios Archer

Francios Archer gives his perspective on varying On-Camera monitors and shares his recommended monitor for all the ACs out there. 
 
TLDR Version: Francios suggests that if you are looking for a monitor specifically for focus (and money is tight), look out for a monitor that has the following features:
Resolution of no less 1920x1080
A contrast ratio of no less 1000:1
PPI of at least 300
A decent focus peaking feature
SDI input.
 
Full Comparison Test:
 
As a 1st AC always on the lookout for new onboard field monitors in the ever-changing world of technology and updates, I took it upon myself to test some of the popular monitors side by side to see which monitor is best suited for a focus puller’s needs. I find that most products come with built-in recorders or features that are used as major selling points, but it is not what we need as 1st AC’s.

In this test, I looked at 5 monitors and had them receive the same signal from the same camera focusing on an angled lens test chart in a gear check bay.
Monitors Tested:

TV Logic 55A OLED, Odyssey 7 OLED, Small HD 702 OLED, Small HD 702, Bright LCD, Small HD 703 Bright LCD
    I considered only what I believe to be the main factors or features that plays directly to determining the sharpness of a subject in picture and how easy it is to see focus fall off. Factors considered:

    Resolution, Contrast ratio, Pixel density (PPI), Brightness, Built-in focus features
     

    TVLogic 55A OLED

    Resolution
    1920x1080. I was attracted to this monitor because it was the cheapest OLED monitor with full HD resolution like its LCD counterpart.
    Contrast Ratio
    15000:1 This is impressive and helpful on a 5.5” screen
    Pixel density (PPI)
    196PPI
    Brightness
    350 NIT
    Built-in focus features
    It has the traditional focus assist feature with the mono or colour focus boundaries, but I find it very distracting. I found that playing around and tweaking with the Aperture, Backlight and Contrast features will help your eye find what pops out in terms of sharpness. The fact that one can load custom 3d LUT’s makes it possible that you can tweak your own LUT picture that can help with focus.


    Odyssey 7 OLED

     

    Resolution
    1280x800. This is almost standard for all OLED screens. One tends to feel that not having full HD picture is a detriment to checking focus. It is true, but the high contrast ratio makes up for this.
    Contrast Ratio
    3400:1 
    Pixel density
    196 PPI
    Brightness
    250 nits. This does not sound impressive, but the monitor does appear brighter than LCD monitors with the same nit values. The fact that the monitor displays true blacks helps with the “brightness” factor, but outdoors one will need a proper ray shade to see the picture.
    Built-in focus features
    This monitor has 3 features: Edge, Reveal and Enhance
    Where the Edge and Reveal give monotone picture in grey with the sharp pixels displaying white (which is very confusing), the Enhance feature gives you a true picture with the in-focus pixels “enhanced” to a point where it feels they have a slight glitter. I suppose this is the same as focus peaking. This makes it very clear to see what is sharp and where the focus falls off. ( I have been using this monitor for the last 3 years and my eye is used to these features) It is also important to note that this is one of the first addition Odessey’s and the Enhance feature is not available on the later models and new firmware.


    Small HD 702 OLED

    Resolution
    1280x800
    Contrast ratio
    10000:1 This is helpful on a 7” screen
    Pixel density
    191 PPI     
    Brightness
    300 nit
    Built-in focus features
    The new 700 series Small Hd monitors have a peaking and focus colour assist features which can be combined to your eyes liking.


    Small HD 702 Bright


    Resolution
    1920x1080 
    Contrast Ratio
    1000:1
    Pixel density
    323ppi
    Brightness
    1000 nits
    Built-in focus features
    Colour focus assist
     

    Small HD 703 Bright


    Resolution
    1920x1080 
    Contrast ratio
    1200:1          
    Pixel density
    323ppi
    Brightness
    2200 nits 
    Built-in focus features
    Colour focus assist with adjustable intensity


    Overall Findings

    With this test I was trying to see how new and old OLED monitors compares to LCD screens and how tweaking settings combined with the focus features of each monitor can help an AC determine focus. 
    When I saw the high contrast ratio of most OLED monitors, I thought that this will be the go-to monitors when they bring out full HD panels (most OLEDS are 1280x800). So when the TV Logic 55A OLED with its 1920x1080 resolution was released (with 15000:1 contrast), I jumped on it. But I found that it was still hard to tell focus on it. And the little 5’’ screen does not help either. It was only later that I discovered that the PPI was only half of its LCD counterpart. It is only 196ppi. So even if you combine the Aperture and backlight settings with a bit of contrast, one cannot see the focus area as crisp as with the LCD monitors. The Small HD 702 OLED has the same problem; high contrast, low ppi. And remember, OLED monitors are not very bright.

    I discovered that the reason I like the Odyssey 7 for focus, is because of the Enhance focus feature (specific to this monitor). Combine that with a bit of a bumped up contrast and brightness, one can easily tell focus and fall off. Yes it's true, OLED monitors are best suited for a DOP’s needs and not so much an AC’s. With displaying true blacks and colour space, the OLED’s will never have a bright panel. Now the LCD Small HD monitors don't have a high contrast ratio, but have a higher PPI than the OLEDs. I found it much easier to tell focus on the LCD panels. The brightness feature on them helps quite a bit, but only up to a point. Push the brightness to high, and you basically cancel out all your tweaks and adjustments you made for focus. The peaking function on these monitors are very helpful, but again the focus colour assist is very confusing. The shortcut menus are a very nice touch. Here you can set up your combined brightness, contrast and peaking settings on one page ( your personal focus page) and flip between this and other pages set up for various reasons.

    So in summary, the Small HD 702 Bright passed the test for me. The 703 is just way to expensive. I did not pay to much attention to power consumption and durability, but it is maybe worthy to note that although the Small HD is great for focus needs, the build quality is not great. I have a few friends who have sent back their 703’s and 702’s for repairs more than once. I will not go into detail about that now.

    So in summary, if you are looking for a monitor specifically for focus ( and money is tight), look out for a monitor that has the following features:
    Resolution of no less 1920x1080
    A contrast ratio of no less 1000:1
    PPI of at least 300
    A decent focus peaking feature
    SDI input

     Who is Francios Archer? 

    Francios is a Focus Puller in the Cape Town Film Industry. Check out his IMDb page here to see what he has been a part of. 

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