On-camera monitors may seem like a luxury to anyone new to video, but most videographers see them as a necessity on a shoot. They offer so many additional features when compared to the tiny displays on the back of most cine cameras, mirrorless cameras or DSLRs. They’re also ideal for both vloggers and photographers too – and some have built-in drives to allow them to act as external video recorders too.
Their additional size can guarantee that while you’re shooting, you see a live preview with better fidelity and color calibration than that displayed on your camera’s screen. It isn’t rocket science, your eye will be able to make out a speck of dust much more assuredly on a 7-inch monitor than on a 3-inch screen, and the extra size can also help you guarantee everything is in-focus. With many cameras not offering focus-peaking, your monitor can, in turn, supplement their capabilities, handy across photography and video work.
If your camera can output a clean HDMI feed, some external monitors like the Atomos Ninja V include record functionality, and with excellent options like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K lacking articulating screens, another benefit of an external monitor is the flexibility to shoot at all angles. Some options even ship with a hotshoe ball mount or tilt/swivel arm, so they can slide straight onto the top of your DSLR or mirrorless camera and articulate through multiple planes.
Even if you have all the tools you need in your pro film camera like focus peaking, zebra lines and false colors, an on-camera monitor still lets you apply frame markers, can bring up flicker that smaller monitors might not and are just plain handy when you’re on a shoot with multiple stakeholders - so many eyes can proof content on-set and make sure the shot is nailed before you wrap it up.
In this list, we run through ten of the best external monitors and video recorders around so you can get the big picture experience before you hit your editing suite and it’s too late to re-shoot.
Best on-camera monitors in 2020
The Atomos Ninja V is the new standard in on-the-go external monitors that double up as video recorders with its beautifully calibrated 5-inch HDR display. It’s particularly suited to videographers, with support for 4K capture at up to 60fps, ProRes HQ, 422, DNxHR to name a few codecs. For many of today’s mirrorless cameras, you need an external recorder to get 10-bit or log capture, and while some cameras will output at 60fps in 10-bit, they won’t record directly at that quality, which is where the Ninja V steps in. It is even set to support up to 8K ProResRAW recording down the line, which is incredibly impressive for the price.
It’s worth noting, however, some cameras don’t even output 4K even if they shoot at higher resolutions, so you’ll want to check your kit’s max resolution before you pick one of these up.
If you love the Atomos Ninja V but don’t need recorder functionality, then the Atomos Shinobi is a lower-cost alternative with the same sensationally bright, 1000-nit screen. A perfect choice for vloggers who shoot with cameras with limited screen articulation like the Sony A7-series, or the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K with a fixed display. You can also use it to pull up waveform and histogram information and more, quickly and easily thanks to its intuitive menu. With a centrally mounted battery, the Shinobi is balanced, so should play nicely with gimbals, and anyone who shoots HDR photos and videos will be able to display the full scope of dynamic range captured, which a camera’s native screen just won’t be able to do. The standard model has HDMI connectors, but if you want lockable SDI sockets choose the almost identical (but more expensive) Atomos Shinobi SDI.
The SmallHD Focus is the ideal partner for cameras with a hot shoe mounts, given the fact the monitor ships with a rotating arm that slides right onto the top of your device. This makes it an ideal, relatively affordable option for mirrorless options with lacklustre screens. Light, portable and a sweet-spot size for vlogging, spinning it around on the fly is painless thanks to the included arm - much more so than a ball-head arm, so whether you’re behind or in front of the camera, you’ll have a great view.
There’s also a cold shoe mount on the right of the tilt arm, which makes it easy to load up shotgun mics or other accessories. The UI also supports multiple setups, offering granular control over the image displayed, rotation support, pinch to zoom functionality, DSLR scaling and it can even capture reference images from the monitor and write them onto the SD card. While the micro HDMI port may be a bit fiddly everything else about this monitor should set you up for touchscreen-friendly sharp-shooting.
OLED displays pack inherent advantages over LCDs - they tend to deliver deeper blacks and more vibrant, punchy colours. With less light bleed, they also make for a preferable viewing experience in dim environments, displaying a broader tonal range in dark areas. If you’re an atmospheric videographer or photographer, therefore, you might want to consider the SmallHD Focus OLED, a very similar monitor to the Focus, only with an OLED display, a glossy glass screen and a slightly beefier body. The UI is identical to that of the rest of the Focus line as well, so it features pinch-to-zoom, focus-peaking and more. The limitation of the monitor primarily comes down to brightness, with a maximum of just 350 nits, making it amongst the dimmest around. Nonetheless, if you’re not planning on shooting outdoors and stick to studios, there’s every chance the OLED option could be the perfect SmallHD choice.
The Blackmagic Video Assist 5-inch is the only recorder in our round-up that can capture Blackmagic's own RAW code video introduced on its Pocket Cinema Camera Range, and is an ideal option for any editors who use Davinci Resolve to grade and edit.
Announced at IBC 2019, it excited video enthusiasts given its potential to tap into the RAW potential of compatible Canon and Panasonic cameras - Blackmagic is in talks with both manufacturers to ensure Video Assist works well with their products.
While Blackmagic RAW video has to be captured using the SDI ports, rather than the HDMI ports, for now, the monitor’s excellent display and recording credentials coupled with its dual-SD card slots should appeal to anyone who wants the convenience of SD card capture with their video recorder, more ports and a brighter screen than that offered by the excellent Atomos Ninja V. Naturally, though, you’ll be paying extra for the privilege.
Thanks to its 1,000-nit brightness, the SmallHD Focus 7, like the Atomos Ninja V and Shinobi are fantastic outdoor shooters in all but the brightest conditions. The extra size compared to the standard Focus makes it an ideal choice for anyone working as part of a crew, and it’s that bit safer to proof your live view feed or playback on, given the extra detail a bit more size offers up. Unlike the 5-inch Focus, this larger body makes room for two batteries, not to mention a full-sized HDMI port which is much more secure, though it is recessed, so there is a chance your favorite cables won’t be compatible with its tight-fitting.
This is essentially the 7-inch version of the Atomos Ninja V and is the perfect solution for those who need an external video recorder with a large built-in screen for monitoring footage. Offering real-time recording to 4K formats including ProRes RAW and CinemaDNG, the bigger screen will help you monitor the footage better – allowing you to check focus precisely right across the frame. You can also monitor exposure accutately, thanks to built-in presets that allow the screen to give an accurate translation of camera manufacturer's Log video formats. With a bright 1500nit and over 15 stops of real dynamic range, this screen is suitable for use on location as well as in studio settings. This a powerful unit for both cinematographers or multi-camera streamed productions.
This 7-inch monitor gets desert-viewable levels of bright with its 1500-nit, Full HD display, complete with 160-degree viewability and 100% DCI-P3 colour gamut. With a dual Sony L-series battery plate, it’s easy to get the SmallHD 702 Touch powered up for a day-long shoot without the need for wires. Its aluminium unibody is rich and rugged, and the hardened glass display only adds to its appeal. With a 3G SDI input/output and HDMI input/output, the chances are it’ll work perfectly with whatever you’re shooting. Despite everything it can do, it’s still relatively compact and lightweight, making it the top-dog for outdoor shooters in need of a high-quality, easy to view, 7-inch external monitor.
If you want the most affordable big-screen option around, then the Lilliput A7s offers sensational value, ingesting 4K content despite costing less than £200. It includes all the overlays and features you’d expect from an external monitor like focus-peaking, levels, histogram and more. In the box, the A7s comes with a silicone case for added protection, a sun hood and a sturdy metal ball-mount. Unlike the pricier monitors in our list, its screen isn’t touch-sensitive, so all interaction relies on the buttons, though thanks to an ergonomic scroll wheel, it doesn’t feel too cumbersome. In turn, if you’re okay with old-school inputs and want the biggest screen-to-dollar ratio to proof your footage or photos on, the Lilliput is a no-fuss option that’s both functional and affordable
If you’re looking for a bright, 7-inch, Full HD monitor with a touchscreen that costs less than £300/$300, meet the Desview R7, a big-screened beauty that delivers 1000 nits of brightness, an incredibly intuitive touch-interface and a host of accessories in the box at a great price. Ideal for outdoor shoots even in the freezing cold, it isn’t just bright, it also offers a combination of touchscreen and button input, so even if you’re wearing gloves, you can still swap custom profiles and change key settings without having to interact with the tap and swipe-centric display. Given the Desview R7’s greater than 400 pixels-per-inch sharpness, it’s one of the crisper displays around, and while it doesn’t have an HDR screen, it can still preview HDR content.
The most affordable monitor we’d recommend is the Feelworld FW568 5.5, a compact monitor capable of displaying 4K content on its 500-nit Full HD display. Complete with a sun shade and tilt arm in the box, at under $200/£200, it represents fantastic value. Just like the Lilliput A7s, with no touch display, it’s less intuitive for indoor shoots, but the benefit of buttons can’t be overstated when out and about and shooting with gloves on. Additionally, the FW568 has plenty of tricks up its sleeves, from histogram, false color and exposure peaking overlays through to Anamorphic mode and a headphone output. Weighing just 175g, while its plastic construction doesn’t feel super-premium, it’s manageable and will make a great addition to a run-and-gun gimbal setup.
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