Buying a Field Monitor for guerilla film making

I took the step yesterday of looking at various types and models of ‘field monitors’, researching for the Nth week in a row. Again. After receiving my Glidecam I felt like the next logical step was an external monitor. The basics of this are mainly because trying to get fine focus and framing using a tiny screen on the back of a DSLR isn’t adequate. If something isn’t right on the cameras tiny 3 inch screen, you’d sure as heck notice it on a 46 inch screen. Imagine it on a full sized cinema screen. Need I say more?

As usual, I researched a bunch of monitors and even wireless systems. And every time I was drawn back to monitors made by Lilliput. Some people have opted for 4 inch monitors but I personally don’t feel the step from a 3 inch up to a 4 inch is worthwhile though I understand weight is a factor here. Lilliput have a range of 7 inch monitors that looked of good build and quality, however I had read from several reviews this can be hit-and-miss. One person has reported knocking their Lilliput monitor and it breaking into several pieces making it indistinguishable from being an actual monitor.

I first came across Lilliput monitors when I worked at Bloomberg. Almost every desk had one below the computer screens so everyone could see the output of the live channel they were working on:

A Lilliput monitor seen on a Directors desk at Bloomberg

These caught my eye and sent me on the search for the right one. I’d read about sync issues between cameras and the monitors which meant that when you pressed the RECORD button on your camera the monitor would flash to a different input before flicking back again which could take up to three seconds. I also read about issues with aspects being stretched. However, for all the set-ups I’d used my camera and rigs for the three second delay wasn’t an issue. The streched aspects might be.

I use Magic Lantern with my Canon 550D. This “add-on” is a bit of software that works alongside your camera (although not endorsed by Canon) and gives you additional tools such as on-screen audio monitoring and waveforms. An experimental addition was the ability for items on your screen to have a red outline showing when things are in focus and zebra patterns for when parts of your shots are blown out and over exposed. Lilliput have taken this idea to another level by adding some of these abilities directly to the monitor itself. The version that interested me was the “Lilliput 5D II IO P”, which indicates it’s designed for working with the Canon 5D II, has an HDMI In and Out throughput (so no need for an HDMI splitter if you want to send the signal on to another monitor), and the ‘P’ indicates the Peaking tool which highlights image problems. I therefore opted for this version.

Lilliput 7 inch monitor with HDMI in and out, with Peaking 32V3H-H6AThe monitor can run from the mains supply or from a battery pack that slots directly onto the back of the monitor. Lilliput, and several knock-off manufacturers, have designed several adapter plates that fit onto the back of these monitors so you can use consumer batteries that you may already have. For example if you already own Canon DV cameras you may have an abundance of Canon batteries. Therefore the Canon battery plate is ideal for your situation. Thankfully most of the deals on eBay come with a battery and compatible plate and a charger, as well as an additional plate for a different manufacturer of battery. There is also an external battery you can charge and plug into the 12v socket if having the battery on the back of the monitor causes a weight issue (such as having a field monitor weighing too heavily on the front of your steadicam system).

When my parcel arrived I ripped it open and cupped the monitor and battery in one hand to gauge the weight. It felt not too bad, but attaching the monitor to the Glidecam became difficult with the cheap hot shoe adapter the monitor came with. The bottom plate was now simply too heavy. I tried adding more weight to the top but it became increasingly difficult to balance. Noticeably more so because the hot shoe adapter was so flimsy the monitor could slip or droop, which threw the Glidecam out entirely.

I can either go with a different adapter to fit the monitor onto the Glidecam bottom plate, or find some form of clamp that will attach the monitor to the central pillar.

To see a ridiculous-but-genius two-camera DSLR rig with a field monitor attached, have a look at this video:

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