SmallHD 502 Review: Everything You Need to Know About the Compact Monitor/Viewfinder
Over the years, SmallHD have proven themselves to be a great example of a progressive monitor company bringing powerful tools at reasonable prices. After getting a chance to see the new 502 at NAB 2015, I knew I had to get my hands on one. I've now been using the 502 for a few months so I thought I'd share my thoughts on the unit. As a DP and regular solo shooter, I've found the 502 to be the perfect monitor for me due to its minimalist form factor and advanced feature set. At a glance:
- Great size, tons of functionality
- Beautiful 1080p, 3D LUT capability
- Signal conversion from HDMI --> SDI and back (On 502 only)
- No power input other than through LP-E6 coupler
- Sidefinder is underwhelming
With the 2.1 Firmware, much of the power of the 502 has been unlocked. This includes:
- Cross Conversion
- 3D Luts downstream
- RGB parade
- SDI Metadata Display
The 502 itself is a no brainer to use. None of that touchscreen nonsense — just two buttons allow easy access to the menu structures that you'll need: a joystick and a back button. The monitor has two battery slots on the back for LP-E6 batteries, though it's recommended to power it with a LP-E6 power coupler if you don't want to be changing batteries throughout the day. The Pages feature allows you to add up to 8 features per page, so you can quickly navigate between a clean Log image, your LUT — or your scopes and peaking. Each page is entirely customizable, so you could have all of your exposure tools on one page and your focus tools on another. Switching between pages is as easy as jogging left or right on the joystick (at this time you can't reorder pages). You can also save your Pages into a Profile that goes onto an SD to card for transfer between monitors. The list of tools available on the pages is comprehensive, to say the least:
- Customizable Aspect Ratio markers (line or mask)
- Safety Markers
- Anamorphic Squeeze
- Grid Lines
- IRE Guide
- Customizable Zebras
- Waveform (customizable, Parade or Color mode)
- Vectorscope (coming soon)
- Focus Assist
- Image Overlay
- Audio Meters
- SDI metadata
- Image Scale
This thing feels great — it's extremely light (just under 1lb!) and feels extremely sturdy. It's got a metal frame construction w/ rubber outer edge, sleek bezels and a protective plastic shield. The 1/4 20" mounting points are strong and durable and have lasted through a beating. No heat sinks on the back like the 702, but heat has never been an issue for me on the small 502, even running it continuously all day.
When I'm shooting, I really like to be able to lose myself in the image, so having a viewfinder is important. When I heard of the Sidefinder component to the 502, I got really excited. Unfortunately, the Sidefinder portion of this monitor falls a little flat for me. Even after adding two small clips to the top and bottom of the Sidefinder to help keep it on, it's a bit of a pain to have hanging off your rig. Quickly detaching the Sidefinder entirely from the monitor is also a bit of a pain if you don't have have fingernails. (I'm a nail-biter.)
The Sidefinder improves in usefulness once you get used to it, but its main application is mostly for blocking light shooting in bright environments (usually EXT day). However, some light still seems to spill in no matter how tight I snug the finder onto the monitor. When you attach the Sidefinder, it shrinks the image down to allow a HUD to show on the outside of the unit. This means you're using less of the screen that you would be without the finder. Still, there's plenty of resolution there for an eyeful of pixels (most EVFs out there are ~720p).
The Sidefinder's biggest flaw seems to be optical in nature — the images you see through the finder just don't feel right. I think it's from distortion being caused by the lens, or by the fact that its using a mirror to reflect back the image to your eye. Something is ill-designed about it and it kinda gives me a slight headache. When I look through my Z-finder on the back of my BMPCC screen everything feels right again — and that's saying something. Being able to block out the rest of the world and focus entirely on what the camera sees is huge. For blocking light off this monitor, a good sunhood does the job for me.
With the rise in popularity of Log shooting, we've all heard it before: "Why does it look so flat?" It's important to give confidence to your clients by being able to quickly show them what it will really look like. You can build your own 3D Luts, grab these, or download a sample pack from SmallHD. The Output Preview Page makes it easy to control what you're sending downstream via HDMI or SDI, while not affecting what you're seeing.
"Is that an iPhone?" is probably the most common thing I hear on set with this monitor — oh well, it's quite the conversation starter. Outside of this unfortunate visual association, the 502 is simply the best monitor I've ever used. Ultimately, as a solo shooter, this monitor will serve you incredibly well, and even has its place on a low-budget set where you need to show a director the image (though the larger, brighter 702 is arguably much more suited to that task). With Luts and focus assist tools, it's also a great monitor for a camera assistant to have in their bag or when you simply want a better image than your camera's onboard monitor (the C300, for example). A monitor is an essential tool for framing, focus and making photographic decisions on set — the 502 covers all the bases and helps me get the most out of my image.