Monitoring your image on set is critical. Here are some options that will clear things up.
As filmmakers, it's vitally important we can see our images as accurately as possible. For a long time on set the only video monitoring available was low-resolution video taps that were useful only for framing, but with the digital cinema revolution, all the way from set to final distribution we're capable of getting access to high-resolution signals that can show us what our images can be. That video signal is nothing, however, without the right monitor to view it.
There are three key places where the quality of your video monitor matters. The first is on camera on set. While there might be a video village, sometimes there isn't, and even if there's a director or DP, you're often looking at the on-camera monitor just as much as the village. These monitors generally come in 5" and 7" sizes and are designed to serve a host of functions beyond just showing you an image.
The second is the video village/post suite monitor, which runs 17-30" and tends to only do one thing—evaluate your image and do it well. Then lastly, there is the client monitor, usually a very large 50-75" monitor designed to replicate the home media experience.
One thing to note with a monitor is that you want to ensure that you're evaluating a proper video signal. This is easy on set. Cameras put out proper video signal over HDMI or SDI that you can plug straight into a monitor. Computers, however, can take that same HDMI port and use it to output computer graphics, not a video signal. The easiest way to check this is if the desktop appears when you plug in your cable. That's computer graphics, not a video signal.
To get a video signal out to a video monitor, you need to use a video output device. These also require professional video software to output a signal, typically an NLE like Premiere, Final Cut Pro, or Media Composer or a color grading software like Resolve. Unfortunately to get a YouTube link to show through a video output device still isn't easy. Since Resolve is free, that's the easiest to set up, and Resolve requires the use of Blackmagic video output devices, so it makes sense to start there. They have a very affordable mini-monitor for HD monitoring from your computer, and more powerful intensity devices for 4K and 8K monitoring when that is needed.
Table of Contents
- How We Picked
- Best On-Camera Monitor: SmallHD Cine 7"
- Best Recording Monitor: Atomos Shogun 7/Ninja V
- Best Studio Monitor: Flanders Scientific DM240
- Best Client View Monitor: LG OLED Series
- Best Tablet Monitor: iPad Pro
- Best Worth Mentioning: Apple Pro Display XDR
- Final Thoughts
How We Picked
We evaluate monitors constantly at No Film School. From working with them in the field to writing reviews for the site, we chose each monitor based on our years of experience using them. While there are several options we could have picked for each category, especially the on-camera monitor, we wanted to provide you with our best offering possible if we were forced to make a decision.
Best On-Camera Monitor: SmallHD Cine 7"
You should also be aware of monitor/recorders, including popular options ones from Convergent Design, Blackmagic Design, and Atomos. These newest units are highly accurate monitors that include onboard recording capability. When working with one of these units and a camera that outputs the proper signal (most do), you can record straight to an SSD in popular formats like ProRes, DNx, and even RAW, which allows for a faster, easier post workflow.
The Atomos Shogun 7 and Ninja 5 are the latest units that support the newest cameras and workflows, and both provide surprisingly accurate image quality. You'll have to give up camera control, but these are typically designed to be used with cameras that have onboard menus, and you won't need external control. If your camera has an HDMI output connection, go with the Ninja V. If you have an SDI output, choose the Shogun 7.
Best Studio Monitor: Flanders Scientific DM240
Currently, the best monitor available for DIT work and small reference work in a post suite is the Flanders Scientific DM240. In fact, you'll be happy with pretty much anything from Flanders, an Atlanta-based company that puts color accuracy above all else in their engineering. Fantastic customer service is part of what you get when investing in a Flanders, including the ability to send your monitor back for recalibration, and even to send in your colorimeter probe to get it profiled to Flanders settings.
Unfortunately, our favorite studio monitor of all time, the Flanders DM250, is currently no longer in production since the panel is no longer being produced. There is some discussion of what it might be replaced with, but there isn't something comparable quite yet. Flanders has rolled out some beautiful XM series 31" monitors, but they are unfortunately out of the price point to be really in the running for the vast majority of us.
For monitors you need for months or years at a time, it makes more sense to buy or at least long-term lease, and that leaves the XM the exclusive territory of the top-end facilities.
Runner up: Atomos Neon
You should also consider the Neon lineup from Atomos. Coming in 17 and 24" models, with 31- and 55-inch options "under investigation," they offer a compelling combination of impressive image quality with onboard recording capability.
In the end, what edged the Flanders to the top of our list is market saturation. You are just going to see these monitors (and the slightly pricer Sony competitors from the BVM line) everywhere, and there is some power to that in monitoring. If you like the image your camera creates, it doesn't matter so much if you are the only one shooting it. But monitors are really a matter of standards, and knowing you'll be able to go to other sets, work with other DPs, and talk to other post houses who all have Flanders units goes a long way. This same fact was part of the decision for our client monitor as well.
Best Client View Monitor: LG OLED Series
Currently, the best client monitor, the one you will see in the vast majority of color and edit suites across broad swaths of the industry from the independent on up, is the LG OLED line of consumer monitors. Starting with the C7 in 2017 and continuing to the CX (the digit refers to the year of release, with X standing in for 2020). These monitors have rapidly taken over the duties of client monitoring across the industry.
Available in standard 55" and 65" sizes, and adding a new more affordable 48" size great for smaller suites this year, these OLED displays are most famous for their gloriously rich blacks and solid color reproduction. They also feature auto-calibration. Though it requires a Calman software license and an external probe, they can still speed up the process of calibrating their monitors quite a bit if you have the full setup.
They are remarkably stable monitors as well, not needing the constant recalibration required of the previous generation of Plasma monitors. Another plus compared to the plasma monitors is that these monitors really don't weigh that much at all, making them easier to mount and to move around.
Every once in a while, a certain monitoring standard gains enough prominence that even if it has limitations, you know that the limitations are shared by everyone else, so you can take comfort in knowing that it is at least a standard that everyone else has to deal with. You also get the comfort of knowing that if a project has to move to another facility, there is a good chance it'll be evaluated on a very similar monitor.
Runner Up: Panasonic 4K Ultra HD OLED
There are of course some other monitors in this space that are worth looking at. The Panasonic GZ1000 series OLEDs, designed as a replacement for the longstanding champion the Panasonic Pro Plasma (which I still use in certain setups), was a compelling entrant a few years ago, but never really took off in the marketplace like it could have.
Best Tablet Monitor: iPad Pro M1
While we can dream as much as we want about clients and collaborators only ever viewing our work on a properly calibrated broadcast monitor, the reality of the situation is that we don't always get that benefit. We frequently have to share our work with other collaborators via web links and work in progress review tools, and those platforms don't interface well with broadcast monitors.
In that situation, the most consistent image monitoring we have seen is the use of the iPad Pro M1 with a dedicated video app that takes color seriously. Viewing even a Vimeo link from within Chrome or Safari on the iPad Pro doesn't result in the consistent results you see with a dedicated app for color.
You can try it yourself, opening the same video link on multiple browsers on your computer, and you'll likely see some variation. It's frustrating when sending out work for critical client feedback, and it's why we recommend using the dedicated apps. They might not be perfect, but at least they are consistent unto themselves.
Of course, this isn't going to match perfectly with the monitor you are using in post. But honestly, the iPad Pro M1 is an impressive piece of hardware that comes much closer than we would've thought possible to showing a true representation of the video image. If possible, you should be steering your clients, many of whom have iPad Pros, to evaluating images on that device if they don't have access to a broadcast setup.
Best Worth Mentioning: Apple Pro Display XDR
The Apple Pro Display XDR presents an interesting conundrum in this conversation. It has received a lot of attention (it's Apple, after all), and one of its key marketing points is its tremendous color accuracy. They even compared it to a $30K Sony monitor in their marketing presentation, which of course is a bold move.
However, for filmmakers, it presents one major problem: it's a computer graphics display, not a video monitor. It's even in the name, "display," not "monitor." It connects via USB-C, not SDI. Of course, there is a Blackmagic Teranex Mini 8k that is designed to send a video signal out to the monitor that can get it to work like a video monitor, which is useful, but it adds another $1,300 to the price. It's a valid workaround if you have no choice but to purchase a Pro Display XDR.
The issue is that the vast majority of users won't purchase that adapter. They will use the monitor as a computer graphics display and watch images via software. As every filmmaker knows, different software views images differently. Open the same video clip in QuickTime, Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, or Resolve, and they will all look different. Open the same Vimeo link in Safari, Firefox, and Chrome, and they'll all look different. It's the insane frustration of the world we live in that video isn't standardized in computers and the internet.
This isn't Apple's fault, and we don't blame them for it. Apple has actually worked very hard to push for standards, has adopted technologies that make images more consistent, and has adapted to existing standards with their monitors. They have been pushing their displays to meet Rec.709 and newer standards for a while now.
But the fear we have is that clients will buy the Pro Display XDR, watch your link in it, and assume that even though they are somehow watching it in a web browser, because it's the new Pro Display their monitor, it must be accurate. And while the monitor is accurate, the software playing the video may not be.
If Apple somehow fixed the software issue so that video looked consistent and accurate app to app, that would make all the difference, but honestly, that technical feat is probably beyond even the giant in Cupertino. That and the stand, which costs as much as the new Macbook Air, is silly. For that price, it should at least have internal signal routing.
Our biggest hope for the Pro Display XDR is that one of the app makers, perhaps the folks who make the wonderful Screen app or video players like Frame.io or Vimeo, will make an app that somehow takes into account the specific realities of the Pro Display XDR and displays a reasonably accurate and most important consistent image in it. Then at least we can tell people "install this app, make sure you've ticked the box that you are on a Pro Display XDR, and you'll be good."
We're finally at a place in the industry where we can be very confident that the images we see on the camera, at video village, and in the final grade are all going to reasonably match the colors the audience sees in the theater or at home. This is something filmmakers have been dreaming about for decades, and it's exciting that there are options on the table right now that allow filmmakers to have that level of consistency in their video monitoring.
As teams work together remotely to make decisions about the quality of their image, the ability to know what you are seeing on set is the same across the board is a tremendous asset.