We take a look at external monitor/recorders and tell you what they do, why you should consider using them and what benefits they offer to filmmakers

When you start shooting video on a pocket-sized camera or DLSR you’ll get used to viewing your video footage on the rear LCD screen. This is great when you’re starting out but such screens might make it difficult for you to view finer details such as zebra patterning, focus peaking and some of the details about how you’re shooting. This is when working with an external monitor can prove very useful. So, what do monitor/recorders do and what benefits do they offer?

See more details
External monitors connect to your camera via an HDMI (or SDI) connection and, once connected, the view your camera is seeing is shown on the monitor. The larger display of an external monitor allows you to see more details. More advanced monitors, such as those by Blackmagic Design, will allow you to see details such as zebra patterning, histograms, focus peaking and a range of grids and guides.

Recording to a monitor
You can pick up external monitors for under £100 but there are advantages to spending more to buy a monitor that can double up as an external recorder. To be able to record to an external recorder via a HDMI connection the camera needs to be able to output a clean channel – that means not seeing all the details of graphics you would normally see on your camera’s LCD screen.

Once the footage comes out of the camera it’s recorded onto the device. Depending on the manufacturer, footage may be recorded to a CFast card, a solid state disk drive or an SD card, so always make sure you are using the latest and fastest compatible card.

Blackmagic Video Assist models
In the video above we take a closer look at the Blackmagic Video Assist monitors – the 5-inch Pocket HD version and the 7-inch 4K model. The 4K version has an HDMI input to take the feed from your camera and an output if you want to double up on the displays and have another monitor, plus SDI in and out sockets. The device runs off two hot swappable batteries and has two SD card slots, both of which help to allow for continuous recording.

The Blackmagic Assist 4K monitor also has two analogue recording inputs, a 12V power supply and a headphone socket for audio monitoring. It also features a LAN control connector, which helps you to start and stop recording on your camera from the device. The unit also offers touch screen control of shooting parameters and settings.

Choice of codecs
Recording to an external recorder offers you a range of video codecs – for example, the Video Assist 4K unit offers ProRes in a choice of high quality, standard, light or proxy, plus DNx. Depending on the camera you’re using these codecs will produce a far better result than recording in-camera. For example, you may be able to maximise the colour depth and the dynamic range.

How much difference there is in the recordings will depend on the output from your camera. If it outputs at 10bit you’re going to get far better quality recording from an external monitor than you will in-camera. This extra quality comes in handy when you are colour grading footage or cutting in a post-production environment.

Find out more…
To find out more about monitor/recorders – and the differences between the Blackmagic Pocket HD and 4K Video Assist monitor/recorders – just click on the play button in the video window above.

To discover more technical info about the abilities of Blackmagic Design’s Video Assist monitor/recorders just click here.