Hi all. When I was looking for monitors and decided on the SmallHD 501, I found it a bit difficult to find some good reviews on it. So I thought I would post my recent usage review for anyone looking at this setup.
I have been shooting UW video for about 15 years, and been through many different rigs. The only other rig I have owned that had an external monitor was the L&M HC3 setup. The monitor was good for framing, decent for color/balance, and no help on focus or DOP. I converted to using a dSLR about 2 years ago in order to take advantage of the optic capabilities that a dSLR offers. In using the dSLR for video, it became very apparent that the optic 'capabilities' also offer some optic 'challenges'. In particular i have found that with the full HD anything that is slightly out of focus is basically unusable. I cannot count how many times in the last two years I thought I had the footage, but in post review the image was slightly out of focus and was trashed. In came the need for a real external monitor.
Setup (no monitor) -
I have a Nikon D800e housed in a Nauticam enclosure. I have a couple of lenses, but I find myself either shooting the 18-35 wide angle with a Zen 120 glass.
I use the 200 for macro work housed in the standard nauticam flat port.
For lights I use 2 L&M Sola 3000 and also run a Sola 800 Photo for red lighting when needed.
I normally equip the housing with a Nauticam 90degree viewfinder.
Setup (with monitor) -
Changes to the housing:
You must have an open M16 bulkhead to install the HDMI cable/adapter. If you do not have an open one (i was already using the 2 M16's on my housing), you can purchase the optional adapter that provides the suction valve in addition to the M16 bulkhead. I purchased one. I moved the existing Nikonos style strobe bulkhead into the position of the existing suction valve (right side) and then used the adapter to provide a spot for the HDMI bulkhead in addition to keeping the suction valve. The HDMI bulkhead is designeded to go on the left side of the housing.
The housing comes with two ULCS style ball adapters mounted to the housing. These were/are already in use for mounting the lights & arms. I installed two additional ULCS ball adapters on top of the housing. Once these were in place, I used 2 3inch ULCS arms and a 3 way ULCS adapter mount the two arms and the ball adapter. This provided a solid method for attaching the monitor to the housing. I tried with a single arm, but it was too flimsy out of water. This also allowed the monitor to be moved up/down and also pivoted if needed. UW, I found the setup to work perfectly, and many times I was shooting by only holding the monitor whilst the camera was in a hole or tough to reach place. I have pictures if anyone would like to see it
After getting the monitor mounted, it became evident that keeping the 90degree viewfinder was not an option. The conflict on the space they need. So i installed the standard viewfinder that comes with the housing. More on this below.
After the adjustments to the housing, everything else was pretty standard. As noted with other posts, running the HDMI cable through the housing and connecting to the camera is a bit tricky, but doable.
You may want to change the settings on your camera for the HDMI output. Personally I like mirroring what is normally on the camera LCD screen. Since the SmallHD does NOT do recording, this is a fine option and gets me all the info. I then turned off the LCD screen on the camera to save battery.
The monitor and housing are bigger than you expect and adds some additional bulk and heft to the rig. For my diving this last week, I had to walk about 800 ft in the sand to get to the pier. By the time I made it to the pier, I was tired While in the boat, I just kept it under my seating location and overall it faired well while crashing into waves and the like. Asking the captain to hand me my rig after entry was a bit of a challenge, i have not weighed it but I am guessing it is 30-35 pounds out of water. In the water, it is very nice. Overall I would say the monitor housing was neutral and did not really affect the buoyancy of my rig. I have worked on this over the years trying to perfect it. It is about .5 neg in the water and is very easy to maneuver.
I found that overall the monitor performed as expected. It allowed me to confirm the following while diving (no surprises in post):Focus options (peaking, etc) were amazing. This is the first time I have had this feature UW, I could never go without it again. Example, I was filming a mantis shrimp on a night dive. It was acting very strange and I was forced to keep moving the camera closer and further due to its movement. The monitor allow me to re-focus when necessary. in previous attempts, I am sure I would have lost focus without knowing and the shot would have been lost.
Having all the info (LCD info) on a readable screen was very useful. It takes some steps out of my work flow such as checking shutter speed, exposure, ISO, etc. I felt like it was much easier and realistic to modify these settings at will. Previously, was would typically fix the ISO and use shutter and exposure to compensate. Being able to see/adjust all of these DURING a shot was very cool. Many times I would use the focal length I wanted for the scene, and then use shutter to brighten/darken the scene. If shutter was not applicable, I would adjust ISO to help compensate for contrast.
Pixel zoom (just click up on the monitor joystick) was surprisingly helpful, especially with wide angle shots.
Be aware that with the nikon series, when you click the 'record' button, the video output has to re-sync with the camera. This causes about a 1-2 second lag on the monitor. This did not really affect me, but certain times I definitely hit record early to I could frame and focus properly.
Lastly, I tried to perform some still photography with it, I did not enjoy the experience. First off, you have to use live view for taking the pictures. This comes with it own set of limitations (depending on camera model). When you press the shutter release, the camera has to re-sync. Then if you have review turned on, the monitor blinks again. Finally to go back to taking a picture, the monitor blinks one more time. This adds precious time to the overall workflow for taking a single picture. It is useful for a quick snap here and there, but if I was setting up for strictly stills, I would remove the monitor and put the viewfinder back on. But that is just my opinion.
Additional thoughts -
These monitors support LUTs (look up tables) in order to apply a 'scene' for post production. For example you could apply a sepia scene to it. I have gone away from red filters and would prefer to add it is post. These monitors have the capability for a loupe that would allow you to play the raw content from a source (camera for example), run in/out of the monitor, and apply LUT's. The output would go to your recording device for final post fixes.
I have heard reports of the monitor getting very hot while in use. I did not have this experience. However, I did not run the monitor all the time. I found the monitor was good for about 4 continuous hours while on full brightness. So I was shutting off the monitor for parts of the dive.