Basic Cinematography

10 Reasons why we need External Monitors

If cameras have all the features, why do we still need monitors? Now you know.

External monitors might seem like a luxury, but there are important distinctions that make them indispensable tools in the field.

In this video I go through 10 such reasons why you might need an external monitor:

Here are the 10 reasons in a nutshell:

  1. Frame markers. Some cameras do not have standard or custom frame guides like 1.85:1 or 2.39:1. If you need these options you need an external monitor that will allow you to do the same.
  2. Desqueeze. Panasonic is said to release a firmware update that allows desqueezing of anamorphic images in-camera (GH5), but it’s not here yet. Even if it were an option, the sensor has an aspect ratio of 4:3. With a 2x anamorphic adapter or lens, you’re getting 2.67:1 and you most likely will be cropping off the sides. An external monitor will help you frame exactly to your final look, as long as it has a combination of desqueeze and frame guides.
  3. Easy flicker detection. Ever shot at a shutter speed where the lights strobe across your screen? Well, it’s a lot harder to detect on a smaller LCD. A bigger 7” monitor is definitely ideal. The GH5 has a flicker correction option but you can’t fix what you can’t see.
  4. If you change shutter speeds you get different kinds of motion effects. You won’t know if you have gone too far because the motion is hard to study on the back LCD. A larger monitor will definitely help you see better.
  5. Custom profiles. You can’t judge colors off the back LCD. To accurately set profile colors you need a calibrated professional grade monitor. There’s just no two ways about it.
  6. Most camera LCDs are as good as mirrors in outdoor conditions. You really need a monitor with a hood. A monitor will sit at a nice height and allow you to actually see what you’re shooting.
  7. Maneuverability of the external monitor. You can attach it with a magic arm and it will swivel into any position you want. You can detach it and hold it in your hands. Even though the flip screens are great, it can’t beat the options an external monitor gives. And of course, the flip screen is hindered somewhat by an HDMI cable if you use an external monitor.
  8. Others can see what you’re shooting. If you have crew that depends on the live image to do their work well, you need an external monitor. At least a 7” one. Examples are focus pullers, hair and make up artists, yourself, the director, and anybody else who has paid the price for admission to watch.
  9. You can reposition the scopes better on an external monitor, but you also have the option of false color. I’m not a big fan of the false color tool, but many find it useful. If your external monitor has it, and you find it intuitive, then you need it.
  10. Monitors can be powered separately. The GH5 has a great battery life. Cameras like the Sony a7S II don’t, to put it kindly. If you can power your monitoring needs separately, that’s an advantage.

There are other reasons that should be more obvious:

  1. You can focus better because of the bigger image.
  2. You can catch continuity errors easily.
  3. You can see dust spots easily.
  4. Some monitors are also HDMI to SDI convertors. If you need a long cable run then this is your ticket.

If you know of more reasons, let me know in the comments below.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.