smallHD D6 HD HDMI Field Monitor – review

I was recently offered a D6 monitor (HDMI version) to try out by smallHD. I originally purchased a Marshal 6″ HDMI monitor but was very displeased with the results. Because of the way the Canon 5D Mark II outputs its HDMI signal, the image on the Marshall was in effect, no larger than the image on the back of the camera. The 1 to 1 pixel mapping just jumped the image in and cut off much of the view area. Not very useful. It also used 4 x AA batteries which heated up very quickly…  and also burned out very quickly. Another drawback was there was no HDMI pass through so if you wanted to transmit, say with the Teradek Cube, or other similar device, you could not do so. Therefore I returned it.

I’ve been working on a number of new projects with director Michael Rymer (Battlestar Galactica, 17th Precinct). Michael  is an early adopter and a pioneer in DSLR feature filmmaking.  His Canon shot film ‘Face to Face’ is currently doing very well on the festival circuit. At it’s premiere, the film won the ‘Panavision Independent Spirit Award’ at the 2011 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Its interesting to note that this DSLR film was awarded a major festival prize by one of only two companies truly synonymous with 35mm film based production (Arri and Panavision).

On the NBC pilot ‘17th Precinct‘ (penned by BSG writer/producer Ron Moore, and photographed by John Bartley, ASC (Lost, X-Files)  I operated a 5D and 7D alongside two Arri Alexis and a Red camera. The Canon footage cut in perfectly and I was able to move quickly and pick up scenes and shots that would never have been captured had the main unit been charged with obtaining them.

Michael, recognizing the speed and efficiency of DSLR shooting, used me to maximum effect. One major drawback at the time was that I could not feed him a signal to review what I was shooting and had to walk the camera over to him to play footage back. After the pilot wrapped I researched monitors and methods and discovered the Teradek Cube, which allows for wifi transmission to an ipad or Mac Book Pro – its amazing really. But one needs a pass through monitor if you are going to share the signal… cue smallHD!

A quick web search found the smallHD line of products. They were very helpful and generously offered to send me a demo D6 to try. I had it for a week or so and used it recently on an indie shoot with a Sony Z3 and on my own 5D rig.

Right out of the case you can tell that it is a serious piece of gear. Its made from robust rubberized aluminum and feels solid in your hand, giving you that warm fuzzy feeling of the ‘techno high’. It came with a battery attachment to use Canon camera batteries, but you can order an attachment for whatever batteries you have or use regularly. For me, the best thing is the custom battery that they include with the kit. It ran the monitor for 8 hours on the shoot. With two of these you can do a full 12 hour day without worrying about a recharge. If needed you can even plug it in to mains and still use it while it charges. This is enormously useful.

The picture is exceptionally clear and there is a custom setting for the 5D to get the full screen real estate during record and an easy switch to get a full 1080p image during playback (the 5D does an internal conversion and doesn’t offer full 1080p during record but the monitor compensates with no quality loss). The screen is quite glossy and so reflects what is around, you can use the sunshade, or order a matte screen protector and that should solve any issues there.

It has very easy to use menu functions that allow for total customization and calibration. There is a false color setting to show exposure range which is very accurate, and a focus assist that shows white lines on the focal plane (useful for the 1st AC). It’s very easy to access with a single button push.

The D6 with SDI (which I didn’t have but want) allows you to send a signal out to BNC . This is necessary on professional productions with a director camped at video village, and those with a Digital Imaging Technician.

The kit comes with a screen protector, which can be replaced (its like what you put on your new iphone or the back of your camera to protect the LCD). It also has a very easy to attach neoprene sun guard that blocks out any stray light in a bright shooting environment (its 8 inches deep or so). The D6 kit I used had a little add-on splitter for pass through but it was no hassle to use it. Newer versions will not require this. It also comes with a USB drive which allows you to add new firmware — which is regularly updated for new cameras and settings. All the cables I needed were included, as well as two mounting options: a small hot shoe gimbal and an articulating arm also with a hot shoe gimbal.

This a very future proof monitor and it is exceptionally well made. Compared to the Marshal, it was like going from driving an old Hyundai Excel to a new BMW. It just feels good in your hands and it is built to work as you need it to. Its an amazing piece of kit that I will definitely add to my package (in multiples).

smallHD is soon releasing a D4 with an optical viewfinder attachment. I am very interested to test this unit as it is lighter weight and would be great for Steadicam shooting or small space configurations. I covet a D6 SDI for studio production set-ups.

I really can’t say enough about the quality of this product. The picture and the unit itself are simply beautiful. Its well worth the very reasonable investment.

Way to go smallHD!

And thanks to Reed for the loaner!

Craig Anderl

Unboxing the D6

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About craigVanderl

I like to make pictures & make them move... shooting for tv, features and short films. At the moment I'm using the Canon 5D, 7D & 60D - along with all the wonderful add-ons made by clever supporters of independent cinema. I like old things that wind up. I love beauty & those who can see it & make. I love to meditate but I have a hard time sitting still. I'm traveller through time trying not to get too dizzy....
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