|When you start with video, you make your first video recordings with the SLR or compact system camera that you already have, perhaps supplemented with a pair of inexpensive accessories, like an on-camera screen (“field monitor”) or an attractive, small LCD panel.
For me, it was different. I started with an external monitor worth 2,000 euros (Atomos Shogun), with a full HD screen and a built-in recorder for 4K video. Might be interesting for (semi-)professional videographers, that Atomos, but not for a photographer who uses his or her compact system camera to review video.
|He or she will sooner think about an external monitor, and/or an attractive, small LCD panel, costing a couple hundred euros at most. The MustHD M501 Field Monitor, the star of this MustHD M501 review, is a much more logical choice in that instance. On the MustHDMonitor (manufacturer) site, I found an intro video that you can view here.
Specifications MustHD M501 Field Monitor
|The Must HD M501 Field Monitor is the smallest and least expensive member of the series of external monitors that MustHD makes. If you review the specifications for the Must HD M501, it’s noticeable that there are functions on this monitor that don’t appear on your compact system or SLR camera, functions that you will probably never have used. Examples are False Color and the ability to only display the blue channel. I’ll come back to that later.
There are still a lot of cameras on which you don’t have any focus assistance/focus peaking when focusing manually. For owners of such cameras, it’s extremely handy to use an external monitor for video recordings, where you will without a doubt, even if it’s only occasionally, disengage the AF.
The MustHD M501 comes with a very handy, solidly built, folding sun cap. You do not have to remove the sun cap after use. It protects the screen and takes up practically no space during transport. The MustHD M501 also comes with a battery connection for a Sony batter pack (there are also battery connections for Panasonic and Canon for sale), an HDMI cable (HDMI to mini-HDMI), remote control with a coiled cable, a ball mount with a foot in order to mount the M501 on the hot shoe of the camera, user manual and a wall plug.
Applications of a Field Monitor/on-camera monitor
|Many videographers mount an external screen in the hot shoe of a camera or on the video rig. A larger screen with high resolution (800*480 pixels or higher) is a bit more comfortable to look at for long periods. In addition, on camera monitors offer, as mentioned, various functions that you don’t have on the camera.
What I like is to use an extra screen when making video recordings for CameraStuffReview. Then I’m the presenter and the cameraman at the same time. The 3-inch screen of my camera can be turned so that I can see myself when I’m standing in front of the camera. Many cameras do not have that capability. Then an external monitor is a solution anyway, because you see what appears on the video when you’re standing in front of the camera. Three inches is really small, though, when you’re standing in front of the camera, so an extra 5- or 7-inch screen makes the life of the solo videographer a bit simpler, even if you already have a camera with a rotating screen.
Another application for an external monitor is when using a gyro stabilizer. Because the camera is hanging in a gimbal, which is stabilized with a gyroscope, you can no longer look through the viewfinder of the camera. The 3-inch screen is too small, as well as too far away from your eyes, to keep using it. By mounting an external monitor on the gyro stabilizer, you have a larger screen, closer to your eyes, which can also be viewed well in bright sunlight with the large sun cap.
Build quality MustHD 501
That is an ideal combination, certainly if you are using the MustHD M501 as an on-camera monitor. The extra weight that the Atomos Shogun brings along, in comparison to that of the MustHD M501, is less comfortable to use. The HDMI cables are very securely attached—more securely than on most cameras. And by that I mean: without you using the built-in cable lock for the HDMI cables (see the illustration above). If an HDMI cable comes loose, it certainly won’t be on the side of the MustHD M501. The top HDMI cable is for connecting with the camera. The bottom HDMI connection is used for looping the signal to an external recorder or another monitor. The latter comes into play when you’re working in the studio, with a production team that is also watching a screen. For studio work, it is a plus point that the MustHD M501 comes with a wall plug. For video on location, there are various battery connections for sale as accessories. The MustHD M501 that I reviewed was fitted with a Sony battery connection. There is also a basic connection for Panasonic and Canon batteries. The battery sits nice and steady and is secured. In order to remove the battery, you have to press a button.
Operation and ease of use MustHD 501
|Because I am still a beginner where video is concerned, I am a bit reluctant to make an assessment on this point. I now have experience with two different on-camera screens, from two totally different price classes. As far as the super-handy sun cap and the comfortably light weight are concerned, the MustHD beat out my Atomos. I find the touchscreen of the Atomos nicer to work with than the button controls of the MustHD. But that is also a question of taste. In both cases, there are so many new functions on these screens that you don’t have on your camera that it’s still too early for me to be able to say what I will use the most. What’s handy and what’s not—I don’t know that yet. But that the image quality of your videos gets better when you make use of the extra functions that an on-camera screen offers—of that, I’m convinced already.
|A 5-inch screen with high resolution of 800*480 pixels is a good bit more comfortable to look at than a 3-inch screen of a camera. The screen of the Panasonic GH4 is, though, brighter and richer in contrast, if you compare them with each other directly. The sun cap of the MustHD M501 ensures that the roles are reversed in sunlight. A 500:1 Contrast Ratio and White Luminance of 350 cd/m2 are solid specifications. If you want more, then it will cost you.
Manual focusing: Focus assist
|For making video recordings, many videographers choose older lenses without AF, with a specific, unique characteristic. Even with modern AF lenses, videographers prefer manual focusing because you can make such beautiful and smooth transitions and prevent the AF from unexpectedly going “hunting.” Focus peaking or focus assistance, with which you see on the screen where the focus is, is then indispensable if you want to focus precisely. On the Panasonic GH4, the color for focus peaking can be adjusted, so that the accentuating lines can be better distinguished from the subject. I would very much like to have that on the MustHD as well.
|There are, however, still a lot of SLR cameras without focus peaking. An external monitor with focus peaking then offers a real solution. The MustHD M501 offers two different Focus Assistance modes: the focus will be accentuated with white lines in a normal image (illustration) or in an image with false colors (right). I found the first mode to be the nicest to work with.
|Video will often not be recorded in the aspect ratio in which the final result will be shown. In order to be sure that your subject is not cut off in some strange way, you can have a frame displayed on the MustHD screen that shows how much image remains after cropping. Very handy, because it saves you unnecessary repetition of recordings because the focus was too tight for the cropping to the final aspect ratio. You can mark the center of the image with a red X. Handy.
|For a photographer, it’s surprising to run into the screen functions like “False Color” and “Blue Only”. To start with the latter: every camera registers colors in red, green, and blue. The blue channel almost always contains the most noise. If you set the screen before you start filming to “Blue Only,” then you can assess very well whether you have chosen the correct ISO setting, or whether you should choose a lower ISO setting. It is not always the blue channel that has the most noise.
|Therefore, you can also set the Must HD external monitor to Only Red or Only Green. False Color is an alternative to the histogram. The real colors will be replaced by other colors that correspond with the brightness. Black corresponds with blue and red with white. That way, you see precisely where there is a risk of over- and underexposure in the image. Because I am accustomed to photographing with a histogram, I miss having one. Perhaps it’s a cultural difference between video and photography. My much more expensive Atomos Shogun doesn’t have a histogram either.
|The MustHD M501 has 8 buttons on the front under the LCD screen, with which you can operate the screen. As a supplement to that, there is a satellite control included, with 3 Custom-function buttons. You can assign a function to these 3 buttons yourself. When you’re filming, then it’s much nicer to use this remote control than the buttons under the screen. And because you assign the functions that you most often use to these buttons, you almost never have to use the buttons below the screen. I am always very pleased by manufacturers who offer multiple options for using the same functions. I love customization. Here, too.
Conclusion MustHD M501 Field Monitor
|As a photographer, I did not understand why videographers needed to use an external monitor. Don’t you use the viewfinder of your camera? Or, if there’s no other option, the screen on the back of your camera?
Now that I am starting to make video recordings, I have learned how handy an external monitor that, in most cases, you mount on top of your camera is. For video recordings, you don’t use the autofocus in many cases. A large screen, on which you can also nicely enlarge the image and that offers focus peaking is then a pleasure to work with. It saves you a great deal of time when you are making recordings of yourself, when you’re simultaneously the cameraman.
|I was so quickly convinced that I purchased a 2,000-euro external on-camera monitor myself.
But what do you do if you have a smaller budget available? I’m thinking, for example, of all the photographers who have a camera that is more than two or three years old. The screens on those cameras are usually small and have a lower resolution and brightness than the current cameras. If you make video recordings of yourself for YouTube or Vimeo, then an affordable, large on-camera monitor is a bonus. And then I remember all the photographers who don’t have focus peaking on their SLR cameras. For all these (starting) videographers, the Must HD M501 Field Monitor is a nicely compact and solidly built option that they should certainly consider.