There are a ton of on-board monitors on the market and each one is trying to set itself apart from the pack. I have always been a fan of the company SmallHD, not only because of the products that they create but because they are just good people. That goes a long way with me.
“Fathers and Daughters”
When the prep on Fathers and Daughters commenced at Revolution Cinema Rentals (RCR) in LA, I hired a very seasoned, top-notch focus puller for this film. I knew I wanted to shoot the feature mostly at a 2.0 on the Cooke S4 primes and I needed a Zen focus master to keep Russell Crowe sharp as a tack. Eric Swanek was my go to Zen Master. He delivered huge for me and made this film so powerful with his unique abilities. This is what great 1st ACs can bring to your project. They can let you create in ways you thought impossible. I never had to increase the lighting level or increase the ISO to give him more depth of field, which I have done on every one of the 18 films I have photographed, except for this one. Why am I going on and on about this Zen Master? Well, because your crew matters and they are an extension of you and your vision. On that first day of prep at RCR, Eric Swanek had never heard of or seen a SmallHD DP-7. He had been a TV Logic guy, like most Alexa and film guys. They have been the industry standard. I told him that there was a new kid in town. I asked him if since this monitor is so smart and so intuitive, would he be comfortable using it? He said, “Yes, it seems like the whole job is going to be using something I have never seen before so why not throw this one in too?” HA HA. I laughed and thanked him. I quickly showed him the power of the DP-7 and why I believe in it so much.
Imagine a monitor that thinks like an iPhone and operates like one. Steve Jobs was a brilliant man. The common sense nature of swiping the screen like reading a page in a book with your iPhone or iPad has become the benchmark and the norm. The team at SmallHD did the same. They made their screen a touch screen, which was brilliant. Time is money on the movie set and the quicker you can do things, the more money you save. What happens when you flip an iPhone? It flips its image. Wow, what a concept. The DP-7 does the same.
Why is a monitor that flips automatically when you physically flip it so important? Most monitors require you to go into a menu, then a sub menu and then a sub of the sub to do this function. Again, speed is essential on set. But why was it huge for my team? Russell Crowe is not only one of the greatest actors on the planet, but also very aware of the camera and how to work as a team. When he arrives on the set, he likes to see what each camera is shooting and its lenses. The instant flip enabled my 1st AC to immediately grab the Ultimate Arm and flip the monitor so that Russell could see it. By doing this motion, the DP-7 instantly flips and he is looking at the lens size and now knows his playing area.
Your navigation is not about hitting buttons and sub menus to be able to get to another sub menu to then be able to do something. It is a swipe of your finger that enables you to go to whatever function you would like the monitor to do. You have three pages to do this with and on each page, you can set up your eight SMART KEYS on a page.
Smart Keys RULE
What is a smart key? Imagine that with a touch of a finger, you can immediately go to a function on the monitor so all the sub menu navigation I was talking about on other brands is brought to the forefront for you to have easy access.
Setting up the 1st AC’s Page
Setting up the smart key function does require you to go into sub menus and use buttons to create the smart keys. Once done, all of your key functions are now on one page.
Focus Assist / Peaking: Smart Key #1 & #2
The focus assist or peaking on this monitor is superb. It gives you numerous ways to set your peaking as well as a whole slew of colors to show what is in focus. It also has the ability to turn the image B & W so the peaking color is the only one that shines through to help with focus. I use two smart keys to deliver this peaking, one that is incredibly sensitive when I am on a long lens and the image is in B & W, and another smart key set to less sensitive when I am on a wider lens and the image stays in color.
Pixel to Pixel Zoom: Smart Key #3
This function enables me to zoom in on an area so that I can get critical focus. I use this along with my focus assist peaking functions. The cool thing about the smart keys is that you can combine functions. What I mean by this is that you can touch the smart key that you have dedicated to focus assist as well as hit the pixel in pixel zoom to get even tighter on your critical focus shots.
Contrast & Brightness: Smart Key #4 & #5
With the digital camera’s sensor sensitivity, low lighting has become the norm. I was lighting scenes on Fathers and Daughters on which Eric, my 1st, said that he could not see the actor’s feet! I laughed, but he said it wasn’t funny, since that is the way he judges distance. So with this, I assign two more smart key functions to the AC’s page, one being contrast and the other being brightness. You can hit these smart keys and the monitor will brighten up and increase its contrast so that you can see your focus better as well.
LUTs: Smart Key #6
I have designed a series of Look Up Tables (LUTs) for the SmallHD monitor for all the different camera’s color spaces. I have designed ones for the Canon C500 and the Alexa, which are Day Ext. Back lit, Day Ext. Front lit, Day Int. Front lit, Day Int. Back lit. Night Ext. Back lit, and Night Ext. Front lit. I cluster these onto one smart key. When you hit that key, all of your LUTs appear. Then you select the one you want and it infuses this look onto the DP-7. What is cool about this is that when you do this and run a BNC cable out of the monitor, it sends this LUT downstream to whatever monitor you plug this signal into. This is HUGE! Now your client is not looking at a flat Log file. They are looking at something close to your final color. So smart in the design.
Image Flip: Smart Key #7
I already went into why this was so important for us earlier in this post. You can set this to auto so that you do not need to assign it to a smart key, or you can so that it is at the ready with the touch of your finger.
Monitor Fan: Smart Key #8
The DP-7 is a very high functioning and high quality OLED screen that requires cooling. The fan can be set to on or off or low. I also assign this as a smart key function so when we go to roll the camera, I make sure the fan is off.
Setting up the DP’s Page
False Color: Smart Key #1
I have so much respect for this. It really is the best way to expose your digital sensor. The values to see where you are clipping and what specifically is clipping is essential. The waveform can be confusing at times when multiple things are showing up clipped. I prefer to clip some of them and others, I do not clip. With false color, you are seeing the object that is creating the clip. It could be a window, a practical lamp, a kick off of a table, etc. But seeing the image and its IRE values is the way into this digital capture for me, that and my eyes.
Color Space: Smart Key #2
This is great to have at the ready – to be able to go from Rec 709, DCI P3 and Rec 601 NTSC with a touch a finger.
LUTs: Smart Key #3
See the section on LUTS above. Creating your own LUTS is a very powerful tool to hone in your color for the look you hope to achieve. If you don’t have time to make your own LUTS, SmallHD loads in a lot of default LUTS which cover most of the cameras you will be using: Cinestyle, C-log, Lob C, Red Gamma 3, S-log 1 and S-log 2.
Waveform Fullscreen: Smart Key #4
For all of you that like the waveform, this smart key gives you a full screen waveform to analyze your exposure.
Waveform Bottom Right: Smart Key #5
You have the ability to do a picture in picture waveform. I like it in the bottom right corner of the screen so that I can see the image as well as a small waveform in the bottom corner.
Aspect Ratio: Smart Key #6
This is a very useful function to always have at the ready so that you can immediately change your framing lines on the monitor. It supports 16:9, the full screen,1:85, 2:35, and 4:3. You also have the option to create your own custom frame lines to any custom aspect ratio you want.
You can make these guides lines, mattes and change their color and opacity, which is very helpful. There is also an option for crosshair, crosshatch and safety lines.
Monitor Fan: Smart Key #7
The DP-7 is a very high functioning and high quality OLED screen, which requires cooling. The fan can be set to on or off or low. I also assign this as a smart key function so when we go to roll the camera, I make sure the fan is off.
Horizontal Indicator: Smart Key #8
The monitor also displays a horizontal indicator, which I load into a smart key for the Steadicam operator to use if we have mounted a DP-7 Pro Hi Brite monitor to his rig. This baby is bright!
Well, there you have it. This is how I roll out the DP-7 monitor on all of my films. I load all these settings to an SD card so I can get my monitors loaded up the exact way I need them every time. I only do this process once, again a significant time savings. I am including some video tutorials on the DP-7’s new real time color grading on the set so you can see the power of this latest addition to future proofing your investment. I have also included a general tutorial about all aspects of this incredible product. Enjoy!!!!