Taking it outside
Outdoors the usual limitations apply, and some sort of shade will be required, although the wide viewing angle is very good indeed. The menu system is operated via touching the screen, and it is here that the SmallHD 500 series takes a bit of a lead. While the Video Assist menus are easy to navigate with simple swipe gestures and presses on relevant parts of the screen, those fingermarks will soon take their oily toll. Viewed head on and they won’t be a problem, but depending on the scene lighting used anything off angle may show the ugliness of your skin oils!
I have one other issue with the Video Assist, too. If you like to set your monitors up to colour bars, the Video Assist won’t, well, assist you much. Whilst it is a simple thing to output bars to it (presuming you have some pre-recorded onto a card or your camera can output them — it would be nice if BMD cameras would have bars built in) it is quite hard to adjust the screen to them. This is because the brightness, contrast, and saturation adjustment sliders are featured on top of a semi translucent dark background.
Thus to make an adjustment requires making a change, then exiting the menu to check the result, and then going back to the adjustment screen again. As a result it will be difficult to get any consistency across screens, and what you see on the Video Assist can only really be an approximation of the picture. A very good one mind, but be aware of the limitations. Of course there is more to setting up a screen truly accurately than this, but it would be nice to get some sort of technical gauge when required.
There are no options for loading LUTs either, not even built in correction for BMD cameras film modes. This might perhaps be something that is added in firmware at a later date, and very welcome it would be too.
But let us not get carried away. The BMD Video Assist retails at $495/£350. That’s less than half of what you’d pay for the SmallHD 502, which doesn’t offer recording abilities.
When assessing the Blackmagic Video Assist we need to take account of what it is, rather than what it isn’t. It may appear that I have been harsh in my mentioning of its limitations, but I feel it important that you do not view this as a feature for feature alternative to higher end alternatives such as the Odyssey7Q monitor/recorder for instance.
The Video Assist will appeal to people who are on a budget, but still require high quality, versatile monitor with good recording capabilities. As a monitor it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of more pricey products such as the SmallHD 502, but we should also remember that like for like the 502 does not have any recording capabilities. And who knows what BMD will add via firmware at later dates? If a LUT capability was added then rivals will have something to be very concerned about.
What we have then is a high quality display in a robust casing and good connectivity that will easily stand up to the rigours of day to day production at a price that won’t break the bank, with Blackmagic’s superb build quality and robustness.