I’ve been shooting a lot of live performances recently and have been having some trouble maintaining good focus. It’s tough keeping up with performers who are frequently moving around the stage and changing their distance to the camera. With my Panasonic GH4’s small LED screen it’s impossible to accurately determine whether a shot is in focus. (Focus assist auto-zooming doesn’t operate while recording.) So, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my eye glued to the EVF. But that quickly gets tiring and also pretty much eliminates my peripheral vision.
My solution has been to purchase an external video monitor, specifically the ikan VH7i-2. I had previously tried an ikan shoulder rig and I was pretty happy with it so I decided to give another ikan product a try.
After a month or so of using the monitor I’m satisfied with it, too. It does the main job that I bought it for—to provide a way to easily tell when the subject is in focus. At least, it’s way better than the GH4’s LCD screen. I have to say, though, that sometimes I wish the 7" screen was even larger so that I could judge critical focus a bit better. Of course, if the screen was bigger it would be heavier, more awkward and more expensive. So, really, this size is about right for the work I’m currently doing.
Difficulties with the Provided Micro Ball Head
The micro ball head supplied with the monitor is hard to tighten securely. When turning the knob there’s no feeling of tightening gradually. It feels either tight or it feels loose. The problem is that once it feels tight that doesn’t mean it’s really been tightened securely enough that it won’t move. You have to crank pretty hard on it to tighten it so that it’s really locked down.
Unfortunately, without a feeling of gradually increasing tightness it’s hard to know whether it really is secure. With the battery attached the monitor is a bit heavy and I’ve had a couple of experiences where it either wasn’t tight enough or it loosened slightly so that the monitor tipped over. So far, no damage has been done but I still don’t like the idea of a piece of top-heavy equipment that I can’t trust to stay put.
Manfrotto Micro Ball Head to the Rescue
To remedy this problem I ordered a Manfrotto 492LCD Micro Ball Head and that’s working out great. You can feel this ball head tightening more gradually until you have it real snug and secure. At $56 it’s not cheap, though, and it has another small drawback, at least, as regards my Honu cage. The cold shoe mounting assembly doesn’t open up widely enough to mount on one of the cold shoes on my cage (for some reason, the three cold shoes are machined a bit differently from one another) so I can’t use it with the top cold shoe. Not a big deal, it still works on the other cold shoes, but it would be nice if the ball head opened a bit wider.
External Monitor is Great for Eyeglass Wearers
Another important advantage of the monitor for me is that I can leave my eyeglasses on while shooting. I’ve never been able to keep my glasses on while looking through a viewfinder so I’ve often had to take them off when shooting. But then if I need to change a camera setting or review a shot on the LCD screen I have to put them back on. This off-and-on routine is clumsy and tedious. But with the monitor I can just leave my glasses on.
The ikan monitor offers both false color and focus peaking which can be assigned to the two function buttons for quick access. My GH4 already has focus peaking so it’s not a big help but if your camera doesn’t offer focus peaking this could be a big help. And the false color feature is helpful to show the distribution of highlights, mid-tones and shadows throughout the scene.
Now, I can mount my cage with monitor on either a monopod or a tripod and get a much better look at my framing and focusing. My experience with the ikan monitor and the ikan shoulder rig is that they provide affordable, functional, no-frills solutions.