SmallHD DP4 Electronic Viewfinder Review
by Tony Reale
For a HDSLR shooter, a field monitor is one of the most important investments they can make. A good field monitor can last through many cameras and will give you the tools to “get the shot” the first time.
This year marked a large influx of EVF (electronic view finder) manufacturers each toting their own special features but most hovering around the $700-$800 price point. No one was surprised when SmallHD announced their own EVF but many were surprised by what their EVF featured. Unlike most other EVFs out there which featured a 3” screen, the SmallHD DP4 EVF came in at 4.3”. This made the DP4 a small but functional field monitor in addition to an optional EVF.
So the DP4 EVF is finally here and I’ve had the chance to work with it for over a month now. I’ve used it on commercial shoots and short films. I’ve used it in a cramped basement, on a bright sunny day, in a motor boat and while filming a POV short. After putting it through its paces, how did it perform?
The first thing to talk about with any field monitor or EVF is the screen. The screen on the DP4 is an 800×480 4.3” display and reminds me of my Sprint EVO 4G phone which is the same size and resolution. Colors appear relatively accurate to what I record, the screen is bright and vivid and I do not notice any limit in the pixel density even with the loupe attachment. I prefer using the DP4 EVF a thousand times over using the LCD on my camera with a loupe. Focusing is easier and having the ability to position the screen to whatever angle is comfortable is a huge plus. Also, since I am using the DP4 as my display, the battery lasts longer on my DSLR which is a nice bonus.
Having a nice screen is great, but a big advantage to field monitors is the pro software features they come with. The DP4 does not lack in that area by providing tons of menu options. The big ones you expect are there, false color, focus assist, peaking, DSLR scaling, crop markers; along with many more such as 1:1 pixel mapping, custom scale, image flip, voltage meter and tons more. The DP4’s firmware can easily be user upgraded via USB as SmallHD continues to improve the software.
The build quality of the DP4 is very impressive. SmallHD has chosen to use a fully aluminum body which not only feels great but looks sexy. All the buttons and inputs are solid. The design of the battery plates is custom molded to look a part of the monitor, but still able to easily be swapped. The included screen protector is a nice plus and will keep the screen safe from life’s mishaps.
If you choose to purchase the loupe, the DP4 goes from a small field monitor to a fully functional EVF. The eyecup is comfortable and durable and gives clear vision of 90% of the screen without having to move your eye. The remaining 10% will require you to “look” at each edge of the screen, but I find this common with most loupes.
SmallHD DP4 cons
No product in the world is perfect and there are few things I don’t like with the DP4. First is the weight. The solid build of the DP4 also means it is a tad on the heavier side. While this isn’t a major issue, it will put a strain on the cheaper ball mounts and articulating arms out there. Make sure you get a solid arm to attach your DP4 to. Second con is the heat. Since the DP4 is packing a large(r) screen in a slim package, there is little heat dispersion. This means your DP4 can get quite warm during regular operation. That said, I haven’t had it overheat or become too hot to touch. The most annoying con I’ve had to deal with was the “ghosting” or slight burn-in that sometimes happens. This happens when I go from something very white, such as a menu or info screen, to a regular image. The info text lingers for a minute or two before it fades away. Fortunately, SmallHD has an answer for this:
“This is something that will diminish over time, but it seems that different panels randomly have different amounts of burn in. The only way to help with this is to burn the monitor in with motion video for several hours or overnight, and it should not have this problem anymore. If it does then it is a defective panel.”
The last point is less a con and more of a general reminder. Since the loupe attachment is effectively a magnifying lens, you should not point it directly at the sun or any bright light source. Doing so may result in a permanently burned screen.
In spite of its little quirks, the DP4 is my new favorite companion to my HDSLR. It has helped me improve my shots and stay small when a 5.6” monitor would have been too bulky. The EVF attachment not only gets me up close and personal with my recording, but negates the need to carry around a sun hood when outdoors. As I said in my video review, the 4.3” screen size doesn’t fit every situation, but it will cover a majority of your shooting needs. If you’re in the market for an EVF, the SmallHD DP4 should be towards the top of your list.
Check out our video review below to see the DP4 in action and subscribe to us on YouTube for more reviews and training.
(cover photo credit: snap from the SmallHD site)