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Hands-On Review: SmallHD FOCUS Monitor

SmallHD’s 5″ FOCUS monitor will give your camera a big upgrade without breaking the bank.

All images via PremiumBeat.

SmallHD’s FOCUS monitor is a 5-inch, 800nit display with rotating capabilities that might be one of the biggest selling points for anybody shooting tutorials, vlogging, or working without a cameraperson. The FOCUS offers a bright display that eases shooting in the middle of the day or in intensely lit circumstances. Let’s dive in for a closer look.


Hands-On Review: SmallHD FOCUS Monitor — The FOCUS

SmallHD calls this monitor, “the monitor you can see outside.” So, I took the monitor outside in the middle of a 100-degree summer day in Texas and can report the screen works wonderfully in that regard. I’m shooting on a Sony a7S II, and its display isn’t really the clearest in daylight, so the FOCUS is an absolute must for visibility.

Clearly seeing what’s in or out of focus is a huge benefit. The Focus Assist and Peaking assists help a lot with color customization options — and they’re easy to access. In general, the monitor is fairly touch sensitive with a quick reaction time. The swiping-touch feature isn’t perfect, but it’s still a step up from past SmallHD monitors that lacked touch screen capability altogether.

SmallHD FOCUS Monitor Settings

Hands-On Review: Small HD Focus Monitor — Monitor Settings

Aside from controlling the live image, the FOCUS allows you to toggle your image display. The monitor is very helpful for ensuring you get the exact image you want, and it offers many levels of customization, including brightness, aspect ratio, image rotation, pixel zoom, and even volume control for your headphones.

There is a cold shoe mount on the side so you can mount a small LED light or mic, which can help balance the rig and keep it from becoming too top heavy. There are also three 1/4″ 20 mounts on the top, bottom, and the side of the monitor for any other pieces of equipment you’d like to add.

If you’re shooting with Canon, sometimes the camera doesn’t output the entire image, so the FOCUS lets you scale up with these cameras (such as the 7D and 5D).

One of the most enticing features of the FOCUS is the swipe feature for different setups. If you’re going to be shooting different locations and lighting setups, you can have all your custom pre-made settings ready to go.

Using the SmallHD FOCUS Tools

Hands-On Review: Small HD Focus Monitor — Using Tools

The touch screen allows you to touch-zoom in to check your focus and control the display by adding crosshairs to help center and stage your shot.

Each tool offers a simple tap and swipe motion to toggle the tool on or off. Once you’ve set proper exposure, focus, and aspect ratio, you can swipe left or right to the next page to further correct and play with your image. By tapping the name of the tool in the top left of the monitor, you can customize the tool by changing the color of exposure and focus points. As far as touch screen sensitivity goes, it did feel awkward at times to use two hands to zoom in or out to bring up the monitor settings. That being said, it’s still an easy-to-use, small, touch screen monitor.

As you can see above, the different pages allow you to simultaneously check the Waveform or False Colors, play with the histogram, and ensure your subjects are in focus with the Focus Assist.

Hands-On Review: Small HD Focus Monitor — SD Card Slot

The monitor also comes with a headphone jack, so if you’re using the Sony a6300 or a6500, you can listen to the audio you’re recording from an attached microphone instead of using an external audio recorder. The monitor also has an SD card slot for uploading your custom LUTs to the monitor — you can save these looks under Profiles.

There are also preset LUTs on the monitor you can work with. The SD card slot will accommodate future firmware upgrades, and you can save certain profiles to the SD card, saving time on your next shoot — especially if you need to run and gun.

The FOCUS also allows you to power your camera through an auxiliary out cable — which you must purchase separately. This is obviously a major advantage. If you’re working with Sony cameras (which are notorious for sub-par battery life), this capability will come in handy. In the same vein, if your camera is prone to overheating, using a dummy battery while the monitor powers the camera can help keep your camera relatively cool.

SmallHD FOCUS Price and Bundles

SmallHD sells the monitor by itself (including the micro HDMI and USB cables, cable clips, and tilt arm), for $499 USD. You need to purchase an L series battery separately, so expect to spend a little more on this monitor.

You’ll also need to purchase an additional $60 power adapter if you want to power your camera with the monitor. SmallHD currently sells five different power adapters for Sony, Nikon, Panasonic, and Canon cameras.

The best deal SmallHD offers are the camera specific bundles, which are about $600 USD, an average savings of $180 USD. With the bundle, you’ll receive an ANTON BAUER L series battery (47Wh), a dummy battery with charger, the tilt arm, HDMI, cable clips, and USB cable. There are camera-specific bundles for whichever brand you shoot with. I personally recommend spending the extra money so you receive all the necessary products with the monitor at the same time.

Side note: the cable clips that come with the base monitor option are an excellent way to manage the inevitable three cables you’ll need to attach to the ridged back of the monitor.

General Thoughts

Hands-On Review: SmallHD FOCUS Monitor — General Thoughts

At first, I wasn’t completely sold on the apparent gimmick of the bright display and charging capabilities, but while writing this review, I went out on the town with my a7S II and quickly discovered why the FOCUS would be a valuable asset. Given the short battery life of my camera, giving the battery a longer lifespan is a major bonus.

Aside from the obvious features that make this product stand out, the most notable is the size. For somebody like me on the go, traveling and avoiding weight and bulk, you can keep your rig can minimal and fun to shoot with. So, what you’re getting for the price is well worth it.

Here are the official specs for the 5″ SmallHD FOCUS Monitor:

  • IPS Touchscreen
  • 5 inch display
  • 1280×720 resolution
  • 800 nits
  • Adjustable Backlight
  • Stereo Out (headphones)
  • Micro USB
  • 6.0v-8.4v power
  • Sony L-series Battery
  • 7.09g heavy
  • Custom LUTs

The FOCUS is now available for order. You can purchase one here.

Does this monitor sound like something you’d add to your camera bag? Let us know in the comments below.

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