The use of external monitors in shooting stills at honestly seemed unnecessary at first, especially in shooting more pace-sensitive kinds of photography. But as an architectural photographer who generally has more room for precise compositions, it seemed more feasible.
External monitors are more commonly used in shooting videos than photos. There is a wide variety of external monitors that are compatible with most modern cameras (at least those with an HDMI port). Atomos is one of those brands most known for such, especially their bigger monitors that come with a built-in recorder such as the Atomos Ninja V. Given that architectural photography deals with very crucial precise composition and attention to details, the use of the Atomos Shinobi seemed sensible.
Build and Design
The Shinobi comes in a 5.94 x 3.6 x 1.24 inch polycarbonate body that weighs only 196 grams (battery not included). It has 1/4” female mounting threads on the top and bottom parts, a 3.5mm audio output port, HDMI port, and an SD card slot on the sides. The SD slot does not function as storage but works as a way to import color profiles instead. Personally, the only thing I would change about this is to give it a more rugged exterior probably with rubber protectors on the corners.
Display and Features
The monitor uses an IPS-type touch screen LCD with an actual display size of 5.2 inches and a screen resolution of 1920 x 1080 at 16:9 aspect ratio and 427 ppi. It is also quite valuable that the Atomos Shinobi can be calibrated using an X-rite color calibration tool with Atomos’ own calibration software. For photographers who might want to see colors more accurately, this option can be quite helpful. Maximum brightness at 1000 nits is very much able to compensate for shooting outdoors at high noon. The screen gives additional capabilities such as anamorphic de-squeeze, false color, focus peaking, histogram, pixel-to-pixel zoom, RGB parade, screen markers, Waveform, Zebra, and vectorscope.
I used a Manfrotto 244 Mini friction arm to mount the monitor as a peripheral to my tripod. Not necessarily due to the design of the monitor but this setup gave me the ability to view and compose even from the side of the camera. While some cameras offer a swivel screen that can show you the image from the side, most modern high end DSLR cameras and Mirrorless cameras do not offer such, except the Canon EOS R. Personally, I use a Canon 5Ds and much like all other cameras of the 5D line, there is no swivel or tilt-screen. This fact alone gave me the ability to squeeze into corners especially in shooting interiors when I wanted to maximize my angle of view. In shooting interiors, a centimeter difference in the position of the camera can change the composition drastically which is why an expanded preview facing you up-front is essential.
It was also delightful to see that the Atomos Shinobi basically filled for features that my camera doesn’t have and do certain tasks more efficiently that my camera. For example, the lenses that I mostly use for architectural photography are either the Irix 11mm or a Canon 17mm TSE. Both of which are manual focus lenses. While focusing with lenses at f/11 or even f/16 is fairly easy, I wouldn’t say that it is foolproof and that is why the focus peaking feature comes in really handy, especially because not all my cameras have that feature. To be able to assure myself that everything is in focus on the 5-inch screen gives me more efficiency in shooting. The fact that zooming in 4:1, 2:1 and 1:1 are just a tap-of-the-touch-screen away, makes it even more efficient in checking details.
Shooting in Atomos’ analysis view that shows you the histogram, waveform, and vectorscope simultaneously while shooting can actually be a bit of an overkill for photography but the added ways of making sure that your output is never bad. Personally, the on-board histogram is very helpful especially when shooting against bright situations both indoors and outdoors. While light perception is generally subjective, and the camera’s metering may differ, the histogram is the go-to objective gauge for exposing your images properly. While that is available most cameras, the interface of the Shinobi allows for it not to be an obstructive overlay on the actual image.
The Bigger Picture
Overall, shooting with an external monitor was actually more beneficial than I thought it would be. The additional 2 inches that it virtually takes up in my camera bag is actually minimal compared to the efficiency that it gives me. Architecture and interior Photography can be quite testing especially in terms of logistics. Being assured that your photos come out the best way and not missing any small yet crucial detail is important. The powerful screen gives the photographer a better grasp of the actual exposure of the image both because of the flexible levels of brightness and the objective measure of the histogram. Creativity in composition and overall visual design is aided by the bigger screen that can follow your line of vision depending on how you mount the monitor. It even helps you overcome of some physical challenges like shooting in high or low angles both in interiors and exteriors.
The Atomos Shinobi can actually enable your camera with additional features that it may not already have. As a bonus, it gave my clients better previews of the image that allowed them to point out certain aspects of the photos that they would like to be changed. Instead of having to show them through the camera’s smaller screen, or showing them after uploading to a computer (since tethered shooting is quite impractical in this situation), the turn-around time for initial output and revision was significantly decreased by the fact that they get to see it on a significantly bigger screen and zoom in with the tap of an icon.
What I Liked:
- Superb resolution for a small monitor
- Efficient user interface
- Additional monitoring features
- Flexibility in mounting
What Can Be Improved:
- Plastic body
- Slight lag on preview (depending on the camera brand’s HDMI output)