An Experiential Review of the Atomos Shinobi External Monitor for Photography

An Experiential Review of the Atomos Shinobi External Monitor for Photography

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.

Actual Shooting 

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.  

A demonstration of focus peaking on the 5Ds, a camera that doesn't have the function built-in.

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)
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Gerald Bertram's picture

I also use the Irix 11mm when shooting my interiors and hooking up a little field monitor has helped so much. With such a wide field of view it can be easy to miss little details on the tiny on-camera screen especially since my eyes aren't what they used to be.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Glad you find it as helpful as I do. Focusing on an 11mm can be tricky if you're very cautious about image quality. :)

barry cash's picture

I'm using it on my Hasselblad H6D-100c instead of the rear screen for LV its a much improved experience for critical focusing....seascapes at the beach on tripod standing in the water and sand the little unit can be handheld at eye level for perfect focus.

On another note the Hasselblad H6D-100c and its lenses are quite capable of making outstanding images with the current firmware and hardware. HOWEVER Hasselblad really let their users down by not advancing basic functions with firmware upgrades, even one that are already on previous older versions of the camera.

Making images faster, better and with less effort is the only way a camera company will survive in todays climate with cellphones as major competitors for beginner's and armature photographers.

If I told you how many times I wanted to just shout out what the hell are they doing to this brand. I really want to meet one of or the past CEO's and give them a chance to babble an explanation of their genius leadership while they proceed to blame it on other's as their running the company into the ground. Kodak ESQ.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

I have absolutely zero experience shooting with such a nice camera but I get where your frustration is coming from, especially since that's something you would expect out of such an expensive piece of gear.

Visual Envy's picture

Great to hear your experience as I've been waiting to add an external monitor for landscapes. Mounting to the tripod is also a great idea and when buying a tripod I now look for ones with mounting threads.
Would be interested in a follow up comparing a 7" to a 5" as I can't decide if having the bigger screen will justify making the setup more cumbersome.

Mike Dixon's picture

I have pondered about getting an external monitor for three reasons: 1) Failing eyesight as I get older, 2) Lack of swivel screen on my Canon 5D4, and 3) Lack of focus peaking on the 5D4. Maybe this is something I should try.

Alex Herbert's picture

I'd recommend Feelworld, they make excellent field monitors that are much more reasonably priced than the Atotmos.

Michael Del Rossi's picture

And you can get larger screen for easier focusing and composing.

Jak Spedding's picture

Curious as to what made you choose this setup over the camranger+ipad option?

james Tarry's picture

Might not have an ipad?

Logan Cressler's picture

This is more expensive, and far less versatile, plus not wireless, than a camranger mini. Why would anyone ever choose this option?

james Tarry's picture

This is something I've been pondering on for a while and probably can answer that question. The biggest thing is you need an ipad, he might not have that-I have access to one but its a shared one so is not available all the time. So cam rangers are £320 plus then you have to buy an ipad so add on another £300-400-600? The Atomos is £320 screen included. While I also liked using the Camranger, up until recently they were not available for Sony's (and still cant get my hands on the new one). But the biggest plus of using one of these (or others) over an ipad is the brightness, even in bright sunshine, you can still view the photo without mass glare across the screen

Logan Cressler's picture

The camranger mini is $200 USD, and you can use it with your phone, that is how I started, and a phone screen is about the same size as this. I use my ipad and camranger extensively, outdoors and indoors. I use it to trigger my camera, change settings, turn on and off my flash, run focus stacking programs, run shutter programs, all the time. None of that this screen can do. It is also more expensive if you already have a phone.

james Tarry's picture

I get why you like the camranger but you keep missing two things, you a/ have to already own an iPad or iPhone and if you don’t its a more expensive option and b/ the camranger and camranger mini, (in my case anyway) do not work with Sony’s. So a camranger 2 (when released plus iPad or iPhone with a bigger screen) costs way more than these options. I never stack blend multiple exposures for my work and using iPads and phones to operate cameras isn’t something I personally like doing. But a bigger brighter screen is appealing-the 7inch feelworld is only about $200

Joseph Pellicone's picture

Im wondering if you could use an iPad as a external camera screen? I'll bet there's an app for that!

Logan Cressler's picture

You can control your camera with an ipad with a camranger.

james Tarry's picture

This is great timing as been looking at getting an external screen for my interior photography so really interesting to read your experiance with it.
I loved using camranger however it is not compatible with the Sony, and while the new Camranger2 is, I have failed to be able to get one in UK and no where stocks them yet. The issue I had with the Camranger1 when I was using one on my old camera was sometimes the wifi stability issues and then theres another black box to dangle somewhere because Hotshoe is filled with flash remote. The main problem though with camranger-you need an iPad-so that just adds even extra £s ontop of the £320 unit price-external screens are similar in price and brighter. Makes perfect sense. I'm now torn between this or the 7" Feelworld T7

Logan Cressler's picture

But the critical thing is, you cant control your camera with this screen. You can take the screen with you into the frame, to hold your flash for making composites. If you need to do something in frame, which you always have to in interior, you can trigger your camera remotely, change settings, all without having to walk back and forth to and from the camera hundreds of times. Saves tremendous amounts of time. A screen cant do any of this. You are just spending a lot of money to look at a canned jpeg a little larger.

james Tarry's picture

cant deny that yes, you cant move it around....unless you have a long tether wire but i personally don’t want that option when shooting interiors, it’s another thing to drop or misplace, pick up for me, I also hated Using controlling the camera with the ipad or iPhone, I’ve tried both ways. At same time I often have clients that want to see a preview and the screens on cameras are too small for them. Critically the screen is better on these than an iPad esp in sunlight and at a fraction of the cost- especially if you don’t have an iPad which not everyone has. Guess depends on your budget and needs ultimately