First Look: SmallHD DP6 vs. Marshall V-LCD50-HDMI

Today I had the opportunity to test the six-inch SmallHD DP6 monitor against the five-inch Marshall V-LCD50-HDMI monitor. It was a fairly rudimentary test — I’m not a engineering geek, so I didn’t pore over the menus at great length. Both units are still in early stages so there will likely continue to be upgrades and tweaks, so anything herein may be outdated shortly.

The monitors are fairly similar in weight; the Marshall 5″ is of course skinnier due to the smaller screen but it is taller so somehow the footprint feels relatively similar. The connectors on the Marshall stick out the back while on the DP6 they are flush. Both use the cheap push-on type power connector which is disappointing as they have a tendency to fall out when you least want them to.

Since the Marshall is designed primarily for monitoring from a D-SLR (due to its single input being HDMI), I tested both monitors with a Canon EOS 5D Mk. II camera. An HDMI splitter fed both monitors. This particular DP6 is SmallHD’s HD-SDI model but as I understand it, the DP6 is otherwise identical to their HDMI-only model.

In terms of overall image quality, I’ll give the Marshall the nod on this. The image simply “feels” more accurate tonally. While color rendition is similar between the monitors, the contrast and dynamic range of the V-LCD50 seems a notch better. It’s a fairly subtle distinction; I feel like either monitor could be used to judge lighting and exposure within the expectations of an onboard monitor.

One thing that really strikes you is the ability of the DP6 to scale the image up to fill the screen (via the D-SLR preset). This makes for a notably larger image, as seen in the first picture above. In this mode, hitting the record button on the 5D Mk. II will still cause the screen to blank for the typical 4-5 seconds, but when it returns the image size is exactly the same, not squeezed, which is a great advancement. The Marshall has a similar function (accessible via the HDMI auto mode); it maintains the proper aspect ratio but it shrinks the image another 5-10% or so. See second picture (note the position of the frameline compared to the HDMI lettering in green). Since the 5″ is already a smaller screen to begin with, it starts to feel like one is losing the battle in image size — from a typical operating distance it will become tough to judge focus and see details. PLEASE note that I appear to have taken the second image from an angle and focus is not good — the intent of the picture is to show the relative image sizes when in record mode; don’t start drawing conclusions about screen sharpness from these.

While the DP6 has significantly better resolution specs, it’s interesting to note that the monitors appear to resolve similarly, perhaps because of the magnified image on the DP6 in scaled mode. I was able to judge focus on both with about the same level of distinction.

Menu-wise, there are many similarities and many differences. As noted I won’t go into them here, the manufacturer’s websites have a fair amount listed and others will cover all of this. Suffice to say that both have many of the desired features such as image flip, focus assist and the like. The 5″ uniquely has framelines; the DP6 has a custom scaling feature. Whether you need either feature depends on how you use these monitors.

Noting that the 5″ has a more reflective face, as can be seen in the images here (reflection of the wall behind me can clearly be seen in the 5″ while the DP6 appears to reject same), I wanted to see what happened when I took these units outside.

And here we are outside in the bright California sun. I should point out that it is a bit of folly to take photos of monitor screens as the camera “sees” them differently than the eye; these looked more washed-out in person. Still, the relative differences between the displays remain and you can see that the DP6 wins on this front, as the anti-reflective coating rejects a certain amount of daylight creating a bit more contrast. I could barely see any image on the 5″ while the DP6 had just enough to make out outlines. Again you can see the effects on each screen — the orangish glow on the bottom right of the 5″ is repeated in the center of the DP6 with much more transparency. While many are tempted to use a straight hood of the type that SmallHD offers, this won’t help the reflective aspect any and you end up peering at a image of your own face. You are far better off using a Hoodman-style angled hood, which you can fashion yourself out of coroplast with a bit of trial and error.

The first image is shot with the sun behind the monitors, while the second has the sun striking the face directly. Obviously this is a worst case scenario for any monitor that is not designated as daylight viewable and these fare about the same as most, although you can still see that the DP6 has a marginally better image under these circumstances.

While I like several aspects of the Marshall, including the slightly better image quality and the inclusion of four easily accessible function buttons (and front panel image controls), I have to give the thumbs-up overall to the DP6 for the image size, customizable feature set, build quality and other features noted here. For me, buying a monitor with HD-SDI inputs is a must due to the varying cameras I use so the 5″ is not in consideration. When one compares the size of the DP6 to the Marshall 6.5″ or 7″, those two units seem like behemoths. I feel like the DP6 is a sweet spot in size for an onboard monitor for my application. For those using a bare D-SLR body with lens, I would think the 5″ might be a more appropriate size. Each monitor is very impressive and a great step forward for both companies; it’s amazing to see so many useful features packed into such small and inexpensive units.


About The Author

Since this article was written, Charles Papert has moved on from Steadicam operating to working as a DP and director, with credits such as Key & Peele, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Teachers. Although he no longer dons the full size rig, he still will try on a small rig from time to time for nostalgia’s sake.

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