I received my loaner NA-DP4 monitor housing the day before leaving for Indonesia and my first thought was: ‘Crap, they forgot to send the sunshade’.
I installed the HDMI bulkhead on my NA 7D housing and tested out the connections. Everything worked the first time. The second time I turned on the camera and monitor the camera froze and wouldn’t come back to life, dead as a door nail, until I took it out of the housing and dropped the battery out of the camera. A bit of an inconvenience if this happens on a dive….. I proceeded to turn the camera and monitor on and off 10 more times and all worked flawless so I wrote the ‘freeze up’ off as a ‘S… happens’ moment. (I had been warned that this might happen, and had been told what to do if it did happen. SmallHD now has a modification specifically for Canon cameras and I haven’t run into this problem after having it installed).
In Indo, I setup the camera and everything worked. That is until the first dive. Once UW I turned on the camera and monitor and got a black monitor screen and a none functioning camera. That was the end of that monitor, at least until it had made it’s way around SmallHD in the US for a fix. Inconvenient. The camera was good after the battery had been removed and reinserted again. SmallHD and FedEx were great, together they rushed me a new monitor and a week later I was back in business.
I’m kind of thinking that SmallHD might have some how planed this whole range of event, to make a point. I had to shoot my 7D for a week w/o the monitor, and what a difference it made when I finally got the new monitor on the camera. I suddenly became a faster and more precise shooter. (if you’ve ever tried to shoot macro, close to the bottom, using the built in LCD on a DSLR you have a good idea what I’m talking about)
A little run down of the DP4 monitor:
It takes 1 or 2 Canon LP-E6 batteries (different battery plates available for other manufactures), which is really nice, no special batteries to buy or additional charger to bring. With 2 batteries it would easily last me for 3 longish dives (60+ min).
The DP4 is operated via 2 buttons, A & B, and a scroll wheel. There is a whole range of exotic functions available, but I found that I pretty much used only 3 of them (topside I might use more of them): False Color HML (FC HML) for exposure, Peaking and Focus Assist (FA) for setting focus. These features are commonly available on higher end camcorders and it is a treat to be able to add them to a DLSR.
Could I only choose one feature to add it would be Peaking. Exposure I can get pretty close using the built in LCD, but focus is hard. I prefer Peaking over FA, as I have a better feel for composition and exposure when I can see the color, but I use FA when focusing is more challenging. Peaking is programmed on my A button. On My B button is FC HML. It beats the 7D exposure ‘estimation’ every time. It is amazing to be able to see exactly which spots are blown out and which are all black. It makes a world of difference.
The monitor is a bit slow in communicating with the camera. When starting up the 7D in video mode the image will come up on the camera LCD right when the camera is ready, but it takes 4-5 sec for the monitor to establish communication and display the signal. This delay also happens when you any of the function buttons on the back of the camera: menu, review, info… I don’t know if this is a function of the communications going through the HDMI cable and applies to all monitors on not, but it is a bit annoying.
Some people might be looking for a histogram function on the monitor, since we’re use to it with the DSLRs. I find the FC HML to provide much more detail for setting exposure, but if I could have a histogram on the bottom of the frame, with the unaltered image above (like the Red One and Red Epic) I’d love that.
So to sum it up, the DP4 monitor add great features to any DLSR or to many midrange camcorders (with those near useless flip out monitors).
Now for the Nauticam housing for the DP4:
The housing comes with a HDMI cable permanently attached. Care need to be taken not to damage this or have some one like TSA damage it. I ship the housing w/o the monitor so TSA can see that the housing is empty, and not need to open it. I’ve seen (and heard about) too many housings being opened with brut force and a screw. The fixed cable inside the housing works well, it is easy to plug into the monitor and is just long enough that you can change out the batteries w/o unplugging. With batteries installed, the monitor slides into the housing with a perfect fit. The clasp to open and close the housing is easy to operate.
There are 3 buttons and a scroll wheel on the housing. One for on/off and 2 for the A & B buttons, they work as they are supposed to. The scroll wheel is easy to use, but I didn’t use it much.
Now for the missing sunshade. Every LCD I’ve used UW have had a sunshade on it, all the way up to 4.5” long. Many manufactures shads are too short. The DP 4 comes with the brightness set to a default 5 out of 10. I bumped it to 10 and went for the first dive. After the dive I realized that I hadn’t missed the ‘missing sunshade’. I shot in shallow water in mangroves and on top of coral reefs, I shot in deeper water, I shot wide and macro for 3 weeks, and only on a handful of occasions did I notice that a sunshade might have improve my viewing. There was a couple of occasions where reflections was an issue, but a slight adjustment to the monitor angle fixed it. Only when I was really shallow and shooting slightly down was brightness a bit of a challenge and I’m not sure anything but an impractical 4 inch shade would have helped, So all in all I didn’t miss the shade and I’ll be shooting w/o one in the future.
I can’t find any faults with the Nauticam housing but there is a couple of option I would wish were available: a 20’ HDMI Cable so I can use the monitor on a pole cam setup, and additional HDMI bulkheads so I can put the monitor on other housings.
I used the NA DP4 to shoot video, some of the observations apply to shooting stills but others might not.
The Nautical NA DP4 housing with a SmallHD DP4 monitor is a great and well working combination. It repositions the image to a viewable spot, it make setting exposure a conscious decision rather than and educated guess, and it makes manual focusing possible. Mine won’t be coming off anytime soon.
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