I’m not going to kid you. I’m no fan of cameras that make you jump through hoops to perform essential functions, and there is no more essential function than monitoring your picture. If the camera makes using the attached monitor a pain (shall we make a list? Canon? Panasonic? Red? Wave your hands!) then an external monitor is going to be required. So, if you gotta have it, it better be good, affordable, and usable, and if it records video so much the better. Video Devices PIX-E monitor fills this bill admirably.
I tested a PIX-E5, with a gorgeous, bright 5” 1920×1080 LED screen front and center. To say this screen is incredibly sharp is a gross understatement – if you can’t focus your shot with the PIX-E, check your backfocus. (And turn on the peaking too, but more on that later.) The monitor is packaged in an all-metal (yay!) enclosure that measures 5 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches and weighs about 1 pound unloaded. This is a package that isn’t going to unduly weigh down many cameras.
Input can come from either SDI or HDMI inputs (the less-expensive PIX-E5H offers HDMI only.) Power is supplied with either an AC supply (with a screw-lock connection on the monitor power jack – another big plus) or by Sony-mount batteries, two of which can mount simultaneously on the back of the PIX-E.
Between the batteries is a slot which allows you to mount what Video Devices calls a SpeedDrive.
Essentially the SpeedDrive is a little USB3 sled that holds an industry-standard mSATA-format solid state drive. It rides securely on the rear of the PIX-E, and when it is time to transfer your footage, just power down, remove the SpeedDrive, plug it into a USB3 jack on your editor and transfer away. It really couldn’t be easier or – and this is important! – more universal than that.
The monitoring features of the PIX-E are broad and deep. The 5” screen is not just a pretty face – it’s also a touch screen. If you need to zoom into a part of the shot to check focus or some other detail, just touch it. To zoom back out, touch the middle of the screen (to be fair, this takes a little practice.) That’s a good trick, but for truly critical functions you really want a button.
If you’ve ever used gear from Video Devices’ parent company Sound Devices you’ll know that high-quality buttons and switches are a point of pride, and the PIX-E features no fewer than 13 buttons across the face and a button/wheel on the side for menu operations. Truth be told, my only major nitpick on the build quality of the PIX-E is that the power switch doesn’t feel quite as stout as the rest of the controls.
Eleven of the buttons across the face of the PIX-E are “soft” buttons, whose functions vary depending on the state of the left-most ALT button. In monitor mode, the functions include false color display, zebra on/off, waveform monitor, vectorscope, histogram, LUT selection, zoom, peaking and marker toggle. You are also only a button-press away from 4-Way mode, which displays the waveform, vectorscope, histogram and video all at once – and you can “fly back” to any one of those just by touching the screen. Displays on the top of the video screen include timecode from a variety of sources, current file name, input select and two audio meters, all of which are selectable and which can be turned off at yet another button push.
To access the recording functions, you press the ALT key. New button labels appear, including Audio, which allows you to arm or disarm up to eight audio tracks (via SDI; HDMI is limited to four tracks.) The Files button shows you what’s currently on the SpeedDrive, and sets up clips for playback. From there on, it’s a recorder, with the buttons you expect – Stop, << for rewind, Play, >> for fast forward, and the all-important Rec button. The PIX-E records HD or 4K files exclusively into Quicktime ProRes formats, from 422Proxy 10 bit all the way up to 4444XQ 12 bit. I’m a PC-based editor, and in the past this would have made me crazy. However, the newest versions of my editor of choice work with ProRes without a hiccup, so I guess that’s one less thing to worry about. Hooray for progress!
I tested the PIX-E on a variety of shoots, from recording via HD-SDI from a Sony Anycast Touch switcher on several hour-long shows to EFP-style shooting with a Sony PXW-X160 XDCamEX camcorder with the HDMI input. In all situations the PIX-E performed as expected.
My major gripe when out on a sunny winter day was lots of glare on the glossy Corning Gorilla Glass screen, but that’s hardly exclusive to the PIX-E. On the other hand, the screen was easily bright enough to show off both peaking marks and zebra exposure information. Audio types will definitely notice the presence of a fan in the PIX-E, but it isn’t ridiculously loud, and while the record options menu offers a helpful “turn fan off while recording” choice I’d tend to avoid it as the metal case gets noticeably warm after a few minutes of operation – even with the fan on. I’d love to tell you exactly how long the Sony batteries last in use on the PIX-E, but I really can’t, as in my testing they never ran out. (There are two battery status icons on the upper-right of the display that tell you the voltage of each battery individually.)
Other nice features include loops for both SDI and HDMI inputs, a 2-channel audio line input on a 1/8” jack, 1/4”-20 screw mounts on the top and bottom, and an expansion port on the bottom for the available PIX-LR control pod which adds large transport buttons, XLR audio inputs and more audio metering.
I guess the takeaway is this: If you are unhappy with the monitor on your camera, the PIX-E is a fantastic replacement, with all the features and scopes you will need. And it’s a dynamite little HD/4K recorder as well, with recording media that should easily fit into almost any workflow. If your editor can handle ProRes files – and who can’t, these days? – the PIX-E is a great multipurpose tool in a wonderfully compact package.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]