If there’s one certainty when it comes to shooting video, it’s that at some point, you’ll want to pick up an external monitor of some kind. One big problem that many of them have, though, is that they can be quite difficult to see outdoors when it’s bright. I’ve tried a few from different brands over the years, but when it comes to bang for your buck, one company that’s pretty tough to beat is Feelworld.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been using Feelworld’s newest super bright 2,200 nit 7″ Feelworld FW279 monitor, now that the sun’s starting to make brief appearances here in Scotland. And so far, I really like it.
My main monitor up until this point has been the Feelworld FH7, the follow-up to the popular F7. It’s widely regarded as one of the best monitors out there for under $200. The FW279 costs a little bit more, averaging around $260, but the brightness it offers over similarly priced monitors when shooting at outdoor locations is well worth the extra.
There are two versions of the FW279. There’s the standard Feelworld FW279 which offers HDMI input and output, and there’s the Feelworld FW279S which also provides HDMI in and out, but also SDI in and out. Mine is the standard model, with just HDMI. One thing to note on the FW279S is that even though it offers HDMI and SDI in and out, it cannot convert between the two. You can’t use an SDI input and an HDMI output or vice versa. If you use an SDI in, you only get signal on SDI out. Same goes for HDMI.
Other than that, the two monitors are fundamentally identical. So, let’s take a look at the basic specs.
- Model: FW279/FW279S
- Screen size: 7″ IPS
- Resolution: 1920×1200 pixels
- Aspect ratio: 16:10
- Brightness: 2,200 cd/m²
- Contrast ratio: 1200:1
- Backlight: LED
- Viewing angle: 160°
- Input/Output: HDMI (and SDI on the FW279s)
- Supported HDMI formats : 480i/576i/480p/576p/720p/1080i/1080p/4K UHD/4K DCI
- Audio: Stereo TRS headphone jack / Built-in speakers
The FW279 looks and feels very much like the FH7 that I’ve been using for a while, only brighter, with a more refined design. They both accept up to a 4K UHD HDMI signal, and both have a resolution of 1920×1200 pixels. There are a few external differences, though. The HDMI and other sockets have been moved from the bottom to the side and the button layout on top is slightly different, too. The battery orientation has also changed, which is definitely a positive, and it’s noticeably brighter.
So, let’s start with the battery, as it’s a simple one to get out of the way. On the older FH7, the battery mounts horizontally on the back of the screen and has a big vent above it to let heat escape from the monitor. A logical choice. I’ve not experienced any issues with this myself, but I have heard a few reports of the battery slipping out when it’s in use.
With the FW279, the vents have been repositioned and the battery is now oriented vertically, with the battery pushing down on the connection pins. This is definitely a nice design change, as it pretty much eliminates any chance of the battery falling out unless you’ve got the monitor mounted upside down. That being said, the battery locks nicely into the socket and shows no signs of working itself loose in general daily use.
As well as battery power, you can also feed the monitor a direct 12v input from an AC adapter when using it indoors or via means of another 12v power source. Unlike some of Feelworld’s other monitors, however, there is no DC output. So, you can’t power your camera from your monitor’s battery.
Next, let’s tackle those buttons. This was frustrating for me at first, but I’ve kind of gotten used to it now.
Instead of all being off to one side like on the FH7, the buttons on the FW279 are split, four on either side across the top. This makes life much easier when you’re adjusting settings while looking at the screen because it’s more difficult to accidentally hit the wrong button when scrolling through menu options. But despite having an extra button over the FH7, it actually loses one of the custom function buttons.
The FH7 has 7 buttons, with the up and down menu buttons doubling up as F1 and F2. Next to those is a dedicated F3 button. This means you can have false colour on one, zebras on the second and then focus peaking on the third. I find this to be an ideal combination when shooting video for quickly being able to double-check exposure and focus.
The FW279 has 8 buttons, which is more than the FH7, but none of them is pulling double duty. The up and down menu buttons are dedicated to one purpose each, as are the F1 and F2 buttons. There is no F3 button. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it does mean I have to drop one of my most used display modes – unless I want to go hunting through menus every time I want to turn it on or off.
While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about those different display assist modes. Although a very good monitor for its price, the Feelworld FW279 is still fairly low budget. It doesn’t offer the RGB parade, waveform and vectorscope that many filmmakers demand (maybe they can fix that in a future firmware?) but it does offer a lot of very useful modes.
- Focus peaking assist
- False colour exposure
- Zebra overexposure guide
- The “Nine Grid”
- Anamorphic mode
- Pixel to Pixel display
- Aspect ratio overlay
- Action and title safe area markers
- Check field (Red/Green/Blue/Mono)
- Image freeze / Image flip (H, V, H/V)
- Zoom All / U/D & L/R Zoom / Zoom (4x,9x,16x)
The most useful, at least for my needs, are those first four. Coming from a photography background, I tended to use the histogram more early on when working with external monitors. And when you need it, it sits down in the corner out of the way of most of your shot so you can still see what you’re shooting.
I’ve since mostly switched over to using False Colour to tweak my exposure. It takes some getting used to, but it’s definitely worth it when you do. It makes finding exposure and seeing the dynamic range in your scene at a glance very quick indeed.
Zebra stripes to check for overexposure are also very handy. But, while I use them regularly on the FH7, I don’t tend to use them often with the FW279 due to the lack of a third custom function button to quickly enable and disable them.
Focus peaking is another rather valuable mode. When you’re manually focusing, they can be vital. Even though the monitor boasts an impressive 1920×1200 resolution, the quality of the HDMI output signal from your camera can vary quite a lot. How effective the focus peaking is, depends largely on the contrast of the scene as well as the resolution, quality and contrast of the signal coming out of your camera.
If you’re using a super flat profile to maximise your camera’s dynamic range, even high contrast scenes can often look quite dull on the monitor, hindering the focus assist. Fortunately, some cameras like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K (and the new Pocket 6K) will allow you to specify a LUT for the HDMI output, so your screen can see a signal with good contrast, even if the monitor on the back of the camera shows quite a flat image.
As I’ve mentioned the Pocket 4K, that camera has its own built-in focus peaking. So, given that there are only two function buttons on the FW279, you can have the camera’s focus peaking go out with the HDMI signal and then set your second function button on the FW279 back to zebra stripes. If you do choose to use the FW279’s focus peaking, you can change the colour between red, green and blue, to help it stand out against different scenes.
The “Nine Grid” mode can be quite useful, allowing you to zoom into a segment of the scene. It’s not something I use often, but if I’m filming something at a distance, and I’m not sure what some distracting element is in the shot, I can quickly zoom in to that segment and quickly see if it’s something I can fix right now or not. I shoot a lot on location, and occasionally there’s some piece of trash lying around that I don’t notice right away. This feature lets me spot those and clean them up before I hit record instead of having to try to deal with it in post.
The 9-grid display, even if you don’t use the zooming feature, is also quite handy if you’re a big fan of the “rule of thirds” to help you with your composition, too.
One of my absolute favourite features of external monitors that I tend to use quite often is the aspect ratio overlay. This lets you choose between the popular 4:3, 16:9, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1 aspect ratios, as well as a couple of less common ratios. Without this, it can be difficult to judge exactly how your shot will look when it’s cropped down to 2.35:1 for some cinematic goodness if viewing on a 16:9 screen – the typical format shown on your camera’s LCD.
Other than being able to check focus on an actual 1080p HD screen, this is probably the single biggest reason to get an external monitor, especially if you’re shooting a DSLR or mirrorless camera that doesn’t have any kind of aspect ratio overlay built into the camera. If I can’t view the aspect ratio of the crop the final footage will have, it can be easy to chop things off at the top and bottom of your frame that you didn’t intend. Being able to view it like this on the monitor also saves having to cover up a chunk of your camera’s LCD with gaffer tape.
Sure, it’s not going to actually crop the footage that you shoot, but it will ensure that once you get your footage into Premiere or Resolve and apply that 2.35:1 or whatever aspect ratio crop, you’ve actually been able to capture everything in your shot that you needed to.
Back to the design…
One of the big design advantages the FW279 offers over other monitors like the FH7 is that the HDMI sockets have been moved from the bottom of the unit to the side. It’s something of a mixed blessing, though. The positive is that they’re no longer hindered by the location of the 1/4-20″ screw thread at the bottom of the screen as they were with the FH7.
The negative, however, is that they’re more subject to gravity and stress. When you have to plug a cable into the side of the monitor, there’s a potential for movement there which can cause lateral stress on the socket over the long term. This hasn’t been an issue for me so far, but if it’s something you’re concerned about, check out this handy modification.
If you go for the SDI version of the FW279, the FW279S, then you’ll also have SDI connectors on the side of the monitor. These aren’t under so much stress or risk of falling out as these are locking connectors. You can see I don’t have them on my monitor, but if this were the FW279S, then this is where they’d be, above the HDMI sockets.
On the other side of the monitor are three other sockets. There’s the 12v power input at the bottom in case you want to power it from something other than an NP-F battery on the back, a USB socket at the top for upgrading the firmware and a headphone jack in between.
I’m a little disappointed that it’s still using the old Mini USB socket, and not something more recent, like Micro USB or, preferably, Type-C USB. Mini USB cables aren’t exactly common these days, and there isn’t one in the box. So, if Feelworld ever releases a firmware update for it, you’ll have to go buy a cable. Admittedly, you won’t have to use this USB socket often, or possibly ever, but I still think it’s about time that everything switched over to Type-C.
The headphone jack, though, is an extremely useful feature for those using cameras that don’t offer a live audio output while recording – this is mostly DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Many of them don’t have any kind of headphone jack, and a lot of the ones that do only utilise it for playback, not while recording. But with audio going out through HDMI to the monitor, you can listen to your audio while you’re shooting very easily to hear what the camera has picked up.
Do be warned, though, if you’ve got the headphone volume ramped up and you unplug the headphones, then it’ll start coming through the monitor’s speakers without warning. This can cause a feedback loop and get very annoyingly shrill and loud very quickly if you’re not careful. So, you’ll be rushing to plug those headphones back in. It would be nice if there were an option to completely disable the built-in speakers, regardless of whether or not any headphones are plugged in.
Ok, I’ve not really mentioned it much yet, but seeing as how I keep talking about using this monitor on location and that the brightness is the biggest selling point for this monitor, how well does that brightness really stand up to the rigours of bright daylight? Well, actually, pretty well.
My Feelworld FH7 came with a sunshade which attaches around a frame that goes on the edge of the monitor with velcro. It works quite well, but it’s not perfect. If you’re on a bright location, it’ll block off the direct sunlight, but it won’t really prevent the bright ground from reflecting back up off the screen. With the FW279, no such sunshade is supplied, as the monitor has a brightness of 2,200 cd/m². By comparison, the FH7 and most other monitors have a brightness of around 450 cd/m².
The difference in brightness shown above between the Feelworld FH7 and the FW279 is quite obvious. And in reality, the difference when you see the two monitors side-by-side is quite striking. When I was testing the monitor on the Pocket 4K, the FH7 was already easier to keep an eye on than the screen on the back of the camera. But the FW279 was noticeably much brighter and the easiest to see outdoors.
You know how sometimes, in photo critiques, some images can be shot down for distracting bright elements in the background of the photo? That’s because our eyes are naturally drawn to look at the brightest thing they see. Most of the time when I was shooting on location, the FW279 was the brightest thing I could see, and it made it very easy to focus on what the camera was looking at without straining to pick out the detail in the image – a common issue with the LCD on the back of a camera, or the usual, less bright monitors like the FH7.
For the $60 or so price difference between the FH7 and FW279, if you ever plan to go and shoot outside of the studio or other indoor locations, then it’s absolutely worth the difference. The amount of time saved by not having to re-watch clips with my head and the monitor, hidden under a jacket to make sure we got the shot, means the monitor has already made up that extra cost on its first location shoot.
When it comes to the pros and cons, it’s fairly straightforward. On the positive side, the screen is super bright and easy to see in bright locations, and the HDMI sockets no longer interfere with the 1/4-20″ socket underneath, so I can mount it more easily. The only real negatives, the first of which is something that hasn’t become an issue for me yet, is that the side-mounting HDMI socket might not be suitable for all setups. I also wish that the USB socket for updating the firmware was more recent than Mini USB.
And speaking of firmware, other than possibly the headphone issue mentioned above (which may not be possible in firmware), I’d like to see a vectorscope or RGB parade added into the overlay modes. I’m not that bothered about the RGB parade, though, as the false colour, histogram and zebra stripes are also useful for judging exposure, but a vectorscope for ensuring consistent colour would definitely be extremely useful, particularly if I’m trying to match the colour across multiple cameras.
Even without the vectorscope, though, if I’m only shooting with one camera, especially if it’s something like the Pocket 4K where I’m shooting raw and can easily tweak the white balance and colour in post, then it works wonderfully, and lets me easily see framing, composition and focus in bright locations.
So, if you can live without the vectorscope, and you need a monitor for use in the bright outdoors, you’ll be hard pushed to find a monitor to beat the FW279 at this price point. It’s now the monitor that lives in my video bag full time. The FH7 usually stays at home now.