Review – Aputure VS-1 Field Monitor

While not necessarily an essential tool, an external monitor can be a valuable addition to your arsenal as a filmmaker.  They allow you to pull focus and check shots more accurately, monitor your video in situations where you can’t use the camera’s built-in screen, and they allow multiple people to easily view what the camera is capturing simultaneously.  Having a larger screen to watch can make you more confident during filming; for complex shots, being able to glance quickly at a monitor, instead of peering through a viewfinder, can make a huge difference.

If you’re in the market for a field monitor, you have dozens of options available that run the gamut in terms of features and price.  Lilliput, Marshall, Atomos, SmallHD, and many other companies offer monitors that range from under $200 on up into the thousands.  Some have high definition screens, some incorporate external recorders, some have advanced video features such as focus peaking or zebras.  What you look for in a monitor is going to depend entirely on your individual needs and budget.

Aputure would probably not be considered one of the major players in the field monitor market.  They’re a Chinese company that makes a variety of camera accessories, but they’re probably best known for their (generally well-regarded) inexpensive LED light panels.  They do, however, offer one of the most affordable external monitors out there – the seven-inch VS-1, which can be purchased for between $150 and $170.  

Although the VS-1 has not been as extensively reviewed as its competitors, what’s there is generally positive.  After comparing it to similar offerings from Lilliput and Marshall, I decided to take a chance and try it out.

Now, this is my first field monitor, so I wanted something fairly basic and inexpensive.  As a freelancer, I take my gear purchases pretty seriously, even “minor” purchases like this (in the world of photography, anything under $500 is probably a minor purchase).  Unfortunately, I can’t give any comparisons between this and other monitors from a hands-on perspective – as I said, I haven’t owned a field monitor before, so this is uncharted territory for me.  With that in mind, let’s see how the VS-1 stacks up.

The first thing I noticed about the VS-1 is that it comes well-packaged in a very nice box.  That might seem trivial, but there are a lot of inexpensive camera accessories out there that just look and feel cheap – I appreciate that Aputure is taking the effort to make a good first impression.  Fortunately, that impression carries through to the monitor itself.  The VS-1 is understated, compact, and feels very solid.  It has mostly plastic construction, but the plastic feels good and everything fits together nicely – nothing seems brittle or especially fragile.  

The VS-1 mounted on my 60D using the included hotshoe adapter

The VS-1 mounted on my 60D using the included hotshoe adapter.

On the front of the unit are buttons for power, input select, and the menu, along with a directional pad for menu options.  There’s a USB port for firmware updates on one side, and on the bottom are a headphone jack and ¼” 20 mount.  On the back are two standard AV inputs, an RGB component input, and a full size HDMI input, but no HDMI pass-through.  There’s also an input for a 12v power cord, which is included, and a battery-plate.  The VS-1 is designed to take Sony batteries, like the NP-F550 and F970, but no batteries are included.  I would have prefered a system that uses Canon’s LP-E6 batteries, since that’s what my camera uses, but the Sony batteries are fairly cheap and common – you can grab one for as low as $12.  The monitor will charge the battery while the power cord is plugged in, so it’s actually possible to get away with buying just the battery, although a charger will probably make your life easier.

Also included in the box are English-language instructions, a USB cord, a mini HDMI to full-size HDMI cord (which is what most DSLR users would need), a sunshade, and a hotshoe ball head mount, for positioning the monitor on top of a camera.  The sunshade is well-made and effective, although putting it on and removing it are slightly awkward.  I do have some qualms with the ball mount – it’s not especially strong and is made of fairly cheap plastic.  A small chunk of mine cracked off within 24-hours of the monitor arriving and, while the mount still functions, it doesn’t bode well for its long-term sturdiness.  Ball mounts are fairly inexpensive, though, and I can’t fault Aputure too much for issues with what is essentially a free accessory.

Plenty of input and power options on the back, but you'll need to provide your own battery

Plenty of input and power options on the back, but you’ll need to provide your own battery.

The first thing I noticed when powering the monitor on was how sharp and bright the screen is.  Brightness, contrast, and color temperature are all adjustable, which means you should be able to get an accurate representation of what you’re shooting.  At 480×800 resolution, the VS-1 is far from high definition, but on a seven-inch monitor I think it’s adequate.  While it isn’t as feature-rich as some of its more expensive counterparts, the VS-1 has some genuinely handy features like multiple aspect ratios, the ability to flip the image horizontally or vertically, a “snapshot” freeze frame, and zoom.  You also have the ability to assign many functions, like brightness, zoom, and aspect ratio, to the directional buttons on the face of the monitor as shortcut keys.  Being able to make quick adjustments without digging into the menu screens is a big plus during shoots.

A friction arm (not included) is a great mounting option.  The included sunshade is nice for outdoor shoots.

A friction arm (not included) is a great mounting option. The included sunshade is nice for outdoor shoots.

I think what impressed me the most about the VS-1 is that it just worked, right out of the box, with virtually no fuss.  I mounted it, plugged it in, and powered it on – and it behaved just the way I expected it to.  When you first plug it in, the monitor takes a few seconds to connect, but after that there is no lag and no break in the feed when you start recording.  On my camera, the monitor does not output sound during recording, but this is a quirk inherent to DSLRs, not the monitor itself.

Aputure also sells a higher-end model called the VS-3, which improves on the VS-1 in several ways.  It has a higher resolution screen, an HDMI passthrough, and several on-screen assist functions, like focus peaking, false color, and histograms.  At around $380, the VS-3 is a little over $200 more than the VS-1, but still falls on the low end of the price spectrum for field monitors.  Compared to other monitors with similar features, the VS-3 is extremely inexpensive.  As I was writing this review, Caleb Pike at DSLRVideoShooter.com posted a nice, in-depth review of the VS-3, so you should check that out if you’re interested.  Depending on your needs and budget, both monitors are great values and either would make a worthwhile addition to your gear kit.

If you’re in the market for a well-made no-frills field monitor, I would definitely recommend the VS-1.  If you want more resolution or advanced features, you’ll need to move up a price bracket – in which case, I’d recommend taking a good look at the VS-3 (based purely on my positive impressions of the cheaper model).  For me, right now, though, the VS-1 is completely adequate for my needs.  Aputure has really impressed me with the value, quality, and functionality of their product and I definitely plan on checking out more of their gear in the future.

The picture is bright and sharp, with accurate color.

The picture is bright and sharp, with accurate colors.

UPDATE:  I just completed an actual, in-the-field video shoot using this monitor, so I thought I’d add a few quick impressions based on my experience.  Overall, the monitor performed beautifully and having it on set was hugely helpful.  I was running a multiple-camera interview shoot and it was great to be able to watch one of the cameras from a distance using the monitor.  It was also nice to be able to quickly and easily show my clients how shots were looking by swiveling the monitor around (instead of having them crowd around the camera’s tiny LCD screen).  Reviewing footage on the monitor was also much easier, because of the size of the screen and the reasonably loud built-in speakers.  If you’ve tried to watch (and listen to) footage on a DSLR’s built-in screen, you’ll definitely appreciate the difference.

There were a few quirks – for example, the monitor had to be set to the 4:3 aspect ratio during recording, but 16:9 during playback.  I don’t know if this is the fault of the monitor or the camera (or if it’s just some weirdness inherent to HDMI), but setting the aspect ratios to a shortcut key allowed me to get around this pretty easily.  I think that the built-in “snapshot” feature is actually very cool – the alternative, taking photos with the camera to show clients what shots look like is kind of a pain, after all – but since the feature is buried in the menus, I only ended up using it once.  If the snapshot feature had a dedicated button on the front of the unit, I would probably use it a ton, but it’s kind of a wasted feature as-is.

The monitor takes a few seconds more than I’d like to wake up after it goes into power-saving mode and it also takes a while to start displaying footage when you first turn it on.  This isn’t unusual and it’s not really a big deal – but when a client is standing over your shoulder, waiting to see a shot, it can feel like a long time.  There was also a very slight flicker in the monitor when I turned it on the first time, but it stopped after just a few minutes.  These are very minor quibbles, though, and the monitor essentially performed just how I wanted it to.

I powered it using a knock-off Sony NP-F770, which cost me about $20.  While it wasn’t exactly running continuously, the monitor easily ran on the one battery for the entire shoot, from about 9am to about 3pm.  I’d have to test it further to get an accurate idea of what the total running time would be, but I was impressed with the battery life.

Having tested the VS-1 “in the wild,” I feel even more confident in recommending it.  It’s a well-made product at a very competitive price and it was an extremely useful tool to have on set.  My clients seemed impressed with it as well – in addition to being genuinely useful, a field monitor looks very professional and can help make a good first impression.  All in all, I think the VS-1 is a great addition to any collection of video gear.

Comments
12 Responses to “Review – Aputure VS-1 Field Monitor”
  1. george says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for this review and also for the follow up “on-the-job” additional info as well. I have been looking to add a field monitor to my kit and after reading about how it worked with you on your shoot I have decided to go for one of these.
    Cheers,
    George

  2. Q Berry says:

    Thanks for posting this. I have this monitor. I am testing the battery right now. I’m almost 3 hours in constantly using a aftermarket sony battery. I need to test the length of the battery because, I film talks at the local library that are about 2-2.5 hours long. I am hoping i don’t need to throw down my extension cord and plug in. So far so good. The Battery I am using is the bigger one. I will update this post later with the exact specs. I also have 2 smaller batteries so I think I will have enough juice to power the monitor with all 3 of them together.

    I use this with my Canon XHA1 and it makes use of the full screen. via component.
    I noticed in your screen shots and with my own canon t3i DSLR via HDMI I wasn’t able to get it to fill the full screen, apparently there is a firmware upgrade that will fix the issue. So might want to look into that. And when I played back with the dslr via HDMI connected it was be laggy, it wasn’t so smooth. I am hoping the firmware upgrade will fix this.

    oh the battery is a aftermarket 7400 mAH battery i have passed the 3 hour mark constantly on, and it’s still going.. will update shortly.

    • Daniel says:

      Thanks so much for the info, I will definitely look into the firmware update! I haven’t noticed any lag on playback, but it would definitely be nice to use as much screen real estate as possible.

      Sounds like battery life should more than meet the needs of most filmmakers, especially with the big 7400 mAH units. I actually prefer to carry a few smaller batteries to one big one – you have to change them more often, but you can charge one while the other is being used and it keeps the weight of the monitor down.

    • Q Berry says:

      correction it was a 7.2 V 6600 mAh Battery and it gave me 3 hours and 55 minutes in total, just shy of 4 hours. I am impressed. I went to firmware upgrade and had the cable plugged in when i turned the monitor on, It didn’t like that took me 30 mins to get it to turn back on properly. I was suppose to turn it on then plug in the firmware usb cable, thought i bricked it. Having a few syncing issues with the HDMI and playback is still laggy. Hoping to figure that out, but all in all, for the price. pretty good. This makes you look legit when you show up to a shoot so that’s a bonus.

      • Daniel says:

        Good to know about the firmware!

        If you’re still having issues, you may want to reach out to Aputure directly. I haven’t contacted them, but I’ve heard that they’re pretty responsive.

  3. Luigi says:

    Hi Daniel,
    I found your review very complete and intersting.
    I am an italian cameraman and I am “tired” to buy expenceve equipment, but I need a fiel monitor and I found Aputure VS-1. I am ready to buy it but I haven’t found if the monitor can be switched between NTSC and PAL video .
    Could you please be so kind to controllon on your VS-1 if this option is available ?

    Thanks in advance
    Luigi

    • Daniel says:

      Hi Luigi. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any setting in the monitor’s settings for switching between NTSC and PAL. However, I did notice that the menu language can be changed to Italian! I would suggest reaching out to Aputure directly to see if this is possible – their contact info is at this link: http://www.aputure.com/service-support-7.html

  4. Gerrit says:

    Hey, thanks for your review. I’ve actually came here by accident because I hoped to find someone having the same problems I have with the V-Screen!

    I just switched from Canon to Sony (A6000 and A7s). The monitor worked fine on my 60D but as soon as I connect it to one of my Sony Cameras the Monitor starts making a nervwrecking high frequency-ish sound and I can’t change anything in the settings about it.

    Does someone over here have the same issues? I was thinking about switching to Atomos or Small HD anyway, saving up some money for HighQuality products isn’t a bad idea ever I guess but it might take some time for me to purchase these!

    • Daniel says:

      Sorry to hear that Gerrit, that sounds pretty frustrating. I don’t have any Sony gear myself, or I’d try to do some troubleshooting. I’ve heard of some field monitors having issues with the Blackmagic Pocket before, but not Sony cameras.

      I’ve heard nothing but good things about the Atomos and SmallHD equipment. I’ve personally been eyeing the SmallHD DP-4 monitor/EVF combo for some time. The V-Screen really is an entry-level field monitor (and is priced as such) and it sounds like you might be ready to graduate to some higher-end gear. I know it gets expensive, though!

      A more mid-range model you might want to check out is the MustHD 5.6″ HD monitor. It’s more full-featured than the Aputure, but is still very reasonably-priced. I haven’t used it myself, but Emm over at CheesyCam and DeeJay at DSLR Film Noob have both done pretty in-depth reviews of it.

      If you feel like it, I’d love to hear more about your switch from Canon to Sony. The A7s and A6000 sound like a great A-cam/B-cam combination!

  5. Arlan says:

    I have the same issue with Gerrit. When I connect it to my Nikon D7100 that high frequency sound appear.

  6. Arlan says:

    just an update on my post. I just reduce the sensitivity of my microphone setting the audible sound disappear.

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