I actually came really close to returning the Portkeys LH5P II until I discovered a setting buried within its menu that was degrading the image (more on that below). After disabling this setting, I realized the image on this monitor was actually pretty good—which gave me the idea for this review. I couldn’t help but wonder, how many people out there returned this monitor needlessly? I thought I’d share my experience with it. I am not affiliated with Portkeys. I have not received any money for this review.
What is a “good image” on an external monitor? Even cheap, junky monitors have focus peaking, waveforms, guides, etc. So, when I look at a monitor for quality, I don’t give a crap about all that stuff. I want to know if I can trust the image. Is the image I’m seeing on the external monitor the same image I will see in my NLE? That’s what this review is about; can the image be trusted? I’m not going to be talking about all the other stuff, although I will briefly mention a few hick-ups with the wireless touch control to be aware of. Mostly, this review is just comparing images on the Portkeys LH5P II to those same image in Davinci. I threw a couple other monitors into the mix to keep it interesting. What I’m looking for is how well the colors and contrast match, as well as highlight/shadow detail retention?
We'll be testing the monitor using this high-contrast scene of my daughter at three different exposure levels.
Using my lovely daughter as a model (cutting into her iPad time before bed), I quickly setup a scene with three different lighting scenarios, going from bright to dark. My intention was to create a scene with lots of contrast and shadowy areas so I could examine detail retention in those areas. I’m also interested in how the monitor handles areas of transition from light to dark (my daughter’s cheek for example). Is the gradation smooth or harsh? 8-bit displays always look like shit here. The scene was shot on the A7S3 in XAVC S-I 4K, S-Log3, S-Gamut3.Cine.
I imported the footage into Davinci Resolve on my iMac and applied my favourite Arri emulation LUT for the Sony A7S3, the Neutral Phantom LUT by Joel Famularo. I exported images at each exposure level with the LUT applied. These images will serve as our control.
I daisy-chained three monitors to the A7S so I could play back the footage and compare them all at the same time. Each monitor had the same Neutral Phantom LUT loaded. In theory, all three monitors should look identical, which clearly was not the case. I took pictures of the monitors to compare with our control images, which I exported from Davinci in the previous step.
The monitors used were the Atomos Shinobi, the Portkeys LH5P II, and my old workhorse the SmallHD 702 High Bright (these are just what I happened to have on hand at the time). For simplicity’s sake, each monitor was reset to factory defaults and the brightness levels turned to the lowest setting since I was in a dark room and contrast on external monitors tends to go a little wonky at higher brightness levels. Side-note, I did match the input settings on the Shinobi with the A7S but it didn’t have any effect on the image. The input settings seem to get bypassed when there’s a custom LUT in use. It’s a confusing little monitor that I’ve never enjoyed using. Also, returning the SmallHd back to factory defaults turned the image super green, but fair is fair. And really, this is all about the PortKeys anyway.
We will be comparing the Portkeys LH5P II to the Atomos Shinobi and the SmallHD 702 High Bright—these are just what I had laying around.
I realize this little experiment is far from perfect. Taking pictures of screens and comparing them to Davinci Resolve exports is not an exact science. It’s like comparing an original painting with a photocopy of itself. Plus, you have to assume the photographer (me) white balanced and exposed properly, and isn’t unwittingly misrepresenting the results. In retrospect, if I could have placed my iMac next to the monitors and photographed them all together, that would have been ideal, but I’m not about to dismantle my editing bay. With that said, I did take the following measures to ensure the pictures I captured matched what my own eyes were seeing:
I photographed the monitors in neutral lighting. The windows were blacked out and the ambient light in the room was set to 5600K with an Aputure 300D. The camera used, a Blackmagic Pocket 6K, was custom white balanced using a grey card prior to the monitors being turned on. After I turned on the monitors, I did have to tweak the white balance on the 6K until it matched what my eyes were seeing. I took test shots and brought them into resolve to make sure everything looked right. After a few more minor adjustments, we were ready to go.
This part was a little tricky because the contrast on the monitors changed significantly as I cycled from the dark to bright footage. My eyes were seeing vibrant and bright images while the 6K was seeing clipped highlights. I did have to adjust the aperture until the image matched what my eyes were seeing. That is why the background appears to get darker as the scene on the monitors gets brighter. Turns out matching a camera sensor to the human eye is not a linear process. Who knew?
↑ Davinci Resolve Export
Side by Side → Shinobi, Portkeys, SmallHD
I prefer the Portkeys monitor here. I feel it’s the closest to our control. The image is rich, the colors are decent and it’s just overall the most pleasing to look at. The most significant thing for me is if you look at the bottom right of the image, you can just barely make out (on my monitor) the white baseboard on the wall. Its correctly displaying the same subtle shadow detail that can be seen in the control image from Davinci.
Regarding the other two monitors, there is a known issue with the Atomos Shinobi not displaying custom LUTs correctly, which you can clearly see here. The image is so crushed it’s unusable. The SmallHd does okay. It’s a bit washed out and the image is green, which I’m sure could be fixed with a calibration LUT. What I like about the Portkeys LH5P II, is I didn’t have to mess with the settings to get a usable image that I know I can trust.
↑ Davinci Resolve Export
Side by Side → Shinobi, Portkeys, SmallHD
To my eye, the Portkeys most closely resembles our control image from Davinci. If I’m looking for faults, the blues look a little too teal and the reds appear over-saturated, but overall it’s a close match. Again, looking at the barely visible baseboard on the back wall, it’s very close to our control. I love knowing if I’m run-and-gunning, I can trust I’m getting my lighting ratios close just by looking at the monitor.
↑ Davinci Resolve Export
Side by Side → Shinobi, Portkeys, SmallHD
Same as with the previous lighting scenarios, I feel the Portkeys is the closest to the control again. The reds look a little too rich and the blues are leaning a bit teal, but the overall tone feels close.
The SmallHD does decent here. With a proper calibration LUT to fix that green cast, I’m sure it could look good. The problem for me is I’ve owned this monitor for over 5 years and I’ve never once had it dialled in right. This is my gripe with monitors, and why I’m loving the Portkeys LH5P II so much.
To be clear, the Shinobi is very capable of displaying a beautiful image, but the scope of this comparison is to see which monitor displays the most accurate image with a custom LUT installed, since I prefer looking at an image on my camera that resembles the final grade. I find it helpful when determining lighting ratios and preserving shadow detail.
Display Gamut samples, left to right:
P3-DCI → P3-D65 → Rec. 709
This is what the image on my Portkeys LH5P II looked like out of the box (the blown-out one on the right). I don’t know if mine was an open box or something, but it came with the display gamut set to Rec 709, which, as you can see in the photo above, takes a 10-bit display and turns it into dog shit. The worst part, I actually bought this monitor to use on a professional shoot and, like an idiot, didn’t test it out first, so I was forced to stare at this shitty, 8-bit-looking, over-exposed image all day long. I wanted to throw the monitor against the wall. Look at that banding—on a 10-bit display!
Take a look at the before and after photos with the display gamut on and off.
I’m not sure what is going on with these display gamut settings and why they’re making a 10-bit display look like an 8-bit, but I would not use these. Maybe this is something that can be fixed with firmware in the future. Based on my testing, you’re getting the best, most accurate image by bypassing the gamut display.
If you’re wondering where to find this setting, you have to press the gear icon on the left menu, then swipe right on the bottom menu (there are two tiny little dots on the bottom menu indicating there are more settings). It took me a little while before I realized I could swipe to reveal more settings. I’m slow.
As I mentioned above, I bought this monitor to use on an paid shoot. The reason I bought the monitor was for the wireless touchscreen camera control. On this particular shoot, we were working for a pet food brand, shooting dogs and cats all day long (not easy lol) and at the end of the day we needed to grab some quick overhead food shots. Normally we prefer to do stuff like this in a controlled studio setting but we didn’t have that luxury on this one.
The idea with the shot is we start with an empty bowl and the different pet food ingredients fade into the bowl one-by-one. So for this to work, it’s absolutely critical we’re not moving the camera or the bowl between takes. That is why I bought the Portkeys. I knew I could toggle record on and off without touching the camera, while also monitoring the shot from afar (with a 20′ HDMI cable). The client gets their own director’s monitor and we’re avoiding unnecessary foot traffic around the camera so the food stylists can do their job. It seemed like a solid plan—until the Portkeys f*cked it all up!
For our dog food, there were about six ingredients, starting with steak, then pumpkin, etc. Starting with the first ingredient, the food stylists very carefully placed the meat into the bowl, I pressed record on the PortKeys LH5P II screen, a red border showed up around the screen indicating that I was recording, great! On to the next ingredient. The food stylists carefully place the pumpkin pieces around the meat, taking extra care not to touch the meat or move it in any way. The client is watching on the director’s monitor, everyone is happy, I press record on the Portkeys monitor and a red border appears indicating that I am recording. Great! On to the next…
Fast forward, we’re on our final ingredient, blueberries. These go last because they stain the other ingredients. Everyone was feeling really great. It had been a long day and we were down to our last shot before calling it a wrap. The food stylist places the berries, I press record, a red border appears on the Portkeys screen. As I’m getting ready to yell “that’s a wrap,” this funny feeling washes over me, telling me to look at the A7S to make sure it actually is recording. I walk over to the A7S and it’s not recording! The Portkeys is showing a red border, telling me I’m recording, when, in fact, I’M NOT RECORDING!
Long story, it was a nightmare. We had to start over. The meat was starting to discolor, the blueberries stained everything. We still ended up getting the shots but it added a half hour to an already long day and I could tell everyone in the room, client included, was deflated.
For the price, the image quality on the Portkeys LH5P II is very good, especially if you like to use LUTs. With a custom LUT loaded on this monitor, I can confidently make decisions on set knowing I’m seeing the same image the editor or colorist will see. After writing this review, I did end up going into the settings on the Porkeys and dialling down the reds a little bit, from 125 to 120. I can’t see much of a difference when I compare it to Davinci Resolve now.
Until Portkeys fixes the issue with the display gamuts, stay away from this setting. It ruins an otherwise nice 10-bit image.
While the main focus of this review is on the image quality of the Portkeys LH5P II, I feel compelled to share my real-world experience using its wireless touch controls with the Sony A7S3. Here’s what I can say, it’s really helpful having basic camera controls for the A7S on a large display. I especially love the touch focus, although it’s frustrating that you don’t get the tracking marker on the Portkeys screen and need to keep checking the A7S to make sure you’re tracking.
The wireless connection, for me, was intermittent. The monitor was mounted directly on top of the camera and there were several times throughout the day where I would touch the screen to focus on a certain spot and it just wouldn’t work. I would cycle the monitor on and off and then it would work again. Filming dogs and cats, I missed a few good shots because of this. Halfway though the day I stopped using the Portkeys for focus and went back to using the A7S screen.
I tried to replicate the scenario I had on set where the Portkeys was telling me I was recording when I wasn’t but I couldn’t make it happen again. It’s possible there was interference with the Teredek transmitter we had feeding the director’s monitor, but regardless, if you’re using the Portkeys to toggle record on and off, make sure to double check you’re actually recording.