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Z-Cage

A Cinematography Buyers Guide for HDSLR Users



Part 1 of 4 - LCD Viewfinder Loupes (x)
Part 2 of 4 - Follow Focus Units
Part 3 of 4 - Mobile / Shoulder Supports
Part 4 of 4 - Steadicams / Stabilizers
Part 5 of 5 - Electronic Viewfinders
Part 6 of 6 - The Gear in my Bag



With the introduction of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Nikon D90 & D300s, Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH1, and now the Canon EOS 7D filmmakers and cinematographers now have relatively inexpensive tools at their disposal to create video that offers the look of film. With their large image sensors, this new generation of HDSLR's (High Definition - Digital SLR's) are bringing cinema-quality DOF (Depth-of-Field) control to the masses. Depth-of-Field is the term given to the area of the scene (front to back) that appears in-focus. A large depth-of-field means that most everything in the scene will appear to be in focus, while a shallow depth-of-field means that only a small portion of scene will be in focus. Filmmakers use shallow DOF to help control where the audience should be looking and will shift the focus point when they need to move our attention elsewhere.

The reason why DSLR's are often favored over professional camcorders for filmmaking is due to both the larger image sensors and the ability to use a wide-variety of interchangeable 35mm lenses and f-stops. Larger image sensors will offer a shallower depth-of-field over camera's with smaller senses when shooting at the same focal length and aperture. This, combined with the ability to switch lenses, puts full creative control back into the hands of the filmmaker.

As with photography, shooting video may require some new tools (gear) and skill sets that many of you may not yet be aware of. While none of the gear below will turn you into a filmmaker by themselves these tools, when chosen wisely, can help to increase the overall production value of your final product and can help to set you apart from your competition.

I have grouped the products below into categories (shoulder mounts, steadicams, viewfinders, microphones and audio recorders) and have used manufacturer descriptions to help highlight the advantages of each of the products. You will soon discover that prices range from modest to expensive for most of this gear so it is important to think about the type of work you want to be doing before making such a large investment. It is very easy to be lured into wanting the latest tech gadget, but with prices that can easily exceed the cost of the camera itself you need to stay focused on what it is you're trying to achieve.

Part 1 - LCD Viewfinder / Loupes

Despite new high-resolution VGA displays on many of today's HDSLR cameras - manually focusing while recording is still a challenge due to the small 3.0" (or smaller) displays. These loupes help to turn the rear LCD of your camera into a viewfinder by allowing you to bring your eye closer to the screen while the loupe blocks out light and uses a diopter to bring the screen into sharp focus. Some models, such as the Zacuto Z-Finder v2 also magnifies the image, making it even easier to judge focus.

Digi Finder Pro ($59.99)

The DigiFinder.pro converts the display in your digital camera into a universal video viewfinder and thus creates optimum conditions for perfect picture-taking thanks to its numerous practical advantages

Benefits:

  • Enlargements of the monitor image and sight defect correction from +1 to -2.5 dioptres
  • Optimum view of the monitor in all weather conditions
  • No parallax distortion at close range such as occurs with optical viewfinders
  • Accurate camera work and subject tracking – even when using long focal lengths
  • Constant angle of vision on the display enable you to keep a reliable check on the exposure
  • Display frames for secure hold and a minimum space requirement
  • Total screening from ambient light permits energy-saving and realistic observation of the picture or the subject
  • Outstandingly suited to Live View and video filming
  • Filming and photography free of camera shake thanks to additional support at the eye
  • Lightning-fast fixing and loosening at the display frame
  • Eye-cup made of smooth rubber

Get Yours Today

Prolite 2.8x LCD Viewfinder ($59.95)

Available at Amazon.com

Suitable for most 3" screens. Transforms your video enabled DSLR into a handheld video camera thanks to the 2.8x magnification of your camera's 3.0" LCD. Magnetic attachment allows for easy on & off, making it ideal for photographers and videographers.

Benefits:

  • 2.8x Magnficiation
  • Allows you to easily view critical focus while filming in Live View mode
  • Fits most 3.0" LCD displays
  • Helps to stabilize your camera as the viewfinder becomes a 3rd point of contact
  • Ideal for viewing your camera's LCD in bright sunlight
  • Rubber eyecup blocks out light

Hoodman Loupe 3.0 ($79)

The HoodLoupe 3.0 is engineered to give you a 1 to 1 ratio for true LCD screen viewing. You may be tempted to use an old Loupe with a single magnifying lens to view your LCD screen outdoors. Some competitors who do not understand LCD screen viewing will offer you a single lens magnifying solution as well. You will find as we did, that magnification just makes the pixels of an LCD screen bigger resulting in image distortion. Making the call on focus is very difficult when your image is over pixilated through optical magnification. The HoodLoupe 3.0 uses 3 German glass lenses in its optical solution and is guaranteed to give you the best optical solution for viewing your LCD screen in the field. Hoodman also sells rubber bands (Cinema strap) that allow you to attach the Loupe to your camera for continuous video use - though this is a band-aid solution, but for limited use may work for some.

Also new is the Hoodman HOODLOUPE MAG 3.0 which is a 3x magnifying eyecup for HoodLoupe 3.0. This $39.99 accessory gives the Hoodman Loupe the ever so-important magnification boost it needed to make critical focusing on the fly easier to do.


JAG35 Monitor X LCD Viewer / Magnifier ($150)

Monitor X is an LCD screen viewing Aid, a shade with magnification. It helps by isolating the image of your LCD screen from external light sources like the Sun when shooting outdoors. It includes a magnifying lens that is cut in a rectangle to fit the shape of most LCD screens found on DSLRs and video cameras. This design does not require the user to place their eye against anything preventing eye fatigue and allowing users that wear glasses to use the monitor X without removing their glasses.

It will fit most 3.0" screens and so far we have tested and found it to fit the following cameras: Canon 5Dmk2, 7D, 60D, and Nikon D7000. The Monitor X will mount using a frame that glues to the camera via double sided 3M tape making the installation and removal a literal snap. It will include 1/4-20 holes on bottom and on top allowing to be mounted using articulating arms. Additional extending frames will be available for people who wear glasses.


Hoodman Cinema Pro Kit ($209.99)

The new Cinema Pro Kit includes the Hoodman Loupe 3.0, Hoodmag 3x Magnifying eyecup, and the new Hoodcrane for attaching the Hoodman loupe to your camera via your camera's top accessory / hot-shoe.


RedRock Micro microFinder Support ($55)

The microFinder loupe accessory from redrock micro allows the Hoodman Loupe 3.0 to be securely fastened to the rear of a video DSLR with 3" LCD without any modification, glue, or sticking velcro, or any other substances that may potentialy damage or discolor your camera. The kit includes the microFinder loupe bracket and the rubberized retaining ring.

LCDVF Loupe ($159)

Manufacturer Web Page
Available at Amazon.com

This product was announced quite a while ago and has just started to ship. We just published our review of this product, that the company was nice enough to send out to us to test. Overall I really liked the product, but it does not have an eye diopter so it may not be suitable for those who wear reading glasses or are far-sighted.

Here is information from their website: LCD View Finder turns your video enabled DSLR LCD screen into a huge electronic viewfinder for precise image evaluation - it's like viewing a 42" screen from 140cm (4.6 feet)! Suitable for all 3" screens with up to 60mm X 45mm viewable area.

  • Transforms your video enabled DSLR into a discreet handheld video camera whenever the need arises
  • Aids on the fly focusing
  • Allows the use of LCD in bright daylight outdoors
  • Magnification of 200% specially tailored to most 3" LCD screens
  • AR coated and optically corrected lens with 40mm clear aperture
  • No diopter correction
  • Robust and durable design: no moving parts
  • Splash and dust proof
  • 180 degrees flippable design allows instant left or right eye usage
  • Universal magnetic mounting interface allows rapid mounting and demounting
  • Allows the use of battery and wireless grip and all other original accessories
  • Flat mounting interface allows easyer cleaning of the LCD screen: specially useful for left-eyed photographers

Cavision LCD Viewfinder ($169)

Attaching a unique base plate to the camera body's tripod socket allows the 6x magnification optic and hood to be used without the need for messy adhesive or touch fasteners. The unit is easily adjustable to control light leaking and can be further enhanced with optional Cavision hand grips and other accessories. This particular design attaches to the tripod mount of your camera making it difficult to remove when you want to shoot stills using the camera's optical TTL viewfinder. Cavision does make a swing away connection piece (MHE52C-SA-R) that makes it easy to swing the viewfinder away from the screen, but it must be used with the Cavision RS15II + RPMD90 rod support system, making this a more expensive solution in the end.

Of even more interest may be the companies new Dual Handgrip Viewfinder package that includes both additional support AND their LCD Viewfinder Loupe at a very affordable $269.95 price (B&H).

Varavon Low Angle Viewfinder & 3x Loupe ($363)

The Varavon Low Angle Viewfinder & 3x Loupe offers comfortable viewing even while filming from low angles. Easy to install, Easy to maintain. Take your filming to the new level with VARAVON ProFinder! Requires no battery or LCD. Special Front Surface Mirror that reproduces camera LCD screen flawlessly (A typical mirror reflects two images, called the Ghost Phenomenon, this making it unsuitable for precise focusing).

Essential sunlight cover function for outdoor filming. Simple two-step procedure transforms the PRO FINDER to be used as a sunlight covering hood, just close the top door and push the rear door in. Clear monitoring is possible even in bright locations during eye-level filming and instant replays.

Get Yours Today


Cinevate Cyclops ($399)

The Cyclops is different! It measures 8" long, 5.5" wide and 3" high. Why is Cyclops as large as it is? The answer is immediately obvious when using the finder. Rather than having one eye "locked" to the viewfinder, a shooter can achieve critical focus from as far away as 36" from the camera! Both eyes can be used to frame/focus and there is no need to remove eye-glasses. Unlike typical viewfinders, you might look at Cyclops as an alternative to a monitor as a director and shooter can view images at the same time while using Cyclops! Future proofing (and we know camera LCDs are getting bigger!) is achieved by using interchangeable front/rear hood elements.

Get Yours Today


iDC LCD Viewfinder ($199)

iDC's milled-aluminum bracket firmly mounts a Hoodman 3.0 magnifying loupe over the camera's rear LCD screen to eliminate stray light while allowing accurate manual focus. This robust viewfinder makes the capture of HD video and Live View stills a much easier proposition in both bright and low light conditions. Delivered with a Hoodman 3.0 loupe permanently installed, the black- anodized aluminum bracket and base plate includes accommodations for any 1/4"-20 threaded quick-release tripod adapters. This LCD viewfinder is designed to work with the basic 5D Mark II camera body ONLY. It does not accommodate Canon's BG-E6 Battery Grip. The price of this solution is $199, which seems a bit high when you consider the Hoodman Loupe 3.0 itself sells for about $79.

Z-Finder Pro ($395)

The Z-Finder Pro 3x is another one of Zacuto's Optical Viewfinders that allows DSLR cameras to have the correct form factor for video. It offers 3x focusable magnification (2.5x is available),a 40mm diameter Zacuto optical designed lens, an anti-fog coating protective cover, an eyecup preventing extraneous light leakage, a diopter and a field of view perfectly matched to 3" LCD screens. The diopter allows you to dial in the focus to match your eye. If you need extra focal point you can use the Z-Finder Extender Frames. The Z-Finder Pro 3x has a diopter range of -2.75 and up (unlimited with extender frames). These are semi-permanently stackable frames that attach to the skirt of the Z-Finder Pro and extend the Z-Finder glass further way from the LCD screen for people who are farsighted.

The Z-Finder Pro 3x includes:

  • 3 Extender Frames
  • Gorilla Plate with DSLR Short Body Frame (Canon 5D/7D type cameras)
  • Lens Cap & Protective Boot
  • Lanyard Hook and Lanyard
  • 3x lens with an anti-fog coating protective cover
  • Extra anti-fog coating protective cover*

Get Yours Today


Z-Finder Jr. ($265)

The Z-Finder Jr. is one of Zacuto's Optical Viewfinders that allows DSLR cameras to have the correct form factor for video. It offers 2.5x focusable magnification, a 40mm diameter Zacuto optical designed lens, an eyecup preventing extraneous light leakage, and a field of view perfectly matched to 3" LCD screens. The Z-Finder Jr. does not have a diopter instead it uses Z-Finder Extender Frames to adjust the focal point. The Z-Finder Extender Frames attach to the skirt of the Z-Finder Jr. and allow you to semi-permanently stack the frames until the LCD screen is in focus for you. The Z-Finder Jr. uses a mounting bracket that must be sandwiched in between a tripod plate and the camera. The bracket mounts to the ¼ 20" screw on your tripod plate and the actual Jr. is held in place with pressure from the fork of the bracket it sits in. You also have the option to mount the Z-Finder Jr. using the Z-Finder Mounting Frame (snap fit adhesive mounting frame) which is also included.

The Z-Finder Jr. includes:

  • 2 Extender Frames
  • Z-Finder JR. Mounting Bracket
  • Lanyard and Lanyard Hook
  • Lens Cap
  • Z-Finder Snap Fit Mounting Frame


Letus Hawk VF ($385 - $450)

Made of lightweight Carbon Fiber, the Letus Hawk attaches to your DSLR without any modifications to the camera. The Hawk uses3 lenses in 2 groups rather than a single, off-the-shelf diopter. Diopters are inexpensive but they tend to "pin cushion" the image. Our lens groups produces a totally flat image with no warping or sharpness loss on the edges of the image frame. The Hawk features a 2.75x view factor, which they believe is the ideal zoom for LCD screens. The lenses on the Hawk are adjustable from +1.5 to -2.5 to accommodate near and far sighted users.

The Hawk includes a camera plate as a standard feature. The plate threads into the tripod mounting hole on the bottom of your camera and is adjustable in X,Y, and Z directions for compatibility with a full range of current and future DSLR cameras. The plate is threaded on the bottom so you can attach your existing quick release tripod plates, base plates, etc. We also added an additional option so you can mount the Hawk using any articulating arm. This allows you to have a virtually limitless mounting options for special situations where standard mounting is difficult or impossible. We offer a micro articulating arm custom milled from stainless steel

Get Yours Today




Part 1 of 3 - LCD Viewfinder Loupes (x)
Part 2 of 3 - Follow Focus Units
Part 3 of 3 - Mobile / Shoulder Supports
Part 4 of 4 - Steadicams / Stabilizers
Part 5 of 5 - Electronic Viewfinders

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