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Z-Cage

Jag35 Monitor-X Viewfinder Review

Reviewed by Ron Risman -- December 2010





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Video Review and Demonstration



Review

Video capable DSLR's, like the Canon 5D Mark II and EOS 7D, are being used more each day in the broadcast, TV, and filmmaking industries. Their success in these categories has helped to create an entirely new market for add-on accessories that help users stabilize, pull focus, turn the rear LCD into a proper viewfinder, record dual sound, and do just about anything else with their cameras.

One of the first really popular and must-have add-ons for HDSLR (hybrid-DSLR) owners was the viewfinder "loupe" made popular by Zacuto and their Z-Finder product. The loupe would attach to the camera's 3.0" rear-facing LCD display, turning it into a large, magnified viewfinder. By resting your eye against the rubber eyecup it would not only help stabilize your camera, but would also block sunlight and glare between your eye and the LCD display and would magnify the screen 3x, making details larger and manual focusing much easier.

This year, manufacturers are stepping it up a notch by introducing new, high resolution external monitors that can be mounted on or off the camera for more flexibility. While the Z-Finder and other Loupe-style products work very well, they make it difficult to share the screen with the client, director, or producer. These loupes also force you to place your eye up against the viewer, making it uncomfortable when shooting on a tripod and can be less comfortable for eyeglass wearers.

External monitors promise high-resolution viewing on screens that are typically 5" in size and larger. They can be mounted on the camera's hot-shoe, on a shoulder rig, or attached to a tripod using an extension arm. They can easily be viewed and shared in most environments and the user isn't forced to place their eye up against them as they would a traditional viewfinder. The downside of these external monitors is that they require their own power, are often difficult to see outdoors due to glare and brightness, and are very expensive for the average budget filmmaker.

Monitor-X

A new product, and the one I am reviewing here, is sort of a hybrid between the Loupe and an external monitor. It's called the JAG35 Monitor X. The Monitor X attaches to the rear LCD of your camera in much the same way a loupe would, but instead of you placing your eye against the eyecup, the Monitor X magnifies the screen for optimized viewing at normal viewing distances. This design makes it easier to share the view of the screen while filming, reduces eye fatigue, allows you to keep both eyes on the scene while glancing over at the viewfinder for framing and focus, is eyeglasses friendly, and is much less expensive that adding a larger electronic viewfinder. The Monitor-x seems to provide about a 40% magnification of the camera's LCD display.


View through the Monitor-X

The Monitor X attaches to the back of the camera using a thin 3M adhesive backed mounting frame. The 3M adhesive keeps a strong bond, yet will not harm the camera when removed. This frame stays mounted around the LCD and allows the user to slide the Monitor X viewer on and off any time they desire. It's basically a quick-release mount for the viewer.

JAG35 also includes extender 'diopter' frames that fit between the mounting frame and the Monitor X and help to change the focus distance. Whether you need to use any of these extender frames will be determined by your eyesight. If you are near-sighted you most likely won't need to use any of the extender frames, but far-sighted users may.


Shown with all included stacking 'diopter' frames

The Monitor X also ships with an extremely large rubber sun shade, to help reduce glare when shooting in bright conditions. Also unique to the Monitor X is a dual 1/4-20 mounting system (top & bottom) allowing users to mount the Monitor X onto an articulating arm instead of using the adhesive backed mounting frame. When shooting with a shoulder rig or cage system this setup makes it easy to pivot the viewer into position or away from the LCD when so desired, and offers the most flexibility when shooting.

I also found that if I use all of the extension frames between the mounting frame and the Monitor X viewer I can actually put my eye against the oversized rubber sun shade and use it as I would a Z-Finder. I don't believe it was designed for this use and this would most likely only work for near-sighted users. The rubber sun shade is also not all that comfortable for use in this position, but it will work in a pinch for some users.

If you shoot a lot of outdoor sports where framing is critical but focusing is not (due to large depth-of-field), the Monitor X is a perfect solution. It allows you to keep both eyes on the action, while viewing the magnified LCD from a distance. It basically makes your LCD screen look like it's 4" or 5" in size, at a price that is $400+ less than a comparably sized external monitor and without the need for additional power. Focusing IS easy using the Monitor-x, just not as accurate as traditional eye-to-loupe viewfinders.

The Monitor X does have one limitation and that is the camera has to be at eye level in order to see the screen. Viewing angles are cut off due to the fact the Monitor X extends out about 2" from the rear LCD. This is the same limitation you would have with a Loupe viewfinder as well, but it's more noticeable with the Monitor X since it is designed to be used with your eye away from the screen.


A side-by-side view with and without the Monitor-X

One place where I love using the Monitor X is on the Steadicam Merlin. The extra screen magnification really helps me to tell when I have moved out of the focus area, especially when shooting indoors with wide apertures.

When I talk above about the differences between a Loupe viewfinder, the Monitor X, and external monitors, it's only to point out the differences. Each has their advantages and each are beneficial depending on the type of shoot or type of shooting you do. A loupe-style viewfinder seals out all light, glare, and reflections and provides a third contact point (left hand, right hand, eye against eyecup) between you and the camera for enhanced stability, especially with a run 'n gun set up. Loupe-style viewfinders require that you place one eye into the eyecup.

An external monitor is the proper choice when you need to have a second monitor (using an HDMI splitter) for a focus puller, client or director; if you want a larger viewing area; or when you need to detach the monitor from the camera itself for crane shots, externally mounted cameras (car mounts, etc.) or to get high/low angle shots.

The only product that competes directly with the functionality of the Monitor-X is the new Cinevate Cyclops, which is priced over $400, making it less of a competitor for those on a budget. I have not seen the Cinevate Cyclops so I cannot compare the two.

The Monitor X is designed to fit most 3.0" LCD screens, including most of today's DSLR's. JAG35 has tested it with the Canon 5Dmk2, 7D, 60D, and Nikon D7000, though it is compatible with most 3" displays. One exception may be the Rebel T2i, where the navigation control pad of the camera would probably interfere with the mounting frame. Using the Monitor X with an articulating arm would most likely make it usable with the Rebel T2i, but if you are unsure about compatibility with your camera you should contact JAG35 directly before purchasing.

Nothing's Perfect

While the Monitor-X includes a very large detachable rubber sun shade designed to reduce glare and light from hitting the camera's own LCD display, the Monitor-X itself could benefit from an anti-glare screen. The Motion-X is very reflective, almost annoyingly so at times. It also forces you to view the camera's LCD from head on, making it best suited for use on a tripod or handheld stabilizer like the Steadicam Merlin.

Review Conclusion

What the Monitor X offers over an external monitor is a much more compact size, lighter weight, lower price, and no need to worry about AC power or extra battery packs. The Monitor X is at its best when the camera is mounted to a tripod or other platform or stabilizer (Steadicam, Glidecam, monopod, etc.) and for situations where placing an eye into an eyecup is either impossible or uncomfortable. It's less cumbersome and less expensive than an external monitor but also less flexible since it needs to be mated to your camera's LCD display.

Overall I love the idea of the Monitor X, and for those using a lightweight Steadicam Merlin or other stabilizer it is a must have product as it's light enough to balance on these rigs. It's also great when shooting on a tripod at eye level. You can keep both eyes on the event, using the Motion-X to help keep accurate framing and focus. I also love that JAG35 included two 1/4-20" mounts, allowing you to use it with articulating arms when used with a Cage or Shoulder rig. I hope that JAG35 takes it one step further by adding an anti-glare coating.

Note: If you are currently using a frame-mounted Z-Finder Loupe you'll want to know that the Monitor X is not compatible with the Z-Finder mounting frame. JAG35 is currently working a mounting frame that would work with the Z-Finder frame, so please contact them to check when this might be available.

More Information

You can get more information as well as purchase the Monitor-X direct from JAG35.com.

Disclosure Statement
Cameratown is a JAG35 advertising affiliate. This helps to keep our site running, by providing us the opportunity to earn a small referral fee when a purchase is made from them after linking to their site from ours. The Monitor X was provided by JAG35 for us to review, but as always my views and opinions are always based on findings made during testing.

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