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Varavon Pro Finder Review

Low-Angle Viewfinder | 3x Loupe | LCD Viewing Hood

Review by Ron Risman -- December 2010





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Full Review and Video Demonstration



Review

The Varavon Pro Finder is the first viewfinder loupe for video-enabled digital SLR's that offers more than just the typical magnified view of your scene. In fact, the Varavon Pro Finder is the first HDSLR viewfinder loupe that also offers a top-down view, designed for low-angle handheld or slider shots. If those two features weren't enough you can also remove the magnified optic and use the Pro Finder as a large sun shade for the camera's LCD display - all without having to remove the Pro Finder from the camera. It's this Multi-view design that makes the Pro Finder worth considering.

Why do I need a DSLR Viewfinder Loupe?

Since digital SLR's were never designed for video recording, their ergonomics and lack of certain features can make them challenging to shoot video with. The biggest problems come into play when you try to use the camera's rather small 3.0" LCD display held out in front of you while recording. Not only is it nearly impossible to hold the camera steady when placed mid-air out in front of your face, you'll also be faced with the challenge of trying to manually focus while trying to judge whether you're in focus or not on the small LCD screen.

DSLR loupes help to solve this problem by allowing you to put your eye right up to the loupe's eyepiece. These loupes then magnify the view, essentially turning the LCD into a jumbo viewfinder. The large magnified view makes it easy to manually focus, and the loupe resting against your eye adds additional stability when shooting handheld.

Over the past 18 months we have seen viewfinder loupes hit the market from Zacuto, LCDVF, JAG35, Hoodman, and others - that helps videographer's shoot video with their new DSLR's. While all of these models help to turn the camera's LCD display into a viewfinder, none of these companies have taken the design further to assist the cinematographers that are increasingly using low-angle shots in their work. This is exactly what Varavon is attempting to do with the new Pro Finder and in this review I'll take a look at whether they've succeeded in creating the next step in HDSLR viewfinder loupes.

Size

For those who thought the Zacuto Z-Finder was large, you can thank Varavon for making them look downright svelte. The Varavon Pro Finder measures approx. 3.25"W x 4.0" H x 6.0" D (to the tip of the rubber eyecup). It's large and bulky, though when it is on the camera the size really becomes irrelevant. It doesn't block any of the rear buttons and is fairly lightweight, despite its size. In total the Pro Finder weighs just shy of a pound, which also includes the aluminum baseplate. When the Z-Finder first came out I also thought it was large, but in over a year of shooting I have never not used it because of its size. I do like that the Z-Finder can be worn around your neck when not in use, whereas the Varavon is shipped with its own lens-style case that attaches to a belt or to another case - but in reality you'll have much less need to remove the Varavon Pro Finder since it can be used as a loupe, a top-down viewfinder, and a sun shade for the LCD. When the case isn't being used for the Pro Finder its ideal for carrying around an extra prime or compact zoom lens.

Design

The Pro Finder currently is available for most of the popular HDSLR models from Canon. Since the baseplate is different between camera models you'll need to order the version appropriate for your camera. You can order baseplates for other models separately if you want to use it with different camera models. As of this writing the Varavon Pro Finder is available for the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EOS 7D, EOS Rebel T2i (550D), and EOS Rebel T1i (500D). I am sure that other popular HDSLR models, such as the Nikon D7000, will be supported very soon.

The baseplate is made of aluminum and measures just under an 1" thick. In the center of the baseplate is a 1/4-20" mount that's connected to a large red thumb dial that makes attaching or removing it from your camera a breeze. The bottom of the baseplate also has a 1/4-20" for mounting to a shoulder rig, tripod, monopod, or other stabilization devices. The baseplate also features an extra pin that prevents it from pivoting once connected. The rear of the baseplate has a receptacle for sliding on the viewfinder itself. A red locking thumb screw on the side of the baseplate makes it simple to secure the viewfinder to the baseplate.

Despite its size, the viewfinder doesn't block access to any of the buttons on the back of the camera and is at no risk of falling off if bumped, as long as you remember to tighten the screw after connecting it to the baseplate.


Canon EOS 5D Mark II with Pro Finder attached. * Note: A Zacuto frame is mounted around my camera's LCD display, sandwiched between the Varavon Pro Finder and the 5D body. Without this frame, the Pro Finder would actually slide in against the camera more tightly than shown.

As already mentioned the Varavon Pro Finder can be used in multiple ways, so let me show you how it works.

Multi-view Design

3.0x Loupe
When you first take the Pro Finder out of the box and attach it to the baseplate it will likely be set up to use in the Loupe mode. Just place either of your eyes into the viewfinder and adjust the focus of the diopter for your eyesight by moving the diopter lever left or right. That is all there is to it. Turn on your camera, place it into live view or video mode, and your set to shoot. The Loupe provides 2.5x magnification. The magnification makes it easy to manually adjust focus, even while recording.

Low-Angle Shooting Mode (top-down view)
To use the Pro Finder for low-angle shooting (top-down view), just pop up the top of the viewfinder and fold back the eyepiece. This configuration lines up the two mirrors inside the viewfinder, projecting the image from the camera's LCD screen onto the bottom mirror. With two mirrors the view is identical to viewing the LCD, but is now viewable from the top, looking down. The top-down view isn't magnified, which is by design. You wouldn't want to have to bend down and put your eye into a loupe when shooting at low angles. When shooting top-down, it is best to pre-focus using the camera's pre-record zoom function.

This feature is ideal for capturing low-angle shots, which often brings a great cinematic feel to a film. If you use a portable slider you'll also appreciate the top-down view capability as it means you'll no longer have to lay on the ground to get your low tracking or reveal shot.

Sun Shade Mode
For those times when you just need to use the camera's LCD, the Pro Finder is ready and able to help block out glare and reflections. By removing the magnifier / eyepiece, the Pro Finder turns into a large sun shade for the camera's LCD screen. In this configuration it's easy to view the camera's LCD display, even when shooting in bright conditions. Unlike some LCD hoods that force you to view the LCD straight on, the Pro Finder's top panel can be adjusted upwards in order to view the screen from a higher-angle. This means you won't have to place the camera directly in front of your face when using the Pro Finder as a sun shade.

One of things that makes the sunshade mode so effective is that you can pivot open the top flap, making it easy to see the LCD display when the camera is below eye level. The top flap makes use of a "Free Stop function" which allows it to stay at any angle position you leave it at.

Nothings Perfect
My biggest gripe with the Pro Finder is the way the magnifier / eyepiece actually connects and disconnects from the Pro Finder body. It is in this area where the Pro Finder would seem to be the most vulnerable to breakage since the eyepiece needs to attach to the rear, pivoting panel. I found if you support the backplane with the thumb of your right hand, it makes it easier to pop off the eyepiece with your left. Since a mirrors is attached to the inside wall of the backplane, it's best to support the top edge of the backplane when attaching the eyepiece. The eyepiece comes off by firmly lifting it straight up (not out) while wiggling it back and forth. It only has to move an 1/8" or 1/4" before it comes off. Once the eyepiece has been detached from the finder, the backplane can be folded down, providing a clear view of the LCD display. Putting the eyepiece back on is just the reverse. Start with the rubber eyecup facing the floor, line up the magnets and slide the eyecup down into position using slight pressure until it snaps into place. Once you get the hang of it it won't take you more than a few seconds to get the eyepiece on or off. it.

If I were to redesign any aspect of the Pro Finder it would be in how the eyepiece connects. It's probably not as fragile as it feels, but it just doesn't feel intuitive, mainly because it has to connect to the pivoting back panel that houses one of the mirrors on the inside. This limits where you can place your fingers when supporting the panel. Also, the internal bottom mirror wasn't level on the review unit they sent. This was basically just an annoyance since it didn't effect the operation in any way, but it's something that should be looked at in QC before they ship.

Review Conclusion

I have been using the Pro Finder quite a bit since it arrived, which is approx. 10 days, and it has changed the way I shoot. While I would use it a lot in Loupe mode, like I would my Z-Finder, I would also use it a lot as a top-down viewer when shooting on a slider or to capture low angle footage. No longer do I have to lay on the ground or kneel and bend in order to see the LCD display. You'd often find me in a suit at weddings laying on the grass or sidewalk to get a creative point-of-view. No longer. I will definitely be purchasing the Pro Finder and selling my Z-Finder on eBay. I hate to even say that because I truly love my Z-Finder. The Z-Finder would most likely outlast the Pro Finder thanks to Zacuto's lifetime guarantee and tank-like design. But in the end, I need the additional functionality that the Pro Finder offers and I am not a big fan of using external (electronic) monitors when shooting weddings. Things happen too quickly, so the last thing I need is another electronic device to worry about (battery life, cables, mounting brackets / arms, etc.).

The Varavon Pro Finder is as overpriced as the Z-Finder, but it's a tool that works and has functionality that no other single loupe performs. It doesn't replace the need for an external monitor for those times when you need to share a screen or detach the monitor from the camera, but for most other situations it is definitely one of the best options.

I need to add that it's been very cold and dry here so I have not been able to test whether the viewfinder will fog up during use. The Zacuto Z-Finder is terrible with fogging and only improved slightly after adding the anti-fog kit that was recently introduced for it. If I breathe into the eyepiece it does fog up, so I am sure that it will have some fogging issues once summer arrives. Since the Pro Finder features panels that pivot it is not inherently air tight. This should keep fogging from occurring on the inside of the loupe since warmth generated by the LCD and heat of the day is able to escape.


The Pro Finder ships in a handsome retail box. Inside you'll find a medium size case with a Velcro external strap for connecting to a bag or belt, an aluminum camera baseplate (5.85 ounces), the Pro Finder (6.73 ounces), and the eyepiece with 3x magnification and integrated diopter (4.1 ounces).

Click here for Varavon Pro Finder Photo Gallery



Disclosure Statement
The Varavon Pro Finder was sent to me to review by Varavon. My views and opinions are always based on findings made during testing and never based on how we obtained the product for review.

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