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Zaucto Z-Finder V2 Review

Reviewed by Ron Risman -- October / November 2009




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Zacuto Z-Finder V2 DSLR Viewfinder Review

Description

The Zacuto Z-Finder V2 is a large loupe designed to mount to the back of your HDSLR's 3.0" LCD display, allowing you to use the LCD as a viewfinder.

The Problem

The video capable digital SLR has not been around all that long, so many of you may not yet appreciate some of the problems associated with using the Canon Rebel T1i, Nikon D90, Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon EOS 7D, or Nikon D300s to capture video. The first, and most obvious problem, is the fact that these cameras are ergonomically designed to be a stills camera and not a video camera. The second issue, and one that may scare away a lot of photographers from giving the video feature a try, is the fact that these camera's need to be manually focused when shooting video. Even the one or two models that offer some form of contrast-detect auto focus should still be manually focused due to their slow focusing speed.

Despite the lack of auto focus - these new video-capable dSLR's are now being purchased in large numbers by journalists, newspapers, event videographers, and filmmakers due to the very large sensors. The large sensor size, when combined with the ability to use standard 35mm lenses, allow for extremely high quality 1080p HD video, incredible low-light capability, and control over depth-of-field. It is these features that have made the EOS 5D Mark II and the EOS 7D a must have for serious filmmakers on a budget. It's also important to note that filmmakers almost always prefer manual focusing so the lack of auto focus for many of these buyers is not concern - or at least - worth the trade-off to gain some of the other advantages.

Unfortunately, trying to manually dial in sharp focus while viewing a 3.0" screen is nearly impossible. Yes, all of these DSLR's offer a way to magnify the image on the LCD screen in order to help set the initial focus, but the magnification feature is only available BEFORE you start recording. Once you press record, you're on your own.


The Solution

Purchase an optical loupe that covers LCD, allowing you to put your eye right up to it as if it were a viewfinder, like the ones you'll see on a camcorder. There are currently two solutions on the market that I know of. The Hoodman Loupe 3.0, which I have owned and used for the past few months and the Zacuto Z-Finder V2, which I would never had spent the money for - until I tried it.

The Zacuto Z-Finder V2 is a clunky, square loupe / viewfinder with a large comfortable rubber eyecup and a large red dial that controls the diopter. The diopter allows you to focus your eye on the LCD without needing to wear your glasses. I definitely would not call the Z-Finder V2 sleek or sexy, but it does make your HDSLR more video-friendly and more importantly it's amazing to use as you'll discover below.

$400 for a Loupe?

The funny thing is, it was the price of Z-Finder that initially convinced me that I should buy the Hoodman Loupe. I just couldn't justify $350-$400 for a loupe. Truthfully, I had a hard time justifying the $79 for the Hoodman and then another $19 for the rubber bands to hold it in place. $19 for rubber bands? Seriously? Anyway, the fact is .... I am very frugal, often finding myself scouring for used gear or Hong-Kong knock-offs on eBay whenever possible.

When the Hoodman Loupe 3.0 first arrived I felt as if I was just swindled out of $80. It's a rather small rubber loupe with an integrated diopter. It arrives with no way to mount it to the LCD screen, so you have to keep it pressed sandwiched between your eye and the LCD while shooting. This doesn't work too well since the loupe slips and slides around, but it was usable for short clips - and it did help with focusing.

I then discovered that Hoodman was selling rubber bands designed to hold the Loupe against the LCD. I had a tough time putting another $19 toward the loupe but I needed a solution that worked, so I ordered it. The problem with the rubber band solution is that they cannot quickly be removed if you have a strap attached to the camera or if you're using the camera with a extension bracket - as I often do. When recording video I often have a boom microphone attached to an L-bracket off to the side, while a flash sits in the hot-shoe above for taking stills. This bracket interferes with putting the rubber bands around the body of the camera as well as with their removal. The rubber bands also did not alleviate the problem with the loupe sliding around during use, so ultimately it was a very poor band-aid.

The reason it is so important for the loupe to be easily removed is to be able to jump back and forth between stills and video. When shooting stills I want to use the optical viewfinder, but with the loupe in the way, you can't get your eye near it.

To be fair to Hoodman, the Loupe 3.0 was never designed for continuous use. It was actually developed to be used as a traditional loupe, allowing photographers to review their still images out in the field, while keeping ambient light away from the LCD. For this purpose it works very well, and if there was an elegant way to attach and remove it, it would also be a decent 'low-cost' viewfinder solution. Hopefully Hoodman is working on a better solution.

Enter the Zacuto Z-Finder V2.

I recently had the opportunity to borrow a Z-Finder V2 for a couple of days while I was attending the Re:Frame cinematography workshop out in San Francisco. Steve Weiss of Zacuto was on hand and brought plenty of gear for all of us to borrow during the workshop. I think in sales they call that the puppy dog close :-) Anyway, I decided to give the Z-Finder V2 a try. Why not? it didn't cost me anything (so I thought).

Before using the Z-Finder V2, you must first attach a thin frame around the camera's LCD screen by firmly pressing the adhesive side against the LCD. It is recommended that you keep something heavy, like a book, resting on the frame overnight in order to insure a strong hold. Being impatient, I kept a weight on it for about 5 minutes, then attached the Z-Finder V2. This seemed to do the trick just fine.

Once the "Z-Frame" is firmly attached you are now able to pop the Z-Finder on over this frame and it stays firmly in place. Yet it simply pops off anytime you need to remove it. Zacuto also includes a strap that can be worn around the neck, allowing the Z-Finder to fall to your chest when not in use, and accessible when you need to put it back on. This is ideal for those that are using the camera for both stills and video during the same shoot.

What really sold me on the Zacuto loupe was the quality of the 3x magnification. When you place your eye against the comfortable rubber eyecup, you'll be amazed. Your 3" LCD screen will appear as if it's the size of maybe a 100" widescreen floating right in front of you. I am not sure of the true "equivalent" size, but when viewing a 3" LCD with a 3x magnification from about two inches away - it's look HUGE. I was totally blown away. Even the smallest of details were no longer able to elude my new found focusing skills. Also interesting, was that none of what I had previously read about the pixels looking too large under magnification were true. The screen looked amazing. Period. I knew that by the time the workshop was over I would be handing over my credit-card.

In fact, the Zacuto Z-Finder V2 makes using the LCD screen as a viewfinder so enjoyable that I have been using it more and more to shoot stills. The added support of keeping the camera against my eye, combined with the huge view of the LCD screen makes it great for still photography. Just keep in mind that battery life suffers greatly when using the LCD full time as your viewfinder. Hmm. maybe I'll sell the Hoodman loupe and buy myself another battery.

Some Notes:
1. Both the Zacuto and Hoodman loupes can fog up during use or when moving from AC to a humid climate. Zacuto sells an anti-fog solution called the Fog Eliminator (3 sheets for $5.00) that has proven effective against fogging. I personally have not yet tested it but will update this review when / if I do.

2. If you have two cameras with 3" displays you can purchase a spare mounting frame for $6 that allows you to use the Z-Finder V2 on either of the cameras.

3. If you wear reading glasses/farsightedness and need greater than 1.5 correction, you should order the Z-Finder V2 with a taller mounting frame. The taller mounting frame is a temporary fix until Zacuto gets in their new frames. Once the new frames are in stock, they will automatically send it to you.

4.0 The Z-finder is a magnifier and as such will magnify the sun and could damage the LCD screen if the sun is allowed to shine directly through the Z-finder lens. This is not a defect but a physical property. Caution should be taken to avoid sun magnification.

Video Comparison

This video demonstrates the magnification difference between the Zacuto Z-Finder and the Hoodman Loupe. Even in this video you don't get to experience how large the Z-Finder's view really is when you're looking through it. The audio is using just one-speaker so please don't go adjusting your speaker connections. It was just something we forgot to correct before rendering the video.

Conclusion

Never could I have imagined spending this much money on a viewfinder, especially considering how painful it was just spending the $80 - $100 to buy the Hoodman Loupe. But after getting a chance to use it I was completely hooked. If you are serious about using your new DSLR for video, and if you want to reduce camera shake and take control of manual focus you should definitely consider getting the Zacuto Z-Finder V2. You won't be disappointed - just a little lighter in the wallet. Think of it this way - just by skipping over the Hoodman Loupe you're automatically $100 closer to getting the Zacuto. Learn from my mistake, not your own.

Wish List

I would LOVE to see a right-angle attachement become available as an option for the Z-Finder. A right-angle attachment that would allow the viewing of the LCD from top-down instead of straight on. This would allow it to be used more comfortably when the camera is low to the ground or set up below eye level on a tripod. I don't know whether this could be made as an add-on or whether it would require a new version of the Z-Finder, but it would be a very welcome feature.


If you decide that the Z-Finder is for you and would like to purchase the Zacuto Z-Finder V2 we hope you'll consider using our our link. Zacuto has signed us on as an affiliate, which means we will get credit for the sale if the link comes from our site: www.zacuto.com

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