Let’s face it, you pretty much have to be a Zen master in focus-pulling to shoot high-def video with an HD DSLR camera. While shooting wide-open on a moving subject, it’s near impossible to maintain sharp focus, especially for daylight exterior shots. The biggest factor is the camera’s monster-sized sensor that gives a shooter razor-thin shallow depth of field, allowing very little margin for error in terms of critical focus. Another big factor is the HD DSLR’s small LCD screen and the lack of a proper viewfinder when shooting video.
To combat this, camera accessory company Zacuto has developed the Zacuto Z-Finder, which has become the most popular HD DSLR accessory for those looking to capture professional-quality video. The Z-Finder is basically an optical viewfinder that clamps onto your camera over the LCD display. It gives the shooter the correct form factor while looking through the viewfinder, as well as focusable magnification. The Z-Finder contains a large eyecup that prevents light leakage, an anti-fog coated lens, a square skirt and a sturdy focusing wheel. What I noticed first about using the Z-Finder was that it gives your DSLR more of the form factor of a traditional video or movie camera since you can now hold the camera closer to your body. When used with Zacuto’s handheld rigs like the Fast Draw, Cross Fire or Double Barrel, it provides a more professional user experience because the rigs help stabilize the camera to your body rather than trying to balance the camera in front of you with just your hands.
The Zacuto I tested—the Z-Finder V2—has a mounting frame, in which I had to apply a supplied double-sided adhesive to which the mounting frame sticks. When applied, the instructions were to turn the camera upside-down and leave a heavy book on it for 24 hours to let the adhesive dry. After this process, the Z-Finder snapped onto the mounting frame and was very secure, yet easy to snap on and off. You can also attach a supplied lanyard around your neck to remove the viewfinder if you want to show your director and producer the LCD at the same time. Although the adhesive process completely worked, it was a bit of a workaround and wasn’t ideal for a somewhat spendy accessory (the V2 retailed for around $375). However, used with my Canon EOS 7D, the Z-Finder made video capture much easier and more intuitive. The magnification gave me confidence that I actually was getting things in focus rather than just hoping for the best with the LCD. But users beware, even with the Z-Finder, the problem of achieving critical focus at an ƒ-stop of 4 and below still applies. (You have to learn this advanced skill set on your own.)
Zacuto recently announced the arrival of three new models to replace the Z-Finder V2. The Z-Finder Jr. is their starter viewfinder, which offers 2.5x focusable magnification and a 40mm Zacuto optical lens with a steel mounting bracket that fits between the tripod plate and camera. The Jr. works perfectly with the 5D and 7D cameras. For their Pro models, Zacuto has two releases—the Z-Finder Pro 2.5x and 3x, which both have a 40mm Zacuto optical anti-fog coated lens. The biggest change in the Pro models is the mounting system, which uses Zacuto’s Gorilla Plate and mounting frame. However, you can still use the adhesive frame with the Pro, and you can use the Gorilla Plate method with the discontinued V2 model. The Gorilla Plate mounts to the bottom of the camera using the tripod screw hole and the Z-Finder Frame screws into the Gorilla Plate. The Z-Finder still snaps on and off the frame so you’re able to quickly view the LCD screen or usethe photo viewfinder on the DSLR. The Gorilla Plate also accepts a tripod plate on the bottom so you can quickly go between handheld and tripod.
The Z-Finder mounting frames vary depending on whether you have a short-body DSLR, short-body DSLR with battery or long-body HD DSLR. The Jr. retails for $265, and the Pros are $395 each.
With HD DSLRs being used for professional projects on an increasing basis, the Zacuto Z-Finders are an essential tool for any filmmaker working in the format.
Contact: Zacuto, (888) 294-FILM, www.zacuto.com.