Zacuto Z-Finder EVF Pro
& Cineroid EVF4L
For all the advantages associated with shooting HD video on DSLR cameras, ergonomics isn’t one of them. While they provide visually rich and cinematic video, DSLRs just don’t have the right form factor for video, especially if you need to “run and gun”. The development of dedicated rigs by the likes of Zacuto and Redrock Micro has made up for some of this, but while they make it easier to use a DSLR without a tripod, they have never been perfect. The main reason is that the rear LCD of the camera is used for viewing, so it has to be placed in front of the user’s eye, ruining the balance and bringing the weight off the right shoulder to the centre, which in turn makes the whole setup a little unsteady for longer takes.
Electronic viewfinders (EVFs) have been developed to compensate for this problem. A small LCD screen with a magnifier loupe that plugs into the HDMI port on a camera, they prove pretty versatile when coupled with a magic arm that can be placed anywhere. This allows the camera to be kept to the right where the rig and load bearing right arm are, and only mount the relatively lightweight EVF in front of the user’s eye.
Having tried this setup with the Zacuto Striker, I am now of the conclusion that you need a bigger rig when you’re shooting with an EVF, using a weighted shoulder section to hold the camera and viewfinder more comfortably. Using a lightweight rig with something like a Z-Finder Pro and standard or wide-angle lens worked, as the finder was part of the camera body and it formed a point of contact allowing for steadier shots. But an EVF is mounted away from the camera so does not add to stability in the same way. However, it does provide for much more intuitive handling, not to mention its uses for low-level work, where the finder can be mounted at a more comfortable height.
Side By Side
For this review I tested two popular EVFs; one from Cineroid, and the other from Zacuto. Physically, the two units are of similar dimensions (with the Cineroid being slightly longer and the Zacuto a little fatter), and both have HDMI passthrough (mini HDMI only on the Cineroid), which can handle additional viewing accessories, such as a Marshall monitor (reviewed below) to be plugged in for a focus puller or a director to use.
Both also have hinged magnifiers that allow them to be flipped out of the way for longer working distances and for use as a mini monitor. And each has a peaking feature that overlays sharp edges and is a superb focusing aid (with red lines an option on the Cineroid), along with zebra settings and a false colour mode, which are both used to judge exposure. The pixel-to-pixel feature on each is especially handy for EOS 7D and 1D Mk IV users as it allows for precise focus check during recording, while on a 5D Mk II it can be used for precise pre-focusing. Lastly, a monochrome feature helps with focusing and judging exposure, and anyone from a broadcast video camera background will welcome this. In addition, both units allow a number of their buttons to be programmed to use common functions needed by the user.
The Cineroid EVF has a built-in speaker and headphone jack, used only for playback, as DSLRs cannot be monitored during recording. For power, the unit comes with an NP-F compatible battery, but can also use official Sony NP-F batteries of differing sizes, and with the PA01 adapter, can be mains powered, or make use of the Canon LP-E6, the same battery found in the EOS 5D Mk II and 7D. It also has a very neat battery cover for smaller batteries.
The Zacuto is available in four identical EVF models with differing magnifier options. The Snap and Flip models come without the magnifier, being ideal for anyone who already has a Z-Finder, while the Z-Finder EVF and Z-Finder EVF Pro come with the Z-Finders included. The Snap model allows the magnifier to be snapped on and off whilst the Flip allows the Z-Finer to be flipped up or down. With the magnifier out the way, the EVF acts a small screen.
For power, it uses Canon’s LP-E6 batteries, which sits securely, but I wish it had a cover to help keep out the elements.
Both these units work well, improving the filmmaking experience on a HDSLR, but there is one clear EVF winner. The Zacuto has a much sharper display with vibrant colours – it makes the picture jump out. Part of this is down to the superb Z-Finder magnifier, which allows quicker focusing and is more comfortable on the eyes. It’s also better built with superior accessories.
Another option is to use an external field monitor. Traditionally these come in seven-inch screen formats, but Marshall, the leader in this field, recently launched a five-inch version that is better suited to HDSLR filmmakers.
The V-LCD50-HDMI is small and light enough to be used like an EVF, and can be easily mounted onto a rig (a larger shoulder rig that is weighted would provide the best comfort and balance). The unit comes with a hood so it can even be used outdoors in bright light, although probably not as effectively as an EVF with an eyecup magnifier, but can be used with more accuracy from a distance.
Its feature set is rather impressive; a backlit LED screen delivers up a sharp and vivid picture, and it has a peaking feature that allows for precise and fast focusing by firstly turning the image monochrome and then drawing on red lines where the image is in focus. It’s a little odd to use at first, but proves to be a great tool once you get used to the system. The monitor also has the false colours feature for setting correct exposure that turns the image into a range of different colours; with pink and green showing correct exposure, various tones of red, over-exposure, and blues, under-exposure. The unit also has various colour temperature settings as well as markers.
The only connector is HDMI, so it is aimed firmly at the HDSLR market. For power, it uses four AA batteries, coming with a set of rechargeable AAs and charger. The Marshall is rather power hungry, so thankfully there is also a mains adapter for when shooting indoors. Along with a hood, the kit also comes with an HDMI cable and a ball head hotshoe mounting foot.
I used the unit while making a fundraising film for the Royal national Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore. We had an interview scene inside an operating theatre with a surgeon, and it allowed for a very quick set up, helping precisely set up lights and props within the frame. A huge bonus this screen has over an EVF is that a director or client can also see what is being filmed, which in certain circumstances is an absolute must.
But it has one major flaw – it’s power switch. Unlike other Marshall monitors, the five-inch version uses a rear-mounted rocker switch that can very easily be switched on by accident (when being stored, it’s essential to remove it’s batteries). I also feel that Marshall has missed a trick by not powering the unit using the Canon LP-E6 battery designed for the EOS 5D Mk II (SEE BELOW).
Despite these shortcomings, the Marshall V-LCD50-HDMI would still be my choice over an EVF.
I have just been contacted by Marshall with some rather good news; they have recently (after this article was written) launched a set of battery adapters (Click the Optional Battery Adapters tab). This makes the 5″ Marshall V-LCD50-HDMI much more usable and leads me to recommend it even more highly.