Tag Archives: zacuto

DSLR Video Viewing Accessories

Marshall V-LCD50-HDMI,

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.

L-R: Zacuto Z-Finder EVF Pro, Cineroid EVF and the Marshall V-LCD50-HDMI, all mounted on a cage and a Canon 5D MkII. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

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.

L-R: Zacuto Z-Finder EVF Pro, Cineroid EVF and the Marshall V-LCD50-HDMI, all mounted on a cage and a Canon 5D MkII. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

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.

The Alternative

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.

Addendum

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.

An optional battery plate. Photo: ©Marshall USA

Zacuto Striker & Z-Finder Review

Photographer and film maker Edmond Terakopian using a Canon 5D MkII, Zacuto Striker and Z-Finder Pro x2.5, Think Tank Photo Wired Up 10 bag, Zoom H4-n and Rode NTG-3 mic The wedding of Sheleen and Ben. August 28, 2010. Photo: Jeff Ascough

No one can deny the revolution that was started by Canon when it launched the 5D MkII. It certainly is a great stills camera but it was the quality of the video which stunned the world of video; everyone from the film student to the Hollywood studio.

There are some shortcomings of DSLRs for video though. The form factor being one. The image quality though is so stunning that most film makers are willing to make compromises in order to harness this unbelievable quality. To help overcome the form factor and make it easier to use the camera when handheld (or ‘run and gun’ to borrow a phrase by TV cameramen), several companies are making rigs to allow the camera to be held in a more conventional way, resembling the way a video camera is traditionally held. The two main companies making these rigs are Zacuto and Redrock Micro, with their ranges starting with minimalist hand held rigs, all the way to full on shoulder mounted and cinema rigs with follow focus units and balancing weights.

Part of the challenge for me was to find a rig that packed quite small yet gave maximum support. It needed to fit into my main work as a photojournalist yet feel at home on a short film set. After a lot of research and trying out equipment at trade shows, I had a long chat with Dave Beck at the Flash Centre and finally settled on the new Zacuto Striker as probably the ideal solution and a long term road test began in July.

Another shortcoming of these DSLRs is that the rear LCD screen is used when shooting video, making it awkward to check for focus on the fly or the checking of fine detail; these problems get even worse in bright conditions. The answer is to use a finder which attaches to the rear LCD. Zacuto are by far the leaders in this field. Their original Z-Finders required a frame to be stuck to the back of the camera and the finder attached to this. The new finders, the Z-Finder Jr and Z-Finder Pro, attach onto a frame which is held in place by a plate which screws into the tripod bush. I personally welcome this new adhesive free method as it overcomes many of the associated problems.

The Z-Finders

At £214.42 (inc VAT), the Z-Finder Jr is cheaper than the Z-Finder Pro which comes in x2.5 and x3 magnification versions, costing £326.75 (inc VAT). The main differences are the way the finder is held to the camera, with the Jr using a metal plate with a prong to clasp the eyepiece hood. This plate then needs either a tripod plate or a Gorilla Baseplate (not supplied) to attach itself to the camera. The Pro versions come with a Gorilla Baseplate which fits to the camera and then has two bushes for attaching the frame, with thumbscrews, to the back of the camera. The hood then snaps onto this frame. Whereas the Jr version is a more fiddly affair to attach and remove, the Pro versions simply snap on and off when needed. This is a huge feature in the field, especially when needing to switch to using the camera’s eyepiece for stills photography.

I found the Jr finder’s optics to be absolutely fine, but the Pro’s are better still and have a very neat focusing ring allowing you to tailor it perfectly to your eyesight. The Pro version also has an anti fogging eyepiece which is extremely useful.

Photographer and film maker Edmond Terakopian using a Canon 5D MkII, Zacuto Striker and Z-Finder Pro x2.5, Think Tank Photo Wired Up 10 bag, Zoom H4-n and Rode NTG-3 mic The wedding of Sheleen and Ben. August 28, 2010. Photo: Jeff Ascough

The Striker

I must admit that the first time I saw the prices for Zacuto gear I was shocked.  On the face of it (forgetting R&D for a moment), these rigs are just bits of hollow piping with a few locking mounts, a plate, handles and so on. What becomes immediately apparent though is just how solid these locking mounts are. The last thing you need is for your camera gear to loosen and wobble around or at worst crash to the floor whilst filming. Having seen less well manufactured rigs, it became obvious why Zacuto charges the way it does; it’s an extremely well engineered product.

Road Tests

I took this kit onto the filmset for a short film by Samuela Memmo (Sten & Stef Films) which we shot over four solid days. The filming was indoors, with some outdoor work, balcony shots looking down and even some shots inside a cramped car. The four days certainly gave the gear a proper workout. Although the majority of the shots were locked on a Gitzo tripod, the Striker really helped me use a second camera and do additional footage which enriched the film.

I didn’t once find a need to tighten any of the mounting clamps and the Striker worked perfectly. I wasn’t as happy with the Z-Finder Jr which had a tendency to move around when placed down in between shots. This led me to swap it out for the Z-Finder Pro x2.5.

There have been reports about the x3 magnifying the screen a little too much to the point that one can see pixels; these reports helped me in my choice of the x2.5 version which works perfectly. The mounting method is so much better than the Jr and this point alone is worth the extra money.

The next full-on outing for the setup was a wedding I filmed along with legendary wedding photographer Jeff Ascough. The compact nature of the rig meant that we could work very quickly and cover the entire day without issue. Shots were rock solid and the gear allowed for smooth working.

In Conclusion

On the Striker I changed the positioning of the downward handle, moving this from the side to directly under the camera; this makes things better balanced and even allows one handed operation.

The Canon 5D MkII opened my eyes to the possibilities of video; the Zacuto Striker and Z-Finder Pro have given me the ability to explore these possibilities even further. For any kind of hand held shooting, a rig is absolutely essential. My choice is definitely the Zacuto Striker.