The Canon 5D Mark II and 7D are fantastic cameras, and in my current opinion, are capable of shooting some of the most beautiful looking footage in their price range… Even above! However, when using either of these cameras to shoot video, they do have a few drawbacks, namely the lack of a proper viewfinder, making the ability to achieve critical focus extremely challenging… Not exactly something you want to risk screwing up all the time when working on a PAID production!
Zacuto, for those of you who live in the cavernous regions of Mother Earth, is a company that specialize in custom made camera accessories… and a company that also happens to encompass the very definition of the word “awesome”.
In response to everyone’s complaints about the low screen-resolution and / or small screen sizes of these new crop of video-capable DSLRs, Zacuto kicked everyone in the balls and developed this little thing called the “Z-Finder V2” – Zacuto’s second and most recent generation Z-Finder.
Is literally a very cool looking loupe, with crystal clear optics and a soft rubber eyecup, that you can attach to your DSLR’s LCD screen by way of this other, even smaller thing, which I am calling the “Z-Frame” (explained below). The Z-Finder magnifies the image displayed on your DSLR’s LCD screen by three times, which I guess is kinda like watching a 50″ HDTV from around 5 feet away, as I have found you need to roll your eye *around* the Z-Finder to be able to see the whole screen. This magnification factor allows you to properly see what you are filming and be able to hit the CORRECT focal plane every time. However, it is worth noting that the Z-Finder only magnifies the already existing pixels on your DSLR’s LCD screen – It doesn’t create any new ones! So, if you are already unhappy with the *resolution* of your DSLR’s LCD screen, then the Z-Finder may not be for you, but for me, this is not a major issue. The Z-Finder also acts as an extra point of contact, making it possible for you to capture steadier shots, and in turn, lessen the rolling shutter effect you’d normally get when using one of these cameras handheld. Not only does the Z-Finder give your DSLR a better, more natural form factor for shooting video, but it is also comfortable to use. The Z-Finder comes with a large, removable, soft rubber eyecup, which can rotate to accommodate those who prefer to use either their left or right eyes. Not only that, but because of its larger-than-normal size, the eyecup helps prevent any outside light from leaking in… A lot more essential than you may think! However, I would have preferred the eyecup to be a *little* more rigid, as I can’t really jam my eye in there without the eyecup collapsing. This isn’t a huge problem, just a minor niggle.
On a slightly different note, if you’re wanting to pimp your rig with a follow focus, mattebox, etc, I don’t recommend using your DSLR / Z-Finder on Zacuto’s Universal Baseplate V3, as the Universal Baseplate is too long, and when going handheld, will likely result in being embedded into your FACE! You cannot get your eye close enough to the Z-Finder to be able to properly review the LCD screen, and mount your DSLR far enough off the end of the UB3 to accomodate different lens lengths at the same time. Instead, opt for the Mini Baseplate, which Zacuto designed for use with smaller cameras, such as DSLRs. I will be reviewing the Mini Baseplate soon.
You can also adjust the backfocus on your Z-Finder to be correctly focused on your DSLRâ€™s LCD screen, via a large, red, heavily-dampened, fine-threaded focusing ring, which, once set, ain’t going anywhere until YOU change it – A subtle, but nice feature. On my particular setup, I noticed that everytime I adjusted the backfocus ring, the Z-Finder rotated a guesstimated 3-4mm on the Z-Frame, depending which way I turned it… Something you only really need to do once, anyway. At first, I was a bit concerned… I mean, I’ve never owned a Z-Finder before – Is it supposed to do this? It didn’t, and still doesn’t feel “right”. But Jens Bogehegn from Zacuto assured me that this amount of movement is normal, so long as the Z-Finder isn’t actually loose, moves or pops off whilst I am looking through it and operating the camera… Which it isn’t, and currently doesn’t, so if I were to take a wild stab in the dark, I’d guess it’s probably fine… Athough, you can’t help being a little paranoid.
Speaking of your Z-Finder popping off… To prevent your Z-Finder from being KNOCKED off your DSLR and crashing to the ground, it comes with a lanyard (neckstrap, for you unpretentious speaking individuals), which clips onto a small metal loop screwed into the side of your Z-Finder. And for you extra paranoid people (yes, I am one of them), you can purchase these things called “Z-Bands“, which are two black elastic bands with red aluminum balls on each end, designed to pop into the four designated holes in the back of your Z-Finder and wrap around your DSLR’s body. Oh, and if you’re going to be shooting in cold conditions and don’t want to have to put up with your Z-Finder fogging up all the time, Zacuto have you covered! “Clarity Fog Eliminator” towelettes is what they’re called – All you do is wipe one over the affected glass, and you’re done. I did buy some of these, and haven’t used them yet, but for $4.99 a pack, you’re not exactly losing out, are you?
On the ‘pod…
One thing I haven’t seen spoken about anywhere else, and feel should be discussed, is that the Z-Finder is almost *completely* useless when doing ‘podded work, as it doesn’t move up or down – It just stays where it is, sticking out of your camera. So, if you want to do any tilting shots, fahgeddabowdit! You simply cannot look down the Z-Finder whilst tilting the camera. And unless you want serious back pain, the only panning / static shots you can do have to be at eye-level, which is far from ideal, and limits the amount of shots you can do whilst using the Z-Finder attached to a ‘podded DSLR. I did actually suggest the idea of an articulating Z-Finder to Steve Weiss, CEO of Zacuto, and Jens Bogehegn earlier this year, and who knows, maybe future generations of the Z-Finder *will* be articulating, but for now, you’ll have to put up with it being stationary.
Now… The Z-Frame…
Which I mentioned earlier, is a black plastic mounting frame you must adhere to your DSLR’s LCD screen and leave to cure for 24hrs before attempting to attach your Z-Finder, or else your Z-Finder might drop off and cause you to cry a little. The Z-Frame allows you to connect the Z-Finder to your DSLR’s preview screen when wanting to shoot video, and take it off when wanting to shoot stills. It’s solid, it’s sturdy, it does what it’s supposed to do, and you can buy multiple frames for multiple cameras at $6.00 each! I would have liked the additional option of being able to mount the Z-Finder onto some sort of a quick-release / swing-away bracket screwed to the underside of the camera, but the Z-Frame works fine for now.
Don’t worry – The adhesive won’t screw up your screen! If you want to remove the mounting frame, all you have to do is pinch the top and bottom sides of the frame, breaking the seal, then, with a fingernail (presuming you have any), pull up one of the corners and lift the frame off. Voila! No frame – No stain.
And because I realize I’m starting to sound like a friggin’ salesman… The Z-Finder may not be articulating, and it may not even come with its own safety pouch to be kept when not being used (something I think should *definitely* be included), but like all of Zacuto’s stuff, the Z-Finder is robust, looks cool, feels good, makes you look like less of a retard when filming on a DSLR, comes with a lifetime warranty, and is made to the absolute highest of standards. It also comes with a high price tag. At $395.00, it may be something you’d have to think twice about before buying, and it took me until I used one at the Canon Pro Photo Solutions Exhibition to be convinced! But for handheld DSLR work, it is a must. And if I have learned anything over the years, always buy the best you can… Even if it means saving up and waiting that little while longer – You’ll not only thank yourself later, you’ll save more down the road. Plus, after you’ve bought one of these babies, you’ll wonder how you ever managed to shoot anything in focus on your DSLR before.
For more information, please watch Zacuto’s official video on the Z-Finder V2 below…
Feel free to leave a comment about the review or the Z-Finder below.
Writer, Director & Cinematographer.
11 Responses to Zacuto Z-Finder V2 review…
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Troy – Weird… I don’t recall any warning label being included with my Z-Finder, but thanks for the heads up! I’ll add it to the review.
The Z-finder comes with a label right on the eyepiece warning of sun exposure.
Troy – Has Zacuto confirmed this? If so, could you provide me with a link? I’ll include it in my review…
There’s also a spiffy riser for those of us who’s eyesight is beyond the adjustability of the focusing ring. Stack it on and it works great.
It may also be worth mentioning that you MUST be careful when outdoors. If the sun shines into the eyepiece, you are at risk of burning in your LCD – and it happens very fast. Always keep your hand over the eyecup when your camera is around your neck.
Good point! I’ve edited my post to include this.
I really dislike the magnification of the LCD screen with the Z-finder. I sold mine on ebay after 2-months of trying to make it work. I think that it’s worth mentioning in your review that you see the pixels on the LCD screen. It’s nothing like using a real ENG camera viewfinder.
$400 is not an outrageous price tag, I just wanted it to be a better solution.