After a year of using the Hoodman HoodLoupe as my viewfinder on the Canon 5D Mark II I was able to scrape together some cash to purchase what many people consider to be the gold standard for DSLR viewfinders: the Zacuto Z-Finder. Continuing my long tradition of ill-timed purchases, Zacuto released not one, but two new versions of the finder a couple of weeks after I purchased mine but I’m not bitter…
I’ve had the opportunity to use the finder in a number of settings. A majority of my work is shooting business videos and currently the 5D is my go to camera for b-roll. I’ve also used it to shoot live concert footage, which required me to be moving around a lot and working quickly to get critical focus on shot after shot.
I also used the finder to do a variety of outdoor shoots, both video and photography. When Live View arrived with my 40D I never really considered its value until I discovered the 5x magnification feature when doing sone landscape work. Ever since I’ve been a big fan of Live View as part of my composition process for certain types of images.
Here are a few notes you may find of value…
The newer finders have changed the mounting scheme, but my version affixes itself to the LCD cover glass with a strong adhesive. They say it will pop off cleanly if needed. (We’ll see about that.) The result is that you get a piece of plastic that creates a little window shade over the LCD and creates a small “traffic problem” around the control buttons. You can still get them, but not as easily as before. I wear glasses (which we’ll talk about in a minute) and the mount bumps into my optics when I’m using the regular viewfinder. Nothing serious, but you know its there.
As a myopic photographer and, getting up in age, I’ve been wearing progressive lenses for a few years now. My current prescription is apparently just outside the error bars of what Zacuto considers normal vision, so I had to order a set of extension plates — essentially spacers that stack on the finder body. You can see them here:
The extension plates work as advertised, but they carry a small penalty that I need to develop a workaround for. The plates attach via friction — they snap into the existing viewfinder body. Whenever you design something to join together solely with friction there is a natural affinity to which joint will break first. In my case, when I remove the viewfinder the extension plates stay with the camera and not the viewfinder (see below) and this, frankly, sucks.
So I’m going to end up either taping or gluing the extension plates to the viewfinder body so that they stay with it and not the camera because they simply get in the way when they stay attached to the camera.
Here is, as far as I’m concerned, a mandatory addition to what Zacuto provides with the viewfinder:
It’s just a short bit of elastic cording tied to the finder and a loop for the camera strap. But man, oh, man is it important.
I only had the viewfinder a few hours in the field when it took its first dive to the ground. When traveling around on a tripod, especially when out in the field, I heave the whole camera/lens/tripod over my shoulder and invariably it will rotate unexpectedly and I will bump the viewfinder on the way up or down.
So I quickly rigged up a safety line, made from elastic cord, that keeps the errant viewfinder relatively attached to the camera. I use OpTech camera straps, so it is very easy to attach/unattach the elastic when needed.
The photo to the right shows the safety system in practice.
I originally rigged this up because of my woes when walking through the woods with the rig, but I quickly discovered that when I am working with the camera on a shoot I may accidentally bump the viewfinder more than I think I should and this little 10 cent piece of elastic has probably saved the viewfinder from damage and has certainly prevented it from ending up in a river (yes I bumped it once while setting up the camera while standing in running water).
[Note: The Z-Finder comes with a lanyard / neck strap -- but I just can't work that way... so it's not as if Zacuto hadn't thought of this problem entirely -- their solution just doesn't fit my work style. I suspect they will produce something similar to what I'm using in the future and charge $25 for it.]
The elastic is also just long enough that I can stow the viewfinder next to the camera in my bag and keep everything attached to each other so it goes in and out of the bag easily (that’s the 5D at the bottom of the photo):
The new generation of the Zacuto finders have coatings that prevent or deter fogging. I think this feature I will miss because I certainly have had my share of fogging situations and I haven’t even had a chance to use it in the colder months. I’m hoping that Catcrap will help, but I’m not going to bet the farm on that. (To be fair, my glasses fog up just as badly so I’m pretty much screwed either way..)
As to the performance, it works very well. I’m able to use the viewfinder as a point of contact, greatly improving the camera stability for handheld shooting. The eyepiece is very comfortable, even with glasses. The rubber eyepiece attracts dust and dirt, so if you are in the field you’ll want to pay attention to what’s building up on it — again especially if you are mashing your eyeglasses against it. Fortunately the eyepiece easily detaches and can be quickly washed/rinsed.
I have to admit that with the addition of this viewfinder I actually prefer using it over the optical viewfinder — for certain types of shooting. The ability to have the histogram displayed live along with composition lines, 5x and 10x magnification, and other data is pretty cool — and they can be made to disappear with the push of a button. As the resolution of the rear-panel displays inevitably increases I can see how electronic viewfinders may well rival the optical ones — particularly for the more contemplative shooting styles.
The Z-Finder is now part of my standard field kit and I’m looking forward to purchasing another mounting bracket for the 7D. Much to my chagrin the Zacuto mounting plate and the Hoodman HoodLoupe are exactly the same size so the opportunity to “soft dock” the HoodLoupe on the Zacuto plate is lost. Maybe I’ll rig some sort of adapter — you can do anything with gaffer’s tape, right?
Here are a few more photos of the Zacuto Z-Finder and the Hoodman HoodLoupe for comparison: