Zacuto’s Z-finder Pro is an optical viewfinder that clips to your camera to enlarge the image on the LCD screen.
What it’s for
Many filmmakers use digital SLRs and mirrorless cameras. But these stills cameras have some shortcomings for shooting video.
With DSLRs, a mirror in the camera body reflects the image up to the eyepiece. When you take a photo, this mirror flicks up, blocking the viewfinder briefly. When you shoot video, the mirror stays up. You have to rely on the LCD screen.
But LCD screens are useless in bright sunlight, judging manual focus is slow, and it’s hard to hold the camera steady while viewing the screen.
A magnifying viewfinder or ‘loupe’ makes the image bigger and brighter. It also makes the camera feel more like a video camera. Holding the loupe against your eye keeps the camera much steadier.
You could use a bigger LCD screen or ‘field monitor’ instead. This is a good option for studio or tripod work, but an optical loupe is better for handholding and ‘run and gun’ shooting.
Do you need one?
Is your camera an actual DSLR with a mirror, like those made by Canon or Nikon? Do you use manual focus? Then you almost certainly need a loupe.
With mirrorless cameras like the Panasonic GH4 it’s a bit less clear-cut. Most of them already have eye-level electronic viewfinders. But the bigger, brighter image you get from a loupe may still make it easier to compose your image and judge manual focus.
The Z-Finder Pro is the finder most professionals use. But it’s over twice the price of the mid-range loupe I had before. So when Zacuto sent me one I wanted to see if it was worth the extra.
The Z-finder is a solid, professional piece of equipment which weighs twice as much as my old loupe. It’s very well made. The finder body is ridged for reinforcement and better grip, and the base plate is machined from solid metal. It comes with a lifetime guarantee.
Mounting it on the camera
The Z-finder comes with two mounting options: an adjustable metal plate and frame, and a stick-on plastic frame. I tried both systems.
I mounted the metal Gorilla Plate on my Canon 60D. With the plate fitted, the screen can’t swivel; I could have used the sticky frame instead to allow this.
The plate screws to the camera’s tripod socket, holding a rubber-padded frame against the screen. Loosening two Allen (hex) key bolts on the bottom lets you adjust the horizontal position. Two knurled slot head screws hold the frame onto the plate once you’ve aligned it vertically.
Fitting the Z-finder to the metal frame is easy. It pushes on, and you pivot it down to pull it off.
My EOS-M is too small for the Gorilla Plate, so I used the stick-on frame. I peeled off the protective paper, positioned it carefully, and left the adhesive to cure for 24 hours with a weight on top.
Mounting the finder on the stick-on frame takes a little practice. You engage the bottom edge first, then snap the top in. To take it off, pivot it downwards rather than just pulling it. Get this wrong and you risk ungluing the frame (I did this) or pulling the glass off your LCD screen.
The plastic frame doesn’t add much to the depth of the camera, and you can still access the touchscreen with the finder removed.
Using the Z-finder
You can buy Z-finders with 2.5x or 3x magnification. Some people report that 3x is trickier to use. 2.5 x worked for me on the 60D: I could see individual pixels but they didn’t interfere with focusing. On the EOS-M’s lower resolution screen, they were a bit more obtrusive.
Adjusting the Z-finder to your eyesight is much easier than on cheaper loupes. The big, knurled metal focusing ring turns smoothly. If you can’t achieve focus, it comes with three click-on spacers to move the finder further from the screen. Add them one at a time, until the image is sharp. I needed two of the three extenders.
The eyepiece is big, soft and comfortable, even when wearing glasses. It’s fitted with an anti-fog filter and a 16:9 format mask, to reduce the danger of sun damage to the screen.
The image is bright, clear, and has better contrast than my old loupe.
The Z-finder comes with a quick-release lanyard, a lens cap and a cover plate. There’s also a spare anti-fog filter. Replacing this is a bit fiddly, despite the detailed instructions: it’s tricky keeping the 16:9 mask aligned when you reassemble it.
Zacuto offer a lot of optional accessories. There’s a a quick-release tripod attachment, alternative mounts and frames for different sized cameras, and elastic ‘Z-straps’ for more secure mounting.
Should you buy one?
If you’re a beginner or a casual filmmaker, one of the cheaper loupes might be good enough.
But I can see why professionals pay more for the Z-finder. It’s very well designed and build quality is excellent. The image is bright, clear and sharp, the mounting system is quick, secure and convenient, and it’s easy to adjust to your eyesight. People who make films for a living need gear they can depend on, and the Z-finder feels dependable.
You can see the full Zacuto range on their site.