As digital SLRs become better and better suited for high quality video shooting, the market has been filling with more and more products to facilitate the process. One thing manny of us stills photographers have to come to grips with as we learn to make videos with our dSLRs is the loss of effective auto focus.
While autofocus remains usable while shooting live, it is no longer as effective as it will often go in and out of focus while it establishes “optimum.” This means that much of the action can be lost to blurriness, as the camera works to effectively acquire the subject. Also, if switching focal points that are not lined up within the “focus” area of the live screen, time has to be taken to move the target area.
Close focusing is possible while viewing the LCD view screen with the naked eye (the eyecup is no longer useable, as the mirror is in the up position), but it is hard to be exact. Fear not. Companies such as Zacuto, Varavon, Hoodman and many others offer “loupes” for your screen- basically a magnifying eyepiece that attaches in one way or another to your cameras LCD screen, and magnifies it enough that you can see what you are trying to focus on. This can be particularly important when shooting wildlife that is in constant motion either towards or away from you, and you need to adjust your focus accordingly.
Recently I’ve been trying out one of these LCD loupes- the Zacuto Z-Finder Pro3, and I couldn’t be happier… except for the price tag.
This is a 3x (there is also a 2.5x version) magnifying loupe that attaches to the camera via a baseplate that fastens to the tripod screw hole (it then has a threaded hole that your tripod mounting plate can attach to, so that it can still use the quick release). Other loupes use systems such as attaching via the hot shoe mount, attachments that glue to the camera that the loupe can clicks on and off of, rubber bands… There are many systems.
The Zacuto system is simple yet versatile. It has a diopter to -3, anti-fogging lens, large eyecup (which is quite effective at blocking stray light and comfortable), and seems sturdy and well made. I do not think that I would be as happy with hotshot attachment- although if you are shooting movies, you won’t be using the flash anyways. I definitely do not like the idea of glueing a plate around the LCD screen, and the idea of the specially made rubber bands seems cumbersome (I’ve also read reviews where the bands can interfere with some of a camera’s function buttons).
The Zacuto baseplate also allows the camera to attach to the standard 15mm rods that are used with several different camera support systems (15mm seeming to be the industry standard), whether those supports are Zacuto brand or not. The baseplate and mount also work on most DSLR brands (although a different mounting plate is necessary for cameras with battery grips or large bodies). In addition to the 2.5x and 3x, Zacuto also makes a Jr. version which costs significantly less, but is not as versatile.
Additional points in favor of using an attachable loupe (there are several for sale without attachment systems) on a DSLR for videography, is that it adds an additional point of contact when shooting handheld, greatly increasing a cameras stability. Also, having the camera close into the body instead of held at arms length (to be able to view what is going on in the view screen) greatly reduces how tired your arms will get.
The price of the various LCD loupes ranges from $30 up to nearly $400. Zacuto is near the high end of the list, but you definitely get quality, as well as lifetime replacement for worn parts, something that lowered models don’t offer (although at the lower prices, you could easily buy several for the same price as one Z-Finder).
If you will be shooting video with your DSLR, any sort of LCD loupe will make a huge difference, and is nearly indispensable. Would I recommend the Zacuto line? Yes, if you have the money to spend or can find one on sale or a used one in good shape.
This article was in no way sponsored by Zacuto or any other manufacturer. The views are my own opinions and unsolicited by any commercial enterprise. No compensation in any form was received, this is simply my attempt to help inform others of some of the cool and handy gadgets that are available to DSLR photographers and videographers.