October 23, 2009

Zacuto Z-Finder Review

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I got my hands on a V2 Zacuto Z-Finder this week. This is the revised, second version of the Z-Finder.

The Z-Finder is Zacuto’s Optical Viewfinder (made by Schneider) that offers digital camera owners 3x focusable magnification, a 40mm diameter lens, an eyecup preventing extraneous light leakage, and a field of view perfectly matched to LCD screens.

While the company touts this product as a filmmaker’s tool, I personally think it’s something most still photographers could greatly benefit from as well. In fact, I’m kind of bordering on saying I couldn’t live without mine and I’ve only had it for a few days.

The 6-ounce Z-Finder is very well made. It’s well constructed and solid. Zacuto makes all of its products in the USA. And they don’t mess around. It’s tough to beat Schneider optics.

Everything is well thought-out, from the very large, comfortable eye cup (which rotates for left or right-eyed shooters) to the mounting frame. The eye cup is important because it serves as a steadying point of contact between your body and camera. So not only does it make it easier to see, it makes it easier to steady the camera. Surprisingly, I found this to be MOST important when using the Z-Finder with a pocket camera. The G11 is hard to hold steady while shooting video or using Live View. You have to hold the camera away from your face in order to see the LCD. This makes the camera more prone to blur from camera movement. Using the Z-Finder, I am able to get rock solid performance out the G11 because I can keep my eye pressed against the eye cup which is in turn attached to the back of the camera. It’s hard to describe. But once you’ve tried it, you’re sure to like it. It also works well at blocking out reflections and bright spots caused by trying to view the G11′s LCD in bright light.

Of course for shooting video on my Canon 7D, it’s a no-brainer. I can’t even begin to compare the video I shot without the Z-Finder with the video I did shoot with the Z-Finder. The latter is in focus, steady and fun to watch. The stuff without the Z-Finder in place? Not so much.

Part of what makes the Z-Finder design so brilliant is the use of a mounting frame. Unlike the Hoodman Loupe which can only be attached to a camera via two rubber band-like devices, the Z-Finder stays attached by hooking over a frame that you install on your camera. The flat snap fit frame attaches with a double sided adhesive, but can be removed without damaging the camera.

You put the Z-Finder on the camera when you need it and pull it off when you’re done. I leave mine mounted on the camera because frankly, I just can’t focus nearly as well without it.

I ordered several of these mounting frames because that way I can use the Z-Finder on multiple cameras. I personally tested it on the Canon 7D, 5D MKII, Canon G11 and Panasonic GF1. In all cases it worked perfectly. It also works on the Nikon D90, Panasonic GH1 and most other cameras that have a 3″ diagonal screen.

In addition to the frame, you have the option of also securing the Z-Finder onto the camera with Z-Bands – a somewhat more robust version of the rubber bands you’d use to secure a Hoodman loupe. The Z-Bands cannot be used without the snap fit frame. They are just a backup in case someone came along and knocked the Z-Finder off the camera. The company manufactured the Z-Finder so it would break away. Otherwise, your camera might get knocked over. A small detail but one that is very important and which shows the level of detail that Zacuto went to in order to get this right.

The company includes a lanyard hook on the outside of the Z-Finder so you can attach a supplied lanyard to your Z-Finder. This allows for the user to quickly take the unit off and on when needed.

CONCLUSION

If you shoot with a pocket digicam or a video-enabled DSLR, you should consider owning this product. As I get older, focus is harder and harder for me. Using the Z-Finder I have NO problem focusing AT ALL. It’s really like a miracle for me. Those of you older than 40 know what I mean. The image it presents is crystal clear.

Zacuto has a reputation for standing behind all its products. In fact, they did something extraordinary. When they released the V2 version of this product, for a limited time, they offered all the V1 owners a free upgrade! That’s astounding customer service.

The Z-Finder is $395. Zacuto’s stuff is expensive. That’s because it’s made in the USA of top-quality materials, has a lifetime warranty, and it works. The Hoodman Loupe, which I also own, isn’t nearly as good a product, but is much less expensive. It’s unlikely I’ll ever use the Hoodman again! You get what you pay for – or as my father used to say, “If you have a $10 head, buy a $10 motorcycle helmet.”

All kidding aside, I know not everyone will agree with me that this unit is worth the money. But I will hold fast in my position that it is worth it to me. And if you can afford it, buy the Z-Finder. It’s one of my favorite photo products ever! Zacuto is a boutique company and they don’t do massively large runs of their products. The fact that the current V2 Z-Finder is already backordered is testimony to how great a job Zacuto did with the Z-Finder. Get your order in for the second shipment now if you want one. Highly recommended.

For more information go to zacuto.com.

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