LCDVF Viewfinder for DSLR cameras / Loupe Review
Thursday, 09 September 2010 10:24
By using the LCDVF with video-enabled digital SLR's, you can achieve more accurate focus and increase stability of handheld shooting.
The LCDVF is a 2x loupe that mounts around the 3.0" LCD display of a Digital SLR, allowing it to be used as an LCD viewfinder. By using the LCDVF with video-enabled digital SLR's, you can achieve more accurate focus and increase stability of handheld shooting. The LCDVF can also be used by still photographers who either want to block out light while shooting in Live View mode or to inspect pictures on the LCD display.
The Need for a Loupe-Style Viewfinder
The video capable digital SLR has not been around all that long, so many of you may not yet appreciate some of the problems associated with using the Canon Rebel T1i, Nikon D90, Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon EOS 7D, or Nikon D300s to capture video. The first, and most obvious problem, is the fact that these cameras are ergonomically designed to be a stills camera and not a video camera. The second issue, and one that may scare away a lot of photographers from giving the video feature a try, is the fact that these camera's need to be manually focused when shooting video. Even the one or two models that offer some form of contrast- detect auto focus should still be manually focused due to their slow focusing speed.
Despite the lack of auto focus - these new video-capable dSLR's are now being purchased in large numbers by journalists, newspapers, event videographer's, and filmmakers due to their very large image sensors (compared to consumer and broadcast camera's). The large sensor size, when combined with the ability to use standard 35mm lenses, allow for extremely high quality 1080p HD video, incredible low-light capability, and control over depth-of-field. It is these features that have made the EOS 5D Mark II and the EOS 7D a must have for serious filmmakers on a budget. It's also important to note that filmmakers almost always prefer manual focusing so the lack of auto focus for many of these buyers is not concern - or at least - worth the trade-off to gain some of the other advantages.
Unfortunately, trying to manually focus while viewing a 3.0" screen from a few inches away is very difficult. Yes, all of these DSLR's offer a way to magnify the image on the LCD screen in order to help set the initial focus, but the magnification feature is only available BEFORE you start recording. Once you press record, you're on your own. You also need to consider than manually focusing while holding the camera out in front of you will add quite a bit of movement to your footage.
Get yourself an optical loupe that covers the LCD. These LCD loupes turn the 3" LCD on the back of your camera into a large electronic viewfinder, allowing you to put your eye right up to it, similar to the way you would on a professional camcorder. A loupe also prevents light from hitting the screen, alone making the LCD screen much more usable.
The LCDVF is a new, moderately priced, LCD Loupe / Viewfinder for Digital SLR's that feature 3.0" LCD displays. Its feature highlights include a thin, smooth design that is much more consumer friendly than the hummer-like Zacuto Z-Finder; is 35% lighter, thinner, and about 1/4" taller (measuring to the end of the rubber eyecup). While the unit feels 'cheaper' when comparing it to the Zacuto, the side walls are actually more rigid. The LCDVF ships with a neck strap with quick release buckle and two magnetic/adhesive frames. Only one frame is needed, the extra one is a spare or could be used on a second camera.
The LCDVF uses a unique adhesive metal frame that connects the LCDVF to the camera using four small magnets. While the power of these magnets are strong enough to hold the loupe against the camera, the company promises that they pose no threat to your camera or media under typical use. This magnetic mount has advantages over the Zacuto snap-on method, but also some disadvantages. The magnetic mount holds the loupe firmly in place, yet also allows it to break away if you tug on it - for those occasions when you forget the loupe strap is around your neck when putting the camera down to your side. This happened to me when I was testing out the Zacuto Z-Finder. I had forgotten that the strap was around my neck and after taking some shots dropped the camera down to my side. The grip of the Z-Finder was so tight that instead of breaking away from the camera the metal clasp that holds the strap to the Z -Finder actually broke off.
On the flip side, the Zacuto mount is firm enough that I can walk around all day with the Z -Finder attached to the camera, whereas the magnetic connection of the LCDVF isn't really strong enough for that kind of activity. Zacuto's snap-on method is a better solution for 'run and gun' situations and for those that will use their HDSLR mainly for video, whereas the LCDVF mount is a bit more convenient for hybrid users that like to switch frequently between stills and video.
It's important to note that the actual adhesive frame included with the LCDVF loupe is NOT magnetized, making it safe to leave on your camera all the time. Only the bottom edges of the loupe itself that contains four magnets that provide the grip when mated with the metal frame. According to LCDVF's website, the magnetic mount will not pose a problem to any part of the camera (screen, memory cards, internal workings), though they do recommend removing it if you don't plan to use the camera for a couple of days or longer.
LCDVF attached to camera during use
LCDVF attached to camera (rear angle view)
Does a loupe need an eye diopter?
The one feature that helps to make the LCDVF less expensive is also one that might make this the wrong choice for some of you - the lack of an eye diopter. The fixed optic of the LCDVF was designed for those they have no issue viewing things up close. Personally, I am near sighted so I didn't imagine having a problem with the lack of a diopter, at least at this point in my life, however the view for me through the LCDVF is just ever so slightly off. Not unusable, but not tack sharp, which did affect my ability to determine sharp focus on small objects in a scene. In case you're wondering, I'm 29 46. If I pulled the loupe away from the screen by about 1/8" to a 1/4" the screen looked very sharp. Hopefully the company will make available metal frames with variable thickness. This could easily solve the diopter problem and is the solution that Zacuto announced they'll be using in a "JR" version of their Z-Finder coming sometime in January.
As the LCDVF sits in the middle price range of the three loupes mentioned, its befitting that it also offers a magnification ratio that fits in the middle. The inexpensive Hoodman Loupe offers no magnification, the Zacuto Z-Finder offers 300% magnification, while the LCDVF offer 200% magnification. On a high-resolution LCD with 920,000 pixels nothing beats the 300% magnification of the Zacuto, but if you want to get the most out of a lower resolution 3.0" LCD, like those found on the Panasonic DMC-GH1, DMC-GF1, Olympus E-P1, etc. the 200% magnification is a much better option. The reason? As the LCD resolution drops, the individual dots that make up the image become much too visible when magnified by 300%, making it actually more difficult to find focus. The LCDVF's 200% magnification was the perfect strength for use with the Panasonic DMC-GF1, which features a 460,000 pixel display, while the Zacuto was overkill at this resolution. The sad thing is the Zacuto was able to fit over the full width of the 3.0 LCD on the Panasonic, while the LCDVF was just a bit less wide, making full width viewing a tight fit.
If you hold the LCDVF in one hand and the Zacuto Z-Finder V2 in the other, there's a difference in overall feel. The Zacuto feels like it's built to military standards (the Humvee of viewfinders - in build quality AND price), whereas the LCDVF feels lighter and even "sounds" thinner. Despite this difference, the LCDVF is built very well and has a more pleasing aesthetic compared to the Z-Finder - at least for consumer use. The side walls of the LCDVF are actually very firm with no flex in them, something I noticed was possible with the Z-Finder.
The LCDVF has a rotating and removable rubber eyecup, which is also compatible with optional cushions that are available. The LCDVF I got to review was shipped with one of these cushions and I love it. I have also read that currently the company is including it will all orders, but I have not confirmed this.
LCDVF attached to camera (side view)
Through the viewfinder from about 6" away
Through the viewfinder from about 6" away
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