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Zacuto DSLR Products: Z-Finder and Gorilla Plate
Zacuto Gorilla Plate (SKU: Z-GRB) - a key component of many Zacuto DSLR products for shooting video
Zacuto Gorilla Plate - bottom of the plate. Two holes (see center-left on photo) are 1/4-20 (1/4" diameter, 20 threads per inch) can be used to attach a quick release plate to use Gorilla Plate with tripods. The third hole is a locking pin hole.
Zacuto Gorilla Plate - top of the plate. The screw in the center is used to attach the plate to a DSLR camera. The larger opening (see top-right on photo) are for attaching a 15mm rod to use the plate with larger support systems (for example, Target Shooter).
Z-Finder Mounting Frames made of aircraft aluminum. As of July 2010, three versions of the frame are available: for small DSLR bodies (SKU: Z-MFS), for small DSLR bodies with battery grips (SKU: Z-MFSB, not shown on photo) and for tall DSLRs (SKU: Z-MFT).
Zacuto Z-finder, the core component of many Zacuto DSLR support kits. It is a magnifying loupe that effectively solves the problem of using DSLR for shooting video. Although a number of similar products are available, Zacuto Z-finder offers arguably the most convenient (albeit most expensive) solution.
For far-sighted people (who use reading glasses) Zacuto offers Z-Finder Extender Frames (SKU: Z-EF) to further adjust the focal point of the loupe - see photo with Z-Finder and two Extender Frames stacked up.
Z-Finder Mounting Frame as it comes when purchased.
This picture shows the parts of mounting frame. You can see a "slider" that attaches permanently to the Gorilla Plate. The Z-Finder frame attaches to the Gorilla plate using two magenta-coated thumb screws.
This picture provides better view of how the frame "slider" is attached to the Gorilla Plate. You will need 9/64 allen wrench (key).
Gorilla Plate with mounting frame attached. Do not tighten the screws - most likely you will have to move the slider and frame to position the whole assembly on the camera correctly.
Macro shot of the mounting frame back with rubber (foam) coating. It is held against camera's LCD screen with light pressure.
This photo shows incorrect positioning of the frame against the camera body and its LCD display. To get rig of this problem, you will have to move the whole Gorilla plate to adjust its position.
On this photo the mounting frame sits firmly with light pressure against LCD screen.
With skyrocketing popularity of DSLR for shooting video many traditional photographers are expanding their aspirations into videography. Indeed, recent DSLR cameras that shoots High Definition (HD) video can produce remarkably high quality footage at a fraction of costs of professional cinema equipment. However, as often the case, good news comes with bad news: since DSLR cameras are built primarily to take pictures, their ergonomics and design present serious challenges for the new generation of "video" photographers.
The most immediate and obvious ones are the stability of DSLR cameras and lack of adequate viewfinder to shoot video. Also, because of the implementation of video mode in these cameras, DSLR cannot auto focus continuously as camcorders. So, although theoretically possible, video shooting is a frustrating experience with a typical DSLR camera as it is. Anyone who has ever tried to film with DSLRs has found that better support, stability and manual focusing are absolutely essential.
Fortunately, there is a growing number of manufactures offering solutions to overcome the challengers I mentioned above as well as many other issues that I did not and that I hope to cover in other articles dedicated to the silent DSLR video revolution taking on traditional video production. One of such companies is a Chicago-based enterprise selling, renting and financing customized camera packages including Zacuto brand accessories and kits. Not a surprise, Zacuto was among the first to come up with innovative ways of making DSLR video a better experience. In this article, I will talk about Z-Finder - a loupe/viewfinder that even when used without additional accessories (support kits, follow focuses, etc) will make already your life easier with any of DSLR cameras capable of filming HD video.
As of June 2010, Zacuto is already at its third generation of Z-Finder design making significant improvements with each new release of its loupe. Its previous release (version 2) relied on self-adhesive frame attached directly to the LCD camera display (with Z-Finder snapping to the frame). With the latest version, Zacuto got rid of this not very functional approach disliked by many people. New Z-Finder (delivered in two versions, "Junior" (priced at Zacuto $265 and "Pro" - $365) ) and relies on a mounting frame and a baseplate as a means of using it with DSLR body. The Z-Finder Junior does not have a focus adjusting diopter; instead it uses Z-Finder Extender Frames to adjust the focal point and a bracket that must be sandwiched in between a tripod plate and the camera. The lower price of the Junior version may make it attractive for some users, but this design is not really convenient in use.
On the other hand, the Pro version (available with 2.5x or 3x optical lens) has several features that make it one of if not the best DSLR LCD loupe available today. Several factors make it superior to other similar products:
I think that it is the latter factor that makes Z-Finder Pro the first mature (and the best) loupe solution for the DSLR LCD screens. Indeed, if previous version was essentially a stand-along product, Z-Finder Pro is now a part of family of Zacuto DSLR products with tens of various components allowing for great flexibility in configuring various DSLR video rigs and support system.
In its simplest use, the Gorilla Plate (Zacuto price $69) is just a baseplate - that's what I discuss in this article. However, as one of Zacuto DSLR family of products, it has several features that allow for its easy integration into a variety video support systems. They include both, tripod support systems as well as hand held DSLR kits - I will discuss them in next several articles dedicated to Zacuto products.
Another problem that manufacturers of products similar to Zacuto Z-Finder have to deal with is the diversity of various DSLR bodies with different sizes and form factors. For example, as of this writing, there are four most popular DSLR camera used for video production. All of them are from Canon: Canon EOS 550D (a.k.a EOS Rebel T2i or Kiss X4), Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, Canon EOS 7D and the most popular Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Zacuto solved this problem by offering three types of mounting frames for:
I have to mention that even with the three sizes of frame, the solution is still not perfect since the range of adjustments is barely enough to cover all DSLRs used currently for video. And in case of Canon 550D, the Gorilla Plate prevents quick access to the battery compartment of the camera. Still, I can guarantee you that the convenience and versatility of Z-Finder is far superior than any of its competitors.
As often the case, good products do not come cheap; neither do Z-Finder Pro. Its Zacuto price is $395 (price 2010). You may find it a bit shocking for a relatively simple construction such as a loupe even if it has some extras. Nevertheless, the price is what it is. By the way, the demand for Z-Finder is still higher than its supply; so Zacuto will most likely keep this price for a while until other manufacturers offer good competitive products. To alleviate your shock I can mention that Z-Finder comes well equipped with Short Body Mounting Frame (there are kits that include mounting frames for tall cameras sold at higher prices), three Extender Frames, lanyard, lens cap and, most important, Gorilla Plate. As I already mentioned, this base plate has broader use than just a loupe support (come back soon to our site to read more about Gorilla Plate DSLR kits); also, if purchased separately, its Zacuto price is $69. By the way, before buying at Zacuto, shop around. It is quire possible that you will find better prices on Zacuto branded products. For example, current B&H price for Z-Finder Pro with regular mounting frame is $375.25 (note, this is not a regularly stocked item at B&H; thus, regular B&H return rules do not apply).
There is not very much to say about using Z-Finder - it's very straightforward. Perhaps, I should mention that normally you would keep Gorilla Plate attached to the camera. To remove Z-Finder just separate it from the mounting frame or loosen the thumb screws and pull up the mounting frame with the loupe. I wish though thumb screws were a bit bigger - they would hurt less your finger while tightening and untightening them.
Using slider and its screws adjust horizontal position of the frame. Use thumb screws to adjust vertical position of the frame. As you can see, you can position perfectly the Tall Mounting Frame on Canon 1D Mark IV body.
Z-Finder is attached to the mounting frame by simply snapping the loupe to the frame. The connection is very reliable; still, I would recommend to use a lanyard attached to the loupe.
To remove Z-Finder from your camera you can undo the thumb screws and slide the frame off. Usually, it is easier to detach Z-Finder from the frame. However, if you find it difficult (especially with new Z-Finder), the trick is to squeeze Z-Finder plastic body from its top and bottom as shown on the photo. The pressure will deform slightly the body of the loupe (as shown on photo) making unsnapping possible.
Sometimes Z-Finder attachment to mounting frame is very loose. Z-Bands can help. They are sold in pairs and can be easily attached to Z-Finder as shown.
Z-bands in action. Not pretty at all, but they do the job. Keep in mind, for large camera bodies like Canon 1D they are not long enough.
Canon 1D Mark IV with Gorilla Plate, mounting frame and Z-Finder attached.
Canon Rebel T2i (550D) with Gorilla Plate, mounting frame and Z-Finder attached. The choice of frames offered by Zacuto covers all Canon DSLRs used for video.
Thanks to tripod holes in Gorilla Plate you can easily use it with tripods. On photo: attaching a quick release to the plate.
Canon 1D Mark IV with Gorilla Plate, mounting frame and Z-Finder attached on a tripod.
Canon Rebel T2i (550D) with Gorilla Plate, mounting frame and Z-Finder attached on a tripod.
Zacuto Gorilla plate covers the battery compartment on the Canon T2i (550D) camera. Zacuto offers old style adhesive frame (attached permanently to LCD screen, SKU: Z-FRM) as a solution. As of June 2010 adhesive frames are still available at Zacuto store.
This photo is an attempt to illustrate potential problems with mounting frames fitting various camera bodies. For example, Canon T2i (550D) body is too small for the regular mounting frame. The frame, even at its lowest setting, is still too high for this body and its LCD. Luckily, the actual image area of the LCD is still within frame opening. With Canon 5D Mark II you may wish that the frame would be a bit taller. Canon 7D has the best fitting.
One of the benefits of buying directly from Zacuto is its excellent technical support. Store specialists are very knowledgeable and respond to email inquires very quickly. That may be important since it is easy to be lost in the multiplicity of Zacuto DSLR products especially if you are trying to configure something a bit more complex than standard support rigs. Zacuto offers a return policy (which may not be the case with retailers where Zacuto products are not regularly stocked items). On the other hand, Zacuto prices are higher, and they will not match lower prices at other retailers which can be about 10% lower. My recommendation is to start buying at Zacuto to get first experience with Zacuto products. Once you learn at least some of them and you know what you are doing, you can start buying elsewhere.
The better way to detach Z-finder is to unsnap it from the mounting frame. I found that my Z-Finder has better "bond" with one of mounting frames and have very loose attachment to another. If this the case, you can purchase Z-Bands ($15.50) - two elastic bands with anodized balls at all ends. If used with Z-Finder, they can help to safeguard your loupe as shown in this picture. Z-Bands look very ugly and do not fit each camera body (there are problems with Canon 7D, and they are not long enough for Canon 1D).
It is very easy to attach a quick release plate to one of the two 1/4-20 (1/4" diameter, 20 threads per inch) sockets in the Gorilla Plate and mount it on a tripod. Note that tripod holes are slightly off center of the Gorilla Plate. That may be a problem if you want to mix with Gorilla Plate products from other manufactures to assembly your perfect rig. To solve the problem, Zacuto offers Gorilla Plate Adapter (Zacuto price $17.50) that centers the tripod holes on the bottom of the plate.
It is also possible to snap Z-Finder Pro off the frame as an alternative method to removing from the camera. With little practice (as explained here) you will find it easy. I would like also to see more convenient and reliable way of fastening the loupe skirt to the mounting frame. The current snapping action uses two one-inch long dents on metal mounting frame that are locked in cutouts inside the plastic loupe skirt. I suspect that plastic will eventually wear out and locking will become loose and not reliable.
Letus Hawk viewfinder, the
only serious competitor to
Z-Finder, was recently
introduced by LetusDirect,
LLC. It has close to Zacuto
loupe 2.75x view factor
but seems to have more
robust construction made
of carbon fiber.
Photo courtesy of
This review would not be complete without mentioning some competing products. The strength of most of them is in their significantly lower prices in comparison to Z-Finder. Among them
- Hoodman Hoodloupe 3 (Amazon.com price around $100)>This loupe was created for better reviewing of photos taken on LCD screen. With the advent of DSLR video, additional accessories were developed to use Hoodloupe 3 as HD DSLR video viewfinder (HoodEYE eye cap - about $30, HoodLoupe MAG 3.0 (3X magnifying eyecup for HoodLoupe 3.0) - about $40). The iDC Photo Store sells its branded Viewfinders for about $200 with the Hoodman loupe included (not available separately). The iDC solution is similar conceptually to Z-Finder with Gorilla Plate but each camera model requires its own iDC Viewfinder. RedRock Micro is another company that sells support bracket for Hoodloupe called microFinder (RedRock Micro price is about $40).
- LCDVF LCD Viewfinder (Amazon.com price $180). LCDVF (made in Estonia) relies on magnets and metal frame glued to DSLR LCD, 2x magnification, no diopter.
- Cavision LCD Viewfinder (B&H price about $170). There are models for Canon 5D and Canon 7D. Again, conceptually the Cavision design is similar to Z-Finder with Gorilla Plate; however, one of the biggest problems with it are difficulties with removing the loupe once it's attached to the camera.
Unfortunately, all the devices mentioned above are a good illustration of a rule according to which you get what you pay for. None of them comes even close to the convenience, versatility and robustness of Z-Finder. So, if you are serious about expanding your photographic skills into the new media and you really want to take advantage of the potential on your HD video capable DSLR, I recommend to invest into Zacuto loupe solution. You will not regret it. And I can see Zacuto evolving the design of its loupe to keep pace with the evolution of DSLR cameras as they become more and more adapt to video shooting.
The only serious competitor to Z-Finder at this moment is recently introduced Letus Hawk Viewfinder (introductory price $385). It has 2.75x view factor with 3 lenses in 2 groups as its optic system and is made of carbon fiber. Letus Hawk comes with an adjustable camera plate as a standard feature. It seems though that this viewfinder is designed mostly for smaller DSRL bodies like Canon 7D and Canon T2i. According to the manufacturer, there is an additional option allowing to mount the Hawk using any articulating arm.
There are signs that point to a growing competition among manufacturers targeting fast growing DSLR video market. There are hints that Zacuto will release by the end of the year a new model of Z-Finder. I think we are poised to see soon many other similar products which means good news for us, DSLR video shooters.