I hardly ever do product reviews and don’t intend to change that now. But if you’re using your DSLR to shoot video, and haven’t invested in a viewfinder, you might find this post useful.
As you no doubt know already, focusing using the 3-inch (or smaller) LCD screen at the back of your camera is a pain. Initially it didn’t bother me, I simply accepted it as one of those features you’d need to put up with. Back then, I used my Canon to take pictures and only occasionally filmed something. But with time I started using the video feature more and more. And experienced more and more disappointments. Why?
What I thought was pin-sharp on the LCD screen turned out to be out of focus when watched on a big computer screen. I was aware of Zacuto and its products, but could never justify the expense. Their fantastic-quality viewfinders are solid, adjustable and attach to your camera using a sturdy metal plate. But for casual use, £300+ is a bit steep.
With time, however, the need to have one of these became apparent. Not only do they allow you to focus and see the magnified LCD screen clearly (the magnification is usually between 2x and 3x), but also provide extra support for the camera. So I started looking at other options.
I first played with the Zacuto to set my expectations and learn what I really need from the viewfinder. Luckily, I don’t wear glasses, so diopter correction wasn’t a critical factor. Neither was the metal plate. (However, initially I saw this as the only option, as I didn’t want to glue anything to my screen. Soon, I got over that, more on that later).
I knew I wanted something sturdy and, above everything else, clear, sharp and without any distortions.
There are several options available for Canon DSLR users (like the 5D/7D or the 550D) – and they cover a wide spectrum of prices: from around £25-£30 per piece to £450 (yes, some viewfinders I looked at were even more expensive than Zacuto products).
I quickly identified the LCDVF as one of the best entry-level viewfinders, at a third of the price of its Zacuto cousin. You can buy it for around £85-100 online or in some bigger camera shops in the UK.
It’s simple, but provides a 2x magnification and a clear, distortion-free picture. You wouldn’t believe how many other viewfinders with cheaper glass suffer from barrel distortion issues. I’ve tried a couple and the experience is really bad: not only are the edges of the image soft and blurred, but also focusing – or checking the focus – outside the centre of the image seems problematic.
As I mentioned earlier, I was a bit sceptical about gluing anything directly to my LCD screen. And in order to use the LCDVF you first need to attach a small metal frame to your screen. The frame comes with an adhesive strip that sticks firmly to the screen and becomes a more or less permanent fixture on your camera. (Yes, you can remove it, although I haven’t tried yet.)
The frame is needed to hold the viewfinder in place. The latter click into place using 4 small magnets, which means that – provided you glued your frame on correctly – mounting and demounting will always be easy and the viewfinder will remain properly aligned with the screen. And allegedly the magnets are strong enough to hold it in place, but not strong enough to mess with the camera itself. Let’s hope so.
So far, it’s been great and I’m glad I bought it.
If your budget doesn’t allow you to splash out on any expensive viewfinders, you can’t go wrong with this one. If you want a more in-depth review of the LCDVF, Nino Leitner and Philip Bloom have written extensively about it. For full specs and compatibility see the LCDVF website.