Thursday, February 25, 2010

Canon 7-D Video: The Z-Finder, A Focusing Solution

With an increasing number of DSLRs having the ability to shoot HD video, many are turning to these cameras as a replacement for the dedicated camcorder or more commonly as a supplement to them.

Cameras such as the Canon 7-D do permit one to shoot extremely good wildlife video, but they are not nearly so user friendly as dedicated camcorders. It is beyond the scope of one post to describe all of the short-comings so today we will concentrate on the focusing issue.

While the cameras can auto-focus in video mode, it is quite slow and ponderous. One must partially depress either the shutter release button or the auto-focus button on the back to activate focusing and it does not follow focus while the record button is engaged. This means that manual focus is more effective in most if not all cases. but even manual focus is often difficult unless one enlarges the image by depressing the magnify button located on the top right side of the rear of the camera. One push magnifies-5x, two pushes-10X, and three pushes, or pressing the record button returns it to normal view, which makes it impossible to use the magnify function to aid in focusing on a moving subject. In addition, focusing on either still or moving subjects becomes much more difficult in extremely bright sunlight.

Focusing Is Difficult In Bright Sunlight

An answer to this problem is an add-on finder. At this time choice is quite limited, as only a handful of companies make these accessories. In time I would expect more companies to enter the field as shooting DSLR HD video becomes more and more popular. I chose the Zacuto Z-Finder because as far as I know it is the only one offering magnification (3x) of the viewing screen at this time. The finder currently fits the Canon 5D, 7D, Nikon D90, and the Panasonic GH1 and GF1.

Zacuto Z-Finder Offers 3x Magnification

To use the Z-Finder one must first install a mounting frame on the LCD panel. This has an adhesive backing. One positions it correctly according to the detailed instructions, which are provided, and then lets it cure for 24 hours before use. The finder is then pressed over the mounting frame and is retained by the friction fit. Zacuto offers Z-Bands, which I have not purchased yet, to assist in holding the finder in place. It is made to be easily detachable as one may be continually removing and replacing it as they change between still and video mode.

Mounting Finder On Camera

Canon 7-D and 100-400mm L With Z-Finder Attached
(Note remote control attached to tripod-this is for XL-H1 and will not work with 7-D)

The finder is also fitted with a strap which one may loop around their neck or the camera itself, to support the finder when it is not in use. This also functions as a safeguard against dropping the finder.

So How Does It Work?

Well first off, although one should use a tripod when possible when shooting video, it does enable the camera to be shot handheld as it establishes a contact point between the camera and the forehead, such as one has when shooting stills with the traditional viewfinder. Focusing is greatly improved and follow-focus is possible, although still quite difficult. Even though the finder has 3x magnification, it still works best in conjunction with using the magnify button. The finder also eliminates the problem of seeing the LCD plainly in bright sunlight.

On the con side, it is more difficult to pan the camera smoothly while looking through the finder, and it can be tiresome standing with one's eye glued to the finder when filming for extended periods. But we had to do that with camcorders too, until articulating LCD finders where introduced a few years ago.

In summary, while not perfect, this is a very beneficial if not essential accessory for wildlife filming with these cameras, and has the added benefit of working well when shooting stills in live view mode.

1 comment:

imac said...

Sounds good Willard, just want that jackpot to come