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LCDVF Viewfinder / Loupe Review

Review by Ron Risman -- December 2009




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LCDVF Digital SLR Viewfinder / Magnifier Review

Description

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.


The Solution

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.

If you have read my review of the Zacuto Z-Finder V2 you already know how I raved about it, and purchased one, after getting a chance to test it out during a workshop in late October. At that time I knew about the possibility of the LCDVF coming to market, but the product wasn't yet available and up until a few weeks ago many thought it to be vaporware since the company hadn't updated their website since announcing it during the Summer.

To date I have purchased both the the Hoodman Loupe 3.0 and the much more expensive Zacuto Z-Finder V2. So when the LCDVF started to ship I immediately contacted the company to see if they would send me a unit to review. The goal of course is to find out whether the relatively inexpensive LCDVF ($181 w/shipping) could save you from spending $395 for the Zacuto, the only real competitor on the market. With that in mind, this review will inevitably be a comparison between the LCDVF and the Z-Finder V2. I've decided to leave the Hoodman Loupe out of this review since IMO it is not an ideal option since it offers no magnification and offers no real mounting solution.

LCDVF and Zacuto Z-Finder Specification Comparison

lCDVF ($181*)Zacuto Z-Finder V2 ($395*)
Magnification200%300%
MountAdhesive frame
Magnetic Mount
Adhesive frame
Snap on/off Mount
DiopterNoYes
LCD Compatibility3.0" Diagonal3.0" Diagonal
Viewfinder Frame SizeExternal Frame: 2.125" x 2.75"
Internal Frame: 1.78" x 2.375"
External Frame: 2.20" x 2.79"
Internal Frame: 1.84" x 2.44"
Removable StrapYesYes
EyecupSoft RubberSoft Rubber
Lens Diameter (Aperture)40mm (1.57")40mm (1.57")
Weight3.84 oz6 oz
* includes shipping

Video Showing the LCDVF and Zacuto Z-Finder Side-by-Side

The audio was recorded very low in error. Please turn up your volume control and/or speakers to hear the audio portion. Remember to turn them back down after watching the video



The Review

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.

Magnetic Mounting
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.

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.

Magnification
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.

Video showing the magnification difference between the LCDVF and the Zacuto Z-Finder

Durability
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.

Conclusion

Overall I am very impressed with the LCDVF. It is currently the best alternative to the Z-Finder and is quite a bit more affordable. It's magnetic mount holds the loupe firmly in place while shooting, yet makes it easy to pop-off when you're not. The 200% magnification of the LCD makes the 3.0" display look more like a "big screen" TV when viewing through the loupe, which in turn makes it easier to pull focus while recording. The 200% magnification also seems to work very well with lower resolution LCD's, like those found on the Panasonic DMC-GH1, DMC-GF1, Olympus E-P1, etc., whereas the 300% magnification of the Zacuto is a bit too strong for those larger pixel, lower resolution screens.

Unlike the Z-Finder V2, the LCDVF does not have a built-in diopter, so it may not be the right choice if you're far-sighted, need reading glasses or on the cusp of needing them. In comparison, the Zacuto Z-Finder V2 does have built-in diopter correction of -4.5 to -1.2 and should work for many more of us that are approaching or passing middle age - or just have poor close-up vision.

The LCD Loupe is currently available for $159. The company charges $22 for worldwide shipping, which brings the total to $181. This is over 50% less expensive than the Zacuto Z-Finder V2 and is a very viable option for those that can't justify spending $400 for a loupe. Of course if your eyes won't naturally adjust for close viewing and you need to get a loupe today, then you might want to start saving up for the Zacuto Z-Finder V2.

You can get more information on the LCDVF Viewfinder / Loupe over at http://www.lcdvf.com.

Word of caution for users off viewfinder loupes
I sometimes use my 5DMKII and 7D without a strap, especially when switching between using a a slider, steadicam, and tripod. When attaching a loupe to the camera, and placing its strap around your neck, you can easily get confused and think that the strap around your neck is attached to your camera. Then after shooting, you bring the camera back to its resting position - and let go - and guess what? The camera falls to the ground, leaving the loupe hanging down over your chest. I would recommend NOT using the strap on the loupe UNLESS you also have a strap around your neck for the camera.

Photo Gallery
LCDVF attached to camera during use


LCDVF attached to camera (rear angle view)


LCDVF attached to camera (side view)


Through the viewfinder from about 6" away


Through the viewfinder from about 6" away


Shown with optional soft cover (may be included with purchase)
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