Jun 26, 2011

Zacuto Z-Finder EVF Pro: You need this!

Every once in a while a manufacturer brings a new product to market that's a hit out of the park.  Apple has done it several times (although FCP X is *not* one of them), but Zacuto has just released theirs:  The "Z-Finder EVF Pro", and if you're a camera operator of any kind, you need this in your toolkit.

Every successful director, producer, DP and camera OP knows that the best imagery for motion pictures can only occur when the camera itself is in motion.  Static camera = boring compositions and less than compelling imagery.

But moving the camera around, whether it's on a jib, dolly, articulated arm (steady-cam device), skater or even a hit-hat sitting on the ground means that the camera's viewfinder and even flip-out LCD is no longer viewable or easily accessible.  That means you need an external monitor of some sort connected to the camera in a remote location so the operator can see what's going on!  That problem is exacerbated by DSLR's which have no built-in articulated LCD forcing the user to be at eye-level with the LCD itself, which also means there are several camera angles and moves that just aren't possible because you can't view what you're doing or, make critical focus adjustments.

Traditionally adding an external monitor meant you'd need at a minimum a 7" to 9" inch monitor with it's own mounting, power source and if you're shooting on location in bright daylight a hood to keep distracting glare of the screen.  And high-quality monitors - especially those that are color-correct with professional features - are not cheap.  When you add up all the stuff you'd really need for the average external cam-monitor you can easily break the $5000 mark, or more if you're willing to go top-of-the-line.  And that may sound downright crazy for those who "just want to get my monitor off the camera!".  Zacuto has you covered.

The Z-Finder EVF Pro is a god-send to every camera with an HDMI out, which covers a great deal of the latest camera models produced today including many DSLR's.

Unlike traditional external monitors, the concept behind the Z-Finder EVF Pro is this:  Take a high-resoution LCD monitor that's color-correct, such as those used on something like the 5D MK II, and put it into a dedicated monitor-only form factor with it's own power source.  And add commonly used external monitor features to boot.  And that's exactly what Zacuto did.

This newly released mini monitor has everything you need from an external:

  • A color & gamma-correct screen
  • Focus assist (peaking)
  • Waveform scope
  • Brightness, contrast, gamma and other manual corrections
  • Two-level Zebras
  • Color Bars generator
  • Blue Only option
...and more.

The Z-Finder EVF Pro is actually a combination of two Zacuto products, the EVF Flip and the Z-Finder Pro.  That means you can either use the monitor alone or, snap on the Z-Finder Pro and look through a magnified, focusable loupe with eyecup.

The EVF Flip is self-powered by a battery similar in size to what the 5D Mk II uses.  I used it for a shoot all day and still had nearly a full charge available.  Not impossible when you think that battery only has to power an LCD screen, not an entire camera!

Mounting this mini monitor is a snap; the unit comes with a hot-shoe micro-ball for mounting directly on-top of a DSLR (although some video cameras also have hot-shoe mounts) or, you can use on of several mounting options also available from Zacuto, such as the Z-American Arm, Zud or literally a dozen or so combinations of arms and mounts.

And how about actual usage?  It's a dream come true.  Again, I used the EVF Fiip/Z-Finder Pro combination literally all day on a shoot and had it mounted to the Zacuto Red Plate system via extension arm and swivel mount.  That gave me the ability to rotate the mini monitor in any position I needed it to be.

Not only that, but the color, gamma and exposure was spot-on right from the factory, no adjustments were required.  While using the 5D Mk II I made all my exposure adjustments on-camera and what I saw on the EVF Pro is exactly what I got in post.

The EVF Flip also has built-in setup and aspect-ratio presets for popular cameras - like the 5D Mk II!

As I mentioned above, the Z-Finder EVF Pro is designed for and HDMI input, however there are small converters on the market that will take camera component (RGB) or HD-SDI and convert it into HDMI.

And price?  You'd think something of this nature that's been totally designed by and for professionals would at least be $1000 bucks, easy.  Right?  Wrong.  How about less than $400 dollars?  Huh?!  Yep, for less than 400 clams (that's US Dollars, boys) you can get everything you need and then some for an external monitor.

Highly Recommended

There's just no way to beat the cost-effectiveness, versatility and professional utility this mini monitor.  Get one, be happy - very, very happy.

Final Cut Pro X: The Beginning of the End.

We've all come to expect new and amazing technology from Apple over the years, what with the revolutionary Mac OS X and game-changing iTunes, iPhone and of course the iPad.

But what myself and other pro-film/video industry professionals have noticed in the past 4 years - really ever since NAB '07, is that Apple has very distinctly been putting all their resources into the consumer world and nearly ignoring the professional.  Yet in spite of that general consumer-first direction Apple continued to produce and support some of the industry's best applications for pro-video and film, The Final Cut Pro suite.  Now that Final Cut Pro "X" has been released Apple's support for full-time professionals has clearly ended.

If you watched the Keynote address about the announcement and feature overview of FCP X on the web you'd think that all the glorious praise and applause was because Apple had finally produced an professional editing app that was a "hit out of the park" and this new iteration of Final Cut would be better than sliced bread.

However my take on that preview of FCP X was distinctly different, as what I saw was something that looked suspiciously like an iMovie interface and lo-and behold, a very iMovie-like approach to features and workflow.

Most disturbing was the "let the application attempt to fix everything on import" mantra, where FCP X will auto white-balance, auto de-shake, auto categorize... auto this, auto that... basically screw up all your "I shot it that way!" footage.

As any creative pro knows, you don't want the camera or your software packages making decisions *for you*, you want full control over the entire process from the first time you press the start-stop button to the final output.  That's not the methodology behind FCP X, Apple thinks professionals are stupid and can't figure out what they really need, so they're going to let FCP X make these all-important decisions for you. How nice.  But that's not the worst of it.

FCP X doesn't like professional editors, not one bit.  That's why you CAN'T import any project built in any other version of FCP.  That's right, that big project you finished for your client that you want to re-make again?  You'll have to keep it in FCP 7 forever.  Period.  End of story.  Oh but it get's worse.

FCP X hates pros so much, that it won't talk to professional audio formats at all; no OMF, AAF or XML.  Not unless you want to spend another $500 from Automatic Duck to fix that issue.

FCP X also has absolutely no method for working with EDL's at all.  None.  Again, if you're a professional editor FCP X hates you.  Passionately.

How many other ways does FCP X hate professional editors?  Let's see:
  • No tape-based workflows
  • No separation of render files from original assets
  • No third-party effects plug-in support (the thousands of dollars you spent on your effects library, throw it all away)
  • No RED support!  Huh?  A brand-new editor that can't talk to RED out of the box? Are you kidding me??!!!  New versions of editing software always ADD support for more cameras/formats - this one is taking them away!!  C'mon, Apple.
  • No support for the current infrastructure of external video cards.  Yep, you'll need new versions of those my friends.
And the list goes on....

Look, if you're a guy with a video camera and like shooting home movies but have outgrown iMovie or Window Movie Maker then FCP X is your ticket to more creativity.

But if you're a full-time professional who MAKES THEIR LIVING from being an editor then stay away from FCP X and stick with FCP 7 for the foreseeable future.  At least until you can figure out a strategy to switch to another editing platform, say Premiere Pro or Avid.

Conclusion: FAIL - Miserably.

Again I say: C'mon Apple... WTF you idiots!!