I have a few shoots and projects coming up that require a very portable setup with little to no time to use a light meter etc (tornado chasing next month – anyone want to join me??). Currently the metering and measurement options on the PMW-F5 and F55 are limited to zebras and the zebras don’t go down below 50%. I’m going to be shooting 4K raw, so the camera will be in S-Log2. I can use a LUT to display a S-Log to 709 image in the viewfinder, but this makes it hard to appreciate the full range of what the camera is capturing. When shooting a dark storm against a bright sky the dynamic range of the scene can be massive, so I like to see the native image rather than via a LUT to help judge over exposure a bit more accurately. When I’ve done this before, as an exposure tool, I’ve taped a grey card to the car so if I need a quick exposure reference I can point the camera at the card and in the case of the PMW-F3 use the centre spot meter to get a quick exposure guide. The issue is that for S-Log2 middle grey should be approx 34%, so zebras that only go to 50% are not much use. I can use white as an alternative, which should fall around 68% but it’s not ideal. Anyway, I was exploring various options when I remembered that my Alphatron EVF had zebras that could easily go down to 34%. So I decided to check out the Alphatron on my F5 as an alternative to my Sony L350. Both LCD panels have similar resolution, so it was interesting to compare them anyway.
The Sony L350 EVF is a very nice viewfinder, but it’s not cheap, running at around £2K/$3K (although that does include the mount). It has very good contrast and resolution that is high enough that you can’t see the pixels (just) when you look through the monocular. It’s also very versatile as the monocular flips up, both towards the rear and side.
The Alphatron EVF-035W-3G is also a very nice viewfinder, but at half the price of the Sony is considerably cheaper. It only opens up to the rear, but it does incorporate a very handy shutter in the loupe that when closed will prevent sun damage to the LCD screen. Interestingly both viewfinders specify the same 960×540 half HD resolution and contrast ratios of 1000:1. One side note: If you want a rubber eye cup with a set of rubber blades that open as you put your eye against the eyepiece to prevent the sun from damaging your expensive viewfinder, BandPro sell them for about $160 each.
Back to the viewfinders….. So how different are they? Well to be honest not very different. My Alphatron is an old pre-production one, so may be very slightly different to a production unit. Looking into the viewfinder loupe the image in the Aphatron is considerably larger than the Sony, you can just see the pixels in the Alphatron, but not in the Sony. This is simply due to the greater magnification from the optics in the Alphatron. The screen sizes and resolutions are the same. I think the Sony optics are a little better with less aberrations and distortion, but the viewed image is much smaller. When focussing I found both to provide similar performance, I could focus equally well with both viewfinders, if anything the Alphatron has a slight edge due to the larger image, but it’s a close call.
You can zoom in pixel to pixel on both viewfinders, both viewfinders have peaking, possibly marginally better on the Sony, but again really not a great deal of difference. Interestingly the Sony peaking system works on vertical edges while the Alphatron appears to favour horizontal.
Contrast, brightness, colour and smear wise both EVF’s are again very similar, maybe the Sony is just a little better on contrast. I think I might need to calibrate my the colours on my Alphatron slightly, this is easy enough in the menus. I do suspect that they are both using the same LCD panel. Powering and feeding the Alphatron is simple enough, I used a D-Tap to TV-Logic power adapter cable for this test and then took an SDI feed from the Sub SDI bus. But you could also use one of the Aux power outputs on the V-Mount adapter or R5 to power the Alphatron only when the camera is on.
There you have it – The Alphatron 035W EVF is a legitimate option for use with the PMW-F5 and F55. The ability to use the Zebras to measure S-Log2 middle grey is a nice bonus, in addition you have other exposure tools such as false colour, oh if only I had these with the Sony EVF! I’m going to have to think long and hard about this. If I had thought about it sooner I could have saved myself £2K by not getting the Sony EVF and using the Alphatron that I already owned. Where possible I will use my TV-Logic 056W monitor (see my review of this great monitor here) with it’s built in waveform display for accurate exposure assessment, but sometimes it’s not practical to have a 5.6″ monitor hanging off the side of the camera and in this situation the extra exposure tools of the Alphatron will be very handy. One last thing, if you are thinking of going down the Alphatron EVF route, do remember you will need a bracket of some kind. The F5/F55’s handle has plenty of 3/8″ and 1/4″ threads, plus there are a few on the top of the camera body, so lots of options. I have the Element Technica Micron top plate and handle and I used a bracket from this. ET do make a dedicated mount for the Alphatron finder that is very nice.