Here are some updated pictures of the screen protector for the FS5 that I sell via Shapeways. It’s not an exciting product, it’s just a clip on plastic cover that protects the LCD panel from damage when you are not using the camera. I travel a lot with my camera and the unprotected LCD screen is very vulnerable and could easily get scratched or worse still smashed. Arriving for a shoot and finding the FS5’s LCD screen smashed would be a disaster!
It’s interesting to see how the term viewfinder is now used for small monitors rather than monocular viewfinders or shrouded dedicated viewfinders. Unless the a monitor screen is properly shielded from external light then you can only guess at the contrast and brightness of the images feeding it in anything other than a dim/dark room.
This is one of the key reasons why for decades viewfinders have been in fully shrouded hoods, snoots or loupes. As one of the key roles of a viewfinder is to show how your recordings will look for exposure assessment, if it doesn’t have a full shroud then in my opinion it isn’t a viewfinder, it is simply a monitor and exactly what your images will look like is anyones guess depending on the ambient light conditions. Furthermore even a young person with perfect can’t focus properly at less than 6″/150mm and that distance increases with age or in low ambient light. So most people will need a loupe or magnifying lens to be able to make full use of a small HD LCD for critical focus. In order to be able to see the sharpness of an image you need contrast, so an unshaded LCD screen on a sunny day will be next to useless for focus – perhaps this is why I see so many out of focus exterior shots on TV these days?
To be truly useful a viewfinder needs to be viewed in a controlled and dark environment. That’s why for decades it has been normal to use a monocular viewfinder. The eyepiece creates a tightly controlled, nice and dark, viewing environment. This isn’t always convenient. I will often flip up or remove the eyepiece for certain types of shot. But – if you don’t have the option to fully shade the viewfinder – how do you work with it on a sunny day? On a camera like the FS5 I often find myself using the small, enclosed viewfinder on the back of the camera when the sun is bright. These tiny built in viewfinders are not ideal, but I’d rather have that than a totally washed out LCD or trying to shoot with a jacket over my head as my only option.
So next time you are looking at upgrading the monitor or viewfinder on your camera do try out a good 3rd party monocular viewfinder such as the Zacuto Gratical or Zacuto Eye. Perhaps consider a Small HD monitor with the Side Finder option. Or an add-on monocular for the existing LCD panel. Without that all important shading and magnification it isn’t really a viewfinder, it’s just a small LCD monitor and in anything other than a very dim environment it’s always going to be tough to judge focus and exposure.
This is something that keeps popping up all over the place and it’s not just one camera that attracts this comment. Many do, from the FS5 to the FS7 to the F55, plus cameras from other manufacturers too.
One common factor is that very often this relates to the newer super35mm cameras. Cameras designed to give a more rounded, film like look, often cameras with 4K or higher resolution sensors.
I think many people perceive there is an issue with their viewfinder because they come to these new high resolution, more rounded and film like cameras from traditional television centric camcorders that use detail correction, coring and aperture correction to boost the image sharpness.
SD and even HD television broadcasting relies heavily on image sharpening so that viewers perceive a crisp, sharp image at any viewing distance and with any screen size (although on really big screens this can really ruin the image).
This works by enhancing and boosting the contrast around edges. This is standard practice on all normal HD and SD broadcast cameras. Especially camera that use a 3 chip design with a prism as the prism will often reduce the images edge contrast.
As most people will prefer a very slightly sharpened HD image or a heavily sharpened SD image over an unsharpened one, it’s sharpened by default. This means that the images those cameras produce will tend to look sharp even on screens that have a lower resolution than that of the camera because the edges remain high contrast even when the viewing resolution is reduced and as a result look sharp.
Most current manufacturer supplied LCD EVF’s run at 1/4″ HD with 940 x 560 pixels (each pixel made up of an RGB 3 dot matrix). In addition many of the 3rd party VF’s such as the very popular Alphatron are the same because they all use the same mass produced, relatively low cost panels – panels that are also used for mobile phones and many other devices.
The problem then is that when you move to a camera that doesn’t add any image sharpening, if you view the cameras image on a lower resolution screen the image looks soft because — it is. There is no detail correction to compensate. Incidentally this is why often these same cameras can look a bit soft in HD and very soft in SD compared to other traditional or detail corrected cameras. But, that slightly softer, less processed look helps contribute to their more film like look. This softness and lack of sharpening/processing is particularly noticeable if you use the focus mag function as you are then looking at an enlarged but completely un-sharpened image.
It could be argued that the viewfinder should sharpen the image to compensate. Some of the more expensive viewfinders can do this using their own sharpening processes. But the image that you are then seeing is not the picture that is being recorded and this isn’t always ideal. If it is over done then it can make the entire image look sharp even when it isn’t fully in focus. Really you want to be looking at exactly the image that the camera is recording so that you can spot any potential problems. But that then makes focussing tricky.
There are a few 3rd party viewfinders such as the Gratical that have higher resolutions. The Gratical and Eye have screens that are 1280×1024, but in normal use you only use 1280×720 for the image area. This certainly helps, but even the 1:1 pixel zoom on these can look soft and blurry as you loose the viewfinders peaking function when you crop in.
Sony’s Venice and the F55/F5 can use Sony’s new DVF-EL200 OLED viewfinder. This costs around £4.5K ($6K) and has a 1920×1080 screen. It’s a beautiful image, but even this needs a fairly good dose of peaking to artificially sharpen the image to be able to see that last critical bit of focus. Again when you zoom in the image looks soft and a bit blurry (even on a Venice) as the camera itself is not adding any sharpening. The peaking function on the DVF-EL200 is quite sophisticated as it only enhances the highest frequency parts of the image, so only sharp edges and fine details are boosted.
Go back to the days of black and white tube viewfinders and these used tons of peaking to make them useable. Traditional SD and HD cameras add sharpening to their pictures, but most of our modern large sensor 4K camera do not and as a result often the viewfinder images appear soft compared to what we used to see on older cameras or still see today on cameras that do sharpen the pictures.
All of this makes it hard to nail your focus, especially if shooting 4K. Even with a DVF-EL200 on a Venice I struggle at times and rely heavily on image mag (which is still difficult) or better still a much larger monitor with a good sun shade and if necessary some reading glasses to allow you to focus on it up close.
So before you get too critical of your viewfinders performance do also consider all of the above. Try to see how another similar viewfinder looks on your camera (for example an Alphatron on an FS7). Perhaps try a higher resolution viewfinder such as a Gratical, but don’t expect miracles from a small, relatively low resolution screen on a modern digital cinema camera. This really is one of those areas where you can’t beat a big, high resolution screen.
Just a reminder to anyone using a viewfinder fitted with an eyepiece, magnifier or loupe not to leave it pointing up at the sun. Every year I see dozens of examples of burnt and damaged LCD screens and OLED displays caused by sunlight entering the viewfinder eyepiece and getting focussed onto the screen and burning or melting it.
It can only take a few seconds for the damage to occur and it’s normally irreversible. Even walking from shot to shot with the camera viewfinder pointed towards the sky can be enough to do damage if the sun is out.
So be careful, cover or cap the viewfinder when you are not using it. Tilt it down when carrying the camera between locations or shots. Don’t turn to chat to someone else on set and leave the VF pointing at the sun. If you are shooting outside on a bright sunny day consider using a comfort shade such as an umbrella or large flag above your shooting position to keep both you and the camera out of the sun.
Damage to the viewfinder can appear as a smudge or dark patch on the screen that does not wipe off. If the cameras was left for a long period it may appear as a dark line across the image. You can also sometimes melt the surround to the LCD or OLED screen.
As well as the viewfinder don’t point your camera directly into the sun. Even an ND filter may not protect the sensor from damage as most regular ND filters allow the infra red wavelengths that do much of the damage straight through. Shutter speed makes no difference to the amount of light hitting the sensor in a video camera, so even at a high shutter speed damage to the cameras sensor or internal ND’s can occur. So be careful when shooting into the sun. Use an IR ND filter and avoid shooting with the aperture wide open, especially with static shots such as time-lapse.
One of the most important things to do before you shoot anything is to make sure that any monitors, viewfinders or LCD panels are accurately calibrated. The majority of modern HD cameras have built in colour bars and these are ideal for checking your monitor. On most Sony cameras you have SMPTE ARIB colour bars like the ones in the image here. Note that I have raised the black level in the image so that you can see some of the key features more clearly. If your using a LCD or OLED monitor connected via HDSDI or HDMI then the main adjustments you will have are for Contrast, Brightness and Saturation.
First set up the monitor or viewfinder so that the 100% white square is shown as peak white on the monitor. This is done by increasing the contrast control until the white box stops getting brighter on the screen. Once it reaches maximum brightness, back the contrast level down until you can just perceive the tiniest of brightness changes on the screen.
Once this is set you now use the pluge bars to set up the black level. The pluge bars are the narrow near black bars that I’ve marked as -2% +2% and +4% in the picture they are each separated by black. The -2% bar is blacker than black so we should not be able to see this. Using the brightness control adjust the screen so that you can’t see the -2% bar but can just see the +2% bar. The 4% bar should also be visible separated from the 2% bar by black.
Color is harder to set accurately. Looking at the bars, the main upper bars are 75% bars so these are fully saturated, but only at 75% luma. The 4 coloured boxes, 2 on each side, two thirds of the way down the pattern are 100% fully saturated boxes. Using the outer 100% boxes increase the saturation or colour level until the color vibrance of the outer boxes stops increasing, then back the level down again until you just perceive the color decreasing. I find this easiest to see with the blue box.
Now you should have good, well saturated looking bars on you monitor or LCD and provided it is of reasonable quality it should be calibrated adequately well for judging exposure.
I find that on an EX or F3 the LCD panel ends up with the contrast at zero, colour at zero and brightness at about +28 on most cameras.
I am hoping to get time to play with the soon to be released Alphatron EVF at NAB. This new EVF boasts a range of pro features and a much higher resolution screen than currently available in the other low cost EVF’s on the market. To get good resolution TV-Logic scoured the world looking for a good, small LCD panel. Anyone with an iPhone 4 or 4s will know how good that display is and that’s the panel thats going in the new viewfinder. The panels resolution is 960×640, but the viewfinder will only use 960×540 pixels so you get easy 2:1 image scaling for 1920×1080 video. There is more information on the benefits of this simple 2:1 scaling on the Alphatron web site.
I needed an external viewfinder for my F3 rig. I could have got either a Zacuto or Cineroid HDMI viewfinder, but I felt that HDSDI would be more useful. As the HDSDI Zacuto is not available just yet, I picked up one of the new metal bodied Cineroid HDSDI EVF’s (EVF-4MSS).
The viewfinder has the same 800 x 480 pixel 3.2″ screen as the HDMI version but in a robust metal body. There are threaded 1/4″ mounting holes on the top and bottom of the viewfinder. It is supplied with a generic battery compatible with Sony’s L series batteries and a tiny little charger.
So what’s it like. Well for a start it’s very solidly made. The body and the slide on part of the eyepiece is made from metal (some kind of hard anodised aluminium I think). The diopter adjuster is made out of plastic. On the rear of the body mine was fitted with an adapter for a Sony L series battery which has a short flying lead going to a high quality lemo connector for power. The battery adapter can be removed by unscrewing two small screws if you intend to power the finder from an external supply. The supply can be anywhere from 6 to 17 volts. There is also a pair of BNC’s for the loop through HDSDI in and out connections.
The eyepiece on the EVF flips up like most pro viewfinders, this allows you to see the screen directly, as an alternative you can slide the entire eyepiece assembly off completely, which turns the EVF into a tiny monitor. I have a slight issue with the slide off function as there is some light leakage along the top edge of the screen as a result. On a bright sunny day this is distracting as you can see it inside the finder. It’s easily solved with a small strip of electrical tape over the tiny gap, but you shouldn’t really need to do this. All Cineroid need to do is add a small lip to the top of the slide off assembly to fix this.
On powering up and using the finder for the first time I was pleasantly pleased. The screen is bright and clear and there is only the smallest amount of lag. When I showed the EVF to some of the visitors to the Sony booth at IBC there were many comments that this version has less lag than the HDMI version. My guess is that the HDMI processing in the camera plus the HDMI processing in the EVF adds up to a fair bit of a delay. This would appear to be much reduced with the HDSDI version.
Some people have complained that they can see the pixel structure of the screen in both the Cineroid and Zacuto EVF’s. I could just about make out the pixels, the screen appearing to have a slight texture, but in operation this has not caused me any issues. This EVF is a vast improvement over the EVF fitted to the back of the F3. Using either the Cineroid’s Peaking or 1:1 pixel mapping I can focus very accurately. Higher resolution would be nicer, but it is adequate as is. You have to consider that even the Sony HDVF20A that costs £3,000 only has around 600 lines of resolution. As well as peaking there are a number of other useful tools including the usual zebras. Some of the more unusual functions include a coloured clipping indicator and various false colour modes. I have to say that I have not been through all the different modes and functions yet. I’ve just been using it with peaking and zebras. You can have a full range of safe area overlays and there is the ability to work with anamorphic camera outputs, flip or mirror the picture. The peaking is adjustable and can be either white or red, I prefer red. A couple of different colours would be nice for when your shooting scenes that already have a lot of red in them. When you have it enabled (single button press) the up and down arrow buttons on the side of the EVF will adjust the peaking sensitivity up and down, so no need to go into the menu system.
Overall I am pleased with my Cineroid viewfinder. It does the job that I purchased it for and the price was quite reasonable (£799 + VAT). It’s compact and well constructed and looks like it will survive the inevitable knocks and bumps of everyday use.
PS. I was reminded by respected DoP Jody Eldred that the LCD panel in these (and many other) viewfinders is easily damaged if the sun starts shining into the eyepiece. The eyepiece acts as a magnifier and will focus the sun onto the LCD and burn it. The large size of the loupe on the Cineroid means that it doesn’t even need to be pointed directly at the sun for this to happen. So, when not in use, point the eyepiece down towards the ground, if your mount won’t allow you to do that easily, flip open the eyepiece. This is good practice with all monocular viewfinders. I’ve seen many scorched LCD’s and melted plastic interiors over the years.
The PDW-700 and F800?s are sold body only, so you have to choose which viewfinder you want. there are 3 choices. A cheap HDVF 200 mono CRT finder that is 480+ lines resolution, the mid range (top of the CRT range) HDVF-20A which is 500+ lines resolution and then there is the expensive colour HDVF-C35W.?I got the HDVF-20A. The viewfinder is a critical part of the package and I wanted a good viewfinder. For the past year my main camera has been my trusty EX3 which I love. This has a really good colour viewfinder with an excellent colour peaking function and image magnification. When I use my EX3 it is rare for me to not get my pictures pin sharp and spot on in focus. Plus I can frame my image taking into account both black and white contrast range and colour contrast. With the EX3 judging exposure is easy, you can see when your overexposing as you can see colours washing out. If I don’t want (or can’t) take a colour monitor on location then I really can light an interview or check colour balance without just using the EX3?s finder.?Now with the PDW-700 I am struggling. Going back to a mono CRT has been a bit of a shock, to be honest I am struggling with it. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the HDVF-20A but I have become used to working with a colour VF. I’m not sure I can live with the CRT VF for very long. I guess I am going to have to start saving my pennies as I think going back to a mono CRT is a retrograde step. I just wish the C35W was a little cheaper. Perhaps Sony could bring out a VF for the 700/F800 based on the rather good EX3 finder.?If I was making the purchase again I would opt for the more expensive C35W. I no longer see a colour VF as a luxury but more of an essential item. When you work with cameras day in – day out you want the tools that make your life as easy as possible and a good colour VF is one of them. On it’s own the C35W may seem expensive at £5.5k compared to the £3.5k of the 20A, but in terms of the total packing it’s another 10% to the cost but in retrospect I think it would have been worth it.
Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.