When the monitor is small and can only be observed at a small distance, like in shoulder mount or handheld mode, e.g., the operator needs a viewfinder to look at what he or she is shooting.
Considerations for a good viewfinder:
- Full coverage, or at least above 90%
- Excellent contrast
- No latency, and up to 60p if possible
- A nice Eye-cup which is sweat-resistant and allergy-proof
- Diopter adjustments
- Good color
- Camera and Exposure settings
- Markings for different aspect ratios
- Robust and flexible in movement
- Have universal connections (like HDMI or HD-SDI)
There are basically four kinds of viewfinders:
- On-camera Optical Viewfinder (OVF)
- On-camera Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)
- Director’s Viewfinder
Optical Viewfinders are inextricably linked to the camera’s main optical path, like in the case of DSLRs. The DSLR viewfinder, though great for still photography, is really useless for videography. Under some cases it might work, but most of the time, it won’t.
The BMCC, on the other hand, has no provision for an OVF, and most cameras now come with EVFs only. It is much easier for a manufacturer to re-route a video signal than to design a good optical viewfinder, so I believe, for videography at least, the days of the OVF are numbered. This is currently being driven by a phenomenal improvement in pixel density of EVFs, without a large cost burden.
For this reason, if an OVF comes with your camera (which is getting rarer by the day), then use it, otherwise stick to EVFs.
Are there any benefits at all to OVFs over EVFs?
In 2012? Only for high-resolution video, going 4K and beyond. EVFs have about 300 ppi or so, but a good optical viewfinder will only be limited by the lens, and should provide at least twice the resolution, depending on the optical path, mirrors and other compromises made.
E.g., I find it a travesty that only 400 ppi is available for the Sony F65, which is supposedly geared to shoot 8K. But it’s just my personal opinion.
If you are using a DSLR, I highly recommend using it. If not, get a DSLR with a sensor that matches the camera you are using. If you are using a PL mount lens, then get an adapter or alter the mount (there are companies specializing in this).
Finally, use a loupe with frame markings for various aspect ratios – and you have a highly capable director’s viewfinder that can also shoot stills and video!
For everyone else –
Take a look at the Alan Gordon Enterprises Mark Vb Director’s Viewfinder.
Loupes fit LCD/LED monitors to convert it into a viewfinder. Loupes are handy when there’s a lot of light noise (harsh light) and you want to closely study the image. It can also be used as a cheap viewfinder.
Look at the Hoodman HCKP H-LPP3 which also has magnification and focus adjustments.
That’s it for viewfinders. Next we’ll look at splitters, converters, adapters, cables and everything else that’s need to piece the parts together.