Review by Clinton Harn.
We take a look at Zacuto’s entry into the professional market of EVFs or electronic viewfinders. For those unfamiliar with Zacuto, the company cemented its notoriety in the market during the emergence of the Canon 5D Mark II, and produced the Z-Finder, a loupe for DSLR bodies that became a staple piece of kit found in every indie filmmakers bag. Since then, Zacuto has become a household name; manufacturing products ranging from camera cages & rigs, articulated arms, follow focus units to electronic viewfinders.
With more cost effective camera packages now available, the manufacturing of camera rigs and nuts & bolts have risen quickly and become more competitive in recent times, and its no surprise that Zacuto have adopted a new business model catering to what seems to be more essential in today’s modern arsenal of filmmaking. Notable products now include their next generation Recoil rigs that are highly modular & compatible with most camera brands.
Introducing the Zacuto Gratical HD. An aftermarket, micro-OLED electronic viewfinder suitable to almost every digital & modern camera currently on the market. This device is Zacuto’s answer to an add-on item that serves to increase the image quality, ergonomics & usability compared to the usually sub standard or proprietary EVFs found on most brands. The Gratical is a high-end product that is feature rich with imaging reference tools that are only commonly found on more expensive & similar devices.
I’ve been a long time fan of Zacuto products, and own a myriad of gear from ZAmerican arms, Zwiss cage to the Z-finder EVF Pro & my trusty Z-focus. Based on the success I havee had with all these products, It only made sense to make the move to the Gratical upon its release.
With so many EVF options on the market, it can be very hard to ascertain what’s best suited for actual shooting. Personally, I’ve used everything from the RED Bomb, to the SmallHD DP4, Cineroid’s EVF4RVW Retina Display and the Alphatron EVF-035W-3G. With so many feature nuances, along with inclusions and exclusions, it was difficult to find the one EVF that was highly versatile. I suspect Zacuto may have just made the ‘silver bullet’ with this offering.
I’ll spare you the expense of having to sit though all the specs and often-regurgitated selling points. You can find all that online. This EVF has more features you can poke a stick at, so I’m just going to go through features that work well on application and also things to look out for.
Upon first impressions, this thing is built well. It certainly looks and feels like something that will withstand the rigours of a grueling film shoot. While others may find the shape odd, the footprint & size is pretty nice. It’s fairly compact by comparison to other EVFs on the market. Nothing worse than a big bulky chunk on plastic hanging off the side of your camera. Mounting options include a 1/4 20 thread and a professional rosette option. Zacuto also provide a variety of mounting accessories like their Axis adapters & rail systems that will work with most cameras.
The unit can be powered by a Canon LP-e6 battery, which is abundantly available, but I do find it odd that there isn’t an alternative direct powering option. Meaning you’ll just have to rely on the batteries themselves or perhaps a Lp-e6 coupler to a d-tap adapter.
Unlike other EVFs, where you can remove the loupe & and just have the screen, this EVF does not have a flip open screen. Its a small surface OLED screen internally which is then magnified by the precision optics built in.
The overall screen area is a 4:3 aspect, which is split into a 16:9, while the bottom third is utilised to display essential tools like a waveform, histogram and vectorscope. The full display resolution is a very sufficient 1280×1024. This unit is also packed with a bunch of video processing features, but the obvious & most helpful ones will ensure that you will achieve critical focus and the best exposure for your images. The usual suspects include, Zebras, Multi Color Peaking, False Color plus the scopes mentioned above just to name a few.
Now onto the things I found most useful about the Gratical. One main feature that defines this EVF as a professional tool are the number of I/O options available. I totally love this bit. HDMI & HD-SDI inputs & outputs with loop thru capability, and internal signal cross conversion from HDMI to HD-SDI with an independent LUT on the output stream. These I/Os also mean you can send auxiliary signals to wireless transmitters for video village or include additional monitors in the signal chain if your camera doesn’t provide those additional outputs. Also, unlike other EVFs, there’s virtually no signal latency, which means you’re not going get any image lag.
There’s also a growing trend to include LUT options in lots of external monitors, however not so much on cheaper EVFs. This his more evident and applicable now given the almost ‘artistic’ like preference for most folks to shoot in Log even when the majority don’t understand the ramifications or benefits of shooting with this profile. Having a LUT option will give you a much more pleasing image to look at, while keeping your beard-sporting director happy. Having this function is best used for monitoring of course and to see how your highlights & shadows behave, and also what the overall aesthetic of the image will look like in post, once finished and graded. The Gratical comes with the option to import and edit LUTS. You can store eight profiles internally and another eight external via USB.
The function and shortcut assignable buttons are logically placed on the side of the EVF and are ergonomically accessible. Four buttons, including the four jog wheel directions will give you eight programmable functions. The layout of its hardware peripherals are well designed and the rosette mounting option is an extremely welcomed addition to ensure a rigid and secure attachment. Another two sensible inclusions are the built in diopters for eye focus correction and an auto-closing eyecup, which prevents sunburn spots on your display.
Additional video features that I found most useful are the anamorphic aspect, audiometers to monitor levels should your camera not have them and frame guides. The colour bars are also handy if you want to calibrate the EVF from time to time.
As we said before, the Gratical is compatible and modular with most cameras. The terrific thing about an aftermarket & high quality EVF like this one is that you can use it with multiple camera packages. I have successfully implemented this EVF across my Blackmagic Design rigs like the URSA and 2.5k Cinema Camera, while also streaming simultaneous video feeds with my parallax gear to video village just through the Gratical. On a shoot, the Gratical is one of the better practical designs I’ve used.
My minor gripes are the weight and power on/off button. The weight is the result of the components required to manufacture the EVF. I’m told that there is a dual core processor in the internal surface mount technology. Hence its weight, but Its certainly no deal breaker for me considering what a high performance device this is. I’d rather sacrifice a few grams and go for reliability than have something fail while in the field. The other issue I have is the power switch on the EVF. It’s a small spring loaded yet tactile button located under the logo, which you often miss when powering down your camera, but not the Gratical.
With all that aside, how does the thing look? Is it as bright, sharp & brilliant as Zacuto claims it is? Well, i won’t use those same exact words, but I can tell you that the image was pretty damn impressive. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised. I must admit that I’ve always had a hard time discerning the difference of resolution between EVFs on the market. As long as I had focus assist tools, pulled a sharp image, knew what my exposure limits were & was able to frame & compose, I was a pig in shit. The image on the Gratical however is remarkable, but it comes at a cost. In the end, as the saying goes, you pay for what you get.
Clinton Harn is a producer, filmmaker and recording engineer. He has been a lecturer at JMC Academy for the last ten years and runs his own production company specialising in music videos, documentaries and short feature films.