Zacuto EVF vs SmallHD DP4 – which EVF?
Stand alone EVF’s (Electronic View Finders) have become quite popular recently mainly because they solve a few of the niggles associated with shooting video on a DSLR. It’s very limiting trying to shoot handheld using the built in LCD on a DSLR, even if your’e using a viewfinder attachment like the Zacuto Z-Finder or LCDVF because you’re stuck behind the camera making it impractical to get anything where you would like to detach your head from the camera.
EVF’s can also be very useful for other camera rigs as it allows you to set up the viewfinder in a position that suits your shooting position rather than being restricted to the original design of the camera. Many people want to put a camcorder on their shoulder but that makes using the built in LCD or EVF impossible so a stand alone EVF helps here too.
As well as the ergonomic advantages there’s also the added benefit that many of the EVF’s on the market also include software based tools that help you to frame, expose and focus correctly. Although such tools are common on camcorders they are lacking on most DLSR’s so adding an EVF to a DSLR rig can improve your results as well as making your shooting more comfortable.
I purchased a SmallHD DP4 in 2011 without ever really trying the Zacuto EVF so when asked on twitter how they compare I didn’t really know, A nice person from Zacuto spotted that and asked me if I’d like to borrow a review model for a few weeks so I jumped at the chance.
Build quality and design features
The DP4 and the Z-EVF are quite different in design and have been built with slightly different tasks in mind. The DP4-EVF is marketed as two devices in one and in fact can be purchased just as a 4.3″ field monitor with or without the additional viewfinder component. The Zacuto EVF on the other hand seems to be designed purely as an EVF, making use of the companies already very popular Z-Finder eyepiece. I’ll run through my thoughts on each.
The DP4’s core monitor is made from aluminium resulting in a rugged yet compact and lightweight device. There are various battery plate options for the DP4 which simply snap on to the back, these are really nicely designed and fit well. Mine is fitted with a dual canon LP-E6 battery plate. The viewfinder part is constructed from ABS plastic with a few metal parts as well and covered in a rubber grip texture material. With a battery plate and the viewfinder fitted the DP4 weighs in at just 1lb or 0.45kg’s
The viewfinder attachment snaps on to the monitor easily yet firmly. The flip up eyepiece uses magnets to hold it in position both when it’s down on the monitor and when it’s in the flipped up position. My DP4 initially came with smallHD’s original eyecup which had a tendency to fall off with the slightest touch. SmallHD have recently introduced a new eyecup design that both solves the loose fit and improves the devices resistance to damage from the sun if allowed to shine directly in the eyepiece. The new design also features a cap and holder that also uses magnets to allow it to be stowed under the eye cup when not in use. I managed to break mine taking it off during this review though so be careful with that!
The DP4 has three mounting holes, one on it’s bottom edge and one each side allowing for a lot of mounting options. The units controls are to be found along the top with communications ports along the bottom including an HDMI input, a composite /component input (via a jack based breakout cable) and an HDMI pass through connector. There’s also a mini USB port for which requires an adapter cable (included) to allow firmware updates using a USB flash drive.
Owning a smallHD Dp6 I found the controls to be familiar, although the slightly unpredictable scroll wheel from the DP6 is also present here. Like the DP6 the wheel on the DP4 doesn’t always respond as expected making navigation a bit of a hit and miss affair. There’s two custom function buttons that can be assigned to activate features as desired, I tend to have mine set to Peaking and False Colour.
For use on a DSLR I actually find the placement of the HDMI connectors on the bottom edge to be less than ideal, it causes any standard HDMI leads to hit the top of the camera. There is a 90 degree adapters included which can help but I do think that having the connectors on the sides like the Z-EVF is a better option.
One very useful addition on the DP4 is a headphone socket which also doubles as a composite passthrough. Because HDMI also carries audio it’s possible to connect a pair of headphones and monitor the audio during playback directly from a DSLR or other HDMI feed. With my DP6 I normally have to disconnect the monitor and show clients clips on the back of the camera as that’s the only way to hear the audio, with the DP4 though they can watch on the monitor and listen via headphones which is a nice touch.
Overall I think the DP4 is an excellent design, the monitor on it’s own is very slim yet feels like a high quality item. The EVF attachment is made suitably light from it’s part plastic construction yet retains a very high quality feel. The excellent design with the magnetic stops and the solid fitting between the DP4 and it’s EVF makes the whole thing feel very well designed.
The Zacuto EVF is designed to be used with the companies Z-Finder range of viewfinders. The unit being reviewed is the EVF-Pro version which includes a full Z-Finder Pro viewfinder along with camera mounts etc for use on the back of the camera as well. There are other options available which include Zacuto’s lower specced viewfinders. The Z-finder Pro has been updated a a little since I reviewed it back in January 2010, it’s mounting options have been changed and it now includes an anti-fogging insert which seems to work really well.
The monitor unit itself is constructed from plastic, but don’t let that put you off, it’s very tough! Being constructed in this way the monitor unit is a lot lighter than the DP4 but then it also has a smaller 3.2″ screen and only holds one Canon LP-E6 battery. Unlike the DP4 the Z-EVF does not come with removable battery plates, it’s designed to work with Canon LP-E6 batteries only.
The unit has a metal Z-Finder frame which locks down via a red anodised spring loaded clasp. This metal frame is the mounting point for the Z-Finder which simply push fits on to the frame. A Z-Finder Pro is quite a heavy thing and once this has been added the overall weight of the EVF feels similar to the DP4.
The viewfinder can be flipped up by depressing the clasp and flipping the whole Z-Finder frame unit up revealing the monitor underneath. Unlike the DP4 though there’s nothing in the design that holds the flip up and with a Z-finder being quite heavy it can come down with quite a bit of force so you need to be careful not to let it fall. I found that the Z-finder would often pop off the frame all too easily when trying to flip it. I don’t think it would be very long before the Z-finder went on a little flight by itself, something to be very careful with! I know that Zacuto also offer versions of the EVF with lighter viewfinder units so that might be something to consider.
The Z-EVF has a very simple layout, on the left is a recessed on/off button with four further buttons above that for navigating the menu and controlling custom functions. One the right side is an HDMI input and an HDMI pass through. HDMI is the only inut type on the Z-EVF, unlike the DP4 it does not offer component or composite input options. The bottom of the unit contains a full size USB connector for firmware updates and the single mounting point for the unit, unlike the DP4 there’s just the one option here.
I personally find the design of the Z-EVF to be not quite as good as the SmallHD DP4, the lack of any retainer for the viewfinder when it’s flipped up and the fact that the Z-Finder can detach quite easily from the frame let it down a little. The plastic construction does make it feel a little less substantial than the DP4 but it’s still tough and I’m sure will stand up to everyday use just as well.
I think it would be a hard call to say which one would be most likely to survive a drop, that’s one test I won’t be performing!
Update: At appears the Zacuto EVF can indeed survive a drop test… twice! Watch the video.
One important factor to take int account is that the Zacuto EVF will not display a 1080/50 or 1080/60 feed, it can only handle up to 1080/30p. The DP4 on the other hand will display a 1080/50 or 60 feed.
Accessories and other things in the box
Both EVF’s come with a range of accessories in the box, although various versions are available so this may not always apply.
SmallHD DP4 EVF
- Mini HDMI Cable
- Sun Hood
- Component cable
- Hotshoe ball mount
- Power supply
- Acrylic screen protector
- Cleaning cloth
Zacuto EVF Pro
- Mini HDMI Cable
- Battery charger
- Hotshoe ball mount
- Z-Finder Pro
Resolution, colour accuracy and image quality
I’ll start of by saying that I didn’t test anything scientifically, I just used my mark 1 eyeball and compared the images shown in the EVF’s to those displayed on the camera and the final recorded results.
The DP4 has a 4.3″ screen using a resolution of 800 x 480. The Z-EVF is also 800 x 480 but packs it’s pixels into a 3.2″ display so the actual PPI (pixels per inch) of the Z-EVF is higher. As well as comparing the monitors using the same camera feed I also hooked up a blu-ray player feeding both monitors side by side and the Z-EVF’s higher resolution was easily visible with fine details remaining sharp even at it’s tiny 3.2″ size.
Judging focus in the monitor mode (viewfinder flipped up) is a lot easier on the DP4, the image may not look as detailed on the DP4 but it’s larger screen size comes in to play and it’s easier to pick out focus points. The 3.2″ screen on the Z-EVF just isn’t really big enough to compete in this respect, regardless of the overall image appearing to be higher in resolution.
Colour accuracy wise I felt the Z-EVF performed the best, displaying colours that best matched those being captured. The DP4 seemed to look overly bright compared to the image on the Z-EVF, even with the brightness dialled right down I still couldn’t match the same deeper black levels of the Z-EVF which just seemed to display an image that looked richer and showed more dynamic range
One final thing that’s worth mentioning is that the smallHD DP4 doesn’t handle viewing from angles well at all, walk just to the side slightly and the image would look overly contrasty or washed out. The Z-EVF retained it’s mages well from the same angles. Thats a shame because the DP4 is the most likely of the two to be used as a standard monitor, albeit a small one.
EVF mode and focussing by eye
Once the viewfinders are flipped down over the monitors the differences in screen sizes become less apparent as the viewable size through the viewfinders appears similar. The image in the Z-EVF still looks more natural and better to my eye but interestingly the DP4’s larger brighter screen still makes it easier to spot detail in EVF mode. I find myself really torn at this point because I enjoy the images more in the Z-EVF as they look more natural and it certainly gives a better impression of the final result, but the image in the DP4 looks more detailed and would result in more accurate focussing.
Both viewfinders themselves worked well for me although with it’s adjustable diopter the Z-Finder can be easily adjusted to suit your vision. Correctional 46mm diopter lenses can be installed in the DP4 by removing the eye cup and screwing on new lenses. The DP4 comes with a 46mm UV filter already in place.
Both viewfinders apply some distortion to the image, the Z-EVF tends to cause a little pin cushion distortion whilst the image in the DP4 suffered from some barrel distortion, neither were bad enough to become distracting though.
Menu’s and features
Both EVF’s have a full suite of calibration settings and features to help with focussing, exposure and framing etc. I’m not going to go into detail about every features but I’ll list the main ones and then go into a bit more detail about those I find the most useful.
I found the menu system on the Z-EVF to be easier to use and better designed than the one on the DP4, not that the DP4’s menu was by any means difficult to use, I just think the menu on the Z-EVF is a little more intuitive and has been laid out to be similar to many camera menus by having a single column of options that you can drill into for finer detail. The DP4’s menu is laid out in various sub menus around the screen meaning you have to hunt a bit more. The slightly unpredictable scroll wheel doesn’t help it much in this regard.
So lets compare features, both EVF’s have the following…
- Camera specific scaling settings
- False Colour
- Blue only mode
- 1:1 Mapping
- Assignable function buttons
Features specific to the DP4:
- Focus Assist+
- Voltage Level
Features specific to the Z-EVF
- Anamorphic settings
- Frame Store
- Audio Meters
- Feature location
- Colour Bars
- Battery level indicator
I’d like to go into a little more detail about some of the above as although both EVF’s have some features in common, the way they deal with them can vary. I’ve included some short video clips showing the monitors in operation.
Peaking & Focus assist
Both EVF’s offer the type of peaking that sharpens high contrast areas, they do not offer the type as seen on the DP6 or Marshall monitors where the parts of the image that are in focus are displayed in specific colours. I found the peaking on the DP4 to be more effective than the one on the Z-EVF. The DP4 also offers focus assist which turns the non focussed part of the image into a darker shade whilst still showing the in focus area to be brighter. Although still not as effective as colour peaking this is one step closer than the normal peaking feature and could prove to be useful.
The video below shows the DP4 in FocusAssist+ mode and the Z-EVF with peaking enabled. You can clearly see how much easier it is to judge the in focus area on the DP4.
The DP4 offers two false colour modes to help with exposure, one which colours the whole IRE range and another that only effects the low and high ranges. The Z-EVF just has the one false colour setting and I found that to be the best of the bunch giving nice solid bands of colour and more importantly pretty accurate results.
The video is in two parts, the first shows the DP4 in HML and the second shows it in HL. I’m not really sure why the blown out areas are red in one mode and yellow in the other, I prefer it to be red so like the HL mode more on the DP4. Note how the Z-EVF is reporting highlights earlier than the DP4, from my tests the DP4 was the most accurate although both were reporting less highlights than the camera itself.
The Z-EVF includes zebras function that can display two zebra patterns, both with definable IRE levels. This is a very welcome addition and one that would go a long way towards swaying me towards the Z-EVF.
Both EVF’s provide a full set of markers allowing for various aspect ratios, cross hairs and grids. I really like the way the Z-EVF allows you to choose between basic lines and filled boxes for the aspect markers as it makes it much easier to visualise the final results. When using basic lines as on the DP4 I find my framing tends to still take in to account the items outside the frame because they are still within my vision.
You can see what I mean in the video below, even though the DP4 is showing marker lines it’s still hard to visualise the look of the shot compared to the way it’s being done on the Z-EVF. Of course neither markers effects the final image.
Interestingly the Z-EVF includes an option to display audio meters. In my tests using Canon DSLR’s these would only function during playback and not during recording.
The Z-EVF displays battery levels in really useful increments, the icon displays level bars and changes colour according to the remaining power, when almost out of power the battery icon turns solid red. In contrast the DP4 just tells you the voltage, a reading of 7.4v doesn’t prove anywhere near as useful.
This is a feature on the Z-EVF that allows you to define where on the screen to display the battery level and audio meters.
Colour bars are so useful for calibration, it’s great that they have been included in the Z-EVF.
Camera specific scaling
The DP4 has a few presets including one for Nikon DSLR’s and two for Canon DSLR’s. In contrast the Zacuto EVF lists many individual camera models by name allowing you to dial in the specific settings for your camera.
Frame Store / Freeze
The DP4 offers a frame freeze function that allows you to freeze a frame at any time which although useful pales in comparison to what the Zacuto offers with it’s Frame Store feature. Frame store allows you to store up to seven frames within the monitors memory and then recall those frames and overlay them as a transparent layer over the current output. The beauty of this is that if you need to set up a shot to be close to something shot previously you can recall that frame and then line everything up accordingly. A nice and very useful feature of the Z-EVF.
In order to gauge battery life I ran two tests, the first was with both EVF’s just switched on without any signal being fed to them, they both just display a blue screen in this situation. Even though the DP4 can have two batteries attached I decided to keep everything equal and run just the one battery in each device. The DP4 ran for 3:13 before switching off and the Z-EVF ran for a mammoth 11 hours and six minutes (11:06). That’s a massive difference, I know the screen’s bigger on the DP4 but that’s a big factor to take in to account. The DP4 does get quite hot when it’s running so it’s obviously not as efficient as the Z-EVF which stays cool throughout.
The second test was done whilst displaying a feed on both monitors from a Blu-ray player with false colours and peaking enabled. In this test the DP4 lasted 2:10 and the Z-EVF 6:30 so the run time is obviously partly dependent on how much processing the EVF’s have to perform. In both tests the Z-EVF lasted at least three times longer then the DP4 though which is not insignificant if you need to run for long periods on batteries alone.
Conclusion and prices
Both of these EVF’s work well and each offers advantages over the other. The Z-EVF offers a more accurate and pleasing image, it also offers more software features than the DP4 including zebras, colour bars, frame store and better markers. The Zacuto also offers a much longer battery life as well as a good battery level indicator.
The DP4 may not offer an image that’s as accurate for judging colour and exposure but I found that it does make focussing easier with it’s focusassist+ feature and bigger, brighter display. The flip system is a better design and at 4.3″ the DP4’s screen is just big enough to also work well as a stand alone monitor . The DP4 also offers component and composite inputs as well as HDMI and having the ability to connect up a pair of headphones to monitor audio is an excellent addition. The DP4 can also display 1080/50 or 60 which the Z-EVF is unable to do.
Price is going to be a factor in any purchasing decision. In the US the Zacuto EVF Pro retails at B&H for $950 while the SmallHD DP4 + EVF retails for $750 making the DP4 quite a lot cheaper. Here in the UK though it’s a different story, the DP4 has to be shipped from the US and with import duty and VAT I paid around £650 for mine. Currently in the UK you can buy a Zacuto EVF Pro from CVP for the same price, £650. If you already own a Zacuto Z-finder that’s compatible with the EVF then the price will be further reduced as you’ll just need to buy the EVF part.
If I were purchasing again now I’d probably go for the Zacuto EVF just because they both cost the same here and I find it’s image more accurate for colour and exposure, plus it has more software features and a longer battery life. If you’re more interested in nailing focus or need something that also makes a decent stand alone monitor with an audio monitoring ability then the DP4 might be a better choice.
You need to take all these factors into account and make a call according to your own requirements but for me the lower accuracy of the DP4’s display puts it just behind the Zacuto EVF overall, which is a shame because the DP4 does have a nicer design in my opinion and some useful additional features. Because I already own the DP4 I’m not sure if I’ll be investing in another EVF at the moment but I do know that I’ll be sad to see UPS pick the Zacuto EVF up to take it home.
If you’ve used either of these EVF’s let me know your thoughts via the comments.
The Zacuto EVF Pro as reviewed retails at B&H for $950. View now
There’s also other versions of the Zacuto EVF with alternative viewfinder options and accessories. View range
The SmallHD DP4 is available directly from SmallHD.com