Is A Traditional Director's Viewfinder Still Part of Your Toolkit?

Are traditional director's viewfinders still a viable option?

My inbox was hit with news about a new full-frame director's viewfinder from Optica Mangus aptly named the Optica Magnus Full Frame Finder. It's a traditional optical viewfinder compatible with sensors up to 46.31mm, which includes Super 35, full-frame, ARRI LF, RED Vista Vision, Sony VENICE, etc. "Oh great."

The release said it can be used with spherical or anamorphic lenses, supporting squeeze factors of 1.5x and 1.9x with an anamorphic module. The eyepiece can also be changed out to be compatible with Super 35 lenses. The one standout feature is that it can be used with custom frame lines. It works via an app, where the aspect ratio is printed on an acetate slide which can then be placed on top of the ground glass. Cool. So, basically any aspect ratio imaginable. Want to mimic 1:1.19 which DP Jarin Blaschke used on The Lighthouse? Go ahead. 

Optica Mangus Full Frame Finder

The Full Frame Finder is being supported by the great people over at P+S Technik, so it's equipped with the P+S Interchangeable Mount System (IMS). This provides 10 different lens mounting options, so the sky is the limit in terms of compatible lenses. It features remind me of the Love High Speed Full Frame Director's Viewfinder. "Let's see how much the Optima Magnus costs? $10,000? Ah, crap." 

How can I justify $10K for a director's viewfinder? When comparing it to the cost of an ARRI or RED camera, it's nothing. When thinking about lenses, I don't bat an eye if it costs $30,000 or more. I'm never going to buy a lens that expensive, but I'm definitely going to consider it as a rental. How come I can't consider the viewfinder the same? 

I want to make it clear I'm not calling out Optica Magnus. The price is competitive to Kish's viewfinder and others. Plus, the company has an excellent line of lens expanders that I have used. Expanders work opposite to speed boosters, like those from Metabones. The latter allows full-frame lenses to be mounted to a smaller APS-C or Micro Four Thirds sensor. Expanders let lenses with smaller image circles to be used on large sensors. 

Maybe it's only me, but are traditional director's viewfinders still viable?

Sigma is trying a different route with the fp that ties in the full-frame mirrorless camera with a director's viewfinder module. No Film School has also talked about the Artemis Pro Director's Viewfinder app. In the past, the Alan Gordon Mark Vb seemed to be wrapped around every director's neck. Same with a Denz or Canavision viewfinder. IBE Optics has its Smartfinder Pro and standalone app. Cardage is another solid app option. Plus, there are dozens of other director's viewfinder apps available for download, too. Digital cameras themselves are serving as viewfinders, but is that limited to indie filmmaking? Deakins used a Sony alpha camera to match the sensor of the ARRI LF to plot out 1917, so maybe not.

So, I'm curious. What are you using as a director's viewfinder, if anything at all? What do you use as a reference framing too? Are you still seeing director's viewfinders in prep or on set? Michael Bay are you still using the Gordon Mark Vb? Let me know in the comments below.      

Your Comment

4 Comments

I actually still use and love the Alan Gordon Mark Vb! I used to have my name engraved on it, but I had that removed under the idea that I would eventually sell it, but I haven't yet and still will use it for early blocking before I've locked it down.

March 27, 2020 at 12:22PM

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Charles Haine
Filmmaker, Tech Nerd

thanks for this info.

March 28, 2020 at 10:53AM

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thomas
developer
93

Use a cheap camera. Does really no need to buy a crazy expensive piece of equipment. Most canvas these days can have the same relative focal distance to show you how a shot will look .

March 28, 2020 at 7:47PM

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Chris Hackett
Director, Director of Photography, Writer
843

After a few years I found that I only used a director's viewfinder to show the director exactly what was in frame. For example, he (or she) might complain about too many practical lamps on a film set, but by showing them the shot, you would only actually see one through the finder. Also, in these post-film days, the director can see the shot earlier as you set up, so less need for a viewfinder. The Artemis is definitely super-quick to use too...

April 2, 2020 at 11:18AM

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Danny Nowak
Cinematographer
89

Viewfinder from an old rangefinder camera. Unfortunately, it only goes down to 35mm width (35, 50, 85, 90, 135mm).

April 7, 2020 at 3:30PM

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Marc Goodman
DP, Director, Actor
8