Earlier this month, Zacuto and Accsoon announced they were teaming up to release a new product. The product in question is customized versions of the Zacuto Z-Finder and the Accsoon SeeMo that allows you to turn your iPhone into an electronic viewfinder for any camera with an HDMI output – which is just about all of them.
We stopped by the Zacuto booth at NAB 2023 to chat with Zacuto’s Sales Manager, Virge Castillo, to learn more about it, how it works, when it’ll be arriving and how much it’ll cost. Don’t get your hopes up yet, though!
Turning the iPhone into a valuable on-set tool
I’ve seen two responses to the announcement from Zacuto and Accsoon so far. The first is along the lines of the response I had. “Yay! Smartphones are becoming useful for something other than social media and shooting selfies!”. The other is generally something like “Why would I want to use my phone as an EVF when the camera already has an LCD?”. This one, I think I can help answer.
While many cameras today (finally) have a flippy-out LCD that allows you to view from directions other than head-on to the back of the camera. This is a welcome addition to mirrorless cameras, but do you really want to be hanging viewfinder magnifiers and other gadgets off that pretty delicate hinge? Also, even the hinged LCD usually doesn’t put the view right where you need it if the camera is mounted to a shoulder rig.
The displays on most smartphones these days are also generally much higher than those on the LCD on the back of your camera. The iPhone 13 Pro, for example, has a display resolution of almost 3 megapixels. The Sony FX3’s LCD has a resolution of 1.44 megapixels. Sure, the iPhone display is larger, but when viewed through a viewfinder magnifier, they’re scaled to about the same size. So, even though the new Z-Finder only uses a portion of the iPhone screen, it’s still higher resolution than most camera LCDs, meaning you get a clearer view of your camera’s shot.
It’s not going to be the perfect tool for everybody, but if the cost of this unit from Zacuto and Accsoon comes out at less than buying a similar resolution dedicated EVF, then it’s going to save people money.
On-screen helpers with touchscreen access
Some people might be wondering why the new Z-Finder isn’t able to view the entire iPhone screen. Well, there is a reason for this. It’s to allow you access to a portion of the touchscreen. This lets you turn on helpers, like seeing individual colour channels, turning zebra stripes on or off or one of a number of other features and adjust app settings without having to remove the viewfinder each time.
We haven’t been provided with a full list of on-screen assistants the device and app will contain, but we did see both a histogram and waveform running on the iPhone screens at NAB – viewable through the viewfinder. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be included in the final thing or that they’ll take the same form as they currently do. But the fact that they’re currently there suggests we’ll get them in the final thing.
This is great for those using cameras that don’t feature these tools built in. While many mirrorless cameras are being released these days that do contain tools such as waveforms, vectorscopes, etc. there are still quite a few that don’t. Given that many companies are now starting to tailor different product lines to different needs – stills vs video – then I expect this will continue for quite some time. And for those that don’t, this adds that functionality.
What about Android?
There isn’t really a lot to say here, but I felt it deserved its own section just to make it obvious. At the moment, Zacuto and Accsoon have only mentioned the iPhone. And in the interview above, you can hear Virge specifically mention a Lightning cable. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in a year or two as Apple start to swap it out for USB-C, but still, that’s a whole separate issue.
Even when the iPhone does switch from Lightning to USB, it still doesn’t guarantee it’ll come for Android. For a start, Accsoon would still need to write an app for it. If an Android version ever does become available, I expect it will only be for very specific Android devices due to the variable ways in which the USB-C socket, protocols and bandwidth limits can be implemented into various devices. High-end flagships from popular brands like Samsung? Perhaps. Randon generic Android device you picked up on AliExpress? Almost certainly not.
Zacuto and Accsoon haven’t said anything about an Android version coming. We’ve reached out to the companies for confirmation on this and will update this post if and when they reply. But for now, I’d go ahead on the assumption that this won’t be coming for Android.
Price and availability
Yeah, I know you’re all waiting to find out information on pricing or availability. So are we. At the moment, Zacuto says that they’re still working with Accsoon on prototypes and getting things finalised so a release date isn’t yet available. This means that a price is also not yet available, but we’ll let you know as soon as we hear more!