{Z-Finder Review} What's in my bag | Northern Virginia Filmmaker

In my mentoring sessions and conversations with other photographers, I am often asked what tools I use to create my photos and films. So, I decided to create a series of blog posts telling you what equipment and products I use and why I find them useful. I’m kicking it off today with one of the newest additions to my bag. I've had the opportunity this year to review the Zacuto Z-Finder Pro and I’m so glad I did. Read on for my take and why it’s part of the family now...and don't miss the awesome discount code for my readers at the end if you are ready to purchase one for yourself!

It all started because I had been searching for a way to both reduce glare from the sun on my LCD screen when I film outside and to improve my general viewing of the screen both indoors and outdoors because it is sometimes difficult to see if I am nailing focus. In my research for tools that could help me, I came across a range of optical viewfinders and the Z-Finder Pro was both well-rated and well-reviewed for my specific purposes. Since I always pay attention to the brands that supply the products I like, I want to quickly mention what Zacuto’s brand is all about: Zacuto’s USA-made, production-grade, filmmaking camera accessories and rigs are designed by filmmakers for filmmakers. Their mission is to create products designed to make our lives as filmmakers easier and our long shooting days more comfortable and streamlined. In their own words, Zacuto’s original designs free filmmakers to focus on innovation, inspiration, and creativity. Sounds good to me!

My Z-Finder (my specific model is the Z-Finder Pro 2.5 for 3.2” Screens) arrived promptly and well-packaged. There were clear instructions with graphics and I had no confusion as I read through everything.

I attached the Z-Finder and took it for a spin outside. Looking through the viewfinder for the first time I was simply AMAZED at how well I could see the scene I was filming. The eyepiece blocked out the bright afternoon sun so that I did not need to pull my camera into a shadow at the correct angle to either film or preview my clips. I adjusted the diopter and the screen was perfectly magnified so that I could view even small details, and with enough general contrast to see defined edges within the focal plane quite well.

I was able to track movement well and render focus according to my screen quite easily, even with a long lens, which is usually tricky to handhold and focus quickly and accurately at a low aperture. I also appreciated that I had another point of contact (my face pressed against the eyecup) with which to stabilize and maintain control of my camera. I was so impressed. I also had a nice surprise when I went back to edit. I pulled my clips into Premiere Pro and saw that they were mostly exposed just right with nice rich shadows and preserved highlights, which is sometimes difficult to do when filming outside because I just can’t see clearly enough due to light and glare. I owe this to the Z-Finder because I was able to view my screen so well and consistently monitor my exposure and colors. My editing time was greatly reduced because my clips looked so great straight out of camera! I shot this little film of my kids using the Z-Finder on a Nikon D750 along with 35mm and 85mm lenses. Note the focus and stabilization.

There are a few things to note when considering the Z-Finder Pro optical viewfinder. The first is something that one may notice with any single-eye optical viewfinder and that is that the non-shooting eye may become fatigued from squinting after a while of near constant filming. For me, after subsequent uses it was not as noticeable as the first time. Another thing to consider is that when the Z-Finder Pro is attached, you are unable to shoot still images (unless in live view). So if you have a hybrid (film and photo) session this means you would need to either have two cameras or simply snap the Z-Finder Pro off and hang it while not in use on the handy neck lanyard provided by Zacuto. It’s a bit stiff to snap on and off the first few times, but then it loosens up a bit and is quick and easy.

Let’s take a look:

Advantages: Magnifies screen x2.5, blocks glare from indoor and outdoor light sources. Low profile, portable, and does not require batteries. Comfortable self-closing eyecup. Provides an extra point of contact to stabilize camera. Customizeable for different camera models. Excellent customer service and warranty. Built by filmmakers, for filmmakers.

Considerations: Screen does not swivel while Z-Finder Pro is attached. Possible eye fatigue of non-shooting eye. Unable to look through viewfinder to shoot stills without removing the Z-Finder Pro. This product is a higher-end optical viewfinder (solidly made with high quality materials) priced at $395.

In conclusion, the Zacuto Z-Finder Pro fills a distinct need for filmmakers wanting a premium optical viewfinder. It is made extremely well and comes with a lifetime guarantee. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for improved viewing of the LCD screen indoors or outdoors, to magnify the screen, and to monitor exposure and focus consistently and accurately, as well as to improve stabilization. You will definitely notice a difference. The more I use my Z-Finder Pro, the more I love it!

This is my personal experience with the Z-Finder Pro, but you can find out all the details about it and where to purchase here on the Zacuto website, along with all the other tools and accessories they create for professional filmmakers around the world. 

And here comes the fun part for all of you who are now thinking the Z-Finder might be just what you need! Zacuto is kindly offering readers a $50 discount off their purchase of the Z-Finder through the end of the month! Just use the code ANGIE50 at https://store.zacuto.com/. One time use per customer. Cannot be combined with other offers. Ends at midnight CST July 31st, 2017.

Disclaimer: I was provided a Z-Finder Pro in exchange for an unbiased review of the product. The opinions expressed here are my own, are truthful, and are reflective of my actual experience using the product. Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I will give my honest insight.

Life in Motion: March | Northern Virginia Birth Films

Another year, another film as part of our Life in Motion video blog circle. This time I'm sharing a film from a home birth earlier this year. This birth really touched me in many ways. Beginning with the continuous emotional and physical support from the birth team throughout both parts of labor, and the incredible genuine love and spiritual connection that radiated within this family, to the surprising location in the home where baby decided he wanted to be born. There were so many unforgettable aspects of this birth, and I am so grateful I was able to be there to document this beautiful story as it unfolded. Thank you to the wonderful providers at BirthCare and BirthPartners. Always a pleasure sharing the birth space with you.

Check out the highlight images and video below, and then stop by my friend Stacey's blog next to see her sweet summer memories film, and follow the circle around!

A Mother's Dance: Northern Virginia Maternity Photographer

Yauri connected with me in December to discuss having her pregnancy and the birth of her fourth child documented. When I learned that she was a professional dancer and how passionate she is about self-expression through movement, I knew in my heart that dance would be infused into the keepsakes I was to create for her. And so our vision evolved into a casual but meaningful winter session portraying dancing as an artful tribute to motherhood and God's blessing of new life.

I asked Yauri to tell me a bit about the role of dancing in motherhood. Today, I'm honored to share excerpts of her beautiful writing with you, along with some image highlights from her maternity session:

I think of dance as communication. A way of storytelling. And so dancing--performing, taking classes, and teaching classes--means my movement and artistic voice comes from an even deeper place since I have become a mother. I believe it is a result of experiencing vulnerability during labor and giving birth, needing support through the labor process, and coming into my womanhood as I have become a mother. So my movement and dancing tells that story, too.
This is our fourth baby, and with every pregnancy, there is a specific rhythm each of our children has. I can feel it. I can name it. It becomes familiar, even after birth. Dance is certainly a way for me to grow closer to my baby. I have danced professionally throughout my pregnancies. Being able to perform while also growing and carrying a life, I have felt that my babies were dancing with me. I know what my body is capable of as a dancer and therefore I know what my body is capable of as a woman and a human being. I have confidence and I feel empowered throughout the labor process because I allow my body to do what it needs to do. 



Letters to Our Children: Mason Turns Five

Dear Mason,                                   

Today you are five. I just watched the video from your first year, and now 5 years old seems so big to me. You are still the same happy guy you’ve been since you joined our family. This morning we all awoke to bright sunshine for the first time in many days, which made me smile, because you are a child who brings so much light and warmth to us. You like to show your love by offering the bigger piece of something yummy to your brother or sister, saving a bite of your special treats at school, and asking for something you can bring back for them when they aren't with you. You volunteer to take one for the team by playing the character or using the toy that isn’t popular...just because you like to make people happy. You are a model of kindness and generosity. You are a fiercely loyal brother and a thoughtful friend.

You are still working on staying seated during meals, but you love to eat pizza, sushi, smoothies, and Indian food. We're going to have to have your brother keep an eye on you in high school and college because you’ve never met a beverage you didn’t like. It takes you a while to settle down at bedtime, running around in your Avengers Pull-up and waving your sword like a ninja monkey until you crash into bed. But, you have finally become a good sleeper. You still like your naps, climbing under the covers after preschool and calling to me: ‘Mom, can you tuck me in?’

You learned how to ride your bike and swim faster this year, and how to read and write. This week you discovered you could tell a fib and just say you ‘forgot’ when I asked you about it. You learned to pray from your heart and to consider others who have less than you. You love to color mandalas and build Legos. You say little jokes and phrases that make us laugh, and create so much that reveals your little soul. Your favorite place to be is outside in nature, searching for edibles in the garden, collecting bugs, spotting birds, and asking us about clouds, planets, and other 'fings in da sky.’

You and I love to snuggle, wherever and whenever. Sometimes we do eskimo kisses and butterfly kisses. Other times I hold you tight, rub your back, and you just close your little eyes while I give you lots of smooches all over your sweet face. You love to be close to me. I am so grateful for that. But what you don’t know is that time we share together is when I’m doing my best to imprint you into my heart. Your baby-smooth skin, the arch on your top lip, your soft cheeks, the shape of your eyebrows, the smell of your hair, the tiny patches of blonde downy fur that I discovered the day you were born. I take it all in, saying silly things and giggling with you, yet swallowing back a lump because you’re growing and changing so much right before my eyes...this fills my cup right up to the brim and breaks my heart all at once. I never want to forget you just as you are, today and everyday. So I make pictures with my mind and with my camera, and cling tight to our moments the best I can.

Happy birthday, my sweet and tender boy.



{Some film and digital photos from 2016}

An Open Letter to President Obama on His Last Day in Office

An Open Letter to President Obama on His Last Day in Office:

I remember that fine January morning in 2009, standing on the National Mall as the sun rose gloriously on the day of your inauguration. I was pregnant, and spent the hours before you appeared nudging my way through the crowds back and forth to the port-a-johns. We could see our breath in the frigid air, but we basked in the collective warmth radiating out of the hearts and smiles of the nearly two million of us who waited to welcome you. I asked my husband to lift me up to get a view of the crowd, and as I looked out across the sea of American flags and hopeful eyes, I felt the widest, proudest smile come across my face and a lump of gratitude form in my throat. I was simply honored to consider that the child I was carrying would know a black President in his lifetime.

The hope for what having you in office meant for people of color was my reason for showing up that day. All eyes and ears were glued to you as you accepted your role with appreciation and confidence. I glanced at faces around me and felt the most profound sense of unity, a memory that will never leave me. Back then, my heart did not know the President Obama that we know now. But I had heard whispers of the change, justice, and equality for which you stood...and that was all I needed to give you my blessing.

Then, over the months and years that followed, I fell in love with you and your family for all the security, hope, and kindness you showed in your words and deeds. For the ways that you handled even the most difficult of situations with humility and grace. For the respect you held for your responsibility as President. As your hair grayed, and as your daughters grew into young women, you walked the steady path without falter.

You captivated me with your speeches; words pouring forth from deep within your heart, whether celebrating good news, or in laying your hands on the bereaved. You made me laugh when you were not afraid to laugh at yourself. Your love for your wife made me want to love my own partner more fiercely.

I am proud and grateful that my three children were born during your time as President, and have only known you as our country's leader. You led by example, without scandal or corruption. Your sense of purpose was always clearly focused on the American people, proceeding with thoughtfulness and sincerity. Nothing was ever about your own personal benefit, and you were always quick to give credit where it was due. Politics aside, you are as decent a man as they come...and that is what I believe a President should be, first and foremost.

I am heartbroken to bid you farewell as our Commander-in-Chief, but on behalf of myself and my family, I want to thank you for your steadfast service to our country. You have touched the lives of so many with your leadership, inspiring the people of the United States even across party lines, each and every day until the very end. We are grateful for all the good that came out of your time at the White House. Our great President, you will be missed, but never forgotten.

{snapshots from the 56th inauguration}