Camera Corner
The New Canon 5D Mark II and
Installation of a Professional Video Finder
January 2009

by Dirk Fletcher

Having been lucky enough to see an early sample of the new Canon 5D Mark II, I, like others, am only beginning to realize the potential and meaning of this remarkable camera. As the lines between the still and motion world have long been converging, this camera is the single step that may blur the lines beyond recognition.

Canon's efforts to serve the photojournalist's need to provide both still and motion from the same event inadvertently changed the face of the independent filmmaker. Suddenly, the marvels of Red Camera's Scarlet, just released, and the affordable CineAlta Sony EX-1 seem overpriced and unnecessary. A camera with the ability to use the fantastic top shelf and readily available 'L' optics coupled with affordable and equally plentiful media, this sub-$3,000 camera packs a punch that we will all be reeling from for some time to come.

This isn't being written as a praise piece for this camera (couldn't tell, right?) but as a source of inspiration for all. After handling the camera for only a few minutes (under the watchful eye of a Canon technical guru) it was apparent that one of the largest factors keeping it from being truly embraced by the independent production world is its lack of a decent or real finder. Others will argue the focus modes will be problematic but the real issue is one of the same: using a decent finder, one should be able to focus while filming without issue.

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So, while waiting for my new 5D to arrive started out as a test of patience, it has turned into a pretty fulfilling design challenge. In order to shoot video, the mirror flips up and the camera's live view engages and the photographer (operator, cameraman, whatever?!?) views the scene on the vertically mounted 3-inch screen. Not quite ideal from an ergonomic perspective.

Enter the challenge: the adaptation and installation of a professional video finder.

The AV jack on the 5D sends a composite signal, so I tested this signal on a 1DS Mark III and a 40D by feeding it into an LCD monitor and it worked without a hitch. On to step two: The obvious choice of using a finder from a Canon XL-series video camera was squashed by its inputs. All the XL-series finders have a component input, meaning red, green and blue signals are separated then fed into the monitor instead of a combined or composite signal, such as the 5D's output. The Canon XL finder would cause an additional challenge that wasn't necessary.

After consulting with a top Hollywood camera and Steadicam operator (my brother) it was learned that if you are concerned with focus and framing, a black-and-white, 1.5-inch CRT (little TV tube) finder was preferred over an LCD or Liquid Crystal Display. The contrastier image of the CRT makes critical focusing easier.

Perfect – I located a JVC professional CRT monitor on eBay, new in the box for less then $250 bucks.

Constructing the bracket took a little design consideration and some elbow grease. Due to its size, I decided the best approach would be to mount the finder vertically on the 5D's hot shoe and spin the eyepiece backwards 45 degrees. This allows you to hold the camera much as you would hold a Hasselblad with a 45-degree prism in your hands.

A crude 'break' was used to bend the flat aluminum stock around the finder after using a mill to create a dovetail to match the finder's receiver plate. A plastic hot shoe was used as to not risk shorting the pins on the cameras hot shoe. I finished the mounting bracket with glossy black epoxy paint and added an accessory shoe to the top for mics or wireless accessories.

I did employ the services of a professional video repair facility to properly identify the pinout on the din cable that needed to be converted to a RCA signal input and 12-volt power input.

Power can be served through a variety of sources, ranging from a wall transformer, car plug, 8 AA holder or my preference, a 12-volt, 5Ah battery from Batteries Plus, which is available for about $30. This same battery can power my location LCD monitor.

This article is not intended to be a how-to but should be used as a source of inspiration and jumping off point for the chronic equipment dabbler and mechanically inclined.

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© Dirk Fletcher

Dirk Fletcher is the Department Chairman of the Digital Photography Department at Harrington College of Design in Chicago's Loop as well as a working photographer and filmmaker. He is a board member and the educational coordinator of the Chicago chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers, ASMP.

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