Zacuto Gratical

Zacuto Gratical

Electronic viewfinders have long been the achilles heel of digital cinema cameras; new camera developments and headline specifications generate far more sales than viewfinders.

But cameras are only as good as their Viewfinders - if the operator cannot see clearly to focus, sub-optimal pictures result.


Shooting in 4k or beyond means that there is no room for error; precision focus is essential. I have used and tested a wide range of viewfinders, from hoods on the back of DSLRs to the latest, premium OLED displays on Arri, RED and Sony. There are issues with many and few really deliver; until now. Zacuto, makers of fine cinema grip accessories have watched the problem from afar, made notes and developed their own product, the Gratical.

I was fortunate to get an early production Gratical in March this year (2015).
Full specs are at the end, but to summarise, the Gratical has a 1280 x 1024 OLED display with a luminance range of 120-250cd/m2 The image area is 1280x720px, with the remaining area used for scopes and information that don't impinge on the image.
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LUTs

The headline feature for the Gratical is Look Up Tables (LUTs) . Graticals come supplied with a range of LUTs to normalise the view of the image when shooting log with a wide range of cameras. For owners of Sony F5 / F55 and FS7, trying to work with high or irregular frame rates in S&Q mode, these viewfinders are nothing short of game-changing: the Sony cameras are only capable of showing a washed out, log view of the subject when S&Q mode is enabled, making accurate judging of exposure and focus very hard. Because the Gratical has the necessary LUTs for these cameras built in, there is no reliance on the camera for the correction, and a clear and corrected view of the subject is as simple as choosing the correct LUT in the menu. For anyone needing to customise or load specific LUTs, the process is straightforward and requires only the file(s) to be uploaded from a USB stick. Further options allow users to determine whether LUTs are passed through to additional monitors, external recorders or confined to the Gratical only.

Scopes

Waveform, Vectorscope and Histogram are all built-in to Gratical and display outside the image area. The position (above or below the image) is customisable, as is the order in which they appear. Whether the scopes show pre or post LUT data can also be configured.
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Image Quality

Out of the box, Gratical is sharper and more detailed than anything else that I have used, but this needs definition: without peaking turned on, the image in the viewfinder is crisp and well defined. On a tripod, focusing on static objects or for interviews, the image plenty of information to make precise focussing quick and straightforward.

Put the camera on your shoulder and try run-and-gun, ENG-type filming or focussing on fast moving objects and the image lacks the sharpness to necessary to grab fast and accurate focus. Turn on the excellent peaking (Levels 1-6) and the story changes: grabbing focus on fast moving objects immediately becomes easy, and reliable. After plenty of user feedback on early versions, peaking has been carefully setup to cover the needs of shooters of all specialities. It works well with my Sony F5 and EOS-1Dc too.

Inputs / Outputs

Gratical was always designed to work with any camera and features HDMI / SDI input and output. With inputs and outputs for both connectors, the viewfinder has been designed to serve as an SDI / HDMI cross-converter: versatile and useful for anyone shooting a project on DSLR or low-end camcorder, but needing access to broadcast monitors or scopes.

Power

By default, Gratical is battery powered. Using the ubiquitous Canon LP-E6 type of battery, life is around 3 hours. A charger and 2 batteries are included. For broadcast and other cameras with power output options, dummy batteries with hirose cables as shown in the picture are available very economically from Zacuto, allowing Gratical to be powered and switched on / off by the camera.

Mounting

The unit has a range of mounting options, including a standard Arri rosette on the right-hand side. In the pictures I have used the clever Axis mini together with a simple rail to mount to the standard Sony top rail
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Optics

Gratical was designed from the off to offer a full frame view, without the need to move the eye. Initially this can take some getting used to and if your eye is not square to the VF, the image will be slightly distorted. New users frequently also find the rubber ‘flip cover’ for the eyepiece hard to get used to. Rather than using electronic means to protect the sensitive OLED display, there is a self-closing rubber cover that needs to be nudged out of the way with the side of the head, or nose. Much easier than it sounds, this soon becomes reflexive and the system works well. Having got used to it, I now prefer the safety it provides for my delicate display.

Opinion

When I first received my Gratical, I was delighted with its performance. Now, after 6 months of working with it, I am convinced there is currently nothing better in the marketplace.

The Sony F5 and F55 cameras have a quirk that means they cannot display a viewfinder LUT when filming at higher frame rates (off-speed). For me that meant trying to film with a Log image and inaccurate scopes for nearly 100% of my work (I film Natural History, usually at 32, 50 or 150 fps). Because the Gratical HD has a built-in LUT for my camera, it was a non-issue. The image in the viewfinder looked normal and the scopes were accurate. A lack of reliable Peaking was initially an problem for myself and a few users, but Zacuto were incredibly responsive and after a few days and a couple of betas, new firmware was released that solved the problem.

Are there any negatives? For me everything works fine. For some, the only slight negative may be a slightly soft 1:1 pixel view. It is accurate, the area can be adjusted, but the view is slightly softer than I am used to.
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Gratical X

Since I purchased my Gratical HD unit, the stripped down Xmodel has been released. Physically identical, the included software functions on the X have been reduced, commensurate with the price. Required options beyond those included can be added for extra cost.

For many the Gratical X, will provide an affordable, high quality and versatile viewfinder that works with almost any camera.

Technical Specifications:

MICRO OLED DISPLAY Screen Dimension - 0.61” diagonal Resolution - Full Display 1280x1024, 16x9 1280x720 HD Contrast Ratio- 10,000:1 Refresh Rate - 60Hz Color Depth - 24 bit RGB Luminance - 120-250 cd/m^2 Pixel Info - 2687.21 PPI 5.4 million pixels 16.7 million colors

INCLUDED VIDEO PROCESSING FEATURES Color Processor - RGB, saturation, brightness, contrast Test Pattern - (color bars & Macbeth) Four programmable buttons Frame Rates - 23.98p, 23.98PsF, 24p, 24PsF, 25p, 25PsF, 29.97PsF, 50i, 50p, 59.94i, 60i, 60p
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