I have been able to shoot with an incredibly wide range of cameras and optics during my career, but lately with all of the sensor sizes and lens options available, it has become harder and harder to ascertain what that 50mm lens looks like with an S35 lens verses a full frame lens or how that compares to the when that same lens is used with larger MonstroVV and AlexaLF sensors, where a 50mm lens presents a wider angle of view due to the larger sensor size. Enter the IBE Optics SmartfinderPro, a modern day (albeit expensive) replacement for the venerable director’s viewfinder.
A Director’s Finder has allowed Directors and DP’s to work out lensing and camera angles since the earliest days of film. Mimicking the camera, they allowed the crew to work out angles and shot blocking without requiring the entire crew to move a rather complex and cumbersome film cameras every time. Traditional models offered variable focal lengths, but not the actual characteristics of your chosen optics. For those one would need to employ a lens finder, that uses the actual camera lens to better determine the framing and focus. Lately a number of smartphone apps have evolved on the market, mimicking the traditional finder style, but without the benefits of seeing what and how the lenses will actually look. Being able to directly view the differences in both the angle of view and depth of field using a lens on a S35 camera vs. the 1.5x horizontallywider Alexa LF sensor can be an awaking for anyone not accustomed to working with a variety of camera styles or varying image formats.
IBE Optics SmartfinderPro combines the best of all 3 worlds. Designed around the iPhone 8+ (there are no plans for an Android version at this time) with it’s 5.5in Retina display, the SmartfinderPro’s aircraft grade aluminum body was required to house the Alexa 65 sized, high resolution ground glass, and the integrated lens mount that allows both LPL and PL lenses (PL to LPL adapter included) to be evaluated without a camera or sensor. The iOS app, built specifically for this purpose, offers predefined settings for more than a dozen different camera manufacturers and includes focus capabilities and aperture information of the lenses from more than 50 different lens manufacturers. The app offers the ability to save your setups from the 5000+ camera and lens options or it allows the user to create completely new camera and lens combinations as needed.
IBE Optics has created a truly universal combination of lens and Directors Finders driven via a smartphone in the SmartfinderPro. Given the added metadata capabilities found in the iOS app, DP’s and Directors now have a simple to use tool capable of simulating the ever increasing range of camera sensors. There’s also options for delivering informational data from the built-in depth of field calculator as well as multiple anamorphic de-squeeze options (with custom frame lines) that can be captured as stills or video which can be stored for archive or shared within your varied production departments.
With a suggested price of nearly $15,000 USD, this is not a tool for everyone. I see the SmartfinderPro being offered as an educational tool in film and television production classes, while at rental houses it would be used to assist the preproduction and planning stages, with DP’s and Directors using it extensively for location scouting and during pre-light discussions with the grip and electric. The added utilization of iOS for the app’s underpinning offers a simple and easy to use interface with functionality people are familiar with. While the unit looks ungainly, it is surprisingly easy to hand hold, despite cine lenses often being 3-5x heavier than still lenses. I recommend that adding a secondary handgrip on the lens itself adds to the stability and makes the unit easier to wield.