By George Leon
A Short Story about Director's Viewfinders

In the beginning, capturing the vision that movie directors had in their heads and communicating it to their cameraman was inefficient and without any other recourse, the movie director used his hands and a good deal of imagination to frame the shots. As time progressed and technology developed, he would "borrow" the viewfinder located on the side of the early motion picture camera. Years later, a version of the famed Mitchell camera viewfinder was used. Eventually, directors and cinematographers with a sufficient amount of clout at the studios asked studio machine shops to make an optical device or viewfinder that would come close to simulating set-ups as seen by the camera lens.

An early wooden and brass director's viewfinder

Viewfinder with cut-out mattes

Armed with these early viewfinders, they used cut-out mattes to represent the focal lengths of various lenses. The studio machine shops even developed a zooming device for use with the early viewfinders. Several versions of directors viewfinders were developed during this time. Just after World War II in 1946, Tewe, a German optical company, developed a small viewfinder which could be hung around the neck. It was soon being used and worn by directors and D.P.'s throughout the motion picture industry around the world.
Orson Wells and Cinematographer Gregg Toland
line up a camera angle using a Mitchell viewfinder
on the set of "Citizen Kane" in 1940

Tewe Director's Viewfinder Model 3B, circa 1970

With the introduction in the 1960's of wide angle prime lenses and the 25-250mm Angenieux zoom, the Model 3B could not be used to accurately simulate the new 10:1 zoom ratio.

In 1975, Alan Gordon Enterprises in Hollywood, California started the development of what would become the 10:1 Mark IV Directors Viewfinder. The Mark IV was introduced at the S.M.P.T.E. conference and trade show in 1979. This was the beginning of the modern day Director's Viewfinder. Subsequent updated models have been the Mark V, introduced in 1991 and the current Mark Vb model in 2005. In addition to its 10:1 zoom range, the Mark IV featured windows through which the director could easily see the lens focal length he was considering. These windows represented 16, 35 & 35 anamorphic formats, and gave the cinematographer instant information about lens focal length and scene framing.

Mark IV evolved into Mark V Director's Viewfinder in 1987. With the Mark V, Alan Gordon Enterprises introduced an enhanced 12:1 zoom range, a wider angle capability, and two additional windows covering Super 16, 1/2" & 2/3" video formats.


The Mark Vb Director's Viewfinder represents the industry's state-of-the-art. It precisely defines choice of lenses, angles and coverage in a wide variety of formats for both film and video. The Mark Vb enables film professionals to communicate their visions to each other instantly and with complete accuracy, allowing the time saved to be used in the art of film-making. With a 12:1 zoom ratio, the Mark Vb Director's Viewfinder addresses all framing situations, making it an essential tool for today's professional filmmaker. Setting up shots using the 16mm and 35mm direct-reading windows provides a wide range of film and video formats including 2/3", and Super 16.

Michael Bay's retrofitted and engraved Mark VB by Panavision

Cavision VFC52PL with Arri PL bayonet mount for
35mm standard lenses with extension eyepiece

The Fries/Mitchell "Special Effects 35mm Director's Viewfinder" is a highly customizable and flexible system. The standard finder comes with your choice of lens mount, Arri-PL, Panavision or BNC-R, (1) ground glass, handle, rubber eye cup and case. The mount is easily changed and re-centered for Standard and Super 35 formats. Inside the finder is a set of registration pins to hold a film clip.

The Panavision Mini-DV Director’s Viewfinder, made in Australia, uses Panavision Millennium 35mm camera ground glasses. The ground glass image can be viewed through a color viewfinder or flip-out colour LCD monitor and instantly recorded to high quality digital video or stills. An on-board microphone enables the recording of location sound or commentary. An additional video monitor can be fed from its video out connector. The unit has a FireWire connector so that your video and still images can be easily transferred to computer. Power is supplied by an on-board Canon camcorder battery. An infrared remote control is included for convenient playback control. Available in PV or PL lens mount, the Panavision Mini-DV Director’s Viewfinder will make a valuable addition to your next shoot.

Denz OIC-35mm Director's Viewfinder

This high-end director's viewfinder allows you to use your actual camera lens to view and set shots. The OIC-35 is a precise instrument which was conceived for the rough environment of a film shoot, the housing is a light alloy, hermetically sealed and fitted with a 54 PL mount (BNC socket available).

Features: Specially computed and designed optical light path. Ergonomic eyepiece with diopter balance from -4 to +4 . Eyepiece adjustable for right or left eye. Ergonomically designed cherry wood handle, for left or right hand or universal grip. Carrying belt, made of fine nappa leather. Delivered without ground glass (Arri 435/535)

The UltiMate 16 Kish Optics Director viewfinder

The UltiMate 16 is a director's finder that features multiple 16mm camera-type/format-type ground glasses, interchangeable lens mountings, an optional 1/2" CCD-ready B&W or color video-tap, and provides in-the-view-finder images that are "full-frame." The video-tap (12V power supplied by on-board batteries or an external source), gives behind-the-scene parties the opportunity to view and comment on the shot. Used for location scouting or scene testing, the UltiMate can record specific shots, then return to the production facility for playback and analysis. On the set, the UltiMate finder can help set up the next shot while the current set is being filmed.

Courtesy of Allan Gordon Enterprises

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