A Contentious View

One of the big debates (disputes?) on today’s digital camera forums is whether Electronic Viewfinders (EVF) are better or worse than Optical Viewfinders (OVF). On the one side are the entrenched OVF users that swear black and blue that absolutely nothing beats an OVF and on the other side are the EVF users who have converted and become ardent supporters. And thus the flaming ensues from both sides.

Campfire - High Country Victoria

Campfire – High Country Victoria

My first EVF (not to confuse EVF with LCD screens at the back of the camera) was the removable one that came with the E-P2. This was a so-so EVF that certainly made photography in daylight conditions much more pleasant than using the rear LCD, but it still didn’t have the resolution and clarity that you got from most OVFs. Now I’ve used OVFs of just about every type from large format view cameras, medium format cameras and SLRs (all that stuff from the film days), so my views of the changing environment are pretty open in this regard.

View camera (source unknown)

View camera (source unknown)

So when it came to the E-M1 with it’s reportedly best EVF ever, I was a tad sceptical. That scepticism was quashed the moment that I turned the camera on and put my eye to the viewfinder. What a revelation! Like glass cockpits in aircraft, EVFs are the future of digital cameras (my view). It’s not just that the view is bright and clear, far more so than many OVFs, it’s the fact that you have available so much information in the viewfinder that is simply not possible with an OVF and with the ability to modify what you want to see. An EVF puts you in the control room without having to take your eye off the important things.

Helicopter operations - HMAS Kanimbla

Helicopter operations – HMAS Kanimbla

Are there any downsides to an EVF? The main one is really the fact that it relies on battery power and with the relatively small batteries that fit the E-M1, it can be a drain, but not as much as the LCD. That issue is pretty easy to overcome if you just turn off the camera, or let it go to sleep, when not in use. During a recent assignment, I managed to get more than 1400 stills and a couple of videos from the one charge, and at the end of the day I still hadn’t depleted the battery. However, regular chimping in the rear LCD will put you between a rock and a hard place.

Split rock - The Sentinels Victoria

Split rock – The Sentinels Victoria

But the times they are a changing (as that old song goes), so for all those OVF believers, keep hanging on, but one day you will have to let go.

Helicopter operations - HMAS Kanimbla

Helicopter operations – HMAS Kanimbla

So it’s only a matter of time when all cameras will be using EVFs. It’s not just for the points that I mentioned, and technology improvements will only make things better in that regard, but simply the cost savings achieved by the removal of the complex mirror box will motivate manufacturers to go to an EVF. Mark my words.