The Woes of Technology

“Study the past if you would define the future.” – Confucius

I think this is a very apt saying, especially in today’s world where technology keeps advancing in tremendous leaps and bounds. However, it sometimes feels as if the lessons and experiences of the past are forgotten, and simplicity and practicality are foregone in the race for technical supremacy. We see this every day in the products we buy, many of which no longer have simple on/off switches and dials for settings, but require complex button presses on a digital menu to set the device to do what is ostensibly a simple task. A great example of ignoring your history is Microsoft with Windows 8 where not only were existing customers ignored (despite so-called studies), everything was turned on its head, satisfying no one, and subsequently resulting in dismal failure.

Even on my tablet it was Windows Hate, not 8

Even on my tablet it was Windows Hate, not 8

Which brings me to the topic at hand, photographic technology. Now there’s absolutely no doubt that in today’s digital world, we are blessed with the bounty handed to us by camera manufacturers. We can take photographs in conditions that were only dreamed of in the film days, we can produce photographs in ways that were unheard of in the film days and we can distribute photographs in ways that would leave photographers in the film days agog. Yet despite all of that, with technology comes a price. Power is probably the singular most important and potential Achilles’ Heel of today’s digital age and becoming more so as things advance, despite desperate attempts to improve on this front. When once all that was required to run a camera was a button battery (and not even that), we now require significantly more.

Even a battery was optional - Pentax MX and Minolta SRT303

Even a battery was optional – Pentax MX and Minolta SRT303

But that’s not in itself a major issue, as with the technology has come substantial benefits and I’m sure that few would like to return to the ‘good old days’ of film. The digital imaging sensor has probably been one of the most influential technology developments of our time, transforming communications in so many ways, such that everyone now pretty much has a camera on hand. Now I mentioned in ‘The Beginning’, that I’ve been an Olympus DSLR camera user for the last 10 years, so I know Olympus cameras almost inside out. Some years ago, Olympus dropped the existing 4/3 DSLR format and introduced what is now known as the ‘micro 4/3’ format. Along with the change in format, came what are called Electronic Viewfinders (EVF), which look like the Optical Viewfinders (OVF – glass prism or mirrors) of traditional SLRs and DSLRs, but are more like the screen on your smartphone. Like the screen on your smartphone, these EVFs are versatile and dynamic, able to transmit lots of information to you while you’re taking photographs.

Olympus E-1 with 7-14mm f4 lens - Optical Viewfinder

Olympus E-1 with 7-14mm f4 lens – Optical Viewfinder

Olympus E-M1 with 14-35mm f2 - Electronic Viewfinder

Olympus E-M1 with 14-35mm f2 – Electronic Viewfinder

So what has this to do with the woes of technology? As it so happens, I recently found out that while the EVF offers some fantastic benefits over the traditional OVF (and I’d never want to go back to an OVF) there is one fatal flaw with EVFs that OVFs never had. That fatal flaw is that you have to be extremely careful when using an EVF equipped camera, such as the E-M1, in sunlight. Now that goes against the grain of anything to do with photography, as sunlight has been the raison d’être for photography and, for a camera that is advertised as an ‘all weather’ camera, it’s the height of irony that you have to be cautious (to the point of being paranoid) when using it in sunlight. The reason for this is that when direct sunlight is allowed to strike the EVF, it can cause irreversible damage, as you can burn artefacts into the LCD of the EVF. It’s something that no one would ever give a second of thought to, given the number of electronic devices that use LCD screens that we use every day in intense sunlight; however, with these modern EVFs things are not so bright.

Artifacts caused by sunlight - focus on EVF

Artefacts caused by sunlight – focus on EVF

Artifacts caused by sunlight - focus on artifact

Artefacts caused by sunlight – focus on artefact

The previous two images show what has happened to the EVF of my E-M1, I’m guessing while I was on assignment on a very sunny day (The Blessing of the Bike). As I noticed the problem a day or so after the assignment, I really wasn’t sure what had happened, so I contacted Olympus and received this response:

Thanks for your e-mail. The description you gave us suggested that there may be damage to the EVF due to direct sunlight entering though the viewfinder for a reasonable amount of time, passing through the diopter (which is a magnifying element) and then essentially burning some of pixels on the LCD of the viewfinder due to the heat of the light coming through the diopter.

Sometimes having the diopter cranked all the way up can cause this to occur quicker and the burning of pixels more severe.

All well and good notifying users after the fact (note that the user manual accompanying the camera makes no mention about this potential hazard) and what is a ‘reasonable’ time? My first email has now started quite a dialogue between myself and Olympus, as I seem to be locked into battling rote responses from Olympus (treat the customer as ignorant or evil), with no one able to answer a few simple questions; so I’ve effectively struck a corporate morass. To put it simply, all I’ve tried to ascertain is:

  • will the EVF deteriorate if it’s left as it is ie, not replaced, and
  • what sort of precautions should be followed so that this does not exacerbate the situation?

As far as I’m concerned, if the problem is contained, given due care (whatever that involves), then I can live with the minor artifacts. I’ve had far worse with my film and digital OVFs collecting dust, hair and whatever else to make this appear insignificant. The other irony here is that the E-1 and subsequent Olympus professional DSLRs all had a shutter on the viewfinder eyepiece, activated by a small lever, which would block light from entering the eyepiece; but it’s not on a camera where this is apparently critical.

A veritable ecosystem in my Olympus E-1 OVF (the repeating triangle of dots are an image of the three-LED downlight required to illuminate the screen)

A veritable ecosystem in my Olympus E-1 OVF (the repeating triangle of dots are an image of the three-LED downlight required to illuminate the screen)

However, in the worst possible corporate style, I seem to be unable to elicit any clear response from either the service or public relations department. Both repeat the same mantra, as if the customer has a comprehension issue. This is where the ‘Woes of Technology’ is especially noteworthy in this post. As technology becomes more complex, those required to be the face of technology companies and required to interact with their customers, seem to be more removed than ever from their customers and the technology they represent; one side doesn’t know what to say, the other isn’t allowed to say what they know. Is there really a need for a closed door policy?

You wonder what's behind that door

You wonder what’s behind that door

This is not just an issue for me, but for anyone using Olympus cameras, and possibly other brands that uses EVFs, that are susceptible to sunlight. Customers, whether professionals or not, have a right to know how to protect their valuable equipment and not just rely on repair services after the damage is done. I hardly think that we need to return to the days of covering yourself and camera in a shroud in order to take photographs. Unfortunately, the final word from Olympus Australia is that they just want to replace the EVF, as that’s what everyone wants. They don’t know whether things will get worse, or not, and can’t seem to detail under what circumstances the EVF can be affected by the sun (powered on, off or both). There’s not much point in getting a new one, if you don’t know what can affect it once again, so I’ll just stick with it as it is and use it as a test bed.

View camera (source unknown)

View camera (source unknown)

I’ve had exemplary service in the past from Olympus (in Melbourne before the exodus to Sydney) and easy dialogue with the technicians whenever there has been an issue (few and far between), so it saddens me to find it so difficult to get a simple answer from the ‘new’ Olympus. Has corporate culture changed so dramatically in those few years, that those representing the manufacturers can no longer talk clearly and sensibly with their customers? In an age where holding onto customers is as important as gaining new ones, this is not a good look.

Addendum: After some of the comments and my replies, I wanted to add something that I didn’t consider in the article and that’s using Live View and subsequently exposing your EVF to potential damage. The only time that I can recollect where the EVF was likely exposed to the sun, was while using Live View and holding the camera above my head to get a higher elevation while covering the Blessing of the Bike.

Now Live View is one of the fundamental features of mirrorless cameras, and if the EVF is potentially exposed to sun damage when using Live View, then we really do have a problem. You won’t be able to safely use the camera if the sun is anywhere remotely behind you. There really does need to be better information provided by Olympus regarding this issue.

24 thoughts on “The Woes of Technology

  1. David Ruether

    Ummm, now you have me “worried”…;-( I recently have begun experimenting with taking “VF-less” photos (mostly in sunlight) by holding my Panasonic GH4 with a super-wide lens on it at arm’s length while shooting my shadow cast on various subjects. This generally results in the EVF being pointed toward the sun. So far I have noticed no ill-effect on/in the EVF, but, as a result of reading your comments, I may begin covering the EVF when using the camera this way! I do try to remember to not let the EVF face the sun while carrying the camera in my hand (I use a wrist strap rather than a neck strap), and I rarely use a tripod (so the EVF would rarely be aimed fixedly at the sun for very long…). Did you notice the EVF problem after using the EM-1 on a tripod, with the EVF facing the sun? EVF-burning used to be a problem with Canon XL1 video cameras (but not with my Sony VX2000s), so this problem is not new… Thanks for the article!

    1. Ray Post author

      It is indeed a worry and the only additional information that I’ve discovered is that the risk increases if the dioptre is turned up high (for those who normally requires glasses to read etc). The lack of information is the most disappointing thing, so whether this has hit Olympus by surprise, or not, is another question. I suspect that we’ll be hearing more of this as time goes on. But forewarned is forearmed.

      1. Fri13

        So those who adjust EVF diopter to 0 or + are in danger (less if 0), but then those who adjust it to – (near sighted people who can’t see well far) should be less affected as light should be distributed evenly and be less densier?

        I would say it is interesting problem, what I didn’t expect to see.

        I know that lasers (night clubs, concerts, kids with laser pointers) can burn sensor pixels causing whole row to malfunction (do not carry camera on those locations unless doing business to them) or that OLED technology in E-M1 viewfinder is possible to suffer over time from lower brightness (time consumes OLED colors and light transparency, making it dimmer), but that getting damaged easily from sun…

        The rear shutter isn’t required as much as long exposure doesn’t suffer from possible light passing OVF to mirror box and exposure film/sensor trough there.

        But it would be very nice protector now and then. Just like mechanical shutter front to the sensor when changing objectives (dust is easy to avoid, but sea water splashes or any wet splash will not be removed by famous Olympus dust remove system).

        I wish there would be a official EVF eye piece that would offer much wider/deeper cover around eye when it bright situations, it could protect little more in this kind problems.

        1. Ray Post author

          The shutter release, such as was implemented in the E-1, E-3 and E-5 wouldn’t ensure that EVF burn couldn’t happen, but at least you could carry the camera around in bright conditions and not have to worry about the sun affecting the EVF under those circumstances. Though from the available information, nothing would guarantee that the simple act of raising or lowering the camera to/from you eye wouldn’t create a risk. And if it can happen even when turned off, such as when using Live View, then you really do run a risk. And thinking about this just now, that’s quite possibly how my EVF was exposed to the sun, as I did use Live View on a couple of occasions during the Bless the Bike event, with the sun roughly behind me.

  2. doktorfisch

    Thank you for publishing your problem!
    Has anybody heard of or seen this before? Cameras with EVF have been on the world for decades now so, if there really was a significant danger, wouldn´t you expect to have heard of it before?
    I think you really have hit Olympus by surprise and they really just don´t know the answer to your question and they weren´t aware of this possible danger before; and that´s why the manual didn´t warn you and why there´s no shutter in the VF (the shutter in the SLRs is to prevent false measuring of the lightmeter, not to protect the camera from damage).
    I don´t think you can blame Olympus, it´s just “shit happens” for them and they have to repair your camera.

    Greatings from Germany

    Christian

    1. Ray Post author

      I’m not blaming Olympus, I absolutely love their gear. However, I am blaming Olympus Australia, who are clearly aware of the issue, for avoiding the questions that I’ve asked. If they really don’t know, then a far better response would have been to say they don’t know fully what’s going on, how to best protect the EVF and this is something that Olympus Japan is investigating. It’s called customer relations, be upfront and honest with customers, engage with them if they have concerns and don’t fall back on template responses if someone is actually interested in greater detail.

      If Olympus really doesn’t fully understand what’s going on, this would have been an ideal opportunity to gain further metrics from a customer who is happy to continue to use the camera in its current state, and provide data over a period of time regarding what can happen to the camera’s EVF. Who in their right mind would deliberately miss such an opportunity of technical evaluation and testing if it were offered to them for free?

  3. JimD

    I don’t let the sun hit the eyepiece. I read something, from Olympus, that the EVF could be damaged. It was when I had an E-M5. I continue to keep sun off the viewfinder with the E-M1. Its not something that is unknown to me. The hardest part is when a heavy lens is attached as the back of the camera then faces up, (but I have a habit of resting my hand on the top rear anyway). Other than that, getting the sun to enter the EVF is not easy. Even in Sydney.

    1. Ray Post author

      It’s something that I’m aware of now, but not previously, how many others are aware of this potential risk? But the thing I didn’t point out in the article is that if this can happen even with the EVF turned off, say while using Live View, or using the camera on a tripod to take a group shot or the like, then you might have to carry around a drape to cover the EVF. Not a good look for a camera advertised as a professional camera.

  4. brillohead2051

    All EVF’s are susceptible to burns from the sun. Go read what video EVF manufacturer Zacuto has to say about it. The sun is actually being focused on the sensor. Take a magnifying glass and focus the sun on a piece of paper. Flames result. Care should be taken to protect the EVF. Know your stuff.

  5. Mike

    I think you can answer your questions yourself.
    1. Will it get worse? No, if you keep it away from direct sunlight.
    2. How can you prevent this with a new evf?
    Don’t expose it to direct sunlight. No matter if the cam is turned on or off.

  6. andrew marriott

    At a recent Olympus launch in Perth for the Pro telephoto lens, I asked the W.A./N.T Olympus rep about the EVF problem and he replied “what problem?” Such a lack of integrity! And worse, a response like that is likely to get them into trouble with the Trades Practices Commission. This is a known problem, and Olympus Oz says “what problem?”. They have knowingly deceived a buyer.
    And I have been with Olympus since 1980! This is very poor.

    1. Ray Post author

      That’s sad indeed. Once you blow your integrity, it’s almost impossible to recover. I do hope it’s just very poor Olympus Australia corporate behaviour and not something that Olympus Japan is promoting.

  7. Kelvin Pang

    Is it possible to show the diopter setting on the E-M1? Is it set to an extreme end of the range? Thank you.

    1. Ray Post author

      The dioptre adjustment dial doesn’t show any visible markings, but mine is set to three detents below maximum ie, if I turn the dial to it’s fullest extent, I have to click back three notches to have the EVF showing a sharp, clear, image. Basically, I require a +1.5/+2 dioptre for my reading glasses.

  8. John King

    If you count the clicks from – to +, then divide this number by 2 (doh!), you get the central point. Set it to this number of clicks from either end of the scale. Note that the centre point has a wider ‘block’. Get some nice fresh liquid paper correcting fluid and carefully mark this block. Works for me …

    BTW, Ray, ask to talk to Peter or John in service. Both are extremely amiable and helpful.

    br, John

    1. Ray Post author

      I just dial down three clicks from maximum and it’s spot on for me. All I really wanted to know is whether things would get worse, if the EVF was not exposed to direct sunlight in future. Even that couldn’t be explained. I also wasn’t impressed that I had to pay for shipping and warranty; if the fault manifested itself again, rinse and repeat. All well and good for metropolitan dwellers, but rural dwellers don’t find it so easy. I’ve had warranty claims on other electronic goods and the OEM has paid for shipping, even eBay sellers have paid for return (tracked) shipping if a product has had an issue.

  9. John King

    Regardless of what the seller/manufacturer might believe, Oz consumer law allows a consumer to claim the ‘reasonable expenses involved’ in returning goods for repair or replacement. Whether it’s worth doing is another matter. I didn’t bother after returning my E-M1 for warranty repairs (~$30).

    1. Ray Post author

      This is true, but is more easily applied if it’s a major item such as a fridge or the like that will be very expensive to transport. When postage and insurance is something like $50-80, the major companies simply tell you to suck it up, as I found out.

  10. John King

    I have found that it’s worth spending 5-10 minutes on the phone to Consumer Affairs when this happens, if only to establish a ‘record’ for serial offenders. IME, CA are very happy to hear about these villains … ;-))

    1. Ray Post author

      In this instant, it wasn’t all that significant. As I pointed out, I have more barnacles in my traditional DSLR viewfinders, so a couple of glow worms doesn’t worry me. Now if they suddenly swarm, then I’ll expect a free repair, whether under warranty or not.

    2. Greg Lehey

      Yes, that’s what I did today. They quoted section 54 of the Consumer Law ((http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/caca2010265/sch2.html#_Toc424644341), which requires a guarantee that goods be durable. My contact at Consumer Affairs Victoria agreed that the requirement of durability is not fulfilled, especially for a camera in this price range.

      I then spoke with John at Olympus service in Sydney. He first asked me if I wore glasses, then told me that he wasn’t aware of any such defect. He asked me to supply him with URLs of discussions over the matter, which is how I found this site. Under the circumstances it’s difficult to believe in his good faith.

      So how many people are affected by this problem? It sounds like time to exert a bit of pressure on Olympus.

      Greg

      1. Ray Post author

        My email discussions with Olympus revealed that it is a known problem, they specifically admitted that ‘..the EVF may have suffered from sun damage.’ What really got me was that after admitting that the EVF can be damaged by exposure to the sun, they then hedged around intimating that they would have to assess the camera first before approving a warranty repair. There was just so much hedging going on that I felt better living with the issue than sending the camera to Sydney.

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