“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.