With an optical viewfinder, you are literally looking through the lens, so you see exactly what will be in the frame. Now, we have reached the realm of the electronic viewfinder, the EVF. But there are some things you need to be aware of.
An EVF is nothing more than a very small digital screen (LCD or OLED) that has replaced the optical viewfinder. It does not make a camera better; you still look at the frame through the lens, but it comes with a few advantages. The most important advantage is a simpler construction of the camera. It does not require a mirror and pentaprism and thus makes it possible to reduce the size and weight. There are more advantages, but I won’t address those in this article. I would like to focus more on the issues that come with an electronic viewfinder.
You may think it is an article that is against the electronic viewfinder, but trust me, it is not. I do like the evolution of camera design and technique. It is a good thing. Nevertheless, I also believe an optical viewfinder may be more suitable on some occasions. The last thing I want is to rattle up the tiresome discussion about the supposed death of the DSLR, or the future of mirrorless cameras, or how good or how bad the one or the other is. I just want to point out seven issues with electronic viewfinders and a possible solution to work around these issues.
1. What You See Is not Always What You Get
One of the benefits of an electronic viewfinder is the possibility to see the exposure. You will have a dark image in the viewfinder in case of underexposure, and the image will be too bright in case of overexposure. It makes it possible to correct the exposure settings before you take the picture.
But be careful when judging the exposure in the viewfinder. Most cameras have the possibility to adjust screen settings. Brightness, contrast, color, picture styles — a lot of adjustments are possible. If you have the incorrect settings, it will influence the judgment of the exposure. A screen that is set too dark can result in overexposed images. A screen that is set too bright can result in the opposite. Ambient brightness can also influence your judgment of the image as seen through the viewfinder.
The only way to judge the exposure is by looking at the histogram. That won’t be influenced by any screen setting. The electronic viewfinder makes it possible to show the histogram in realtime, which is a large benefit. Make sure you keep an eye on it.
2. The Sensor Is Always Exposed to Light
Because the sensor is used to collect the light for the image on the electronic viewfinder, it will always be exposed to light. Blocking the sensor is not possible. Constantly being exposed to light is no problem, but it can be an issue when a laser is nearby.
Lasers are dangerous to sensors, which I found out the hard way. Long exposures in a place where lasers are present can result in burn marks or even a destroyed sensor. A DSLR the sensor is blocked or protected when using the viewfinder, but the mirrorless camera is constantly exposed to those dangerous light beams.
It is not only for people who are photographing at concerts or festivities, but also in the vicinity of self-driving cars that make use of laser beams. So, just be careful when using mirrorless cameras around lasers.
3. Electronics Use Energy
The electronic viewfinder is a digital screen. It needs power to run, although the battery life of the modern mirrorless camera has increased significantly over the last few years, making this less of an issue over time. An eye sensor not only detects if the viewfinder is being used, but if activated, it can prevent the camera from shutting down into sleep mode. Especially when the camera is hanging around your neck or over your shoulder, the sensor can be activated constantly, thus draining the battery much more quickly. Turning off the camera manually can prevent this, although in that case, you need to be aware it wil take longer before the camera is ready.
4. You Need Power Just to Look Through the Camera
I often look through the viewfinder to see if there is a good composition. I place the viewfinder to my eye and start looking around. With a DSLR, you can do this without activating the camera or even with the camera turned off. But not if you have an electronic viewfinder. In that case, the camera needs to be activated, otherwise you won’t be able to use the viewfinder at all. If you have turned the camera off, you need to turn it on again, thus reducing battery life.
5. The Viewfinder Is a Small Light Source
The electronic viewfinder is a screen, and screens produce light. This is no problem is most cases, unless you are doing night photography in really dark locations. If shooting a night sky or Milky Way, you eyes benefit from night sight. It takes about 20 minutes to gain night sight. But the light of an electronic viewfinder can ruin this within a second.
6. Exposure Simulation Has Its Limits
Exposure simulation shows the exact exposure on screen. But that has a limit. When shooting at dark locations, that limit of enhancing the image on the digital screen can be reached. The result is a dark screen with mostly noise, thus rendering it useless. A optical viewfinder may still show enough to be able to make a composition on sight, but for the electronic viewfinder, you will need a different approach.
If you cannot use the electronic viewfinder, there is no need to look through it, which solves point five. By the way, night in the city is not a dark environment. In those locations, you can use the electronic viewfinder without problems.
7. Exposure Simulations and Flash
When photographing in a studio environment, the use of the flash exposure sync speed is common. As a reminder, it is the fastest shutter speed where the sensor is completely exposed for flash light. Since the exposure is not set for ambient light, the electronic viewfinder will be almost completely dark, thus rendering it useless for making a composition. In those situations you need to turn off the exposure simulation.
The photographer that always works inside studios can set the camera accordingly.
One Last Word
I want to mention again that I don’t want a fight about what is best. I don’t think there is a best, only two different sorts of viewfinders. Each has its own benefits and its own downsides Regardless which camera or viewfinder, you use, it is very important to know the ins and outs of your camera, and knowing any weaknesses makes you able to have a workaround. I hope these seven issues of the electronic viewfinder can help you use the camera the way you want to or the way you need to, bringing lots of fun.
I would like to know what kind of viewfinder you use and if you have run into issues that I haven’t mentioned. Please share your experience below in the comments.