I've seen a lot of changes to cameras since I picked up my first, but one stands far above the rest for me.
The Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). EVF has been around for some time, albeit not always built-in as standard, and I was generally unmoved by it. If I wanted an electronic representation, I'd just use the live preview on the back screen. Then, in a meeting with Leica some years back, I got to play with their latest offering at the time which had the sort of EVF we see on many cameras today, and it changed my mind. So much so that I knew my imminent camera upgrade which I suspected would be to mirrorless, would have an extra selling point as a result.
I moved to the Sony a7 III when it was released and was promptly in love. I opted not to write an article about my move from a Canon DSLR to Sony as that was a noisy topic already, and one I saw as frankly unimportant. The quality of my work didn't skyrocket; it was more a successful evolution of my working process. What ended up being the most profound of these evolutions was without question, the EVF. Below is the main reason why I believe EVF to be the greatest quality of life addition to modern cameras. Make sure you add your own answer to this question in the comment section below.
Taking You Out of the Scene
When I picked up my camera to do my first ever shoot, well over a decade ago, I was nervous. I felt self-conscious, in my head, and timid. However, as soon as I raised the camera to my eye and looked through the optical viewfinder, I felt as if I had been removed from the scene somehow. I was no longer aware of how I looked or what was going on around me; it was just me and the model. That feeling didn't go away over the years and as I grew in confidence at my craft, I just enjoyed that feeling more. In fact, I've been fortunate enough to have celebrities and people whom I greatly admire in front of my camera, and as soon as I'm looking through that tiny window atop the body, I'm in my world.
Then, with the advent of eye tracking and focus peaking, along with the staples of the histogram and settings information, I found myself looking at the back of the camera more than through the viewfinder. In portraiture, particularly with manual focus lenses or lenses with extremely wide maximum apertures, I needed to know I was nailing the shot. With my macro work — both commercial and for pleasure — I had to ensure the necessary parts of the subject were tack sharp. I hadn't realized at the time, but this was putting me back in the scene. I felt disconnected without taking the time to understand why.
With EVF, everything I was using from the back of the camera was now available in the viewfinder, and furthermore, I could see it far more clearly without the ambient light or reflections. With that, I drifted back out of the scene, into my "zone" and with all the information I yearned for.
I'll unpack why some of this information has been a dramatic change in my work flow, as well as other perks.
An Accurate Representation of the Photo
The problem with optical viewfinders is your sense of how the image will look is based on your knowledge of your camera, settings, and how it will interact with your surroundings. While I like that it raises the skill ceiling a touch, being able to see in an EVF a far more accurate representation of how the final image will be rendered can be powerful, and frees you up to concentrate on other things, particularly in fast-changing situations.
This is useful for lots of genres of photography, but for my macro work it's utterly invaluable. It had been helpful to my work back when I could only see it via live view, but once it was visible through the viewfinder, I could really work with its accuracy. As anyone who shoots macro knows, it's very fine margins indeed, so this was a welcome upgrade.
In a similar vein to the benefits of focus peaking, the MF Assist setting is superb if, as the name implies, you are manually focusing. I assigned this function to a button on my camera's body and now while looking through the EVF, I can press that button and it will zoom in to my focus point. This gives you the opportunity to check your focus is perfect without having to look at the back of the camera or after you've pulled the trigger.
If you see the behind the scenes of any film or production, you're likely to see an external monitor which has attachments that block light from hitting the screen. This is valuable as it gives you a better sense of the contrast, exposure, colors, and details that are visible in the photo. By looking at images back through a camera's EVF, you get to do the same in a more efficient way, blocking out almost all outside light. It also allows you to really look at the image's details, zooming in and checking every last inch of that photograph.
This is a bit of an unexpected but happy consequence of an EVF. If you're shooting using the LCD screen at the back of your camera, you're not holding the camera properly or as steadily as you could. By being able to see all that you need to on the EVF, you can hold the camera how it's intended, closer to your body, and with much better stability. This won't always make a difference, but we've all been in situations where it would have.
Over to you. What's the greatest quality of life addition to modern cameras for you? Do you agree with my assessment of EVF in cameras or do think it's overrated?