What is the Greatest Quality of Life Addition to Modern Cameras?

What is the Greatest Quality of Life Addition to Modern Cameras?

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.

Slaves

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.

Focus Peaking

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.

MF Assist

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.

Image Playback

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.

Steady Hands

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?

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43 Comments

Mike Leland's picture

I think EVFs are pretty dang cool. They offer a lot of advantages over optical viewfinders. Especially for new photographers and for anyone that shoots mainly with ambient light.

For my workflow and needs, I strongly prefer an optical viewfinder. Either prism type or waist level, depending on what I'm doing. I also shoot tethered most of the time, so I have a lot of data at my fingertips when needed and have that beautiful glass to look through when I'm not looking at the capture station.

EVFs and mirrorless cameras are here to stay and they're awesome. I'll continue using SLRs and tech cams for as long as I can :)

Michael Comeau's picture

It's definitely AI, micro contrast, or 3D pop.

Simon Patterson's picture

The greatest modern quality-of-life addition to cameras is yet to come. That is, seamless connectivity with a mobile phone.

Simon Patterson's picture

For me it's back button focussing, whether for mirrorless or DSLR.

Blake Aghili's picture

Focus Peaking that enables me to focus at 1.4 with manual focus on a range finder camera on model's eyes

A couple of things that came about with modern digital cameras that truly, instantly made your work better and made it quicker to shoot.....

Digital white balance...,

Back in the day you’d shoot in a room with mixed lighting, daylight from windows, tungsten wall lights and that old favourite... fluorescent tubes...!!!

You literally spent hours or even a day balancing colour temperature with gels, getting the right mood/ambience for the location.

Today, click... it’s done... quick adjust... click... perfect.. takes seconds....

A real game changer.

Also, being able to change ISO without changing film... so easy, add to that more recent auto ISO, just allows you to keep doing your job when the weather changes.... brilliant...

EVF.... the very latest ones are good but I have to say us older crocks take longer to get to love them.

If you’ve ever shot and used a Hassy H series camera you’ll know the viewfinder is so big and bright..... truly amazing, but a heavy camera system.

EVF’s aren’t there yet.
However, being able to take a small, lightweight mirrorless system just about anywhere is great, though not a game changer.

S

Joseph Balson's picture

can't agree more.

You made me remember the days of struggling with gels and white balance. YUK.

But then I started remembering what was really a hassle on the field, especially overseas: managing films, developing films, finding a way to send the rolls fast enough to the editor. What made my quality of life really better in the end was the possibility to record photos on a memory card, and send those photos to the editor trough a sat uplink or the internet. No more worries about "lost" films or dead lines.

What made quality of life better was simply the digital revolution.

Oh, and I still can't use an EVF. it just doesn't work for me.

Colin Robertson's picture

If you're talking 'modern' in terms of coming *from* a DSLR, then certainly EVF's are a great 'quality of life' feature. I would also put face/eye AF tracking very high up on the list too. For me, it frees me up to focus more on composition and be more confident about shooting wide open. Also, for similar reasons, image stabilization (either lens or in-body). The tech is a little older compared to eye tracking and EVF's, but it's gotten really damn good in recent years. Keeper rates have never been higher!

Rob Mitchell's picture

Improvement in EVF for me. Reading glasses bloke. So a quick image preview saves dropping my glasses into my nose. Honestly, with the Z7 EVF I’m not missing optical VF at all anymore.

Eric Robinson's picture

Never mind digital white balance, shooting RAW renders white balance pretty much irrelevant, at the time of capture, which is why many shooters, including myself, leave it on auto. Sure if you shoot in jpeg you have to be more precise.

Eric Robinson's picture

For me Auto Eye Af is the winner.

Will Murray's picture

I love hiking and carrying 700g of camera gear, as opposed to god knows how much gear.

EVF for sure.

Obviously you're going to be able to adjust later in processing, but the basic WYSIWYG is invaluable, and cuts the need for chimping.

David T's picture

EVF combined with Touchscreen AF + Face AF.

Look through the viewfinder, hold thumb on screen, move focus point around as you recompose.

Being old enough to remember using a hand held light meter (in my youth!) , I would have to say that in-camera electronic exposure metering has made shooting easier than anything else i can think of. But then that became standard back before the OP was born so i guess maybe it doesn't qualify as "modern".

My personalized license plate doesn't read "SUNNY 16" for nothin'.

Vladimir Vcelar's picture

All this high tech wizz bang super duper Star Trek stuff is great and all, but how about making batteries that last longer?

EL PIC's picture

Does anyone remember when cameras had a decade long life cycle ??
The Nikon F was in production from 1959 to 1970. And the F2 was 1970 to 1980.
Now they push cameras with 1 year life cycles.
Get the point ??

Not only that....if you did decide to keep shooting the same film camera for 15 years...it didnt degrade your image quality. Who is shooting with a 15 year old 6 megapixel camera now? Absolutely no one. All that said...I cant imagine going back to film for real work. So here I am in the rat race of needing to upgrade every few years.

Simon Patterson's picture

A lot of us are half way there, still happily shooting with the 7 year old Nikon d800. I still see no need to "upgrade" mine and am unlikely to for a long time to come. The IQ of digital cameras has changed very little in 7 years.

I might upgrade to a d800 some day.

Simon Patterson's picture

What do you have now? A mirrorless camera? 😂

Nah, D600. Works fine, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

i've just retired my beloved 12-years old 1DSIII, and still grab it instead of my newer 5D4. Battery capable of making 6000-8000 shots, big viewfinder, ergonomics that just makes your job more pleasant. I had several cameras with EVF and never been fan of it, however eye-tracking and silent shooting may be quite useful in some situations.

Ryan Stone's picture

the A73’s EVF is kinda average compared to most of the other current mirrorless. The backscreen is also fairly low res.

this is the thing, i've bought the first A7 and the internet was full of opinions that it was better than OVF, i've had several Fuji X100's, x-pro1, xt-20, A7R, i've shot with A7SII or A7III and while every one of them was a "DSLR killer", none of them actually had a nice viewfinder. Sony is horrid, mostly the difference between EVF and back screen in terms of color, contrast and even brightness...

Auto-focus has extended the photographic life of many photographers whose eyes aren't as sharp and don't have the visual acuity they had when they were younger. There are hundreds other innovations that have made photography easier to do, but this one changed the game for the better for many, many of us.

I'm over a decade behind in all the fancy features modern cameras have, however one of my greatest quality of life enhancements came from a point and shoot and that is wifi-transfer. Being able to live sync files to my smartphone for instant sharing and uploading is an amazing feature that a lot of the pro DSLR's either neglect or don't hype the feature.

I feel like I just saw the emperor walk by buck ass naked.

While I enjoy almost all of the benefits mentioned, (especially for video) there is one huge liability for eyes trained to "see" the world through a real optical viewfinder. After using an SLR and DSLR for a 30 year career I can look through an optical viewfinder and know how the highlights and shadows will reproduce. It's a subtle but important ability.

Yet almost every EVF (including my new Lumix S1) does a poor job of conveying the highlights accurately. I no longer have the confidence to know exactly how the final image will look. This is especially true in bright contrasty sunlight. In most cases I rely on the excellent sensors and know that I'll be able to get what I want in post.

If our business is about light then I want to see the real light bouncing off my subject not the approximation conveyed by a processing chip. Maybe after another 5-10 years I'll get the same confidence I have with optical viewfinders.

Mike Leland's picture

I agree completely. There's too much of a disconnect. And for almost all of my work, multiple strobes are involved. So an EVF interpretation is pretty far off from my actual exposure anyway. I mention that only because I see people raving about the WYSIWYG factor of EVFs.

The hilarious part of what you've shared is that the predecessor to EVF's — optical viewfinders — already showed us the world in WYSIWYG. So we're kind of going backwards.

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