Would You Buy a Full-Frame Camera If It Had No Viewfinder?

Would You Buy a Full-Frame Camera If It Had No Viewfinder?

With sensor prices dropping and leading manufacturers keen to get consumers on board with their latest mirrorless offerings, increasingly budget-friendly options are expected to emerge. However, would you buy an affordable camera that is cheap because it doesn’t have a viewfinder?

Canon recently launched the EOS RP, a low-cost version of its first foray into MILC territory, the EOS R. As a means of making it affordable, various compromises were made: probably the most significant is the lack of a top-deck display, an element that Sony is also happy to ditch in its a7 line of cameras. Other downgrades are certainly present but don’t feel too dramatic: there’s a slower burst rate (not many will be buying either for their speed here, in my opinion), a marginally lower resolution sensor, and slightly fewer autofocus points, slower max shutter speed, and poorer battery performance. As both cameras use the same processor, video specifications are largely enforced deliberately through software rather than being limited by hardware. Sensor prices are dropping so there’s not a massive need to drop the resolution below 24 megapixels.

If all of these seem incremental, where else is the $700 being chopped out of the RP? Some of the biggest savings in price probably come through downgrades to the rear display and the electronic viewfinder. The RP has half the number of dots on its slightly smaller rear LCD and almost 40% fewer dots in its smaller OLED EVF. In addition, it’s likely Canon made some savings by borrowing this EVF from the M50, able to transfer existing technology without having to do too much work.

RIP ILC EVF?

With rumors emerging that Nikon is plotting an entry-level Z-series camera, there’s speculation as to how this will manifest and how the price could be kept so low. Two ideas stand out: one suggestion is that it will feature an APS-C sensor, which brings its own complications for lenses. Another suggestion is even more dramatic: Nikon will ditch the EVF completely, with users relying solely on the rear LCD display.

Nikon Z 6

The Nikon Z 6. Look at that massive EVF, sitting there taking up loads of space and costing consumers an unnecessary amount of money. Chop it off.

This idea strikes me as both ludicrous and logical at the same time. I rarely shoot using my rear display because I began photographing on film and holding my camera at arm's length seems weird and makes me feel like an idiot (and I’m not judging here — I spend a lot of time feeling like an idiot). However, those newer to photography find this a completely natural thing to do, having come to photography from a world where the first camera you ever hold is your phone. Such a camera from Nikon would be courting customers who would already be more than used to not squinting through an EVF.

Nikon’s video capabilities have progressed significantly since the company's foray into the world of mirrorless, and I wonder whether the next step would be to offer a fully articulating screen. What a vlogging tool this could be: take the IBIS performance of the Z 6 and the Z 7, and a full-pixel sensor readout for some tasty 4K video, and squeeze this inside a stripped-down body that no longer has an EVF. To finish it off, shove a flippy screen on the back. If this is too much of a stretch, leave out the 4K or stick with the articulating screen and you still have a camera that’s destined to make an impact.

I’m probably dreaming. Ditching the EVF might not be enough to offset 4K, a flippy screen, IBIS and still give a saving that’s the best part of $800. Furthermore, Nikon is an extremely conservative brand that’s not known for making bold moves. However, it does raise the question of how far the industry is from seeing an ILC that lacks an EVF.

I’m keen to get your thoughts. Could you conceive buying a camera that doesn’t have an EVF? Is this something that Nikon would consider doing? How else could they trim a full-frame MILC into something that costs less than a grand? Your thoughts in the comments, please!

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59 Comments

For professional outdoor work - no. For the rest - why not?

ANDREW WILDER's picture

For 90% of my shooting, for personal uses, i use an a6000 and only use the screen. So i think for most enthusiasts it wouldnt make a difference.

Alexander Lobozzo's picture

Sony a5100 has no EVF... its also not full frame, but it is an MILC without an EVF

To actually answer your question, Andy Day -- i probably would not buy a camera without a viewfinder.

Andy Day's picture

Aha. Thanks for flagging the a5100. 😊

Wes Jones's picture

I seldom use the viewfinder because of my failing eyesight, so yes, I would buy a camera without one. The rear screen is much easier for me to see.

Laughing Cow's picture

It is funny because for a similar reason (failing eyesight) I would never buy a camera without a viewfinder. Since I wear glasses to read or look closely I find that It's really annoying to have to put on and take off your glasses all the time

To capture customers upgrading from a phone, I think it would be fine. People are used to shooting without a view finder. It would probably go over fine to this audience. Just make sure the screen can be bright enough during the day.

Maybe optimize it for portrait orientation as well. And a flip around screen for the selfie-junkies might help too.

That would be a risky move. Canon tried that with the EOS M, M3 & M6 and it didn't go down well. Might be fine for hobbyists etc however I reckon most of the people who consider buying full frame would also consider no EVF a deal breaker ... they'd probably soon want no rear LCD than no EVF :D

michaeljin's picture

The VAST majority of low-end DSLR shooters that I see are shooting by looking at the back of their LCD screen anyway so as long as the price is right to capture that market, I don't think it would actually be all that risky.

Ryan Davis's picture

If I was looking desperately to save cash, I would absolutely buy a mirrorless camera with no rear LCD. What do you need to chimp for, it's a mirrorless. I hardly ever use it.

But I "grew up" shooting a Praktica LTL 35mm and Agfa or Fomapan film. The kids might feel differently.

Daniel Medley's picture

I would not buy a camera without a VF. I'd rather they release a camera designed for stills only; without video capabilities to save cost there, if possible. I've never, not once, used a camera's video function. I'm a photographer, not a videographer. But, probably, developing a product with a singular design purpose may well actually make it more expensive ....

So there's that.

Fritz Asuro's picture

Disabling video functions at this point won't affect the manufacturing costs as existing hardware and software already exists, it's usually tweaks and optimization on software side.
And I think manufacturers won't even do that as they will completely ignore a significant number of their customer base.

Ryan Davis's picture

Somebody should tell that to Canon.

Video heats the body much better than just stills. Having option not to think about it could be great for engineers.

michaeljin's picture

Removing video capabilities would save very little in the way of manufacturing cost (pretty much all the same parts) and cost an immense amount in terms of lost sales. You'd essentially be in Leica territory as far as esoteric goes.

Nicolas KIEFFER's picture

The real problem is that nowadays photocameras are build and designed with video, especially SONY sensors !!!.
This is why you are thinking it is useless for manufacturers have no interest in delivering a photocamera without movie features set.

The matter is that whatever manufacturer dare to release a photocamera without any videocam feature will be trashed and bashed to death.
The only way the 'market' could bare such a photocentric sensor would be the base of photography cameras : larger sensor resolution, better sensitivity, both thing because slower peace rate could bring better sensor technology geared for photography (and not movie or fast fps reading for decent EVF experience).

I really don't understand why so many tech lovers cannot understand why it could be an excellent technical decision to expose a sensor only for capture, without the need to refresh the sensor at 120fps . Those guys are only loving impressive and long features list, they don't care about quality, just quantity of bullet points...

I am using a photocamera because I take photos. I have ZERO use of the whole moviecam tech onboard, zero use of their codec, nor the need to have the weight and tech needed to cooldown an always exposed sensor. But heck, I am plain stupid, as nowadays we have to love moving pictures, nobody cares about accutance, real RGB photosite (only monochromatic 36M photosites sensors are delivering real 36M pixel files, and do not fool yourself with interpolation, I learn the interpolation tax since early 2003 with the marvelous SuperCCD sensors)

michaeljin's picture

So buy a Sigma.

Nicolas KIEFFER's picture

If guys like you were asking and buying seriously instead of hype, maybe we could get back again real innovation.

And if your advice is to get a Sigma rig, you really want me to believe you are a tech head but have zero clue what are the caveats and the benefits with Sigma Foveon sensor tech ??? Don't fool me !

Instead of crying for 6k 120fps video in photocameras, you should ask for foveon like accutance in the next breed of sensor. This is far more usefull to photography than useless 8k video (if you are in the 8k business, you should know why, and not guessing it is "kewl and awesome")

michaeljin's picture

If Foveon sensors were developed to have better low light performance (frankly, acceptable images at ISO 3200 would be good enough for me), I'd buy one in a heartbeat since I don't take videos (except of my son which can easily be done on my phone if I wanted to) and the colors from Foveon sensors are far superior. As it stands, they are the closest thing to your pure stills imaging sensor that are on the market today despite all of their weaknesses (and the low light capability is a severe weakness right now).

Also, you don't know a thing about me so please don't assume anything about my buying habits. I can assure you that I put my money where my mouth is (for better or worse).

And no, I'm not a "tech head" nor would I ever claim to be. I do my reading insofar as it helps with my purchasing decisions, but when it comes to theoretical products or theoretical tech implementations that do not exist on the market, I usually leave that to engineers who understand this stuff. I am a photographer so it does not really make a whole lot of sense to spend tons of effort studying sensor technology on a theoretical level. I try out cameras, determine which one on the market is best suited to my use, and buy it. I imagine that most of us are in the same boat.

Jason Lorette's picture

Not a chance...I hated shooting with the screen on my Nikon p/s...cameras without a viewfinder are an absolute non-starter for me.

Marius Pettersen's picture

Same for me. Using the screen is the last resort for me.

Rob Mitchell's picture

Nope.
I've binned all the screen only cameras I had.
Why?
Reading glasses is why.

Rob Mitchell's picture

That said, I also won't buy a camera without a flip screen either.
The Z7 fits my world. Excellent EVF for majority of the work, review of images inside the EVF is a massive bonus when shooting in the sun. The flip screens for when I do put on my glasses to allow low shooting shout having to lay on the deck and crane my neck. Not getting any younger here..

Ha ha! I was just about to post the same thing!

To see the image in a proper viewfinder, one's eyes can be focused on infinity, rather that the 15cm-or-so needed for a rear screen. Many people over 50 can only focus on infinity without assistance.

I have excellent long-distance (i.e., over a metre) vision, find camera rear-screens completely unusable because I simply cannot focus on them. I could put on my reading specs, but then I could not look to see what I wanted to photograph!

So, not just "no" to a full-frame without a viewfinder, but "no" to any camera without a viewfinder, until medical science gives me back focus accommodation!

If it's going to live on a tripod in the studio (headshots), then I don't think it would bother me. But for outdoor work, I couldn't cope.

Also... I still have a viewfinder for a Nikon F3, but no camera. Would anyone buy a viewfinder with no professional camera?

jacob kerns's picture

Nope I wont buy one without a viewfinder. Unless you can attach one via hot shoe or something.

Yes, if there is an optional EVF accessory similar to the Nikon V3 and Fuji GFX. Then anyone’s preference is provided for.

Fritz Asuro's picture

No. Doesn't matter of it's full frame or not, I need the viewfinder especially on bright sunny days.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

For me, nope. I started shooting in 2012 with a Sony NEX-5N. I hated it when shooting sunny outdoors.

With that said, I do notice quite a few professionals that use the LCD screen almost exclusively. Pye is one of them. Shoots like tourist. haha joking joking joking

So, who knows how successful (or not) it may be.

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