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

Previous comments
Daniel Lee's picture

Personally I'd much prefer something DF style with no video. I never use any of the video features so it would certainly appeal to me and the viewfinder is much more useful in my usage.

michaeljin's picture

I wouldn't, but I'm sure that there's a market for it.

*Edit: Actually, now that I think about it, I might actually buy something like that to use as a real estate camera since I never use the viewfinder for real estate photography anyway.

Well. At first I thought: Why not make it an accessory that you can buy later on.

But I doubt anyone would buy it and r&d budget spent on developing an interface for it could probably negate the savings and is probably better spent elsewhere.

I would not (even tho I barely use the VF) but I can see people who would.

For example it's a huge waste on a video-centric camera. My hunch is getting rid of the vf wouldn't have hurt the sales of any panny gh camera.

Yes if the EVF is available as an accessory. I keep a Panasonic GF2 in the car for times when I leave home and don't plan on taking photos. I have better cameras, but this beats a phone and the optional EVF works for me despite being old technology.

as a studio only camera...Maybe. as a daily driver outdoor/indoor primary camera...not a chance. The glare and brightness of LCD screens just isn't there yet.

Felix Valeri's picture

you can always use a Hoodman hood riser, I know someone who uses it for all of their shoots

Venson Stein's picture

A lot of street shooters use those Ricoh Grs with only an LCD on the back, no viewfinder. As for me, there is no way in hell I would use a camera without a viewfinder. They could leave the LCD off and I would not care less. I am an old guy who came from film cameras.

Rick Pappas's picture

No. No.
Waving a camera around in front of you while looking behind it instead of stabilizing it with three points...one of which is your head is a great path to blurry photographs. So, no. No.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I wouldn’t buy any camera that doesn’t have a viewfinder. I loathe trying to frame with arms outstretched on the rear lcd.

bluerhino's picture

I personally love the viewfinder. I have very good eyesight and I see detail more clear through it than looking at the screen. However, while I do enjoy taking macro through the viewfinder, it's not a feasible option for live insects that can fly away.

Luke Adams's picture

Yep, started shooting 6-7 years ago. Have been professionally shooting weddings now for the last couple years, and have never used my viewfinder once.

No way.
Two reasons: 1) I need diopter - or glasses :)
2) Light is mostly behind me and makes a screen difficult/impossible to use.

My Sony DSC RX100V I have both. With a view finder I get a truer idea how the image will come out and popping it up also turns on the camera.. Using a screen, I spend way too much time fussing with seeing the shot and it's more difficult for me to make out what I'm shooting.

No. Shooting from an articulating screen can great when you're in an awkward space, but I've lost shots shooting into the sun without a viewfinder and I found its also easy to lose a fast moving subject when relying solely on an LCD screen. I also prefer verifying focus through a viewfinder.

As a second/more compact body - if it was cheap enough. Having said that, Nikon’s mirrorless system isn’t nearly where I want it to be yet and I just bought a D850. I’d like to have gone mirrorless this time though...

Rashad Hurani's picture

For less-than-a-grand I'm willing to buy a Nikon without touch LCD, EVF, 4K, but I woun't buy it without IBIS or good AF

Laughing Cow's picture

Since I wear glasses to read or look closely, no, absolutely not. It's really annoying to have to put on and take off your glasses all the time

No, but I would buy a camera without a rear screen

Terry Manning's picture

I don't know its sales numbers but the Sony RX1 has been available for a while.

I would never buy a general purpose camera without an EVF. Even my P&S cameras have them. I own two without, one a P&S, one a mirrorless, both for underwater use, where it won't matter... but sometimes annoying as a Kayak camera.

However, every successful line of mirrorless cameras so far have this option. None are full frame yet, and it remains to be seen if Nikon will go FF at the low end, offer up APS-C, or even completely avoid the low-end, though that seems unlikely. Nikon's entry-level $400 DSLRs bring new customers into their system.

And in some locales, small sells. While Canon took the top mirrorless spot in Japan last year, that was with EOS M, not R. Of the top ten bestselling mirrorless in Japan this year, five are Olympus, and the best sellers among those are Pen series without viewfinders.

Richard Bradbury's picture

Personally no. Never liked shooting using live view or the lcd.

EL PIC's picture

Just need a GirlFinder ..

Fraser Pitkethly's picture

no I would not

Alex Herbert's picture

Jason Lanier is a top professional, and he doesn't even need 2 hands to shoot, much less an EVF!

Red Whitenbleau's picture

Might be great as part of a modular system. Shooting in the studio tethered there's not much need for the viewfinder. Shooting landscapes outdoors I can imagine a modular viewfinder that slips on a hot shoe or similar external mount could have tons of flexibility, rotation, zooming, whatever. Interesting concept!

No.

I have an EVF-less camera with me at all times; my iPhone. If you were to say that I could only have an EVF-less camera, then I'd just use my phone and not bother with a camera.

The fact that I am choosing to use a camera means I want to do something more than just take an iPhone snap. For that, I insist on an EVF.

However, I do recognise that as we go forward, I am likely to be in an ever decreasing minority (or do minorities increase?).

Absolutely not. I have nothing against full frame cameras, but what is people's obsession with it that they would sacrifice even basic features like a viewfinder just for a "full frame" sensor? If you want to release something under $1k, just make a good mirrorless APS-C instead of a lousy full frame. The viewfinder lets you stabilize the camera, isolate your shot from your surroundings (no ambient or bleeding light making it harder to determine your exposure and color balance), uses less battery than the screen, etc. If you look at the populations of people okay with shooting off the rear screen 100% of the time and people who actually care about "full frame", how much overlap is there, realistically?

Yes. But the screen would need to have about 5000nits of brightness.

The "SLR"-style EVF centered on top of the camera is only one option. There are also "range finder"-style options (even tiltable ones) or hot shoe mounted ones. All of these allow sleeker and more pocketable solutions with no bump on top. I now own cameras with SLR-EVF, RF-EVF and no EVF. Everything make sense but at the same time has its downsides.