Dogmatic EVF vs. OVF Debate Further Explored

Alright, it’s a promotional video by Sony Australia further below. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t be ignored. Why shouldn’t the electronic viewfinder be the future. Mainly Olympus and Fujifilm were early betters on the technology, but I guess Sony’s new full-frame flagship, the A99, has the best implementation of EVF. What are its advantages? Many. Most impressive is that you see the result of the photo even before pressing the shutter.

Reality is that EVFs show a closer depiction of your “final image” than optical viewfinders. Both EVF and OVF have their pros and cons. Obviously, an OVF’s biggest advantage is that it doesn’t require any battery power. Or try panning. But there are also a lot of things outlined in the Sony video that an OVF can’t do. An EVF’s super-imposed information is just one of the goodies. Or focus peaking or live histogram.

And the abolished mirror lock-up removes some of the capture speed restrictions and all visual blackout that occurs in a traditional SLR.

OVF boils down to more loose composition and framing whereas EVF allows a more final prediction of the image you’re after. Looking through an OVF gives you the same rendering of an image seen with the naked eye and produced by the brain. EVF, however, previews an image as rendered by the digital camera. Sounds brutal, but EVF is just more honest.

OK, you’re used to optical viewfinders, you’re interested in producing what you really see. But isn’t digital technology already an interpretation of what you see? Add post-processing. EVF therefore is just the logical consequence of digital imaging as opposed to good old film. Pressing the shutter button is merely the starting point of an image.

Time to open up your eyes and mind.

Or the technology is just not yet there? Concludes Luminous Landscape in its Sony A99 field test report on EVF vs. OVF:

One of the big selling points of full-frame DSLRs is that they have larger, full-sized (usually 100%) viewfinders, and they are bright and with natural clarity, contrast and dynamic range; essentially the same as what the human eye sees unaided.

When I first picked up the A99 my very first impression was that there was something wrong. What it turned out to be was the outcome of virtually a lifetime of using full-frame film and digital cameras with their large and bright viewfinders. Holding up the A99 side by side with a camera like the D800, or new Nikon D600 or Canon 6D, brings the matter to light — so to speak. As good as it is, the Sony EVF just can’t compete in terms of realistic contrast, brightness and overall clarity to a full-frame glass prism viewfinder.




  • not seen the Sony video yet but I feel very strongly that evf is the future. other advantages include seeing the effects of under or over exposure before you take the shot and still being able to focus and compose a shot when you have a 10stop nd filter on your lens! I still don’t like the way they currently wash out the colour from a bright scene but one day they will be so good we’ll all wonder what all the fuss was about:)

  • Fully agree Neil. While I never got along with the Fujifilm X100’s lagging EVF, the Sony A55’s was already a big step closer to usability and I fell in love with the Olympus OM-D E-M5’s. And honestly, aren’t all LCD live view screens some sort of EVF?

  • Bengt Nyman

    The final camera image is no doubt digital. Somewhere along the line you have to accept the transition from optical to digital. The sooner this happens between framing and final image, the more opportunity you have to preview and optimize what your final digital image will look like. Do you want to preserve an optical illusion of what you think your digital image will look like until it is too late to change it, or do you want to accept the digital reality early enough to optimize your final image? For me the choice is easy.

  • Steve Weldon

    I think your last line says it all. Yes, an EVF is essentially a LCD though they handle things like the lag differently depending on manufacturer. And where Fuji’s x100 hit a home run with their hybrid viewfinder, was in allowing the photographer to choose which viewfinder is more useful for a given set of variables (framing). Sometimes an EVF has advantages, and sometimes an OVF has advantages.

    When these “advantages” become advantages is closely tied to the class of camera the viewfinder is part of. Those buying small compacts aren’t really concerned with the finer aspects of image quality, framing, or exposure. They can afford to use an EVF of even a lesser quality EVF because what these people are most concerned with is a fun camera with a big bright image on their LCD in the smallest package possible. My guess is this class of camera is divided up into 95% amateurs who just want a basic picture, 4% enthusiasts, and maybe 1% serious photographers who are willing to suffer lesser systems for the compact size.

    As you move into the mirrorless class with the 4/3’s and bigger sensors you get people more interested in image quality than before, or maybe more accurately the promise of image quality. My guess is this class changes the demographics considerably and I’m waiting for some numbers to appear, but my best guess is 80% are amateurs, 15% enthusiasts still looking for most image quality and features possible in a smaller body and who gladly accept lesser systems. But the real eye opener is in the 5% who are pros, or used to be pros, and they’re just not willing to carry the big bulky equipment any longer. To capture this demo Fuji patented their excellent hybrid system, some have crappy OVF’s (OVF’s are limited in electronic bodies of this size) to satisfy that small demo of diehards who won’t shoot with something else, an the EVF’s remain the best chance for compromise so these are improving. But ask this group of pros or ex pros if they’d rather have a big bright OVF of the type seen on full frame DSLR’s and most will say “of course..” Unfortunately it’s not possible.

    And now you move into the full size DSLR’s which are al virtually OVF’s with the exception of Sony’s SLT models and their flagship the a99.. This is where the demos turn. Maybe 5% are being sold to amateurs, 60% to enthusiasts, and 35% to full time or ex pros. But even though the pros buy less than 50% of these bodies, they still shape the DSLR landscape because they buy the most expensive lenses, most flashes, most accessories in general. And pros want their big bright OVF’s simply because they give you the most overall accurate representation than anything else out there. Some people say EVF’s give you the most accurate representation because they’re only looking at the exposure. Pros are looking at more. But with Sony putting an EVF in their flagship a99 many are wondering if the current technology supports the risks. Or other words will Canon uses start screaming for Canon to put a EVF in their flagship EOS the 1dx. Or Nikon the D800E.

    Personally I doubt we’ll see that. We might see it IF EVF’s continue to improve and solve their limitations, but only if they include a “off” switch that turns off the exposure changes the settings prompt. Overall, I don’t even see that happening. we’ll have something entirely new before then. Michael Reichman who runs the Luminance Landscape and is certainly up there at the top of the professional ladder changed over to Sony with their last generation A900. He loved their lenses and the body with dials and resultant image quality. He was quoted in the article where he was responding to the new EVF, and he used a fair amount of words to do so. In this article: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/sony_a99_field_report.shtml He takes you completely through his thought process about how he and other pros he’s associated with feel about EVF’s and this new EVF from Sony. It’s fair and it’s complete. He sums it up with a few quotes

    “My closing thought on this is that Sony is a technology driven company;
    one that has never been afraid to push the envelope and also certainly
    not one afraid of introducing truly innovative, even disruptive
    technologies. They frequently marry this with closed system proprietary
    accessories.”

    and

    “Speaking as plainly as I can – I don’t care for it. While the Sony EVF
    works fine on a NEX camera, and even on an APS-C sized model, it just
    seems out of place on a pro-grade full-frame DSLR. I stress the word
    full-frame, because to my mind this lies at the core of the issue.
    Previous Sony DLSR/DSLTs have used this same EVF, but they are competing
    with other brand’s APS-C sized sensor cameras, which typically have
    small, dim and distant appearing optical viewfinders. But one of the big
    selling points of full frame DSLRs is that they have larger, full sized
    (usually 100%) viewfinders, and they are bright and with natural
    clarity, contrast and dynamic range; essentially the same as what the
    human eye sees unaided.”

    and

    “As good as it is, the Sony EVF just can’t compete in terms of realistic
    contrast, brightness and overall clarity to a full frame glass prism
    viewfinder.And in reality, that’s one of the things that attracts photographers to
    full frame cameras. A large bright viewfinder has a definate role in
    both the pleasure of use as well as the functionality of such a camera.”

    In fact if you’re familiar with Michael’s writings (if you enjoy good clear bias free photography articles there are few who are better) you’ll have noticed he wrote an awful lot about this EVF vs. OVF debate. I’d guess the resultant on-line arguments were predictable so he tried to be as clear and thoughtful as I’ve even seen. He knew there would be Sony fanboys, EVF fanboys, OVF fanboys, and he took the time to explain where each is coming from, to help you see best from where you as an individual photographer are standing. He hates on-line arguing and I think his latest article goes a long way to helping reasonable people see the advantages and disadvantages of each type.

  • Realistic contrast, brightness and overall clarity are certainly very important, but they represent only a few aspects of many other aspects to consider. EVFs on par with OVFs are not some distant fantasy.

    Fact is, it’s like with mirrorless system cameras replacing the good old reflex camera’s 70-year long dominance. EVF vs. OVF is just another new vs. old debate, nothing else.

    More here:

    http://the.me/finally-system-cameras-end-70-year-long-dominance-of-reflex-camera/

  • Steve Weldon

    I think you will find most advocates of full frame OVF’s will tell you those few aspects do indeed influence everything important to a viewfinder.

    I don’t disagree EVF’s have already exceeded par for some types of cameras. Mostly consumer grade. But even handicapped EVF’s are below par when compared to a full frame OVF. This is now. Will the future change? Eventually. Ring the bell and wake me up when it happens because I’m not holding my breathe it will happen soon.

    I do wonder how many EVF advocates have actually used a full frame OVF for any length of time. If I go by my experiences with my workshop students I’d say precious few, while most have experienced EVF’s and OVF’s at the consumer grade level. But once shown the light they have something to aspire to.

    Like I said once before, have you ever heard a full frame OVF user say “gee, I wish they’d take away my beautiful bright and clear OVF and replace it with a stuttering EVF of less resolution and clarity?” Bad Sony.. bad bad Sony.

  • giles wright

    Can one really see in B&W? I can imagine things, but it’s not the same of actually seeing the images in B&W and making the adjustments needed.
    So with colour, and so with Art Filters. We have many versions of what *could* be reality even in the VF. Isn’t it brilliant? One can compose in real time. When using an LCD I revert to imagine what the result could be and perhaps later PP.
    But surely I don’t need a targeting device as an OVF to see the target with my own eyes – I do shoot from the hip very often. OVF is useless then.
    But checking the filters, and setting them beforehand is a way of interpreting the scene, and doing away with the need for PP later.
    Back to the decisive moment.