Beginner Tutorial 7
There is a lot more to your camera’s electronic viewfinder than merely providing an alternative to the traditional optical version – or the LED display screen. But what are the advantages, and what do all the display elements overlaying the image itself actually mean? Let’s take a look…
Using the Electronic Viewfinder
One of the more noticeable advantages to using a modern digital compact system camera is that all but the ultra-compact models feature a viewfinder.
On a mirrorless model / DSLM, this is an electronic display, like a miniature TV screen, that reproduces the image captured by the sensor in order to help the user compose the photograph.
This is a function called ‘Live View’ and is something that we take for granted when using a standard compact – or a smartphone – because on these devices it is how see what we are about to capture. Having such a familiar function on a more advanced camera helps new users quickly get to grips with using a different type of camera.
The viewfinder on a DSLR is optical and, unlike a mirrorless camera, does not support all of the features of an electronic display. Given the different functionality of an optical viewfinder (more of which later), it can take a while, therefore, for someone stepping up from a compact camera to adapt.
The advantages of an EVF
The Electronic Viewfinder or EVF (also known as Live Viewfinder or LVF) not only shows the image as seen through the lens, but can also display the camera settings and be used to review images already captured on the camera’s memory card.
All of these things can, of course, be displayed on the larger built-in display screen, but the EVF has the advantage that it is not affected by bright sunlight and is therefore easier to see in all conditions. Another advantage is that because the camera is held closer to your face when you are using the EVF, this traditional shooting style can be more comfortable and help you to keep the camera more steady.
What can I see?
In addition to the Live View image reproduced by the sensor, a number of icons and other indications are also displayed to inform the user about the camera’s status.
It can seem rather daunting when you are confronted with so much information for the first time, so here is a quick rundown (below) of some of the more common elements you can expect to see:
- Composition Guidelines
- Focus Point Indicator – White = Not Focussed, Green = Focussed
- Exposure Mode
- Photo Style Colour Mode
- Flash Mode
- Video Format & Frame Rate
- Still Picture Aspect & Image Size
- Image Compression Level
- Focus Method
- Focus Area Mode
- Battery Life Indicator
- Focus Lock Indicator – appears Green when focus is acquired, Red when focus is not possible
- Number of shots remaining
- ISO/Sensitivity Rating
- Exposure Level Indicator
- Shutter Speed Setting
- Aperture Setting/F Stop
- Metering Method Indicator
What is Live View?
A Live View display takes its image from the real-time readout coming from the image sensor. This has a huge advantage in that not only does it display 100% of the image you are about to capture, but any effects that you have applied through settings, or any shooting aids the camera offers, can also be seen (as in the examples below) – overlaid on the image and all before you take the shot itself.
Advantages of shooting with Live View
Having an electronic live preview of the shot before you press the shutter is obviously helpful in many ways and is a great way to build your expertise. You can experiment with all the different settings and preview the results before committing to your shot.
Here are a few examples of what Live View offers:
- 100% field of view – the entire image is displayed, which is great for aiding composition.
- All in-camera photo effects, such as ‘Black & White’ and ‘Sepia Tone’, can be previewed.
- White balance – assuring correct colour temperature – can be checked before taking the shot.
- Exposure levels – image brightness – and corrections to it are displayed.
- Depth of field and shutter speed effects can be previewed.
- The image is displayed in the chosen aspect ratio setting.
- Face detection and automatic focus tracking modes are possible.
- The image is artificially brightened in the display when shooting at night.
- Can magnify a part of the image in the display as an aid to manual focus.
- Shooting aids such as ‘Focus Peaking’ and ‘Highlight Warning’ can be shown.
So as you can see, Live View and electronic viewfinders have a lot to offer digital photography and are great for helping you get to grips with a compact interchangeable lens system camera. You might wonder, therefore, why it has taken so long for the digital SLR to embrace this technology…
Why is it different from a DSLR?
Digital SLRs partly take their name from the reflex mirror operation that allows the light coming through the lens to be directed to a ‘pentaprism’ optical viewfinder – not a digital display as in an EVF. This means that when you look through the viewfinder on a DSLR, you see an actual reflection of the subject image.
This purely optical system works well, in that you can see the image, in real-time, up until the point at which you press the shutter button. Then, the mirror reflecting the incoming light swings up out of the way of the light beam, allowing it to strike the sensor, but blacking out the image from your view.
The advantage of the optical viewfinder is that, in good light, a very clear and detailed image is viewable during the time the mirror is in its lowered position. Also, as the image is not being created by an electrical process, it does not suffer from the image lag that blights some electronic viewfinders. Some of the early designs of LCD EVF suffered from low resolution, dark images and noticeable image lag. However, today’s best Mirrorless System Cameras now utilise OLED (organic LED) viewfinders, which offer excellent brightness and resolution, and virtually no lag.
The main disadvantage of a purely optical viewfinder is that it will rarely display 100% of the image. Depending on the manufacturer, sometimes up to 10% of the field of view is hidden from the photographer’s sight. In addition, none of the Live View electronic features are possible – which means a completely new discipline of trial and error has to be mastered.
Many DSLRs now incorporate a Live View mode to try to offer the best of both worlds. However, because the old-style legacy reflex mirror cameras were designed around a ‘Phase Detection Auto Focus’ system, and not the ‘Contrast Detection Auto Focus’ system now used by mirrorless designs, often the focusing speed is noticeably compromised.
The LUMIX Advantage
Panasonic’s latest LUMIX G cameras offer ultra-bright, high-contrast and high-resolution OLED Live viewfinders. High-speed readout and parallel processing result in a 66% reduction in EVF display lag (compared to the LUMIX G5), meaning that it is now 30 to 40 times faster than a blink of an eye! Resolutions in excess of 1.4m dots (in the LUMIX G6), 1.7m (GH3) and even 2.3m (GH4) mean that the finest details are clearly visible.
Some LUMIX G models also include an auto eye sensor that detects when the viewfinder is held near your eye and switches the Live View image accordingly. So there’s no need to miss an instant with mirrorless system cameras from Panasonic.
Next time, we will be looking at the alternative to the viewfinder – using the camera’s rear LCD monitor screen.
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