Optical vs electronic viewfinders
By Ryan Shaw
There are pros and cons to optical vs electronic viewfinders, so what's best for you will depend on the situations you're most likely to shoot in, and your preferred camera type.
There are two types of viewfinders available for digital cameras: optical (OVF) and electronic (EVF). With a few exceptions, the former are usually only found on digital SLR (DSLR) cameras, while the latter are common in compact, bridge and compact system (mirrorless) cameras.
Optical versus Electronic
An OVF uses a mirror and a prism to bounce light through the lens and towards your eye. This means you can see almost exactly what the lens sees, without any delay.
- OVFs provide better clarity and dynamic range (where some shots feature extreme differences in brightness) when you’re trying to compose a photo. They also help to block out everything else so you can concentrate solely on the task of snapping that perfect shot.
- OVFs are also better for low-light work; they can’t boost brightness like an EVF can, but they’re better suited to identifying the nuances in darker areas.
- Only the very best OVFs show 100% of what will actually be captured in the photo. Typically, most viewfinders show a very slight crop, often around 97-98% - but it’s so slight most people wouldn’t even notice it.
- Also, with an OVF, you can’t be entirely sure how the image will turn out until you’ve taken the photo. You then have to review it on the rear LCD screen, adjust settings and then re-take the photo if it's not what you want.
- Lastly, if you're shooting a close-up and depending on the size of the camera, there will be a vertical offset between the position of the lens and the position of your eye, which can make it slightly trickier to align the camera.
An EVF is essentially a tiny LCD screen. You use it just like an OVF, and on most cameras that feature an EVF, you can easily switch the view between the viewfinder and the large LCD screen on the back of the camera.
- What you see is what you get with an EVF: they show exactly what the lens sees, provide 100% coverage, and there’s no guesswork how an image will turn out before you’ve taken a photo.
- Exposure and depth of field can all be adjusted on the fly, with the changes normally reflected in the EVF, and without the need to take a shot, review and then adjust a setting to compensate.
- An EVF can also display a larger amount of information in your eye line, such as a histogram (which helps you adjust exposure and so forth), so you can achieve the best possible shot.
- Cheaper EVFs can suffer from discolouration via the viewfinder in poor light, similar to grain found in film photographs. Additionally, they can struggle to stay focused on fast-moving subjects.
- The refresh rate of the viewfinder can also have an impact as more time is required for the sensor to collect enough light to show an accurate image. This is most noticeable when shooting a fast-moving subject in low-light environments.