Broadly speaking, the best Electronic View Finders (EVF) are superior to any Optical View Finder (OVF). However, not all EVFs are made equal, and in some types of photography, such as sports and wildlife photography, you will be better off with a good OVF than a bad EVF. Here’s why. Jump to Conclusion
Table of Contents
- EVF vs OVF – Optical Viewfinders
- EVF vs OVF – Electronic View Finders
- OVF vs EVF – My Experience
EVF vs OVF – Optical Viewfinders
Not all Optical viewfinders, or OVF, are equal. For instance, OVFs on cheaper cameras, such as the Nikon D3500, use cheap optics to provide a small, dim, moderately cropped view of the photo you’re about to take. In contrast, a high-end DSLR such as a Nikon D850 delivers a large, bright, and beautiful 100% view of the scene you’re about to capture.
But no matter how tiny and dark your OVF is, it does have two distinct advantages over EVF. First, an OVF does not draw power, resulting in extended battery life and the ability to use the viewfinder without turning your camera on.
Second, an OVF works at the speed of light, meaning there’s no latency. This is hugely advantageous for chasing down fast-moving subjects. In comparison, many EVFs introduce latency, making it incredibly difficult to keep up and frame fast-moving subjects such as flying birds.
However, even the best OVFs suffer from a momentary blackout since each time you take a photo, your DSLR’s mirror must flick aside, directing light away from your viewfinder and to your camera’s image sensor instead. While blackout isn’t as traumatic as latency, it can be distracting when shooting at higher frame rates.
EVF vs OVF – Electronic View Finders
Like the Optical viewfinder, not all EVFs are equal. Generally, an EVF on a cheaper camera will present a small or low-resolution image, which looks ugly and makes assessing focus and exposure more difficult.
However, technicalities aside, a cheap EVF suffers the same issue as a cheap OVF. Namely, both produce small, less attractive images.
Yet, the cheapest OVF updates at the speed of light, while a cheap EVF may not exceed 30 frames per second. This can result in headache-inducing flicker and makes it difficult to chase and frame fast-moving subjects.
Moreover, even a high-refresh EVF may still lag behind the action since the sensors in most cameras cannot read off an image fast enough. As a result, the EVF must wait for the sensor resulting in more lag.
But times are changing, and modern EVFs paired with the latest sensors, such as those in the OM-1, Nikon Z9, and Sony A1, provide a latency and black-out-free shooting experience at frame rates exceeding 50fps – a feat no DSLR has ever matched.
Then there are the generic benefits of EVF, such as real-time exposure preview that tells you your shot is correctly focused and exposed before you take it – thus, no more chimping. Plus, you can use your EVF to review your images and record and watch videos.
OVF vs EVF – My Experience
My Nikon D750 had one of the biggest and brightest OVFs going and was vastly superior to the smaller OVFs I had used on my Nikon D40 and D90. In short, I loved it.
However, I spent a few months shooting with an Olympus OM-D M1ii, and returning to an OVF was an entirely negative experience. First, Chimping (constantly reviewing your last shots on the back screen) feels fine when you know you have to do it. But after two months without, it was just a chore.
Moreover, the static nature of an OVF just felt numb. In contrast, the OM-D M1ii reacted to my every input. Ironically, the Olympus OM-D M1ii is known for having a bad EVF. Now, I have an OM-1 with a zero lag 5 million dot OLED EVF, and I’m never returning to an optical viewfinder. Ever.
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The best EVFs are superior to the best OVFs by almost every measure. Specifically, they provide an accurate preview of your image while offering a lag and black-out-free shooting experience at hyper-fast frame rates.
Stepping down from the very best EVF implementation still leaves plenty to be desired, such as a large, vibrant image with real-time exposure preview, focus assists, and the ability to review your pictures when it’s too bright to use your camera’s rear screen.
But when it comes to fast action, a mid-tier EVF may not be paired with a sensor fast enough to give you a lag-free shooting experience. While this will be hardly noticeable when taking photos of your holidays, it will make shooting fast action more difficult. In contrast, even the cheapest, smallest, and ugliest OVF updates in real-time.
As for the cheapest EVFs and OVFs, you must choose between a small, dim, witless, but lag-free OVF or a large, flickering, washed-out image with valuable features and assists. In other words, you should base your decision on what the rest of the camera offers.