[Note: I've consolidated a number of comments featuring a range of opinions here. These are the responses to reader Mathias Gullentops' question yesterday. There were many other excellent comments, which can be seen in the main Comments Section of that post. —Ed.]
OVF = optical viewfinder: typically (though not exclusively) the direct view through the lens rectified by an SLR prism and eyepiece.
EVF = electronic viewfinder, a display like a miniature TV screen inside the camera eyepiece.
Neither type is monolithic, i.e., there are many different implementations and degrees of quality.
Gordon Lewis: "The basic advantages of an EVF are: 1.) It can be set to reflect exposure changes and white balance so you have a better idea of what the actual image will look like, and 2.) You can manually focus much more accurately than with an OVF, which is optimized for brightness rather than acuity. Drawbacks are that EVFs are often more contrasty (shadows block up), can be laggy (not real-time viewing), and can display distracting artifacts in low light. The lagginess is less of a problem with single-shot images and more of a problem with continuous shot sequences. Pay your money and make your choice."
John Krumm: "As, others have said, judging exposure is pretty simple on an EVF, easier than with an OVF, especially if your goal is to shoot just below blowing highlights. I've often said that EVF's are about perfect exposure, OVF's are about perfect composition. I struggle a bit seeing the shadow detail with an EVF, but eventually became used to it with my E-M1.
"Now I've returned mostly to an OVF for several months with my Pentax K-1. I like it for its strengths, but don't really prefer it overall. In fact, if in a few years there is a K-1 Mk II and it has a good EVF and is fully mirrorless (keeping the K mount) I'll welcome it."
Rob: "The live histogram in an EVF is a godsend for judging exposure. At this point, I cannot imagine being without it. But more generally, an EVF shows what the sensor is seeing. To me, that is more valuable than knowing what the lens is seeing. Also, the image quality of EVFs has reached the point of being very good to excellent, which was not always the case. I have no problem visualizing a scene when using one, though it is a different experience than with an OVF. One downside to mirrorless cameras and EVFs is that focusing is done at the taking aperture, not maximum aperture, which means that in dim lighting and a small aperture, it can be difficult seeing the subject clearly. The EVF will lighten the image, but sometimes not enough. This is more of an issue with manual focus than auto focus."
DavidB (edited comment): "I use OVF and EVF cameras and like both. The primary downside with EVF for me is night shots. It's difficult to aim the camera at the correct portion of the sky using an EVF. And, then, after staring at the EVF I've lost my night vision for at least several minutes. For almost everything else, EVF can be very nice especially if you have set it up so that it reflects your camera settings."
G Dan Mitchell (partial comment): "When you think of the two types of viewfinders as being 'different' rather than as being generically 'better/worse,' I think you are on the right track. I use both, and each has relative advantages and disadvantages in certain situations."
Florian: "Hello. My very first experience with an EVF was at the very beginning of the technology and I though the whole idea was a joke—the EVF image was incredibly bad and lagging so that it was hardly possible to move the camera. Several years later, I tried out a Panasonic GH1 and the experience was completely different. I liked it immediately, loved the advantages (you see the actual image the camera sees, it is possible to overlay grids and all kinds of information), even though the EVF of that camera was, by today's standards, still rather bad.
"In my opinion, the only disadvantage of an EVF is the fact that you only see something when the camera is switched on. Nevertheless, I would never go back to an OVF!"
Dogman (partial comment): "I'm not a huge fan of EVFs. However, I admit they are excellent indoors and under low light conditions outside. In bright light, I much prefer OVFs because the EVFs I've used darken considerably outdoors in bright sunlight. Indoors, I find EVFs are good at previewing exposure when used in conjunction with the histogram."
Oleg Shpak: "There is no need to guess exposure with EVF. I shoot in manual mode for many years. I am sure I never switched my last couple cameras into any different mode ever. With very little training you will set exposure the way you want EVERY SINGLE TIME. There is no guessing game there."
PhotoDes: "I have never understood this question. I have used both EVFs and optical VFs (DSLRs) since the beginning (about year 2000 for me). I switch back and forth without a second thought. Early EVFs were pretty poor, I admit, but never so bad as to interfere with my shooting. I'm more concerned with other handling features of my cameras."
[A different] mike: "Hey Matt, it truly depends on the implementation of the finder. I do find that the Lumix cameras are excellent for judging exposure, while other cameras can be, in my experience, quite a bit more difficult. You can set up most EVF's however you like. I make mine show a bit less contrast and saturation so I can see the highlights and shadows better, and the color is less distracting, but still easy to judge. Since I shoot RAW, each file gets adjusted to my internal set point anyway, so what I see in the finder will never match my final output.
"Also, when making black and white images, it's pretty cool to be able to see the images that same way when you shoot. I switched from DSLRs to mirrorless about four years ago, and really it took me only a few sessions to get used to it, and only a few more to realize that going back to an optical viewfinder would never happen for me."
Luca: "First of all: with all brands that I know of you can generally set EVFs in two different ways. You can either choose for them to show a faithful-ish preview of the exposure, in a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) fashion; or you can set them to mimic an optical viewfinder, i.e. set them so they automatically compensate to keep light levels even and the image clearly visible. This second way, in my opinion, is useful only if you're using flash in a studio setting, because basically you give away one of the main vantages of an EVF, but hey, YMMV.
"If you decide to use the EVF in the WYSIWYG fashion, then in my opinion (I have an A7r, an X-T10 and an E-M10) Sony has the best implementation, followed really really closely by Fuji (my only gripe with Fuji is that, for some arcane reason, it doesn't show 100% of the image...why??? It's a readout from the sensor, for crying out loud!!!).
"Olympus comes a more distant third; at least my E-M10 if I go too far with the exposure settings, so that it should show me a black or conversely a completely overexposed image, still insists in showing me instead a relatively decent (as in 'visible') exposed image (yes, with all the right settings in place).
"Not a big deal, because you shouldn't rely on the EVF to judge the exposure anyway. The real secret weapon of the EVF is the ability to show you the histogram in real time. Just be sure the highlight ('right') end is not clipped (assuming a 'normal' image; obviously you may have different artistic intentions) and you're good to go.
"After the histogram, the other great characteristic of an EVF is the ability to show you the world as the camera sees it; this will let you discover, especially if you're photographically 'green,' many interesting images or way to capture a scene that you otherwise would not have even started to consider.
"Not to mention you will be finally able to see the real extent of your depth of field, and the exact point where you're focusing (no more focus errors, at least not focusing manually).
"I've started shooting 'seriously' in 1988, with in succession Minolta (some of the best viewfinders ever made, even better than Nikons, IMO), Nikon and then Canon EOS, almost always using top of the line models (F4, 1n, 5D Mark II etc.); but after using the first EVF (it was the relatively poor one, by current standards, in a NEX-7) I've never looked back."
Glenn Bittle: "Hi Mathias, I've had my Fuji X-T2 for a month and that's my first use of EVF after 40 years using SLR/DSLR. Was tossing up with X-Pro2/OVF as I found EVF a bit strange. However, I took the plunge and really within an hour of using EVF I'd completely got used to it. Love the fact that as you change various settings (with the lovely tactile dials!) you see what's happening in the viewfinder. Wonderful."
Thanks to all, and sorry for the delay in posting!
Original contents copyright 2016 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from: