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Friday, 22 May 2020


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I love good viewfinders as well, however, after listening to longtime, award winning photojournalist Alain Shroeder talk about why he uses the back lcd to compose, I've been practicing more with that as well. This is a good interview.


I really, really loved the viewfinder in the Pentax 6x7

I love good viewfinders, and I like to experience all sorts of different types of viewfinder. My Fuji XPro-2 has a fine optical RF-style viewfinder. I like it and enjoy working with it, but whilst it is good and practical, it ain't magical or beautiful.

Perfection probably comes in the shape of the 50mm external VF that Leica produced for the screwmount Leicas. In my final film phase I used it with a 2.8 Elmar on a Leica IIf. This viewfinder has a 1:1 magnification, and because of that it requires no special skill to use the camera in the proper, two-eyed way: right eye on the VF seeing the 50mm frame, left eye off the camera seeing the context. Perfection: an intellectually and aesthetically deeply satisfying way of working.

The 35mm and 28mm external viewfinders by Leica are great too, especially the 35mm one, as the two-eye approach still works fairly naturally in this field of view. I have both and use them occasionally, the 35mm finder for the 23mm Fuji and the 28mm finder for the 18mm Zeiss that I use on the Fujis. For my Fuji 16mm lens on the XE-3, I got myself a Leica 24mm external finder, using zone focusing for distance and the external finder for framing. This works well in practice, a true grab-a-shot machine, though at such wide angles the optical viewfinder no longer feels as natural as at 50mm, the view is too compressed for that. Still, works great for street (and for taking pics of my kids).

Never had a chance of using one of those wire-frame press camera finders: must try it one day!

And then of course there is the groundglass on the view camera. Another form of magic, completely different from the rangefinder but equally compelling. Sadly those cameras never clicked with me, but I look at all view camera users with awe and envy. I do agree with you, Mike, smartphone screens can make for fine viewfinders, and the reason I think is because on modern high-resolution screens they do act like a groundglass.

Price and ‘bashing’ aside, Leica gets the viewfinder thing. Optical? Hard to beat the S, starting from the 2008 S2. EVF? The SL EVF was state of the art when released in 2015, and held that distinction for years. And the SL2’s VF is even better. The APS-C CL’s VF punches above its specs and also offers terrific EVF viewing. And of course the M VF is the heart of the system, for those who still want the RF experience. Choices are a lot about priorities; and I value Leica’s.

Regarding Mr. Smith's comments on DX lenses, what I have found myself doing is using the old manual focus and first generation AF lenses instead. Smaller but well made and optically excellent. My camera body has indicators for focusing assistance as well. The DX 35/1.8 is a fine lens but I enjoy using all my converted Pre-AI Nikkors instead. I have an equivalent range of 30mm to 202mm in primes and all is good and all is fun.

I can personally vouch for the Spotmatic line and the fabulous super-takumars. These bodies and lenses feature a radical departure from finicky bayonet flanges, with their teeny-tiny release buttons, and the so-called gold plated electronic contacts the fraudsters love to boast about as they go about fleecing chumps.

Yes, Pentax dispensed with such complex, costly, fragile, and unreliable frippery. You the consumer are rewarded with equipment that will quite literally last a lifetime, and I don't mean the lifetime of a housefly!

I always loved the viewfinders in the Pentax MX and in the Nikon F3. With the F3, you could use the newer screens from the F4 and get an even brighter view. What really peeves me are the dim porrofinders (not prisms) in many DSLR cameras. So many of the digital users claim they will never use an EVF, but yet they're looking through a dim DSLR optical finder. I suspect many of them never used a good film camera and therefore have no basis of judgment, but they sure know it all.

On the subject of viewfinders I feel compelled to mention the Voigtlander Kontur – a finder with no optics, just a blocked-off front with cut-out framelines. You use it with both eyes open; the brain superimposes the framelines onto the image from the other eye. I love quirky vintage accessories and this one is right up there.

A bright, accurate, comfortable viewfinder is, indeed, a rarity and a luxury! Rangefinder viewfinder guidelines are close approximations, external VF's are basically a sign with an arrow (as was the viewfinder on my old Widelux), and film SLR's (save for the F's) always left a little extra 'round the edges. I remember the shock and incredulity when first looking though a cropped DSLR viewfinder when a couple asked me to take their picture with their camera! How does anyone even attempt to look through that!?! My first EVF also left me appalled- till I finally realized to just expose for the highlights (as for chrome) and the shadows would pretty much take care of themselves (more or less).

You'll either sink or swim, but you won't know for sure till you give each a fair shake of time and usage. Some I'm definitely Not compatible with, but Ive even adapted to the rear LCD- something I never thought possible. Not to mention switching from left eyed viewing to right eyed- still can't believe it feels absolutely natural now!

This post got me thinking of the age olde rangefinder or SLR viewfinder debate, and got me off my butt taking pictures of the family in the house with my M6. Who knew that you could take pictures with these things!

Viewfinders are interesting objects, and I've a lot by now. Aside from the ones built into cameras, there are the various ones by Voigtländer from the rotating angle finder with screw in lenses for various angles of view, the Voigtländer wide-angle zoom finder, the Leica Frankenfinder and the various clip on single focal length finders from many manufacturers. Some I like, others are pretty much useless.

I've had a love/hate relationship with the Leica 21mm finder. Until the 90's they were available only in metal, and the finder could catch on things, bang into things or just fall off if it felt like it. As with jam sandwiches, it always fell the wrong way, in this case smashing the front element when the corner banged into concrete. Until I learned better and put a cap keeper leash on it, I spent more on finders than the 21 Super Angluon it was used with.

One of the more interesting viewfinders is the Voigtländer Kontur, a finder you can't see through. The idea is that you keep both eyes open and the finder provides the bright lines that show you your framing. Your view was always as clear as your eyes could handle, never distorted and perfectly colour correct while showing everything outside the frame as well. I still have a strong memory of my grandfather walking around with this viewfinder that he would have ready or up to his eye. I don't think he ever used it on a camera. He used the viewfinder for 10x as long as he held the cameras (a couple of Braun Paxettes). This was in the 50's.

I think it is misleading to say that "Pentax still doesn't offer a prime lens option in the 35–40mm-e range".
There are multiple 35mm and 40mm choices in the APS-C range.

You seem to be talking about FF lenses.

Have you ever tried the excellent 31mm Limited? Isn't it close enough to 35mm?

What ? Ricoh stiffed you for $2500? You should have raised this earlier and pressure could have been made to bear on them

Yes, I also have a Pentax MX and the viewfinder is incredible compared to more recent DSLRs however the best viewfinder I've ever used, has to be on my Mamiya RB67, it is huge and every detail, every blade of grass is visible. When I use that camera, I don't so much feel like I'm looking through the viewfinder but walking through it as though I'm actually inside the camera. There is no barrier between the subject on me, unlike live view with a DSLR, when the view is not only a screen to look at but also a screen between me and the subject.

Oh, viewfinders... They are one of the main reasons my cameras are a Pentax K-5 and an Olympus OM1n (the other reason: body size). And now that my nine year old K-5 is stubborn about turning on, I had nearly convinced myself I can live with the EVF of a Fujifilm T-X30 (sight unseen of course, small town far away from anywhere to view/handle in person). Then I read this and it reminds me all over again of why I made my original choices.

Albert Smith wrote "It is not only Pentax, Nikon lost me when they failed to fill out their DX lens line. They came out with a petite 35mm ƒ/1.8 giving a normal lens angle of view that performed very well. I was sure it was the start of a system of DX lenses to parallel the full frame range, but no."

It could be worse; you could be encountering the same issues only worse with a crop sensor Canon.

It seems like, having gotten into the Full Frame game as early as they did, Canon's attitude ever since has been "APS-C lenses? Phhhhtt! Let them eat cake."

There's the 24mm pancake, that nice 60mm macro, the 18-55/2.8 is pretty okay, I guess, and... well, that's about it for EF-S.

It's rather sad that leaving a camera company can be so painful. It certainly was for me. Spotmatic/MESuper/LX/1at DS/K200D/K5 ... its a long old story.

In the end though I like a few others moved to Fujifilm. I have certainly not regretted it. But I look back on My life with Pentax with great fondness and wish them well.

Strangely my finish was the K1 which was a fantastic camera. I suppose though that I had got to love the spelt design of the ME Super and even the LX. I had kept the 31/43/77 to use on the FF when it came. Well when it came it was beautiful ... but for me was a TANK!

So now I use a X100F and a X-T100 as a small body with lovely small F2 primes. The irony is that I am thinking of going for an XH1 for its IBIS. Sidewise this is clearly illogical ... but as I get older IBIS is so useful.

Still I miss those lovely Pentax primes ... but am half in love with my Fuji ones.

Viewfinders have always been this dark, cramped thing I have to cope with to guess how my pictures might look. This was true with fixed-lens cameras, rangefinders, TLRs, SLRs, view cameras...basically everywhere. Some were worse than others (or better than others; same thing!).

But the big issue was that they restricted my ability to to see what was going on outside the frame—and hence what was about to intrude, or what wonderful opportunity existed, or something. (Well—unless I framed very loosely and planned to crop; which, with 35mm as my main arena and low light my natural home, I tried to avoid overdoing.) (And of course the rangefinders often did give me a small amount of view beyond the edge of the frame; the Leica M3 did for example.)

Mostly didn't matter with view cameras, I didn't try to shoot action with them! Similarly, mattered less, mostly, with the TLRs, same reason.

Using a back screen to compose (which I did on my first digital P&S some, and on my modern mirrorless some) lets me keep more situational awareness, using my peripheral vision. That's useful when things are changing rapidly. They aren't, as you say, much good in direct sunlight, but such a tiny percentage of my photos are taken in sunlight! It's hardly an issue, and there are multiple ways to shade it enough to be useful (and my experience with dark tunnels let me infer a lot from hard-to-see LCDs). (And TLR and view camera viewscreens aren't that good in direct sunlight either! View cameras are famous for the dark-cloths we put over our heads and the camera to be able to see the image at all. That works great with an LCD back also, if your subject is sufficiently static.)

LCDs (either on the back, or through the viewfinder of a mirrorless body) tell me additional information about what the photo will look like, that a direct view of reality doesn't. I'm not actually capturing reality! I can only capture my camera's interpretation of it, and knowing what that is is useful. Seeing the actual reality can be down-right distracting, I can get side-tracked chasing something my camera won't capture if I'm not careful. Of course in the pre-digital era one tried to learn enough to predict accurately what you would get! It's just easier now, the camera comes closer to really telling you. (Being able to select B&W viewfinder mode is something I do so rarely; I wonder why? It fits my theory of what's useful.)

I am more tickled by the old jalopy that Dorothea is sitting on more than her huge camera. And look at that spare tyre at the side....I cannot control my excitement anymore!

Just gimme a chance to drive that around town for a day and that would be fulfilling one of my dreams of a lifetime.

Michael, I am quite sure we first crossed paths in Pentax land. So this was a blast from the past. Pentax lost me with their inability to produce a mirrorless camera, as these were rapidly becoming the most usable and fun systems for anyone not committed to a giant professional rig. Never been happier than with my Olympus, to the point that I stopped reading all photo sites. Yours is the only photo-related blog still in my stream.

Ah the RB Graflex, the queen of cameras. I think the only viewfinder I like better than my RB Graflex is the one on my 5 x 7 stereo Graflex, same idea but in 3-D.

That said shooting with no viewfinder at all is a skill that can be learned. I knew a few guys that shot with a Hasselblad SWC with no finder. Toby Old for instance. I ran into a guy in Danceteria shooting with a SWC at arms length and I walked up to him and said “you must be Toby Old” and it was.

Pentax are going the way of Leica, by that I mean offering a photographic experience as defined by them and them alone. The bigger viewfinder is one way of offering that, expanding the FF limited line is another with the announced 21mm.Saying that, a K-1 with a 645 sized OVF would be fun to imagine. Oh and they are still trading blows with Zeiss, the big 50/1.4 is there or thereabouts with the equivalent OTUS and the new 85/1.4 is out very very soon.

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