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Monday, 03 October 2022


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Hi Mike! Very relevant subject, thanks!
On thing though. You say of optical viewfinder "windows" that "It's probably the least voluptuous sort of viewfinder, and inherently approximate. Like the TLR, it suffers from parallax, and the framelines are in almost all cases merely approximate."
Every point after the first column is definitely, factually correct, and indeed some meaningful limitation to the uses of an OVF. But the first statement, about voluptuousness, well may I respectfully posit the opposite view (pun not intended)? At least as far as Leica Ms are concerned, I find the "transparency" of their viewfinders a major attraction: you are "with" your subject, not removed from it by a screen of any sort. In other words, you see the subject and not the image. I started out with SLR cameras (my good old Nikon FM, still with me), and I have and do use today EVF-based ones (Fuji in my case): they do what they do greatly, in same cases irreplaceably so, so bless their existence. And I've never experienced the wonder of a view camera, which must be magic. But every time I go back to my M, I can't help feeling liberated and "present" to my surroundings and to my subject. A great feeling in its own right, precise framing can wait...

And then there is the articulated screen on the back of a digital mirrorless camera that allows the operator to hold the camera above or below or beside eye position. For users that prefer screen size and position over compactness there are relatively large screens usually mounted above and forward of the camera body which are useful in quickly (especially video) moving situations -- allowing the operator to frame the subject while maintaining situational awareness. These are often used by operators who need to avoid bumping into things or tripping while making videos.

FWIW, chimney magnifier solutions are available to fit most any camera. Zacuto and Hoodman are popular brands, although you can find additional models by searching for "LCD Loupes."

Needed one to make my Sigma DP1 useable. A most curious beast, with a fantastic lens, great files in good light, not so great software, and infuriatingly short lived batteries.

I enjoyed this post, and also the short video of Winogrand at work. You can see how he gets in interesting, tilted photos in between a quick check of settings and pushing his glasses back up on his nose (the viewfinder being almost unneeded). The concentration reminded me of the documentary on Harry Gruyaert that someone shared with your Youtube post. At one point on a bus, Gruyaert is looking through his viewfinder and sees a kid's head is in the way. He reaches over with his hand and moves the kid's head and quickly takes the shot. I had to laugh.

The screen on the back of the digital camera is OK until you start to require reading spectacles. If your prescription is low (+1 dioptre) you can probably get away with the camera at arms length - if you have long arms. As your sight lengthens you may need progressively stronger glasses that are uncomfortable to wear all the time (horizons and distant subjects appear blurred) unless you are reading a book, looking at a cellphone, tablet, laptop or computer screen.

If you are prepared to carry strong prescription reading glasses with you while not wearing any other spectacles then looking at a screen on camera back is OK. That is where the advantage of a DSLR becomes apparent over a film SLR. The dioptric viewfinder correction is built in. Smarter makers of EVF cameras, the Panasonic brand comes to mind, incorporate correction into the eyefinder. If you forget your reading glasses, you can still take photographs.

Olympus missed an important design feature when they introduced the Pen EP-range: a direct optical vision finder would have sold more cameras to ageing photographers.

Mike, thanks for the trip down memory lane. Back in the late 1970s when I was using a Mamiya C330, that pesky parallax became a real issue for anything at moderate to close focusing distances. It turned out that Mamiya sold a device called a “Paramender,” which was an apparatus that attached between the camera and the tripod head. One would compose one’s subject, set aperture and shutter speed, then raise the geared Paramender which would place the taking lens in the exact position of the viewing lens. The result was that the twin lens viewfinder parallax issue was solved.

The best viewfinder is the one you have with you.

Yes to the importance of viewfinders. But I suspect that most of us use what we get and don't get upset. Well, too upset anyway. Some time ago I switched from a Pentax 645Z to a Fuji 50S for various 'good reasons.' First time I put the new camera to my eye, I thought, "Damn. Forgot about that viewfinder part." Now I don't notice.
As for the Sigma viewfinders, your LVF is indeed a high-quality magnifier of the rear screen. My only complaint is that the diopter adjustment always seems to be in a different place each time I use the camera. I have to remind myself to check the setting. That said, I was working a few weeks ago and had to squat down to get the right viewpoint. When I finally got myself back upright, I ordered the too-expensive EVF, with its 90-degree adjustable eyepiece, right from my phone. The LVF still has its uses; it can always be flipped over and used like a super-quality Hoodman.

Great analysis, Mike, and I've used them all over the years. You do not mention the very clever Fuji X-Pro line, in which you can choose between the display generated by the camera and a view of the actual scene with frame lines. There doesn't seem to be much future for this, but I like it a lot--best of both worlds..

About parallax. There are two aspects to viewfinder parallax in TLRs and rangefinders. First, the angle of view onto the subject is different, because the viewing lens is not in the same position as the taking lens. Second, the area covered is different for similar reasons, so composing to the edges of the frame is harder. This second aspect can be and is partially handled by clever mechanisms. My ancient Crown Graphic, which has a rangefinder-style viewfinder and a wire-frame viewfinder as well as the ground glass back exhibits two solutions. The rear bit of the wire frame finder, a small hole in a bit of metal through which you look towards the frame itself is able to slide up and down, with markings for different subject distances. The rangefinder window has a thin bit of metal that slides as the camera is focused so that the view corresponds pretty accurately to the area that the final image will include. Neither of these is a perfect solution, but they each contribute to improved framing.

That “chimney”-style screen magnifier viewfinder (“LVF”) on the Sigma fp-L was a hoot to use! It felt rather luxurious. But it did come with the disadvantages of (a) being a bit bulky for casual urban use, (b) offering no angled viewing, and (c) preventing use of the camera’s touch-screen functionality for auto-focus control. That latter would have been the deal-breaker for me. The Sigma fp -does- offer a pretty good 90 deg tiltable accessory EVF that bolts to the side of the camera. It also brings some inconvenient disadvantages but would be the more practical choice for most people.

Viewfinder history, eh? Some cling to their old DSLRs and mourn the demise of TTL optical viewfinders. Not me! The modern high-res / high-refresh EVF is perhaps the most significant supporting technology of today’s cameras. I’ve come to rely heavily on the info-rich displays of my mirrorless cameras’ viewfinders and don’t even think about them being electronic. And don’t even get me started on the value of the articulating rear displays! Absolutely wonderful!

You’re almost tempting me to get back into B&W again (almost)!

You say"the photographer was seeing the image with the lens at its worst-quality ƒ-stop and with less depth-of-field than the picture would show, assuming she had the lens set on a smaller ƒ-stop." as though that was a problem. I wish the current mirrorless cameras defaulted to that or at least enabled it. I can do that with adapted lenses but it's slow and obviously not great for portraits or animals. I adapted a Nikon E2 extension tube as an adapter but that wasn't really optimal either.

Mike, SLR cameras were really big* in the late 1800s. They are even older than film. I have glass plate holders for one of my Graflexs although the camera is from the 1920s. To tell the truth, I bought them by mistake, but using them has been on my todo list for, oh, 30 years or so.

*like really quite large

I know exactly what you mean about that ground glass image. Somehow both flat and 3D at the same time; on the glass but also floating, real but not exactly. TLR's are neat because it's that experience in the palm of your hand--not as immersive, obviously, but on the other hand much more accessible. In the other direction is the camera obscura (perhaps the original viewfinder?), with its human sensor/recorder within.

"Car coming"...really like the simplicity...the design of your photo.
And the home interior photo you posted a few days ago...also an fp
shot...a nice feel to that image....makes one want to purchase an
fp....so I did. Working with a view camera for so many years I missed
seeing the scene on the large ground glass. The fp has brought
that back. And manual focus...what a treat. I wish it had the rise/fall and tilts feature of my Techikarden...then it would for me, be the
perfect photographic tool.

True, the EVF is not showing you the "real" view in the original light.

It's showing you what the sensor is capturing. That is, it's much closer to what your camera will actually record than any other viewfinder in the history of the field.

In the SLR world, pro-level SLRs often provided some flexibility in viewfinders. For Nikon's early F model for example they had a big pentaprism with built-in metering (Photomic FTN), a small pentaprism with no metering, and a waist-level finder. Plus on top of that, there were things like right-angle finders that could be attached to the eyepiece. This sort of flexibility was one of the clear lines between the pro-level models and the lower models.

I also tend to agree with the people who found the Leica M-series viewfinder more "natural" than others. It was a closer match to the scene brightness, the frame-lines were moved (by the focus mechanism) to be reasonably close to the actual framing, and you could see beyond the edges of the frame you were about to capture (except with the widest lens your body handled). That made it easier to handle complexity, crowds of moving people in particular.

Precise framing wasn't all that useful anyway. If you were shooting slides, some small amount was masked off by the mounts and what that was depended on the kind of mounts used. Making prints from negatives in the darkroom, you could print out to the absolute edge if you wanted to badly enough (you had to file out the negative carrier to do so, few people did it)—but the paper sizes common were not much like the same aspect ratio as 35mm negatives, so you were probably cropping to fit the paper size anyway. Or, if you were a working photojournalist, you were probably printing full-frame and leaving the cropping to the editors, because how the image fit the page was more important than how it looked on its own. So you were trained to leave some slack, to make sure you don't cut off the side of a face or something. (Of course if you were taking your own art photos, you did whatever you wanted, but 35mm was not the medium for serious art photos until rather later, except among amateurs.)

To Benjamin Marks…

The Leica S system (DSLR) has had interchangeable focus screens, including a microprism type, since the first iteration. As I wrote, Leica prioritizes the viewing (and focusing) experience.


Speaking of cameras and view screens...I recently rented a Toyota of some kind or another from Hertz, and the rear-view mirror was a view screen linked to a rear-view camera. Disconcerting, to say the least. Quite clear and perhaps with a wider view than the usual rear-view mirror, but with a problem I don't notice with cameras. The problem is, you have to focus on the screen. With a mirror, your eyes focus on the perceived distance of the image in the mirror -- that is, some more-or-less long distance away. With a view screen instead of a mirror, you have to close-focus. You go from long focus looking at the highway ahead of you, and when you glance up at the rear-view screen, your eyes have to suddenly extreme close-focus (less than an arm's length away, for me, and then refocus long back on the highway. As I said, strange and disconcerting.

Mike, I keep going back to “Car Coming” and it continually impresses. Well done.

Maybe quite a separate subject, but --- manual exposure adjustment using an electronic viewfinder --- I find that I could adjust the exposure to my liking on my old Sony A7R (mark 1) rather well by just changing (film speed, aperture, time) settings until I like the look and it feels right in the VF - gets a good result, exposure, highlight/shadow, colour - doesn't work so well with some later EVFs; anyone (you Mike?) tell me what's going on here? It's as if they have a narrow 'window' of VF output which was later 'corrected' so the view looks OK whether exposure will be good or not. You may guess that I prefer the older VF for this reason.

Quote: 'Winogrand often barely looks through his viewfinder at all. Cartier-Bresson hid his camera behind a handkerchief in his hands, and it was said that he could get it to his eye, take a picture, and hide it again before most people even noticed what he was doing.'

So they were more than prepared to do creative or corrective cropping when printing. Which runs a bit contrary to all those people who obsess about 'getting it right in the camera'.

I enjoy the cropping process, with the radical improvements or changes to an image that it can bring.

[No, neither one of them cropped except very rarely. I do know of one instance where HCB did. But it was in the nature of the exception that proved the rule. --Mike]

In that Gary Winogrand video, it's not just that he "often barely looks through his viewfinder at all." It looks like he NEVER uses the camera viewfinder, but instead, the accessory finder he has installed on top. Probably because he often shot with a lens too wide for the M3's built-in viewfinder framelines. Or maybe he just preferred the larger image that an accessory finder provides.

I don’t have the Sigma fp, but I do have the dp0, which has a very similar viewfinder. In the right conditions (for the sensor) it is very enjoyable to use. Only problem is that people interrupt me to ask what the h*** it is :-)

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