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The Essential Guide to Electronic Viewfinders

A guide to electronic viewfinders

Discover the ins and outs of electronic viewfinders. See the world through your camera in a whole new way!

Mirrorless cameras have electronic viewfinders (EVF). When you put a mirrorless camera up to your eye, you’re looking at a very small screen. This shows you what the camera will record when you press the shutter button.

But how does an electronic viewfinder actually work? And is an EVF right for you? In this article, I explore the ins and outs of EVFs, including their unique advantages and characteristics.

Note that this article is not an attempt to debate electronic viewfinders vs optical viewfinders. Instead, my goal is to help you understand what EVFs are so you can determine whether they’re right for your needs.

Let’s dive right in!

What is an electronic viewfinder?

mirrorless camera with an electronic viewfinder and the monitor is open. © Kevin Landwer-Johan
A camera featuring an electronic viewfinder.

An electronic viewfinder (EVF) is usually an LCD or OLED screen inside a mirrorless camera. As the camera’s sensor records the view through the lens, this image is displayed live on the screen inside the viewfinder.

Note that electronic viewfinders contrast with the viewfinders offered by DSLRs, called optical viewfinders. When you look through the viewfinder on a DSLR camera, you’re essentially looking through the lens – or, more accurately, a series of mirrors reflecting light from the lens into your eye.

Because there’s no mirror blocking the sensor in mirrorless cameras, EVFs capture an image the whole time the camera is powered on. They offer a constant feed from the camera sensor to the photographer’s eye, including (if desired) accurate exposure simulation.

And since electronic viewfinders are, at base, computer displays, they can show far more than a simple preview through the lens. EVFs generally allow you to view helpful overlays, such as histograms and manual focusing guides, as well as different camera profiles (black and white, vivid, high-contrast, etc). They can also be used to view the scene at high magnifications and review images that have already been captured.

Electronic viewfinder advantages

Electronic viewfinder on a mirrorless camera

Ever pondered the perks of using a camera with an electronic viewfinder? Well, there’s a host of them! Especially for budding photographers, these high-tech features can streamline tricky processes like setting exposure and focus.

Let’s delve into these advantages:

Advantage #1: An electronic viewfinder offers easier manual exposure control

lotus flowers © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Manual exposure can be a tough nut to crack. Deciphering the exposure meter, calculating adjustments, grasping how light bounces off varying surfaces and hues – it’s a lot for a newcomer. So the natural fallback is the handy Auto mode.

An electronic viewfinder, though, simplifies manual exposure control because it’s visual. With a mirrorless camera, what you behold in the viewfinder is a fair preview of your shot. The moment you tweak your exposure controls, the viewfinder reflects those changes. It’s like getting a sneak peek into your shot before you press the shutter button. Thus, mastering manual exposure becomes a breeze.

But there’s a catch. On certain cameras, you might need to tweak settings so the electronic viewfinder reflects exposure alterations. This is crucial if the viewfinder’s brightness level stays put despite changes in exposure.

Additionally, before you head out and start shooting with an EVF-laden mirrorless camera, make sure your viewfinder’s brightness is neutral. If the screen is too dim or too bright, it can lead to overexposed or underexposed shots. However, don’t fret over slight discrepancies. Modern cameras come packed with high-dynamic-range sensors that can compensate for minor differences.

Advantage #2: EVFs offer advanced focus information

bamboo © Kevin Landwer-Johan

When I peer into my DSLR camera’s viewfinder, I see a tiny illuminated spot indicating the image is focused. But with my mirrorless camera’s electronic viewfinder, I’m privy to much more focus detail.

Each camera brand has its own unique way of highlighting the focused area. My Lumix camera, for example, displays a light blue overlay on the sharply focused regions.

This comes in super handy when you’re using a multipoint autofocus option. You see, cameras don’t always focus on the desired area. But a quick look at the focus details in your electronic viewfinder gives you a clear picture of what’s in focus.

Advantage #3: An electronic viewfinder displays in-camera edits

spiky flower © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Most cameras come loaded with various profile modes, like monochrome, portrait, or vivid, to jazz up your photos as you shoot them. Here’s where an electronic viewfinder steals the show – it previews the chosen scene mode effect even before you click the photo.

Imagine you’re learning to capture the world in black and white. With an electronic viewfinder, you can set it to grayscale, letting you see your composition in monochrome. No more guessing games on how the final shot would look – you can see it in real-time through your viewfinder.

Advantage #4: You can use an EVF to review images with clarity

evening view of mountains © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Your electronic viewfinder isn’t just for taking photos; you can use it to review images stored on your memory card. Sometimes, it’s crucial to review an image, especially if you’re unsure about your exposure settings.

Photographers often use the camera’s monitor for this, but that could be problematic in bright sunlight. Glare reflecting off the monitor can diminish the clarity of your photos. But with your electronic viewfinder, you can review your photos without the distraction of reflected light, giving you a more accurate impression of your work.

A note about electronic viewfinder quality

rice fields in the sun © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Electronic viewfinders are a bit like people – no two are exactly alike. You’ll see variations in resolution from camera model to camera model, and even across different manufacturers.

This might sound technical, but here’s the simple takeaway: the higher the viewfinder’s resolution, the crisper your image will look. Just like with smartphones and TVs, this is a technology that’s advancing rapidly. With every new mirrorless camera that hits the shelves, we’re seeing viewfinders that pack in more detail than ever before.

Don’t forget to consider the difference between LCD and OLED viewfinders, too. As a rule of thumb, OLEDs are generally brighter and render colors more realistically.

Electronic viewfinders in photography: final words

elephants in a river © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Switching from a DSLR’s optical viewfinder to an electronic one can feel a little like learning to ride a bike all over again. It requires a bit of a mental shift, sure, but trust me, it’s worth it. The benefits far outweigh the initial discomfort.

One of the biggest perks, especially if you’re just getting the hang of manual mode, is being able to see the effect of your adjustments in real time. Tweak the aperture, dial in a different shutter speed, mix up the ISO settings – and you’ll see the result right in your viewfinder. For those of us who are visual learners (and let’s face it, most photographers are), this is a game-changer. It’s much more intuitive than trying to decipher a camera’s exposure meter.

Believe me when I say that an electronic viewfinder can make photography even more enjoyable! They simplify some of the technical aspects of shooting, which means you can focus more on capturing the scene in front of you.

Finally, don’t worry too much about comparing electronic and optical viewfinders. They both have their strong points, and I frequently use both in my own work, so you certainly shouldn’t stress over the difference.

Now over to you:

Do you plan to use an electronic viewfinder? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Kevin Landwer-Johan
Kevin Landwer-Johan

Kevin Landwer-Johan is a photographer, photography teacher, and author with over 30 years of experience that he loves to share with others.

Check out his website and his Buy Me a Coffee page.

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