EVIL Works Pretty Good

Contemporary EVIL (electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lens) cameras, that is.

Encouraged by looking through two recent electronic viewfinders (which have improved astoundingly in the past few years), I purchased an Olympus OM-D E-M5 yesterday. Just took a batch of macro pictures with it, mostly using manual focus. Unlike a compact digicam, it’s totally usable for macro photography. Which is good, because that’s a big part of why I purchased it.

Mind you, the EVF is still not as good as an optical viewfinder: the view is slightly delayed, and like a movie or TV set it’s a sequence of still pictures in rapid succession, not a true moving view. It’s also a discrete set of pixels with a noticeable grain to it. But the point is it’s close enough to a true live view on a ground-glass screen to be completely useful, even in fairly gloomy light.

In fact, it can make it surprisingly easy to focus in gloomy light, because what you’re looking at in such situations is an amplified view of the available light. It can be a little disconcerting at first to look in the finder and see a bright scene when photographing on the forest floor. On the minus side, there’s a limit to how bright the EVF can be, and it ends up looking surprisingly gloomy in bright sunny situations. It’s still far better than trying to shade the preview screen on a camera body while at the same time attempting to hold the camera still, however.

Focusing the lenses feels a little on the odd side, too. Even though focusing is done in the traditional way by turning a collar on the lens, that collar is just a digital encoder which causes the camera’s CPU to tell the lens to rack itself in or out as it is being turned. But again, it’s good enough to allow precise manual focusing; it’s far better than the futile putsing around with buttons to manually focus a compact digicam.

In short, EVIL cameras do not offer the performance of an SLR, and probably never will. But that’s not completely the point: a 35mm SLR does not offer the performance of an 8×10 view camera (those are the big, old-fashioned-looking cameras that are inevitably used on tripods and which photographers get under a cloth to focus), yet despite that people use SLR’s because they are smaller, lighter, and more convenient than view cameras.

And so it is with EVIL cameras, particularly when compared to the size and weight of modern DSLRs, which tend to be significantly buliker and heavier than old film SLRs. Trading performance for convenience has a long history in photography. I’ve avoided purchasing a DSLR because I did not want to take that extra weight and bulk on the trail with me, and I’m pleased that my new EVIL camera will allow me to ditch even more weight and bulk.

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