I laughed when I read that people will always want to shoot with traditional digital cameras.

Camera: Pentax 6X7 cm.
Big, Loud and a pain in the ass to 
load with film. Ten shots and time 
to re-load. 
I'll never switch to digital???
(Now, "I'll never switch to an EVF?)

The recent discussion on EVFs versus OVFs spilled over to the Nikon and Canon forae at DP Review and I was amazed at how civil 98% of the people who commented were. A lot of good points were made. The current crop of full frame cameras is the gold standard for ultimate, affordable quality in cameras and there are still reasons (flash?) for some people to prefer optical view finders. No one threatened murder or muttered the "fanboy" put down. Either we photographers are evolving or the whole field has become so stagnant and  picked over that most people are just too bored to fight about stuff.

The remarks that I thought were interesting were the ones from people insisting that optical viewfinders were a "forever" thing and that most folks would be "pushing up daisies" before EVFs became relevant to the rank and file camera user. I thought about that sentiment in light of my own (overly) long career as a professional photographer. The idea that there's a singular answer to making art.

I know this will be boring to some but it shows me that a lot of us who have done this as a business were not preoccupied by oh so rationally pinching every dime and only buying new gear when we'd used our existing gear so hard and for so long that it ground into dust in our hands. Far from it. I think we were downright experimental all through the film age and we certainly weren't completely beholden to the 'miracle' of the pentaprism finder. 

All of my first few years of well paying commercial assignments were done almost exclusively with two camera systems. One was the 4x5 inch Calumet view camera and a trio of medium grade lenses. That camera, along with 24 film holders and a Polaroid back, helped me accomplish hundreds of assignments in a time when the large format transparency was king and real photographers still headed into their own darkrooms to tray develop their sheet film and print their own prints. The other camera was a Mamiya c220 twin lens camera with a 135mm lens (that was really a bit too short for my taste) and this was my portable, quick, candid camera system. Oh sure, I had a Canon TX camera and a 50mm lens but no self-respecting client was interested in using such a small frame for "real" work. Nothing was web res. Everything might need to go large. No way such a dinky frame would go poster sized (24x36 inches) at 600 ppi and no one really wanted to try...

Eventually more and more stuff went to medium format and we bought Hasselblad cameras to work with. They beat the pants off the Mamiya camera and having multiple backs pre-loaded was like a dose of paradise. We ended up using the waist level finder with a flip up magnifier for everything and the 4x5 inch view camera was still the "go to" camera for important assignments. We even shot portraits with it, along with a 250mm Zeiss Planar view camera lens.

In the early 1990's we settled nicely into medium format and when the waist level finders of the Hasselblads proved unwieldy for street photography or fast reportage we did NOT rush to find a pentaprism finder, instead we started buying up Mamiya 6 and Mamiya 7 rangefinder cameras that shot medium format film. By now we had some auto focusing Nikons or Canons but they still only saw use for event work and slide shows. No real work (except sports and journalism) got shot by commercial advertising guys with such a tiny format. (Sure, throw Jay Maisel, and Pete Turner back in my face...).

We used the medium format gear right up until the conversion to digital. And I still remember wave after wave after wave of older professionals, or professionals who wanted a clearer roadmap into the future swearing all the way up to 2005 that digital was never, ever going to be as good as film, ever. And that they'd be pushing up daisies before they felt the need to change over. A good number went belly up but by 2005 even the hard core stupid and recalcitrant ones were dragged, kicking and screaming, into digital because, for the most part, clients just started refusing to pay for film and processing and scanning. And few clients wanted to wait to use "their" files.

We bit the bullet back in 1998. And we bit the bullet over and over again until the taste of lead seemed normal. We reveled at the one frame per second, twenty four frame buffer of the Kodak DCS 660. Ooohed and ahhhed over the 4 megapixels of the Canon 1D and almost fainted when we mastered raw files and color profiles. But we never felt that finders would make or break our careers as photographers. 

I'll agree that current EVFs, while plenty good for most stuff, aren't perfect and there might be reasons to use OVFs for some stuff. And maybe it will stay that way for another year. Maybe 18 months. But beyond that the idea that we need to make a pledge to a life long allegiance to any camera technology paradigm is silly beyond silly. 

Maybe it's only my crusty, old generation of problem solving photographers who can make nice pictures with just about any machine. Maybe the new generation, raised on digital sensors crammed into last century camera bodies are incapable of shifting gears, dealing with change or otherwise retaining the flexibility that allows the sapling to bend in the wind while mightier trees are felled.

I can't think that is true. I think people just get comfortable and burrow into whatever they first learned on. But it really doesn't matter; if they use their cameras to make good images and nobody needs to change if there's no compelling reason to change. There's a big, old hump in the middle of the Bell Curve. The early adopters can't imagine why people don't want to embrace the newest thing and reap the benefits of being first. The middle section (the vast majority) only follow when every kink is worked out and the theories are well proven. The final, tail end embraces the product in its last  gasp of relevance, assured that they are getting the bargain of a life time. And each group believes with vigor that they are absolutely correct. But in the end it's only the images that matter. 

Thanks to all the new visitors from DPR who added to the process for me. I enjoyed (and learned a few things) reading their comments on the forums. I hope some will stick around here. The nice ones. Of course. 

other notes: We've rounded up a couple of wonderful models for the HMI experimentation and will begin our series of shoots on Friday. 

Those wonderful people at Nikon in Europe have had the newest firmware for lens corrections with the D7100 (and a raft of other popular Nikon bodies) up for about a week now. Those dolts at Nikon USA haven't gotten around to uploading the upgrade to the U.S. site. If you go to Nikonusa.com you see version 1.009. If you go "continental" you can get your hands on version 2.005. The upgrade fixes the distortion issues I talked about with my "convenience" lens, the 18-140mm.

I spent the middle of my day doing a photographer task that we do when we are not shooting. I drove to Johnson City, Texas to meet with a client about an upcoming annual report shoot and to scout several shooting locations for assignments in October. Gotta see the locations before you can really figure out the logistics. Studio Dog did not want to travel. I went by myself and had a nice, quiet drive out into the Hill Country and away from the "big" city. 

that's all the news from me. hope your week is fun. 


henrylflee said...

I chuckled when I saw the phrase "traditional digital cameras". :) Thanks for writing about OVFs vs EVFs, Kirk.

AlexG said...

When I bought the Minolta 7i the bridge version I knew I had the future in my hands. The viewfinder on that camera was not perfect it acted funny when I panned and it was fairly low resolution. But once I had got used to it I could get a good idea of the final image from what the EVF showed me, it was 100% which I thought was a bonus too. At the time people were telling me that it would never match film but I could get as good enlargement as I could off all but the slowest 35mm films and it weighed next to nowt. I do not see a total loss of the OVF though there will always some that prefer them, I am happy to not use them anymore and do not have a single Digital with an optical finder.

Jeff said...

I laugh too at the ovf vs evf posts because nowadays most people hold a credit card size device away from their body and then tap it. Very nontraditional.

Jeff said...

On send thought - cell phones have the smallest sensor, fps, bps buffer, megapixels and other specs so they are like traditional digital cameras.

Chris Dematté said...

I am a photographer for 30 years now. I have used more or less every system available. Sinar, Mamiya RB67 (still one of my favorite cameras), Nikon (started with FE, ended with D800). For more then two years now I am working only with the Fujifilm Cameras. Pro X pro1, X100s and now with the X-T1. And you know what? I don't even notice the EVF anymore. So maybe its more about "It has to be done this way because we did it all the tims this way".

Anonymous said...

"I was amazed at how civil 98% of the people who commented were. No one threatened murder or muttered the "fanboy" put down."

Are you sure you were reading DPReview forums? That doesn't sound quite right to me.
I'm not interested in following the perpetual OVF vs. EVF squabbles online, but I stopped following the DPReview forums a while ago because the talks, at least in those sub-forums I read, seemed to be dominated by some antisocial nerds in their late teens. At least mentally, if not physically. If you really were reading DPReview, that sounds like a sea change to me.

"Either we photographers are evolving or the whole field has become so stagnant and picked over that most people are just too bored to fight about stuff."

The former sounds like wishful thinking. The latter sounds more realistic. Could be just a passing phase, though. Calm before the next crap storm. A bank holiday before business as usual.

"We ended up using the waist level finder with a flip up magnifier..."

Imagine that. Not only the fancy Hassies and Mamiyas of the pros, but even the humble old Yashica TLR's had a flip-up focus magnifiers, not terribly dissimilar to the digital focus magnifiers of today's digital cameras, the mirrorless ones in particular. A good EVF combines the perks of the waist level and the pentaprism OVF in a new digital form.
In the digital era, the EVF's and flip-up LCD screens have inherited the role of the waist level focusing screens and magnifying glasses of the MF film cameras. No doubt the irony is being missed by those who swear by the "traditional digital cameras."

I'm not dissing the dSLR or the OVF here, just smirking a bit at the arguments thrown up from the "trenches" time and again. Each to their own, it doesn't really matter.
"Big, Loud and a pain in the ass to load with film. Ten shots and time to re-load."

Speaking of big and loud, they say Harley Davidson have tried to, or at least considered patenting the distinctive "potato-potato" sound of their classic twin pushrod engines. Perhaps Mamiya should have considered patenting the distinctive "Kerr-plunk-kah" sound of the Mamiya RB67, for example. :)

If they tried but couldn't get away with that back in the day, perhaps they should try again today. After all, these days you seem to be able to patent almost anything, including a generic technique of shooting artificially lit images against a white seamless.

Matthew Marsh said...

There is a segment of the photographic community that keeps saying "You need to shoot with X to be an up-to-date professional." "X" used to be 4x5 sheet, then medium format, various digital iterations, now it's whatever incremental update just replaced last month's incremental update.

There's a difference between being obsessed with photography and being obsessed with photographic equipment. Our field, at least the online segment of it, often focuses far too much on the latter.

John Krumm said...

I picked up my daughter's FM2 yesterday and snapped a shot in some great light. For me, even though my two main cameras have EVF's and I like them, the OVF is still about composition, while the EVF is about exposure. I actually get a sense of that over-used word when looking through an OVF--vision.

Anonymous said...

Your grandkids will wonder what an OVF or an EVF is, as they adjust the composition on the google glass and snap a quick "video pic" using their camera watches.

Anonymous said...

Perceptive comment: 'the OVF is still about composition, while the EVF is about exposure.'

I find that an EVF is distracting whilst using it to compose for interior photography when the windows exposure blow out and doesn't show a decent dynamic range from the interior to the outside view.

The EVF is nice for portrait, studio work, and landscape work in well lit conditions.

If we expect the exposure to not encompass the entire dynamic range of the scene, then we can use OVFs and use experience and post technical/creative skills to produce fine photographic work.

Michael Matthews said...

Anybody who wants a real optical viewfinder should consider the Yashica Mat twin lens reflex. It not only featured a ground glass screen and flip out magnifier, a la Hasselblad, but also a "sport finder". That was a small hole in the rear of the vertical shroud shielding the viewing screen and a pop out large rectangle in the front. No lens, no low-light problem, no lag, no smear. Two holes. The only thing more foolproof was the two wire rectangles...one small, one large...on the Speed Graphic.

Frank Grygier said...

Not to belabor the point. http://www.eoshd.com/content/13377/market-dslrs-shrinking-dramatically-canon-nikon-blame
Quote"Mirrorless cameras are not for me about small size, rather the performance they offer above a DSLR. 5 axis image stabilisation, 4K video, S-LOG 2, better low light performance, EVF, better live view, faster AF in low light – all of these vital specs are to be found in mirrorless cameras but not high end DSLRs like the 5D Mark III."

Anonymous said...
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Kirk Tuck said...

Hey Anonymous---I'd be really careful depending on "facts" from Seth Godin. He is right almost 50% of the time.

Seriously, he is talking about group identification and not buying habit behavior which, according to advertising metrics done recently, hasn't moved the needle in changing the Bell Curve distribution in relative adoption rates among consumers.

Sorry, we do real research here on VSL.

Dave Jenkins said...

That's cold, Kirk. :o)

Andrea said...

"...is distracting whilst using it to compose for interior photography when the windows exposure blow out and doesn't show a decent dynamic range from the interior to the outside view."
Up-to-date EVF have the possibility of switching off the autogain function, so to show final exposure and DR.
But, beside this, OVF will always be there, as rangefinders, in some cameras because some people dont need it but like to shoot with it. For the working pros, it will be inconsequental in the near future.

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