Fuji’s X100 series and their X-Pro1 camera both have an innovative, hybrid viewfinder. With a flick of a switch, the photographer can switch instantly from an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) to an Optical Viewfinder (OVF).
While I discussed the ideal situations of when to use the OVF versus the EVF in my article on using the X-Pro1 for street photography, I’ve received a few questions for further details. I’ll try and answer those questions in this post.
Before discussing usage in-depth, there’s one more feature to emphasize. The OVF on the X-Pro1 has the further option of two magnification settings. By holding the camera’s viewfinder switch to the right for a few seconds, the OVF will switch between the two magnifications.
The wider setting is at 0.37x life size. This can show frame lines up to 18mm (around a 28mm-e). An excellent setting for moderate wides, such as the 18mm and 23mm (35mm-e). Yes, this setting will also show frame lines for longer focal lengths, but there is a better option.
The stronger magnification is 0.60x life size. A 35mm (or 50mm-e) pretty much fills the view. For 35mm up to the moderate telephoto’s (like the 56mm/85mm-e, or 60mm/93mm-e), this is a much better setting than the wide 0.37x magnification. It allows the photographer to see the composition better.
The X-Pro1 is, by digital camera standards, an “old” model, and has been around for over three years. So perhaps we take the hybrid finder with its dual magnification settings in OVF, for granted. Even today though, it’s a remarkable feature, never matched by Leica on its M series, despite the fact they’ve been around with their rangefinder system for decades.
When (and when Not) to use the Optical Viewfinder
The fundamental difference between the OVF and the EVF is really about whether the photographer is looking through the lens (TTL) to compose and frame, or not.
In that sense, an EVF and using a DSLR’s viewfinder (which is, after all, an optical system – it uses a mirror and prism to project the TTL view to the photographer’s eye) are much closer to each other than a separate optical viewfinder, which does NOT view the image through the lens.
On the surface, it would seem that a Through The Lens or TTL viewing would always be considered the first choice for the photographer. You get to see exactly what the lens is seeing, it’s much easier to line up compositional elements, and if you have a depth of field option on your camera, you can stop down the lens and see how much or little DOF you’ll get at your aperture setting.
But there’s a reason why the rangefinder form camera, with it’s completely separate (from the picture-making lens) optical viewfinder has survived over the decades. There are certain situaitons where a simple, direct view of the world, apart from viewing through the lens, is the better choice.
As with any optical rangefinder type camera of the past (Leica M, Nikon S/Contax mount, various Canon rangefinders, Kiev’s and Zorki’s, etc), I’ve found the separate, optical viewfinder is better when the following parameters are met. So my upcoming comments on the ideal use of the OVF applies to traditional, rangefinder cameras of course. With the exception of the Leica M digital system, the rangefinder film bodies don’t have an EVF option, obviously. The Leica M digital body uses a clip-on EVF, rather than having it integrated into the camera’s viewfinder system, like the Fuji X-Pro1 or the X100T.
As for the circumstances when I feel an OVF is the better choice over an EVF: Please note that this is just my personal opinion, from over three decades of using the Leica M system, and more recently the Fuji X-Pro1’s optical finders. I’m not speaking for anyone else here, this is simply from my own experience.
Parameters when the OVF is the superior choice over an EVF (or any other TTL viewing system)
- 50mm-e to moderately wide lenses being used: For the Fuji X-Pro1’s in-camera OVF, this would be 35mm (50mm-e) to as wide as 18mm (28mm-e). For the Fuji X100T (or older models), it has a nearly identical optical range. The fixed lens is a 23mm (35mm-e). The “tele” converter actually converts the fixed lens to a “normal” 33mm (roughly a 50mm-e) and the wide converter turns it into a 19mm (approximately a 28mm-e). Normal to moderately wide, prime focal lengths are where the OVF works at its best. Although that’s a narrow range, for most general purpose photography, those focal lengths are also the most useful. Lenses wider than a 28mm-e: there’s a separate solution for that, which I’ll discuss in a future article. Meanwhile, here are the Amazon links to the tele and wide conversion lenses for the Fuji X100 series:
And the Amazon links for Fuji X’s interchangeable lenses, for the optically superb 35mm (50mm-e), tiny, pancake 27mm (41mm-e), the solidly built and optically gorgeous 23mm (35mm-e) and a wide angle with deep DOF, the 18mm (28mm-e).
An alternative to the Fuji XF 35mm using a native X mount (full AF and electronic interface with all Fuji X, interchangeable lens bodies) is the Zeiss Touit 32mm. Both Fuji’s 35mm and the Zeiss 32mm are excellent lenses, and I happen to like the build and feel of the Zeiss a little better.
- Depth of Field is deep: The OVF is truly great when the photographer pre-sets her or his camera using its Depth of Field scale at moderate to small apertures. The photographer doesn’t bother with autofocus or manually focus each individual shot. Instead, she or he has set a small aperture (f8 or smaller) with a normal to wide lens, which gives a deep range of focus. The photographer is aware of what is in focus at both the near and far distances, and looks for subjects within that zone, rather than looking for subjects outside that zone and then having to focus at that moment.
- Not focusing on any subject that’s really close: related to depth of field, is how close I intend to focus. The OVF is best used when my close limit is around 1.5 metres and no closer. This is when using 18mm to 35mm lenses on the Fuji X system (or 28mm to 50mm for Full Frame).
- When lining up objects precisely isn’t a priority: Two examples (among many others) where lining up objects with precision matter are advertising and architecture photography. That level of precision isn’t really required for family snaps, photojournalism, documentary or street photography, most of the time. An Optical Viewfinder works well for the latter categories, and keeps a photographer focused on the subject in front of her or him, rather than worrying too much about lining them up as graphic objects within a composition.
- For the photographer who watches and wait, and raises the camera only briefly to frame: An OVF is a great viewing choice for situations where the photographer is observing and waiting, and raises the camera up to their eye only to momentarily frame the shot. The camera is then lowered, as the photographer looks for the next opportunity. The simple frame lines found in most Optical Viewfinders is an ideal finder for working this way.
The above is my personal list of when it’s ideal to use an Optical Viewfinder over an Electronic Viewfinder (or a TTL SLR viewing system).
The Benefits and Influence of using an OVF
This is what I believe the benefits are of using an OVF when the previously mentioned parameters are present.
- An OVF keeps a photographer focused on the world around her or him: I genuinely believe that using an OVF encourages a photographer to stay focused on what’s happening around her or him. An OVF isn’t really a system that encourages one to view the world through the finder for extended periods of time. I tend to look and observe what’s flowing around me, and only bring it up to my eye for framing. Of course, one can do that with an EVF or DSLR too – but I find an OVF system encourages it more.
- An eye on the world, an eye through the OVF: most OVF’s are located on the extreme upper right corner of the camera (upper left when viewing from the back). Because I view through the finder with my right eye, my left eye isn’t behind the camera, which can happen if the finder is centrally situated (as it is with most, SLR form cameras). Again, this encourages me to keep my focus on the world around me, and not so much on the viewfinder. This is even easier, the closer the OVF gets to life-size. On the Fuji X-Pro1, it’s quite easy to keep both eyes open at its 0.60x magnification. It’s extremely easy to do so on the old Leica M3, which has a magnification near life-size (around 0.91x).
- The simple, glass viewfinder and frame lines makes it easy to see what’s happening, even when viewing through the OVF: A few layers of glass and projected frame lines continues my attention on the subject, rather than on the graphic elements. I’m not looking at the influence of a shallow DOF (if the lens is wide open, through an EVF), which has a tendency to take me away from the subject and look at it as a graphic composition. I’m still focused on the subject. This isn’t to say I’m not composing, of course. If composition was irrelevant, I would be taking shots from the hip, haphazardly. But as the great street shooter Gary Winogrand said, don’t shoot from the hip, as you lose control of the frame. Framing is still important. It’s just that with an OVF, I’m still looking and focused on the subject as a subject, rather than purely as graphical elements.
- Seeing what’s happening outside the frame lines: With an EVF or SLR, you’re seeing what the lens sees, but not beyond that. With an OVF and its projected frame lines, I always see a little beyond what I’ve included. I can choose to adjust slightly or wait for it to enter my frame lines, to include it within my composition.
That summarizes the advantages, to me, of using an OVF.
The Situations when I choose to switch to the EVF
I would never claim an OVF is the superior viewing system for everything. In fact, I would say that, while it’s better than anything else for the above situations that I outlined, the percentage when I’m shooting as above is actually small. I’m a working photographer, currently in corporate, architecture and real estate photography, plus a couple of decades in advertising work. For all of that work, looking through a lens is best, whether it’s an SLR or through an EVF.
There are also technical reasons to choose an EVF over an OVF too. It’s not just limited to the type of work involved.
Here are the situations where I immediately go to the EVF on my Fuji X-Pro1 camera bodies.
- Telephoto Lenses: Even at a higher magnification, the frame lines for telephoto lenses around 85mm-e or longer (that’s the 56mm and longer on the Fuji X series) are starting to get pretty small. It gets more difficult to see what you’re capturing. Switching to the EVF is the better choice for telephoto lenses.
- Very Wide Lenses, beyond the 18mm: even at the wider, 0.37x magnification of the X-Pro1’s OVF, the widest angle lens that can be viewed is the 18mm, or 28mm-equivalent. Unless you decide to use an accessory, optical bright line viewfinder in the camera’s hot shoe, you’ll need to swtich to the EVF within the camera’s finder system, to view lenses wider than the XF 18mm.
- Hood Blockage when critical composition is required: I’m a big advocate of always using the lens hood. When using an OVF, the lens hood will often block a portion of the frame lines. For example, the hood on the X mount Zeiss Touit 32mm is quite substantial and blocks a big chunk of the lower, right hand corner of the OVF frame lines. I’ve gotten used to that over decades of using the Leica M system. But even with that experience, sometimes I’ll want to see what’s in the lower corner with the camera up to my eye, for critical composition. Answer: switch to the EVF.
- Close Focusing: Macro shots to close focusing (less than a meter) is a no-brainer. The EVF is the superior choice as it doesn’t suffer from parallax error. While the OVF on the Fuji X-Pro1, X-100 series and the Leica M system all have parallax compensation, close focusing is still best done while viewing through the lens.
- Shallow Depth of Field: When using even a “normal” lens wide open (the XF 35mm or Touit 32mm, both of which are roughly 50mm-e) at f1.4 or f1.8, the Depth of Field gets quite shallow, especially at closer focusing distances. To really see what you’re doing, it’s best to use the EVF.
- Precision alignment of objects: For really crtical work where I have to line up objects precisely (e.g. architure photography), I always view through the EVF. The slight offset of the OVF is enough of a difference where exact alignment isn’t always possible. Even the parallax correction of the frame lines won’t show the offset of objects within the frame.
I hope that clarifies on when it’s ideal to use the OVF, and when it’s best to use the EVF. In a future article, I’ll talk more about the use of accessory optical viewfinders, which can be slipped into a camera’s accessory shoe. This can allow the use of the very wide lenses (beyond 18mm for the Fuji X system) and still view through an optical finder.
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