With decades of Leica M usage, I’ve become quite partial to the rangefinder form. The Fuji X-Pro1 is a camera that I become comfortable in handling very quickly. It’s familiar in all of the best ways, with its innovative hybrid finder that can switch to an optical view instanteously. And unlike its popular cousins from the X100 series, the X-Pro1 had interchangeable lenses, which increases its versatility.
The X-Pro1, however, is quite long in the tooth and its performance, particularly in AF, falls ever further behind. The last couple of months saw the release of the budget Fuji X-T10 and the firmware 4.0 update to the X-T1. Those two Fuji X camera bodies are now many steps beyond the aging X-Pro1’s focusing performance, but they are EVF only. There’s a relatively economical way, however, to have optical finder capability on Fuji’s latest cameras.
As I’ve discussed in my previous post –
The compelling aspect of using the X-Pro1 for me is its optical finder. For certain situations, like shooting street with the a moderately wide lens, with focus preset using a DOF scale (either in-camera or on the lens barrel, if it has one) as well as the exposure manually preset as well, an optical viewfinder allows me to concentrate and connect with the subject in a way that no through the lens viewing, whether an SLR or an EVF, can match.
I still love using my X-Pro1 and I think it’s still a great camera to use, even today.
But if I extend the logic of when a shooting situation is better using an optical finder, the question is, does an optical viewfinder or OVF really need to be an onboard, integrated viewing system, like what’s available on the X-Pro1? The short answer is, No.
As I’ve stated in previous blog posts, when I use the OVF on my X-Pro1, I’m really only using it for framing. And to be honest, for street photography, much of that framing can be relatively approximate, and not as exact as, for example, when I’m shooting architectural photography.
Since I almost always have my focus and exposure already preset when I’m using my OVF, I don’t need to have any of that data in the optical finder. I’m alaready prepared in those areas of shooting, before I even raise the OVF for my split second moment of framing.
Taking that logic further, one can therefore bypass the now, aging X-Pro1 and go straight to Fuji’s superbly performing and current X-T10 and X-T1 bodies using the 4.0 firmware. When the user wishes to have the benefits of the simple, direct viewing of an OVF, then she or he can simply slide a bright line viewfinder into the X body’s hotshoe.
When you’re shooting in a fast moving situation such as crowded street photography, the street shooting setup that I’ve outlined in previous articles –
…now apply. The Optical Viewfinder is only used to frame your subject for a split second. All other settings were already dialed in by you. In this application, a simple, bright accessory optical finder works really well, in keeping you connected fully to your subject.
Use an accessory optical viewfinder in the following circumstances:
- For fast moving street photography or other similar situations where you are in the thick of the action and already have your camera’s focus and exposure preset
- When you’re using a prime lens (i.e. not a zoom)
- When that prime lens is moderately wide to wide angle
The first point is the setup and situation I’ve outlined in my previous points.
The second point, that an accessory optical finder is best with a prime lens, is rather obvious. Sure, there are finders that are variable focal length. Leica makes one for their Tri-Elmar, and there are the cool-looking vintage turret finders for the old Contax rangefinders. But if you’re using a zoom on a Fuji X camera, then using its built-in EVF is a no-brainer.
The third point needs a bit more elaboration.
Once you’re no longer looking through your photo-making lens, parallax is introduced. I would suggest that for the Fuji X, not to bother using an accessory optical viewfinder for any lens that is 32mm/35mm (or 50mm equivalent) or longer. That is, “standard” or “normal” to telephoto lenses, are simply not worth the hassle of using an accessory viewfinder. Parallax error will be noticeable.
Wide angle lenses are another matter. They still have parallax, but since their field of view is so large, the margin of error is smaller. And that error decreases in practical terms, as one goes wider.
I would suggest that if you’re using a 27mm (41mm-e), 23mm (35mm-e), 18mm (27mm-e, but 28mm-e is close enough), or wider, than an accessory optical finder is totally viable. You can compare what your Fuji X camera’s view is at the preset focus distances you’re using, and compensate for that small difference when you view through the accessory optical finder.
As you go wider, let’s say 16mm (24mm-e) and wider still, this becomes even easier. Personally, the widest focal length I’ve ever used for street photography is 24mm-e, but I’ve seen some great street and photojournalism work done with wider lenses such as a 21mm.
Looking for Accessory Optical Viewfinders
My personal favourite type of accessory optical viewfinder is the Brightline Finder. These are finders that project the frame lines for specific focal lengths onto the optical view. They often have parallax compensation marks for near focus distances too.
Stephen Gandy has an excellent article that summarizes accessory viewfinder types and what’s out there, both current and historical –
In the photos I have here, I’m using my old Leitz (Leica) 28mm brightline optical finder, on top of the Fuji X-T1 and X-T10. The camera bodies are demo models at my favourite local photo store, Downtown Camera in Toronto, so I don’t have a matching XF 18mm (28mm-e) lens on it. While Leica finders are fantastic, I would suggest they’re also quite overpriced, as the Leica name is a highly sought after and collected brand.
For actual street photography use, the currently made, metal Voigtlander brightline optical finders are well-priced, optically clear and superbly made.
Here are links to Voigtlander’s 35mm brightline optical finder in both black and silver finishes. These can be used with Fuji’s XF 23mm lens.
And here are the black and silver finished 28mm finders, which can be used in conjunction with Fuji’s 18mm lens. It’s technically a 27mm-e, but the difference between that and a 28mm-e is small enough that it’s not an issue.
There’s a plastic 40mm finder from Voigtlander that can be used with the XF 27mm, which is a 41mm-e (again, close enough for our purposes here).
If you shoot street work with Fuji’s 16mm (24mm-e) or 14mm (21mm-e), then Voigtlander makes a metal finder that covers both a 25mm and a 21mm, in a single finder –
This is my solution for Fuji X enthusiaists who want to use the most current and superbly functional X-T10 and X-T1 with the 4.0 firmware, but want an optical viewfinder option for street photography, when using wide angle lenses.