Hey Sony, Canon, and Nikon! You’re about to race each other to the patent office. Get ready!
OK, maybe somebody already thought of this. Have you? I haven’t heard a single person suggest this yet. Either way, the fact that I haven’t seen it yet in any of the exciting current-generation mirrorless systems is very frustrating, so I’m here to fire the starting pistol.
Actually, let’s be honest: I’m here to beg. Please, Sony, Canon, and/or Nikon, make all your mirrorless cameras work this way!
[Related Reading: Click here to read my Canon EOS R review!
[Related Reading: Click here to read Pye’s 6-month Canon EOS R review!
[Related Reading: Click here to read my review of the Sony A7R3!
[Related Reading: Click here to read my review of the Nikon Z7!
If you’ve read my gear reviews over the past year, you’ll know that I’ve been very vocal about how much I like all of the current-generation mirrorless cameras, and how I’ve been growing tired of the drawbacks of a DSLR camera system.
Well, I’m here today to trash talk mirrorless a little bit. I’m here to throw a little shade at all three of the major full-frame mirrorless systems, because to me, they have all missed the mark in one glaring way, and I’m ready to speak up about it.
Don’t get me wrong, mirrorless cameras are already great, and DSLRs are still great. I could easily go the rest of my career as a wedding & portrait photographer with either system if I had to.
However, it’s my job to review camera gear and tell you how cameras could be better. So, really, this isn’t trash talk at all. It’s what I think is a genius idea. Hopefully, you’ll think it’s a genius idea too.
If you think it’s a dumb idea, or if other camera companies have already thought of this, comment below! I’m humble enough to enjoy being shown something I overlooked.
[Related Reading: How Canon Is Going To (Eventually) Take Back The Mirrorless Market]
But, if you do think it’s a genius idea, please share this article so that everybody sees it, and hopefully, this functionality will in the next generations of mirrorless cameras!
Mirrorless Cameras Still Don’t Operate Like DSLRs, But They Could
Here is my premise: Many photographers’ first cameras were SLRs or DSLRs. The optical viewfinder is still a nifty thing, too; it just works. It is always there, ready to help you click a photo the instant you turn the camera on. In fact, even with the camera off you can raise it to your eye and frame your shot and (roughly) achieve focus! Plus, you’re always seeing the real world, in real-time. But I digress.
Part of why many pros prefer optical SLR viewfinders is definitely their dependability; their very nature offers an interface with the subject that electronic viewfinders can’t truly match.
Sony a9, Canon EOS R, Nikon Z7
The fact is, electronic viewfinders have been getting so high-res that they look truly real, (the EOS R’s viewfinder is gorgeous!) and with nearly zero lag and/or a fantastic framerate. (The Sony a9 viewfinder is definitely ready for most all types of action sports, and it’s only going to get better with its eventual successor!)
However, they’ve focused so much on these impressive, exciting specs that it almost feels to me like they’ve forgotten one thing that makes optical viewfinders so reliable.
With that in mind, here are my suggestions to make the EVF more like the OVF:
Unfortunately, all mirrorless camera viewfinders have a sensor that usually turns the viewfinder off if it’s not actively raised to your eye.
(In other words, the above feature isn’t very useful, but it COULD be…)
The Always-On Viewfinder
First, here’s the craziest idea: as much as I do understand and enjoy the WYSIWYG and other benefits of electronic viewfinders, I still love optical viewfinders because they’re always on. When you raise the camera to your eye, you don’t have to worry about whether or not it will be ready to show you what it’s pointing at.
I wish electronic viewfinders could be more ready to shoot, more often. Would it be too much to ask to just have the EVF stay on the whole time the camera is on?
Yes, that would consume battery power like crazy, but battery technology is getting better, and EVF power consumption is getting much more efficient. It wouldn’t be too bad; as a working pro who shoots 12-15+ hour long weddings, I’m already in the habit of turning my camera off whenever it’s hanging from my hip (Spider Holster!) and not raised to my eye. And from the older days of both DSLRs and early-generation Sony A7-series cameras, I’m no stranger to needing 5+ batteries to get through a day.
Currently, I do mostly use the auto-switch function so the camera changes between the EVF and the rear LCD. But, I would still like to have the option for the EVF to just always be on. Why not make it at least an obscure menu option?
Admittedly, however, this isn’t just about the EVF being on or off, unfortunately. There are two other crucial issues that harm my ability to get a shot. Let’s talk about those next!
…Well, that’s VERY helpful! Thanks for the in-depth report! (Sony a9)
Never Stop Me From Shooting With A Warning Message
One thing that has been infuriating about working with the otherwise incredible current-generation Sony (and Nikon, and Canon, in decreasing order of frequency) mirrorless camera bodies has been the various warning messages that can pop up in the viewfinder. They tell me things like, “This option is not available at current settings or in the camera’s current state” …or things like that.
OK, thanks for at least letting me know which setting to change! (Nikon Z7)
…Hey! What Happened to that extra info? #CrypticMessage! (Nikon Z7)
What the…? Do you think I have the time to read that long of a message while I’m actively trying to shoot? Some functions (such as Focus shift for nature and landscapes) might be slow-paced shooting conditions, but in other situations, I might actually miss a critical moment, either reading this message, or trying to hunt down which setting/state is hampering me.
Honestly, I’m shocked that so many different warning messages were implemented in this way. Every time I’ve figured one of them out and trained my brain to avoid it, another one pops up.
It’s one thing if the message pops up over a menu page. True, it’s not actively blocking my view of a live image. But, could we at least always get a more detailed message about which setting we need to change? It’s obviously possible, as seen in the previous, less cryptic screenshot.
Of course, it’s a whole different thing if you’re actively trying to shoot when that error message pops up. Sony is indeed the worst culprit in this regard, for example, if you try to do something like switch into “Super-35” (APS-C crop) mode while the buffer is clearing. In this situation, you could actually miss a moment.
Bottom line: any error message should never block more than a small corner of the live view, with a simple, informative message such as “Buffer Clearing” instead of some cryptic “Function Unavailable” message covering a major part of the screen and potentially stopping the active operation of the camera.
As someone who grew up with film SLRs, I feel like the viewfinder, optical or electronic, is a sacred place that should never be interrupted for any reason. The whole reason we still raise our cameras to our eye, instead of just holding them out and looking at the rear LCD, is because we want to fully immerse ourselves in the framing of the shot, and the timing of the moment.
All in all, I just want an electronic viewfinder experience that is unencumbered, like a DSLR or SLR viewfinder experience. By the time a viewfinder gets even close to my eye, it should be on and ready to go, and it should never hinder my ability to jam the shutter and click a photo.
Image Review/Playback Always On The Rear LCD Only
If you think that having your camera’s EVF be “ready to shoot” more isn’t exactly an original or game-changing idea, don’t worry, I’ve saved my best idea for last. This next idea is so obvious, I am indeed shocked and disappointed that Canon, Nikon, or Sony haven’t thought of it yet.
Okay, so, whenever I’m shooting with a mirrorless camera, I go back and forth between turning on auto image review. Sometimes I really need it, other times it’s just getting in the way.
I do often have Auto Image Review turned on whenever I’m using flash and therefore can’t see the final unless I play it back. Other times, when I’m shooting ambient light and more casual scenarios, I’ve honestly learned to trust the camera’s autofocus and WYSIWYG exposure so much, that I turn image review off entirely, and just hit the Play button whenever I need to inspect a photo.
But, as a DSLR user of 15 years, I keep asking myself, why does playback have to happen on the same screen as you’re actively shooting with? Why can’t we have a playback/review option such that a captured image never plays in the EVF, yet pops up on the rear LCD as soon as you take the camera away from your eye? The EVF has a sensor to detect that, of course.
This would be the ultimate way to shoot with your eye to the viewfinder, and truly never, ever be interrupted by anything, yet also be able to review the most recently captured image at any time by just pulling the camera away from your eye and looking at the rear LCD.
Nikon already offers a viewfinder/monitor display option that ALMOST works the way I want, but not quite. What it does is, it disables auto-review entirely if your eye is to the viewfinder, but enables it when you switch (automatically) to the rear LCD.
While we’re talking about image playback, I’ll ask this: considering that automatic image review can happen in the EVF, why haven’t mirrorless cameras started offering 0.5 sec or 0.25 sec playback times? Considering that I’m already shooting with WYSIWYG, I only need a fraction of a second to glance at the final exposure to make sure my flash is firing correctly or to check my blinking highlight warning. (Since it never seems to exactly match the zebra stripe warnings that some cameras offer, no matter which custom setting I set.)
Okay, seriously, how many former DSLR users think these are good ideas? Why has nobody thought of this before? If it’s a patent issue, I hope it gets resolved ASAP. (But, if only one camera brand is able to offer this functionality for a while, I predict that will be a huge attraction to existing DSLR users who are on the fence about switching!)
Nikon Z7, Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S, 1/125 sec, f/10, ISO 64
[Related Reading: Click here to read my review of the Nikon Z7!
Conclusion | Is This A Brilliant Idea, Or A Totally Pointless One?
Okay, that’s a silly question. Of course, it’s a great idea for mirrorless cameras to give you more of that “just let the photographer shoot” feeling. I think we can all agree that this basic premise is really important to any serious photographer. The real question is, am I just totally behind the times, and everybody else has already thought of these things? Are there any mirrorless cameras out there that already operate in this manner? Please let me know, I’d love to review them!
Sony A7R3, Sony 135mm f/1.8 GM | 1/6400 sec, f/1.8, ISO 100
[Related Reading: Click here to read my full review of the Sony 135mm f/1.8 GM
Personally, I’m ready to dump DSLRs almost entirely, or at least for most of my photography. Don’t get me wrong, I do love optical viewfinders, and unlike some, I don’t think DSLRs are ever going to “die”. The real-world optical viewfinder is a thing of beauty, and when you don’t need insane FPS or AF, they’re awesome. in more organic, relaxed photography environments.
However, I totally recognize the many advantages of an electronic viewfinder, too, and especially with a flagship camera like the Sony A9, I believe the future of almost all serious photography is mirrorless. (And I can’t wait to see Canon and Nikon’s flagship action sports mirrorless cameras too!)
I just hope some of the engineers out there are paying attention. And if any of these ideas haven’t even been patented yet, well, you’re welcome!
So, how many of you would like your mirrorless camera to have at least one of these major functions? Which one? Please comment below!
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