Turn off the targeting computer and use the force

Ok, I know I’m going to be in the minority on this. But keep an open mind. There is a different way and there are distinct advantages too.

I’m talking about EVFs (Electronic View Finders). I don’t use them, thank you very much. You know I take a lot of photos and all of my Olympus Pen and Sony NEX photos were taken without using an EVF. Yes, it’s possible and it works great.

Take a look. Here is empirical evidence.
Photos taken with Olympus E-PM2
Photos taken with Olympus E-P3
Photos taken with Sony NEX 5

Yes, I know. You say I’m crazy. You might even lose a little respect for me as a photographer. My friend, Kirk Tuck, professional photographer and uber blogger always lets me have it when we meet for lunch. He aways makes some snarky comment (In a totally nice way) about my use of the “Stinky Baby Diaper Hold” or even worse, the “Hipster Hold”. Kirk is referring to the method of holding your camera at arms length and using the rear LCD to frame your shot. Yes, guilty as charged. I do in fact do that.

But you know, I’m old enough now that I don’t really care how I look when I take my photos. I think it’s the results that count. I counter Kirk with, “Turn off that targeting computer and use the force”. This, of course, refers to the climatic battle scene in Star Wars (Episode 4: A New Hope, for you youngins) where Luke Skywalker is attempting to blow up the Death Star.

Ever look through those EVFs? Those tiny screens with all those numeric readouts and a level that looks like you are trying to fly a plane (or a X wing fighter)? Totally distracting and annoying (yes, I do know that those extra readouts can be turned off). I prefer to use a more free form method of composition. One where the force directs me to find an image and composition that feels right.

Consider this. When you use an EVF or optical view finder, you are usually shooting from the same height. Most people mash their camera to their face and shoot from a 4 to 6 foot level. Only the more enlightened or diligent shoot from greatly differing heights. And try using a viewfinder from ground level. That means that you either need to squat, sit or lie down on the ground. Very few people do this. As a result, people get boring results, images shot from the same height. By using the rear LCD, you get a more freeform movement, better able to compose from different angles and varying heights.

When shooting people, I have a better interaction with them when I casually hold the camera in front of me. I can see them and converse with them eye to eye, while I shoot. Use an EVF and the camera covers the face. They end up talking to a camera instead of a person.

During precise framing, either handheld or on tripod, I see my composition better on a bigger screen. Many of my architecture shots require exact centering. For me, the bigger the screen the easier it is. The EVF or even optical view finders are harder. Heck, even on my DSLRs, I prefer using live view mode when framing my shots on tripod.

All of my HDRs are shot on tripod and framed from the rear LCD. Again, no need for a EVF.

There are size and cost advantages too when not using an EVF. Of course, cameras without EVFs are much smaller. That’s why I use mirroress cameras. I like to get the highest quality possible in the smallest and lightest form factor. EVFs just add bulk. Cameras without EVFs are also a heck of a lot less expensive too. Mirrorless cameras with EVFs usually run closer to $1000. Subtract the EVF and you chop at least $200 to $300 off the price.

Yes, and to be fair, there are advantages to EVFs — you don’t have to tell me. Two come to mind, immediately. First, in bright conditions, like day time in the bright Texas sun, the rear LCD does become harder to see. EVFs certainly help in these cases. Also, in darker conditions, using an EVF and holding the camera to your face offers more stability. You can better shoot with slower shutter speeds.

So here is where my subject matter gives me the advantage for going EVF free. I usually don’t shoot in the daytime. I’m primarily an evening, night or indoor shooter. But even in bright light, the rear LCDs have gotten good enough that I can frame the shot. As for low-light, slow shutter speed shooting, that’s why I prefer to use the Olympus cameras that have in-body image stabilization. For extra stability, I pull the camera strap tight against my neck, as I pull the camera away from me. Using these two methods have allowed me to shoot at 1/10 of a second or slower.

Still think I’m crazy? Perhaps you might give it a try, Many people love shooting with their smartphones. These tiny, always available tools give people a freedom that the typical larger cameras don’t offer. Well, I basically shoot my mirrorless cameras like people shoot their smartphones. Freeform and fun. Except I get a really high quality image, one that I can use professionally when the need arises.

10 thoughts on “Turn off the targeting computer and use the force

  1. I’m with you. The only time I try to use the EVF is when I’ve got a bright sun in my face situation and I can’t see anything in the LCD … and even then, the combination of eyeglasses and viewfinder? Not good. I’m just about as blind using the finder as not.

  2. I was very much in the Kirk Tuck camp until I broke my camera and got a new one. Having no nerves in my shutter button finger I found that my muscle memory from using my old camera was no longer useful so that when I composed a shot through the viewfinder I would need to look up and make sure my finger was on the button which often screwed me up. Because of this I found myself shooting from the hip, flipping out the screen and using it as if I was shooting an old TLR camera, so not the hipster hold but not conventional viewfinder use either. Funny thing is that I found myself enjoying this new method of shooting, especially in the street. I still use the EVF when I shoot sport (I’ve developed new muscle memory so it’s fine now) but for casual shooting I find myself using the screen more and more. So much so that I would be quite happy with a camera that had no viewfinder (as long as it had a flip out screen). There was a time when I would never have believed it 🙂

    1. Cedric, the nice thing is that we now have alternatives to the traditional. peeking through the viewfinder to compose method. Glad you found a style that works for you.

  3. i actually hate the look thru a EVIL finder.So fake, so unreal.
    The big screen at back is a joy. Sunlight a problem.
    The bigger problem is few P/S digitals have viewfinders..but i find them!
    Yeah! I don’t use high end digitals..Film is my joy.
    I am more sure of exact moment, response faster than any DSLR.
    My Leica-M or Nikon-F( is way faster than a D3, for 1st exposure)*
    I have less to edit and if the Drive locks me out, the CD fails, memory card corrupted,
    my negatives can be re-scanned or printed in B/W darkroom.
    * test seen in Asahi Photo Magazine.
    Guess we differ from Kirk. and the Samsung? Eh!

    1. You know where I stand on this. However, the EVFs are getting better. Not quite as good as optical view finders but they will continue to improve over time.

  4. Wouldn’t “using the force” be shooting with your eyes closed (or your blast shield down)? An LCD is just a bigger “targeting computer.” Flipping the switch on an X100 to open the optical viewfinder is perhaps a more appropriate bypassing of the computer. 😉

    I don’t see that it has to be all one way or another. I’m finding that I use a rear LCD more than I used to for some things. I tend to use it for awkward heights or angles. Sometimes on tripod at night. Usually for bigger urban landscape compositions, never for anything precise. It’s more of a crude way of shooting for me and I go to the viewfinder for precision. I find that with the isolation of the viewfinder to produce better compositions for me. Gets rid of the noise around me.

    EVF has one huge advantage over the rear LCD for me. Old age and presbyopia has my vision to the point where anything inside of 3 feet or so is a muddy blur. My arms aren’t long enough to get the LCD sharp. I can’t see my LCD with any clarity or any of the settings on my cameras without corrective lenses. Tried contacts and hated them. I also hate glasses but they are the lesser evil. I dislike wearing them all the time, especially when photographing. Usually I keep a pair of readers in my pocket to use as needed but that gets annoying taking them out and putting them on and off constantly. For some of my photography I’ll keep my Hoodman Loupe around my neck – that is a little more convenient. I don’t walk around with that all the time though. So, enter the EVF with an adjustable diopter. Hello, clear vision of my subject, my camera settings, and post shot chimping without glasses or contacts. Yes, please! How I wish my 5D Mark III had that.

    “Cameras without EVFs are also a heck of a lot less expensive too. Mirrorless cameras with EVFs usually run closer to $1000. ” I disagree with your blanket statement here. Take the Fujifilm X-E1 vs Olympus EP-5 for example. $200 difference with EVF on the less expensive option.

    Personally I’m glad we have choices today. LCDs are neat but I fear that as people get more accustomed to “stinky baby diaper hold” (still my favorite and hipster hold is too mean) via cell phone photography that EVFs and optical finders might go away all together. I hope not. There are advantages to both methods of shooting and I hope we get to keep both.

    1. Well Mike, if one was a true Jedi master, yes perhaps having your eyes closed will work. However as someone in Jedi training, I still prefer to keep my eyes open. Remember in Episode 4, Luke was in training (not a master yet), he did fly the X wing with his eyes open, he just did’t use the targeting computer. 😉

      Yes, agreed. If you have both an EVF and rear LCD, you can choose the best for your circumstance and I know with the X100, you have a choice of 3, EVF, Optical and rear LCD. In my case, since I have the budget Pen models, I have only the rear LCD, which is what I prefer anyway, so that works for me.

      Yes, my eyesight up close has certainly gone downhill, and heck I’m older than you. However, I use eyeglasses with progressive lenses that allow me to see near and far. So looking at the rear LCD works.

      Perhaps I should say cameras with EVFs are less expensive with all other things being equal. With Olympus the entry level models are $450 – $550 range. The E-P5 is a premium model so there are other things, like build, that make it expensive. In the Fuji world the pricing is not has big, a $100 difference between the X-E1 and the X-M1.

      Choices are good, agreed. Given how goofy people can be about smartphone photography, they will probably start adding EVFs to phones, they already have all these fancy lenses for phones that end up adding bulk.

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