One of the most welcome trends in new camera design is the return of the eye-level viewfinder. But instead of those hardly worth-in squint-finders of yore, these are digital, they’re showing up on more compact cameras, and they’re better than ever!
Remember squintfinders? Those were those little optical viewfinders that zoomed with the camera and gave you about a 60-70 percent view of what you were photographing. We complained about them, but then we complained even more when they started to disappear and were replaced with LCD monitors on the backs of digital cameras that forced you to hold the camera at arm’s length. This position encouraged camera shake, and the finders were (and in most cases, still are) barely usable in bright sunlight. Finally, the eye-level viewfinder is making a comeback in compact and not-so-compact cameras, and now it’s electronic!
We’re seeing more high-resolution EVFs on compact cameras, and image quality has improved. A 2 million dot resolution EVF looks almost as good as an optical image and the big advantage over optical squintfinders is that all EVFs we’ve seen show the entire image. They also let you view previews and provide lots of information so you don’t have to take your eye off the camera. Even better? You can hold the camera up to your eye to shoot, and that reduces camera shake.
If this is, indeed, a rebirth of the eye-level viewfinder, it’s about time!
The range of cameras with EVFs has expanded. Here are the key categories:
Where a couple of years ago an 18x zoom lens was considered a long stretch, now EVF cameras with built-in lenses have 30, 40 or even 50x optical zooms, and the lenses start out at wider wide-angle settings. Maximum focal lengths in the 800mm range (35mm equivalent) are not uncommon. There's even a camera now that can zoom beyond 1,000mm! To accommodate such a wide optical range, superzoom EVF cameras use small sensors, the kind you’d find in a pocket-sized compact digital camera. In daylight that’s fine, but in subdued light, image quality degrades fast because of the physical limitations that come with squeezing so many pixels onto a space the size of your pinkie nail. Despite these limitations, noise suppression software can be applied in-camera which will let you produce 5x7 and even 8x10 prints that will be acceptable for most casual shooters. A caveat when shooting with a long-range zoom camera: Image stabilization will help in bright sunlight when zoomed to the longest focal length, but a tripod is much better and highly recommended.
Interchangeable Lens EVFs
The new sub-category is interchangeable-lens EVFs, which started when Panasonic introduced the G1, based on the Four Thirds sensor, in 2008, heralding a new era for photographers. In the last year, the category expanded greatly, with Sony and Fuji, and Olympus offering cameras with larger APS sensors. In both cases, the sensors in these cameras are commonly found on DSLRs, and the overall image quality is inevitably going to be much better than on smaller sensor cameras. But more importantly, each brand has a selection of interchangeable lenses, and third-party manufacturers have created adaptors that let you mix and match, putting other brand lenses on these cameras. Although these cameras look like DSLRs, they are smaller and lighter because they do not have a space-eating mirror housing.
But wait—there’s more!
There’s another sub-category, mirrorless interchangeable lens compacts which lack built-in electronic viewfinders. Just to confuse matters a bit more, some of those cameras have EVFs available as accessories that are available at an additional cost. I’m not including those cameras here, but you can read more about them in “The Best System Compact Cameras Right Now.”
A note about DxOMark Lab Tests: The Adorama Learning Center’s partner test lab, DxOMark, has published lab test results of some interchangeable lens cameras, but not for fixed-lens EVFs. I’ve included basic result information and a brief interpretive statement for each camera where lab tests are supplied.
And now, on to the cameras. First, we’ll look at EVFs with built-in lenses, then interchangeable-lens EVFs. Adorama prices are accurate as of November 7, 2013.
Fixed Lens Superzoom “Bridge” Cameras with Electronic Viewfinders
Adorama price: $329
With a category-leading 50x optical zoom lens that reaches all the way from 24-1200mm (35mm equivalent, and no, that's not a typo), the Canon PowerShot SX50 has a 12MP CMOS sensor and is capable of capturing both RAW and JPEG images, as well as HD video up to 1080p with stereo sound. The camera has a maximum ISO of 6400, and the 2.8-inch LCD monitor can flip out and has a 461k dot resolution. The camera also has an eye-level electronic viewfinder with a modest 202k dot resolution that is decent for compositional reference. It offers the usual boatload of photo effects, and has a burst mode of 2.2 shots per second, which is pretty good. In Macro AF mode, it will focus to the surface of the lens (in other words, 0 inches!), another impressive bit of optical wondermint.
- World's First 50x optical zoom lens; 24-120mm (35mm equivalent)
- Macro focus to surface of lens
- 12MP CMOS sensor
- 2.8-inch LCD Monitor with 461k dot resolution
- Electronic Viewfinder with 202k dot resolution
- Shutter speeds 15-1/2000 sec
- Max. apertures f/3.4-6.5
- ISO range 80-6400
- RAW & JPEG
- Up to 1080p Video
- Built-in flash range 1.6-18ft wide angle
- Hot shoe compatible with Canon Speedlite flashes
- Smart Auto sets camera based on 58 predefined shooting situations
- High Speed Burst Mode captures 10 frames at 13fps
Who would love it: Wildlife/birding photographers, travel shooters, soccer moms
Adorama price: $369.95
Overview: With an impressive long-range optical 24-1000mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.8-5.6 superzoom lens, the Fujifilm HS50 is a powerful self-contained camera for amateurs and enthusiasts. Fujifilm has improved shutter lag time, and the 256-zone metering, top shutter speed of 1/4000 sec., and hybrid phase detetion/contrast detection AF system all combine to make this a great camera for sports photography. Macro photographers can shoot as close as 0.4 inches in super macro mode, and the ISO range of 100-12800 allows for low-light shooting, although we recommend using the lens's widest setting in subdued light. Onboard image stabilization is a requirement as you zoom out to the farther reaches of its telephoto capabilities, and a tripod is highly recommended when shooting beyond 300mm. The EVF is a bright, high-resolution 920k dots, supplemented by the 3-inch flip-out LCD monitor.
- 16MP 1/2-inch CMOS sensor
- 24-1000mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.8-5.6 zoom lens
- 920k resolution electronic viewfinder
- 3-inch, 920 dot flip-out LCD monitor
- RAW + JPEG still formats
- H.264 MOV movie format in up to 1080p
- Focus to 0.4 inches in Super Macro, 2.7 inches in regular macro
- ISO range 100-12800
- 256-zone TTL meter
- Auto and PSAM exposure control
- Film simulation modes
- Center, Multi, Area and Tracking AF
- Built-in flash
- Electronic level
- Motion Panoram
- Hot Shoe
Who would love it: Sports and wildlife enthusiasts.
Overview: The Nikon Coolpix P520's amazingly long-ranging zoom lens stretches to an amazing 42x zoom ratio—24-1000mm; in fact, it specs out very similar to the Fuji, but at $100 less there are a few compromises. The lens is f/3-5.9, and the EVF is a modest 201k dot resolution—good enough for reference but not tack sharp. But the flip-out LCD monitor, measuring a generous 3.1 inches, leads the pack. Macro close-up can bring you to within an inch of the front of the lens, while 99 autofocus areas indicate fine focusing abilities. This camera offers 1080 HD video in 5 recording speeds, has 20 scene modes and—a Nikon strength—13 in-camera editing actions. Sorry, no RAW image capture.
- 18MP 2/3-inch sensor
- 24-1000mm (35mm equivalent) f/3-5.9 lens
- Built-in GPS
- 3.2-inch 920k dot resolution LCD monitor
- Up to 7fps high-resolution burst rate
- 3D image capture
- Auto Scene Selector
- Motion detection
- Smart Portrait mode
- 180 and 360-degree stitch panorama capture
- Subject Tracking
- Macro focus to 0.4 inches from surface of lens
- ISO range 100-12800
- 1080p HD movie recording with built-in stereo mic.
- 19.6 oz.
- Optional Wi-Fi adapter available
The Nikon P520 is available in Red or Black.
Who would love it: Travelers, soccer moms, wildlife and birding enthusiasts who'd rather bag a great photo of their subject than kill it.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ70
Adorama price: $314
Overview: Meet the longest-range built-in zoom lens camera in the world, the Panasonic FZ70. Featuring a 60x optical zoom lens with a 20-1200mm (35mm equivalent) range and a very reasonable widest aperture of f/2.8-5.9, the FZ70 is a very attractive choice for photographers who want it all. The 20mm equivalent is the widest angle lens we’ve seen on a point-and-shoot camera. Anti-shake is effective according to our field tests with this camera, and the 16MP ½.3-inch CMOS sensor surprised us with the image quality. Panasonic claims it is designed in a way to cut image noise by 15 percent and improves quality at higher ISOs. The camera has a pop-up flash will also accept the Panasonic DMW-FL220, wireless DMW-FL360L, and DMW-FL500 external flash models. And yes, at 1200 you can shoot the moon and get good results!
• 20-1200mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.8-5.9 lens
• 1/2.3-inch, 16MP sensor
• Built-in flash
• 1080p HD video capture at up to 60i
• Filter effects
• 3-inch, 460k LCD monitor
• 202k dot resolution EVF
• Optical image stabilization
• AF and manual focus, macro to within 1 inch
• Shutter speeds 8-1/2000 sec
Who would love it: Travelers, realtors, wildlife and birding enthusiasts, even astrophotographers. It zooms out that far.
Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras with Electronic Viewfinders
Adorama price: $899 (body only)
Overview: Fujifilm has quickly built out an impressive lineup of interchangeable-lens compact cameras and the Fujifilm X-E2 is the first of the second-generation. It offers a great balance of features and price, with the same highly-regarded 16MP APS sensor that appears in the flagship X-Pro 1. For this version, Fujifilm has souped up the processor for faster autofocus, startup and continuous shooting performance. Also new are focus peaking, face detection and split-screen manual focus.
• 16.3 MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS Sensor provides high resolution & high sensitivity matching full-size sensor quality
• Magnesium body with traditional (classical) design in compact size
• HD 1080p Video w/Stereo Sound
• 100-25,600 ISO Capabilitites
• JPEG + RAW (Process In-Camera)
• Intutive Operation with Manual ring and Aperture Dial & Shutter-speed Dials.
• Aspherical OLED-EVF 2360K EVF equipped with approx. 2360K dots OLED panel provides high contrast ratio and natural look.
• 2 new XF lenses provide a wider array of matched lenses
• Built-in flash
• Fast AF 0.1 sec with OIS, F2.8 zoom lens
• External microphone connection
• Built in diopter
• Exposure Control - TTL 256 Zones
• High Speed Contrast Autofocus
Who would love it: Travel and portrait photographers seeking a compact camera with variety of mode settings and the ability to shoot in low-light situations, as well as HD video.
The Fujifilm X-E1 is available in Silver and Black.
Adorama price with 12-50mm kit lens: $1,299
Overview: The arrival of the Olympus OMD-EM5 this year was greeted with a chorus of OMG's as the camera revived the design and spirit of Olympus's most popular film camera line, the OM series, which had a successful 29-year run. It's a fun camera. In addition to delivering outstanding image quality from its 16MP Four Thirds sensor (including impressive low-light performance), this camera takes all Micro Four Thirds lenses and has enough Art filters to make the Instagram crowd jealous. It has a super-hi-res electronic viewfinder and a flip-out 3-inch LCD monitor, menu and mode options that will be familiar to DSLR users, and our field tests showed it to be quick and responsive.
16MP CMOS sensor
35 AF targets
Electronic Viewfinder with 1.44 million dot resolution
Claimed world's fastest autofocus
ISO range 200-25,600
Shutter speeds 60-1/4000 sec
9.2fps high-speed shooting
5-axis image stabilization
3-inch tilting 610k dot resolution OLED monitor
11 art filters with variations
Dust reduction system
Shutter mechanism tested to 100,000 cycles
Multiple exposures possible
1080p HD video
Read the Adorama Learning Center review of the Olympus OMD-EM5
Who would love it: Serious hobbyists, travelers, street photographers.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5
Adorama price: $498 with 14-42mm kit lens
Overview: While Panasonic has an extremely capable video-friendly high-end interchangeable-lens camera in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 ($1,298, body only), we chose the GMC-G5 because, at under $500, is is a much more affordable interchangeable-lens EVF. Featuring a 16MP CMOS micro four thirds sensor (half the size of a 35mm sensor), the G5 is geared towards advanced snapshooters and photo enthusiasts on a tight budget who want the flexibility and expandability of interchangeable lenses. A sensor is tripped when the camera is held up to the eye, activating the 1.440 million dot resolution EVF (one of the highest-resolution EVFs available) as well as the camera's autofocus system for faster AF acquisition. There's also a 3-inch, 920k dot resolution touchscreen LCD, just one of many intuitive ways of operating this camera.
- 16MP Four Thirds-sized Live MOS sensor
- Interchangeable Lens system (Micro Four Thirds Mount) with variety of interchangeable lenses
- Adapters available for several camera mount lenses
- 1080p HD Video in 24 or 60fps in AVCHD format, 720p at 30fps in M-JPEG format
- RAW and JPEG image files
- 3D lens compatibility using MPO format
- EVF resolution: 1,533,600 dots
- 3-inch, 460k dot monitor
- ISO range 160-12,800
- Manual and auto exposure
- Color temperature control
- Touch screen control
- Shutter speeds 60-1/4000 sec
- Over 20 scene modes
- Burst rate: 5fps at full resolution, 40fps at 4MP resolution
- External stereo microphone jack
- 13.82 oz (body only)
Lab Test Results (Provided by DxOMark):
- Maximum ISO for acceptable image quality (digital noise): 600
- Maximum ISO for acceptable dynamic range: 800
- Color depth: Very good (21.4 bits on a scale of 1-25)
- Overall image quality: Good (61 on a scale of 1-100)
- Dynamic range: 11.6 stops
For a camera with a Four Thirds sensor, the GH2 performed admirably, especially when it comes to low-light/high ISO performance and dynamic range. Recorded ISO sensitivity was consistently within 1/3 stop of the indicated speed at all speeds.
Who would love it: Advanced snapshooters and enthusiasts who appreciate image quality, ease of use, and the flexibility of being able to add new lenses to extend their visual range.
Adorama price: $749
Overview: Panasonic listened. Until now their high-end mirrorless compacts were little sports coups, performance wise, but were missing an important feature: An EVF. Users who wanted eye-level viewing were forced to buy an additional external finder, adding to the cost. With the GX7, they’ve resolved that via a tiltable super-high-resolution EVF that is built-in and very welcome. The 16MP four-thirds sensor is already well-regarded, and the lens lineup continues to grow. There’s in-camera stabilization and the camera has built-in Wi-Fi and NFC. Street shooters, start your engines.
• 16MP Four Thirds sensor
• 90 degree tiltable 2,746k dot resolution EVF
• In-camera stabilization
• Focus peaking and magnification windows
• 22 filter effects
• Top shutter speed 1/8000 sec
• ISO range 100-25,600
• Magnesium-alloy body
• Contrast AF system
Who would love it: Street photographers, photojournalists and anyone (like travelers) who wants a small, unobtrusive camera that is fast and precise.
Adorama price: $849 (body only)
Overview: The Sony NEX-7 has so much going for it—from its DSLR-quality 24.3MP APS-C sensor, top quality EVF, and 10fps burst rate to its best-in-class overall image quality score and ability to deliver virtually noise-free images at ISO 1600, that in our review of this camera we declared it the best Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera to date. It is a pro-level camera that offers many layers of features, from those a casual user would enjoy to capabilities that could satisfy the most demanding photojournalists and wedding photographers. With virtually no lag time and a growing selection of interchangeable, high-quality lenses, this camera is an investment in serious photography.
- 24.3MP APS-C Sensor
- 10fps top burst rate
- HD movies with manual control
- Flip-up 3-inch LCD monitor, 921k dot resolution
- E-mount lenses
- Sweep Panorama mode
- P/A/S/M modes for still and video
- 25-point AF
- Three manual control dials with assignable modes
- Object tracking AF
- Focus peaking
- 6-image layering combines multiple image for sharper images
- Intelligent AF
- Dynamic Range optimizer
- 11 Picture Effects: Posterization, Pop Color, Retro Photo, Partial Color, Soft High-key, High Contrast Monochrome, Toy Camera, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich-tone Monochrome and Miniature
- First OLED viewfinder
- 1080p at 60p/60i/24p
- 10.3 oz (body only)
Who would love it: Street photographers, wedding photographers, photojouranlists, serious photo hobbyists looking for a quick, accurate, compact camera that delivers best-quality images.