EVF vs OVF: Optical vs Electronic Viewfinder Battle

Which is better, EVF vs OVF? Electronic viewfinder or optical viewfinder?

EVF vs OVF: Optical vs Electronic Viewfinder Battle

Mirrorless cameras offer electronic viewfinders; DSLRs feature optical viewfinders. And with the rise of mirrorless cameras, it’s an increasingly important comparison.

In fact:

For many photographers, viewfinder differences can be the deciding factor between mirrorless and DSLR cameras.

So in this article, I’m going to break it all down for you. You’ll discover the pros and cons of EVFs and OVFs. And you’ll come away knowing which viewfinder is best.

Let’s dive right in.

What is an OVF?

First things first:

What exactly is an OVF?

OVF stands for optical viewfinder. Now, the viewfinder is the part of the camera that you look through to check out the scene. When you put one eye up to the camera to preview your shot, you’re looking through an optical viewfinder.

Here’s the most important fact about OVFs:

When you look through an optical viewfinder, you’re looking through the lens. You’re seeing what the lens sees. This is what you find on all DSLR cameras.

EVF vs OVF: Optical vs Electronic Viewfinder Battle 1
Back of the Canon DSLR camera with the LCD screen and OVF

Compare this to the alternative, EVFs:

What is an EVF?

EVF stands for electronic viewfinder.

Unlike an OVF, an EVF doesn’t show you a view through the lens.

Instead, EVFs show you what the camera sensor sees–because it’s a little screen inside your camera. Which means you don’t get a simple, straightforward view of the scene. You’re looking at the scene once it’s been processed by the camera–so you essentially see it already exposed.

You can find electronic viewfinders in some (but not all) mirrorless cameras.

EVF vs OVF: Optical vs Electronic Viewfinder Battle 2
Back of the Sony a6000 mirrorless camera with the LCD screen and EVF

OVF vs EVF: Advantages of an Optical Viewfinder

Optical viewfinders feature several clear advantages over electronic viewfinders.

1. No Shutter Lag

First, optical viewfinders have absolutely no shutter lag–they show you exactly what the lens is seeing, as it sees it.

Electronic viewfinders, on the other hand, do have a slight lag. On the best EVFs, this is negligible, and won’t make any difference to your shooting. But if you purchase a cheaper or older mirrorless body, you may get stuck with an electronic viewfinder that lags behind the scene, and makes tracking moving subjects especially difficult.

2. Always On

Second, optical viewfinders are ‘on’ all the time.

In other words, you can look through an optical viewfinder whenever you like–even if your camera is powered down. Electronic viewfinders, on the other hand, go black when the camera is turned off. And they take a few moments (e.g., 1-2 seconds) to start up once the camera is turned on.

This split-second delay can make a difference to action photographers, who sometimes need to power on their camera while tracking a moving subject.

3. Higher Optical Quality

Third, optical viewfinders offer better picture quality compared to electronic viewfinders. The viewfinder is clearer, because you’re seeing a true image, not a screen. And the viewfinder features better dynamic range–again, because the image isn’t being displayed electronically.

Electronic viewfinders, however, are showing you a screen. And that screen’s picture quality depends on the resolution of the EVF, as well as the dynamic range of the screen and the camera sensor.

4. Zero Energy Consumption

Finally, optical viewfinders are electronics free–which mean they don’t drain batteries.

Electronic viewfinders suck power, and this decreases the battery life of the camera. The short battery life of mirrorless cameras (which is due in part due to the EVF, but also due to the more compact batteries mirrorless cameras use) is a big selling point for DSLRs.

Now let’s turn to the benefits of an electronic viewfinder:

EVF vs OVF: Optical vs Electronic Viewfinder Battle 3
Photo taken with Canon DSLR with OVF

EVF vs OVF: Advantages of an Electronic Viewfinder

Here’s one of the biggest benefits of an electronic viewfinder:

1. What You See Is What You Get

EVFs give a more accurate display of your final photo.

When you see an EVF image, it’s much closer to what you’ll see on your computer screen once you’ve taken the shot. It shows you a decent approximation of the final exposure, the aperture, and more.

Now, it’s not perfect. But it does a far better job of showing the scene than an optical viewfinder, which doesn’t show exposure and doesn’t have an automatic depth of field preview.

This makes it much easier to take photos without needing to constantly check your LCD (known as chimping). And it allows you to feel much more confident in your final images during a shoot.

2. Computer Like Experience

Second, EVFs sport all sorts of cool features that OVFs lack.

Some EVFs show live histograms. Some show levels, that tell you whether your image is straight. Others give focus peaking, which allows you to see, on the viewfinder image, which area of the photo is sharp.

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These are incredibly useful during a shoot. You can check your exposure in real time with the live histogram. You can make sure you’ve nailed focus with the focus peaking feature. And you can make sure your horizons are perfectly straight with the level.

3. 100% Coverage

Third, EVFs give 100% viewfinder coverage. In other words, when you look through an electronic viewfinder, you see the full photo.

But optical viewfinders don’t often always offer this feature. In entry-level Canon DSLRs, for instance, viewfinder coverage is pretty consistently 95% of the frame. This may not seem like a big deal, but it can result in unwanted elements entering your frame without you noticing.

4. No Mirror Backouts

Finally, the best electronic viewfinders offer continuous displays. They don’t have viewfinder blackout (which is a problem with OVFs).

You see, on DSLRs, when you take a photo the mirror flips up–and you have a moment of blackness. This isn’t apparent when shooting with high shutter speeds. But when you do longer exposures, the screen will go black, and this can be frustrating for anyone trying to evaluate the scene in front of them.

EVF vs OVF: Optical vs Electronic Viewfinder Battle 4
Photo was taken with Fujifilm mirrorless camera with EVF

EVF vs OVF: Which is the Winner?

Now you understand the benefits and drawbacks to both electronic viewfinders and optical viewfinders.

But which one is better? Which is superior?

Clearly, both have reasons going for them. OVFs have zero lag and better clarity. EVFs offer previewing and other fancy accessories.

However, I think that modern EVFs edge out OVFs–and the gap will increase as EVF technology gets better.

The previews offered by EVFs are just too valuable. As are the focus peaking, live histograms, and more.

So in the battle of EVF vs OVF…

Winner: EVF.

What to Read Next:

by Jaymes Dempsey
Jaymes Dempsey is a photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan. He’s obsessed with nature, and loves teaching people new photography tips and tricks. To see more of Jaymes’s work, check out his portfolio website (https://www.jaymesdempsey.com/) or his photography tutorial blog (https://www.jaymesdempsey.com/blog/).

4 thoughts on “EVF vs OVF: Optical vs Electronic Viewfinder Battle”

  1. Interesting article but you did miss out the important point that DSLR’s have OVF but also have EVF on the back. I use the optical most of the time as I feel more connected to the subject than I would with an EVF. I tend to use the EVF on the back for still life shots and such as low level or high level shots.

  2. Yeah, I thought this was quite biased. My Pentax, like almost all Pentax cameras since the eighties, gives 100% viewfinder coverage.

    My Pentax offers optical and digital DoF preview.

    Why Pentax, like most DSLRs, offers Live View, with focus peaking, etc.

    My Pentax offers level view in the viewfinder, plus automatic levelling.

    There is very few things I miss without EVF, so I stick with it.

    What the did not bring up were the disadvantages of both systems. This was not really a comprehensive compare & contrast.

    • For me, the biggest difference between EVF and OVF is “What You See Is What You Get” vs “What You See Is Not What You Get”

  3. Points missed on both sides of the equation:
    1) EVF have blackout as well and sometimes worse than OVF. DSLR mirror blackouts are miniscule compared to EVF blackouts other than a few mirrorless like the A9.
    2) EVF can cause eye fatigue and headaches with many folks, OVF is better for the person in these cases.
    3) EVF quality is wildly varied right now, and with some, the EVF resolution is very poor for determining manual focus without changing to a zoomed look and focusing that way, where it is possible to use an OVF sometimes very easily.
    4) EVF does give you other tools too for MF though, like 5x and 10x zoom in the EVF on Canon for example.
    5) Some DSLR OVF are powered with an LCD overlay on top of the focusing screen, meaning that if you yank the battery, you cannot see through the VF.
    6) If you shoot with both eyes, an OVF is easier to “mentally address” with the brain if they both see about the same type of image, an EVF makes that a bit more difficult. With higher resolution EVF and higher framerates, along with controls for brightness/contrast, that could be mitigated.
    7) Eye AF is pretty much impossible in a DSLR if it employs a separate phase-detect AF module outside the sensor through the mirror. Canon has iTR mode for the 5D4, for example, that works in the VF, but it is not reliable. EVF provides that capability much, much better.
    8) Most DSLRs have a live view mode that acts very much as mirrorless in about every regard. Histograms, zoom focus, active AF, eye AF, etc, but you just have to get used to using the rear screen. For mirrorless cameras that don’t have an EVF, it may very well be a better decision to get a DSLR equivalent instead, but you gain more in that type of system over a mirrorless with just a rear LCD for a viewfinder.


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