Sunday, March 11, 2012

More on the Olympus VF-2 Viewfinder

Sennheiser and the living room

In my last article I introduced the VF-2, an electronic viewfinder for the Olympus PEN series of mirrorless cameras. It's the first EVF I've used for any length of time. Although I am still in early days, I want to take this post to share my initial opinions, and also write something about camera stabilisation.

Those who have compared, say that this is one of the best EVF units available. To avoid confusion, I should mention that the original VF-1 model is a simple optical framing device for a single lens, more a rangefinder accessory than anything else. The subsequent VF-3 model has lower resolution (920K instead of 1440K) and was introduced mainly to provide a less expensive choice. The Panasonic EVF, available for their line of MFT cameras, is also said to be of lesser quality.

So the VF-2 it is, despite the £179 price tag.

I already mentioned how I like the fact the viewfinder can be tilted. Currently I am working mostly with it at 45 degrees. The joint has enough friction that the viewfinder more or less stays still where you put it, though it does lock more decisively at either extreme.

slug and music stand

Since I wear varifocal glasses and have rather wonky eyes, I wasn't sure how an EVF would work out for me. Thankfully the diopter adjustment on the VF-2 extends from -3 to +1, rendering a clear image (for me) at it's extreme left setting. While it feels better with my glasses off, the EVF also works just fine with glasses on, so long as I squint (second eye closed). I have found that either my left or right eye works a treat.

The VF-2 adds 3cm to the height of the camera, which is a benefit in use, though not for storage. I have a small "man bag" I've been using for cameras and the fit is tighter with the viewfinder on. Thankfully it pops off into a little soft case for storage. There is a hot shoe cover to protect the camera and also a foot to protect the electronic contacts on the viewfinder itself. But I leave both these fiddly parts at home.

Some reviewers mentioned that the unit was all-too-likely to pop off when you didn't want it to. For this reason the VF-3 was provided with a locking mechanism. But I can't see that happening even with the VF-2; the connection is solid. It would require a serious blow at just the wrong angle to dislodge the viewfinder. In that case I'd be worrying about a lot more than having it decouple!

AKG and the desktop

The one case in which the EVF performs poorly is under fluorescent lights. The 60Hz cycle rate causes an interference pattern that is particularly problematic for my vision. Though in these cases the LCD is equally poor, with exactly the same interference.

On the other hand, the EVF will be invaluable in bright sunlight when the LCD gets washed out. We don't get much of that in Ireland, but maybe on holidays!

Operating the VF-2 is simple. Pressing the button on the back turns off the LCD and turns on the viewfinder. Then, anything you would normally see on the back of the camera is visible in the EVF. The full menu uses the back LCD but the quick menu options are available directly in the viewfinder. I didn't realise beforehand how advantageous this would be, compared with optical finders. There is no need to take my eye from the finder when selecting a different white balance setting, changing ISO, etc.

The play button turns on the LCD temporarily so you can review images. This task does not happen in the viewfinder, which makes complete sense to me, as the larger screen is a boon when examining shots you've already captured. Olympus has made an intelligent division of tasks between the two screens. Though, given their mania for configuration, I am surprised that this is not tweakable in the options. (Some might prefer to review images in the EVF, especially on a bright day.)

Juno two-tone

One of the major advantages of the Olympus mirrorless camera system is the In-Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS). It's the number one reason I chose Olympus over the competition, just as I chose Pentax over the other SLR brands. Every single lens fitted to these bodies benefits from stabilisation that helps keep shots sharp even at longer shutter speeds. There is no need to buy special (more expensive) lenses with this feature in the lens, the approach taken by Panasonic, Canon, and Nikon (among others).

Those of us who prefer natural light photography and also like experimenting with older lenses welcome the freedom IBIS provides. But on the PEN cameras this was always compromised by having to hold out the camera with arms extended, like a point and shoot. With the viewfinder I can properly support the camera and get some truly incredible shots. Even though I have never been as steady as others with a camera, I can manage shots like the last two images on this page. The AKG headphones were snapped at 1/15s and Juno the cat at 1/8s. Remember that I am shooting with a 40mm lens, so the rule of thumb would say I need 1/40s or faster. Getting a two stop bonus is very nice, saving me from ramping up the ISO.

The bottom line? IBIS + EVF = joy.

Finally, I'd like to mention that now might be a good time to seek out a bargain on this accessory. Olympus is introducing their first MFT body with a built-in EVF. Photographers upgrading to the OM-D E-M5, which looks to be an incredible camera, no longer have the same need for the VF-2 (though it still has the advantage of tilting). Though so far it has held its value on the secondary market, I predict some bargains may be found, especially as part of bundles with older model bodies. Keep a look out!



Anonymous said...

Hello! You certainly were right about EVF bargains in kit. Just bought P2+17mm/f2.8+EVF kit for 429 euro. All black, Special Edition. I like to use the EVF tilted up, too. It's so good I can focus 50mm/1.4 XR Rikenon even without magnifier in good light.

Greetings from Finland, Osmo

Daniel Tang said...

"The play button turns on the LCD temporarily so you can review images. This task does not happen in the viewfinder,"


I have a VF-2 and am able to view pictures on it :)

robin said...

Thanks, Daniel, I should have corrected this info! You can get a review of images in the EVF. First hit play to see them on the LCD. Then tap the viewfinder button to put them into the EVF.

Still, it would be nice if this was the default, so that once the EVF was on, the camera remembered this for all functions -- including image review.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a useful and informative article. I have terrible eyesight and wear varifocal glasses, so it is good to know it works well with them. I was also reassured by your comments about the security of fit, as some reviews seem to suggest it is prone to falling off of the camera at the slightest provocation. I have just ordered a VF-2 and can't wait to try it.

robin said...

I have noticed these are on sale currently, so it is a great time to grab an EVF. The reason for the discount is that Olympus is to introduce a new model, with improved resolution. For most of us, however, the VF-2 is just fine.

I have had the viewfinder tugged off in a bag and have sometimes dislodged it slightly in hand. But I have never had it fall off in the field, which would be potentially disastrous.

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