Home Electronics: Finders Keepers

<< Back to Robb Report, May 2006
  • Brent Butterworth

 

Seasoned photographers have savored the recent proliferation of digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, but in the hands of casual shooters, these advanced instruments can cause consternation. More complicated than a typical digital camera, they also lack some of the conveniences that helped make digital cameras so popular. And while the exhaustive selection of lenses for DSLRs excites experienced photographers, it intimidates many amateurs.

However, a new class of cameras has emerged for those who aspire to shoot professional-quality photos but crave a friendlier experience. Electronic viewfinder (EVF) cameras have begun to emulate the style and capabilities of DSLRs without sacrificing the features that make digital photography so much fun. Surprisingly, the vanguard of the high-end EVF category is represented not by Canon and Nikon but by brands commonly associated with consumer electronics: Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony.

A DSLR employs a mirror that allows the photographer to sight directly through the lens. When the shutter button is pressed, the mirror flips up so that the light from the lens can reach the camera’s digital sensor. The sensor is blocked when the mirror is down, which prevents you from using the electronic LCD viewscreen on the back of the camera to frame your shots. Because an EVF camera has no mirror, its viewscreen can be active at all times, and it also has a traditional eyepiece viewfinder with a tiny LCD screen inside. In the past, these LCD screens have not offered sufficient resolution for precise manual focusing, but the latest screens provide a much clearer image.

The most exciting EVF camera is Sony’s DSC-R1 ($1,000). Its 10.3-megapixel sensor produces pictures that are sharper than even the 8-megapixel ones found on most consumer DSLRs. While the DSC-R1’s unusual design departs from the DSLR mold, its most important controls are configured almost exactly like those of Canon’s popular EOS-20D DSLR. The top-mounted, 2-inch LCD viewfinder is small, but it tilts and swivels to allow viewing from a variety of positions.

The DSC-R1’s 5X zoom lens offers the equivalent of a 24 mm to 120 mm focal length on a 35 mm camera, an adequate range for most situations. When you touch the manual focus ring, the center of the image in the viewfinder is automatically magnified to make focusing easier—and at least as precise as with DSLRs.

However, the Sony lacks a video function, a feature found on other high-end EVFs. Those who wish to capture motion pictures as well as still images might investigate Samsung’s Pro 815 ($850), which shoots 640-by-480-pixel video in addition to 8-megapixel photos. Some may find the Pro 815’s control layout cumbersome compared to the DSC-R1’s, but the Samsung offers two especially appealing features: an inviting 3.5-inch rear LCD viewfinder (along with an eyepiece finder and a smaller, top-mounted finder) and a 15X zoom lens with 28 mm to 420 mm range for extreme telephoto shots.

Although the utility of the large selection of lenses for DSLRs is undeniable, the sheer fun of shooting with high-end EVFs may persuade many quality-minded photographers to opt for these friendlier, simpler cameras—especially when focusing is just as accurate.

Samsung, www.samsungcamerausa.com
Sony, 877.865.7669, www.sonystyle.com

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