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by Aditya

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Is there such a thing as an interchangeable lens compact (aka EVIL, MILC, SLD, micro) with an optical viewfinder?

I'm tempted by having a high quality camera I can stick in my pocket (with a pancake lens on anyway) but I'm still not entirely convinced by the electronic viewfinder or having to compose on the back of the camera. I like the ergonomics of holding the camera to my eye, and would prefer not to have to use up the battery powering a viewfinder. I'm OK with the viewfinder being slightly offset from the lens - I've had that in plenty of compacts before and been fine with that.

If they do exist, I'm assuming they're an optional extra. Are they made by the original manufacturer, or only by third parties? Are they adjustable to match the lens focal length or do you need a different viewfinder to go with different lenses? Can they automatically zoom if you have a zoom lens?

All info appreciated.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Olympus made the VF-1 optical viewfinder to match its 17mm lens when it released the EP-1.

Apart from that, I believe all other accessory viewfinders are actually made for the rangefinder market, and are all designed to match particular focal lengths on 35mm film; you'll have to adjust for the crop factors of EVIL cameras (2.0 for µ4/3, 1.5 for the newer Sony and Samsung):

  • Leica (Leica gear, Leica prices)
  • Zeiss (pricy, but contrasty and well-corrected)
  • Cosina/Voigtländer (less pricy, still rather good)
  • Russian. Fedka is where I get Russian gear, and eBay's always a good choice.

There are none that will zoom automatically.

There is one that I know of that can be zoomed: the Voigtländer 15-35mm finder, which is not particularly cheap. It has two models, one provides adjusted scales for 1.3x and 1.5x crop, the other for 1.3x and 2.0x crop (1.3x is the crop factor of the Leica M8, which should also help explain the price point). The Russian 'turret' finders and the Leica Universal Wide Angle Finder (which is expensive) can be adjusted to particular focal lengths (e.g., 18, 21, 24), but not smoothly between steps like the CV.

Of note is parallax correction, but it's actually slightly good news: EVIL cameras have a smaller lens/shoe distance, and so parallax will be smaller than the film (or film-sized) cameras these finders were designed for. Many finders include parallax correction marks (only telephoto finders tend to have dial-in correction), but the best practice is always to be a little generous in your framing.

Regarding focal lengths, something to remember is that you can be "close enough". There is a certain amount of built-in error with almost any viewfinder, and accessory finders more than most. E.g., a 35mm finder would work perfectly well with the Olympus 17mm lens, and adequately with the Panasonic 20mm lens (though there is a CV 40mm finder).

All that said, I've used the electronic viewfinders for the EP-2 and GF1. The GF1 was lousy; worse than guessing. But the EP2 finder was actually quite good; definitely worth seeing for yourself.

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Aside from the Leica Ms, there is one very notable MILC with an optical viewfinder, which is the Fuji X-Pro 1. Its fixed-lens little brothers, the X100 and X100S also sport the same "hybrid" viewfinder which can be switched between an OVF with LCD overlay and an EVF and APS-C sensors. And unlike the X-Pro 1 have leaf shutters that are much quieter and can sync to 1/1000s (so there are notable advantages to the fixed 35/2 equivalent pancake they sport).

The hybrid viewfinder, however, does not use the taking lens, so there is parallax, but the overlay display in the latest firmware versions can be set to display where the actual focus point will be in the scene. However, macro mode on the X100 models will default to EVF usage because at nearer distances the parallax will get larger.

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There actually still are a few viewfinder cameras with exchangeable lenses. The Leica M9 seems nice.

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The mirror box assembly and necessary registration distance for an optical TTL viewfinder makes it nearly impossible to be compact. You'll have to live with pancakes (Pentax makes a great trio: DA40, DA21, and DA70)

If you can live with a non TTL optical viewfinder, there are rangefinders.

I hear some EVFs are actually pretty good, even in low light. Speculation: I think in the future, EVFs improve vastly and overtake the advantages of OVFs:

From an SLR lover: one EVIL lust

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