Will Optical Viewfinders Become a Thing of the Past?
One thing that most dedicated photographers love on their cameras is the viewfinder (VF). There are endless discussion threads dedicated to mourning the small, dark VFs present in many of today’s cropped sensor DLSRs. Even full frame DSLRs don’t seem to reach the level of VF quality attained by classic film cameras such as the Olympus OM-1 or the Pentax MX.
It is not a surprise then, when some companies have decided to build cameras forgoing the optical VF (OVF) altogether by removing the mirror and prism from the camera body, thus allowing the lens to move closer to the sensor, giving us a thinner, lower camera. Examples of this are the Panasonic G1, GH1 and GF1, the Sigma DP1 and DP2, and the Olympus E-P1. Apart from the G1 and GH1, all these cameras lack a VF, although an electronic VF (EVF) can be added to the GF1 and Olympus sells an OVF for the E-P1. None of these solutions are elegant, and while the EVF of the G1 and GH1 are the best in the business (as of today), they are still nowhere near an OVFs.
But why remove the mirror assembly? It appears camera makers are incapable or unwilling to provide us with DSLRs the size of the aforementioned Olympus OM-1 and Pentax MX (except Leica, who have done so with their M8, M8.2 and M9 digital rangefinders), so they are resorting to mirror-less designs in order to bring size down. While many appreciate the small size, they are not happy with the loss of the VF.
Enter Epson, who yesterday announced they’ve started volume producton of their HTPS TFT colour liquid crystal panel for EVFs. HTPS stands for high-temperature polysilicon. This panel features an SVGA 800 x RGB x 600 pixel matrix for a total of 1.44MP and is targeted at middle and high level cameras. Its physical dimensions are 12mm diagonal, but I have not been able to find out how thin it is.
The good news is, this is just the first in a series of HTPS panels, to be called Ultimicron, and Epson promises larger and higher resolution versions will be forthcoming in the near future. They say these OVFs will offer good enough image quality that they will be useful for manual focusing and will approach the viewing and handling of OVFs.
We’ll have to wait and see how accurate these promises are, but I am optimistic the future of EVF cameras will be bright; and high resolution too.