"This is our latest model, the RX1000MQ. It has a faster lens, a bigger sensor, multi-megapixel LCD, Wi-Fi, GPS, ADHD video, and cable TV."
"Does it have a viewfinder?"
"What else have you got?"
Panasonic's new DMC-LF1 is the first camera in its class to have a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF). And while there's been plenty of talk of its lens and its sensor and various other features, this is the only one worth discussing. The LF1 has a viewfinder and all the others in its class now look like smartphones of varying cost and complexity.
Every camera that I've owned, going back to the 1950s, has had a viewfinder, with one exception -- my Panasonic DMC-ZS20 that I got last year. I bought it because I wanted a pocket-sized, go-anywhere camera that I could always carry with me. It's a fine camera, but using the LCD for all my shooting made things difficult at times.
When did they decide it was okay to build cameras without viewfinders? I guess it started with cameraphones (now called smartphones) and small, inexpensive, pocket-sized cameras. But it's morphed into a whole new generation of cameras, some quite expensive, and some featuring interchangeable lenses. But no viewfinder.
There are reasons why most serious photography is done while looking through a viewfinder. So that's what I'm going to write about here: some of the advantages of using a camera with a viewfinder.
Aiming and framing. It's easier to acquire your subject, frame it, and track it when using a viewfinder. Set the LF1's lens to 400mm, locate a swallowtail on the butterfly bush, bring the camera to my eye, and bam! And easy to track it as it flits around, landing only for the briefest moment, then flying on. To me, using the viewfinder is more natural, but I'm from an earlier generation that didn't grow up with smartphones.
It's also less distracting. When I look at my camera's LCD monitor, I see the back of the camera with all its controls, my hands, and everything else around me. When I look into the viewfinder, all I see is my subject, framed in black, with no distractions.
It's easier for me to judge exposure and white balance through the viewfinder than on the LCD. The viewfinder is always the same brightness, but Panasonic varies the brightness of the LCD as it sees fit.
It's easier to use the viewfinder outdoors or in other brightly-lit situations. There were times when I just couldn't use my ZS20, despite contorting my hands around the camera to try to shield its LCD, but not always successfully. Never a problem with the viewfinder. It works everywhere.
The viewfinder, being much smaller than the LCD, uses less power and that's certainly a consideration in prolonging battery use.
For any sort of sports or action photography, you need a viewfinder. It's easier to concentrate on your subject through the viewfinder. And through the viewfinder, you're seeing things from the same viewpoint as your eyes, so there's less confusion when aiming the camera. The viewfinder feels more like an extension of your eye than the LCD.
And lastly, there's privacy. When I was at the White House, I had to use to my camera's LCD in order to shoot over the crowd in front of me. When I was done, someone behind me told me how much they liked the pictures I had shot. In this age of NSA spying, I really don't want someone looking over my shoulder while I'm shooting. The last thing I need is a backseat photographer.
By the way, the DMC-LF1 also has a great LCD, with lots of pixels and a very wide viewing angle. You can use it when viewing pictures, changing camera settings, or when you have to shoot at an angle where you can't use the viewfinder. It gives you the best of both worlds, all in a pocket-sized, go-anywhere camera.
With the DMC-LF1, Panasonic has upped the ante. In the future, the first question about pocket-sized cameras will be, "Does it have a viewfinder?"
Stay tuned for further adventures with my DMC-LF1.
Note: The DMC-LF1's zoom lens only goes to 200mm. The picture at the top of the page was shot using the i.ZOOM setting which extends the reach, through software, to 400mm.