The last few years mirrorless has become all the rage. If you look at the forums and online comment sections, you’d think that anything but mirrorless has become antiquated technology. To be honest, I ignored all of this hype. I certainly appreciate new technology if it helps me d my job better, but am not one to buy new gear for the heck of it. Your gear is simply a tool– not the solution to being a good photographer.

For that reason, I made it all the way into middle of 2018 without ever even putting my hands on a mirrorless camera. I’ve been shooting with the Canon 5DIV, and felt that as a tool it was doing a great job to meet my photographic needs.

Finally in August I was invited to try Canon’s new full frame mirrorless camera, the Canon EOS R. Don’t worry, this is not a sales pitch for the camera or mirrorless in general. Nor is this an article telling you to drop your gear and immediately move to mirrorless.

Instead, I want to take a moment to talk about my first experience with an electronic viewfinder (EVF) and WHY you might want one in the first place. When I got to experiment with the gear a bit the benefits of an EVF for certain shooting situations became a bit more obvious to me.

When I was asked to produce the campaign images for the EOS R, I still hadn’t gotten an opportunity to shoot with the camera… it was super security lockdown at Canon and the camera couldn’t leave the building, even for a test! So I did my research and found that mirrorless cameras really shine in low light situations…but why?

I planned one of my campaign shoots to be super futuristic– metallic wig, futuristic lightsabers in the shots, plus a holographic dress.  The shoot took place in a park in NYC around midnight where I could put the camera through the test of a difficult shooting situation– and here’s what I learned!

Where an EVF and mirrorless really shines:

Exposure simulation

With an electronic viewfinder, what you see is what you get. This is something called exposure simulation. Whether you have your camera set to manual or AV or any other settings, whatever the exposure is set to, you get a live preview in your viewfinder.

Obviously this is helpful for beginners still learning to nail their exposure, but it was also helpful for me in the dark where I didn’t even know where to begin with the exposure. It was nice to have a visual confirmation of my exposure since I was trying to keep a low ISO and fast enough shutter speed to hand hold without being underexposed. It helped me to get my ideal settings more quickly when I was working in unfamiliar shooting conditions.

Focusing in low light

For me, this is a HUGE (INSANELY HUGE) benefit of using an electronic viewfinder. Typically when I use a DSLR and shoot in low lighting situations, I find it a bit difficult to grab focus especially if I’m not using a fast lens (aka wide aperture). When shooting in a dimly lit situation (ie: a dimly lit wedding reception or a landscape lit by the moon), it is very challenging to grab tack sharp focus without some help. I often find that either my camera hunts for focus or I need to give it some sort of light for it to be able to grab focus on something.

This is NOT the case anymore with an EVF. It is almost like the camera can see in the dark, and give you an accurate exposure preview. That’s some magic… because it CAN see in the dark!  

When people say that an EVF is good in low light, they aren’t specifically talking about high ISO capabilities or minimal noise. They are referring the the viewfinder’s ability to see and display the exposure even in very low light. The Canon EOS R, for example, has a sensor and specs to be able to autofocus in EV -6… without getting into the jargon–basically you can focus in almost complete darkness. It’s awesome.

When I pointed the camera away from the lights into the deepest, darkest parts of the forest around me at midnight, I could easily focus and get a preview… no need to use a flashlight or hunt for focus– it was instant, and this was a WOW feature to me.

So, if you find yourself shooting in low light a lot, EVF has massive benefits!

Face (and eye) tracking

I was also quite impressed by the face tracking (and eye tracking) capabilities. Not all mirrorless cameras have this feature, but basically with this setting the camera would focus on the face and specifically the eye closest to camera. It was nice to not need to constantly refocus while shooting– this saved me a lot of time. After looking at the results I was very pleased with the face tracking accuracy.

Preview in the viewfinder

When shooting with the EOS R, the image would appear in the viewfinder after I took a shot. I didn’t need to pull my eyes away and check the back of the camera to analyze my results. Again, just more time-saving built into the system.

My takeaways

Certainly there is a long list of other benefits of mirrorless systems including more benefits of EVF (like histograms and other feedback), additional focus assisting tools, and on and on. But what really matters to me is what helps me do my job better. It is, after all a tool.

My takeaway from my first mirrorless and EVF experience was that in a situation where I need fast focus and to work in low light, there are definitely benefits of utilizing this technology. Is this a replacement for a DSLR? Maybe, and maybe not yet. It really depends on the type of work you do. The next fashion shoot I do at night, or with super narrow depth of field, I would definitely consider adding the Canon EOS R mirrorless (specifically that EVF) to my camera family!