While the Panasonic GF-1 Micro Four Thirds camera is a great option for SLR or point-and-shoot users, photographers who are used to an optical viewfinder – especially those shooters coming from an SLR – might find themselves frustrated by the camera’s LCD-only viewfinder. For these users, Panasonic has created a clip-on electronic viewfinder that serves as a credible replacement for a quality optical viewfinder, though with a few caveats.
The Panasonic DWM-LVF1 Electronic Viewfinder sells for $200. For this price, you get the viewfinder, and a cool little carrying case that includes a snapped loop that can attach to your camera strap. The case includes an interior molding that holds the viewfinder firmly in place.
The viewfinder itself attaches to the camera’s hot shoe, with its contacts plugging into a socket just above the rear LCD screen.
The LVF1 takes up about half the space of a small lens, so it’s really no trouble to carry the viewfinder with you, and affixing it to your camera strap makes porting the thing around very simple.
The viewfinder is very well-made and feels quite sturdy. Its finish and lines perfectly match the GF1, and when the thing is attached, the camera definitely takes on a more serious feel.
While the GF1 has an extremely high-quality screen that provides very good color and detail, and offers a good viewing angle, it can still be very difficult to use in bright light. Whether that light is behind you, creating glare on the screen, or shining in your eyes from the front, and making it hard to see the screen, the camera definitely takes a usability hit in certain lighting conditions. With the electronic viewfinder, you have a solution for these situations.
But no matter what type of light you’re shooting in, the viewfinder is nice simply for the way it gives you a more traditional shooting experience. You can raise the camera to your eye, block out the rest of the world, and concentrate on your shooting.
The viewfinder itself is simply a tiny color LCD screen, just like the eyepiece viewfinders that you might find on a video camera. If you’re coming from an SLR with a big viewfinder, the size of the screen might be a little shocking. I normally shoot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, a full-frame camera with a very large viewfinder. Every time I shoot with the GF1 electronic viewfinder, I get a little bit of a shock when I first see the tiny image.
A very small button on the right side of the electronic viewfinder toggles between the camera’s LCD screen and the electronic viewfinder. It’s easy to reach the button, so it’s simple to switch between the two, but the button is just firm enough that you don’t have to worry about accidentally pressing it. Anything you would normally see on the rear LCD screen is shown in the EVF. So, all status information, menus, and other readouts are visible.
The viewfinder can also pivot upwards, to a maximum angle of 90°. For shooting subjects down low, this can be a very nice way to work.
Other than the small size, I have only two caveats about the viewfinder. The first is the same issue that any LCD screen has, no matter what it’s size, and that’s simply that it doesn’t pack the full dynamic range that your eye can see. So, if you’re trying to compose off of elements that are hidden in shadow, you may not be able to see them in the viewfinder. See my GF1/Olympus comparison for more discussion, and examples, of this problem.
The other annoyance is that, after you take a picture, the image review is shown on the viewfinder. It’s very hard to break the habit of taking the camera away from your eye, after shooting, to look at the image on the rear screen. It would be great if there were an option to control where image review occured, when the electronic viewfinder was attached.
The LVF1 is expensive – $200 is about a quarter of the price of the camera – but if you use the GF1 a lot, you will probably find it well worth the money.