About Thomas Fitzgerald

Thomas is a professional fine art photographer and writer specialising in photography related instructional books as well as travel writing and street photography. 

Why You Should Use a Histogram with an EVF on a Mirrorless Camera

Why You Should Use a Histogram with an EVF on a Mirrorless Camera

I’ve seen a few posts lately complaining about new mirrorless cameras not exposing properly compared to what the user is seeing in the EVF. It seems that in a few instances, people are judging exposure purely by what they’re seeing in the viewfinder. Even if you are also using the included light meter, you may still see a different result when looking at images later on your computer. I call this the EVF effect, and if you’re shooting mirrorless, it’s something you need to be aware of.

I actually wrote about this a few years ago, and it’s part of one of my Fuji guides, but it applies equally to any mirrorless cameras, whether that’s a Sony, Nikon, Canon etc. With more and more models entering the market I thought I would revisit this topic.

So what is the EVF effect?

This is where the brightness levels of the EVF trick you into under or overexposing an image. This is surprisingly easy to do, especially if you are new to mirrorless cameras. Sometimes the image displayed in the EVF can make you think that the image is darker or lighter than it will actually turn out, because of the brightness of the EVF. When you take the shot, even reviewing it, it can sometimes look fine, but when you get back to your computer, you realise that it is under or overexposed.

Sometimes it is a little bit off, and sometimes it can be one or two stops off. It depends on a number of factors, such as the brightness you have the viewfinder set to, the quality of the viewfinder, and many other things. You can have a similar effect when using the rear screen, but its more pronounced when using an EVF because you have your eye up to it and the viewfinder cup isolates the image so your subconscious tends to believe it more.

So what is the solution?

The best way to counter this is to use the histogram. When shooting, it’s wise to check the histogram to make sure it matches what you see in the viewfinder. I have the histogram turned on all the time when using my mirrorless cameras.

For example if you’re shooting an average scene with a broad range of tones, and it looks right in your viewfinder, but the histogram is mostly to the left then you’re probably going to underexpose the image. By using the histogram you can see that it is the EVF effect and not the exposure, and take appropriate action to compensate.

On the other hand, if the scene that you’re shooting contains a lot of dark elements, it looks right in the viewfinder, but your histogram is mostly in the middle, or to the right, then your EVF brightness is tricking you into overexposing the scene. This requires a bit of practice and experience, and after a while, it will become second nature to you, but even then, every now and again, this still trips me up.

As electronic viewfinders get better, this is reducing a little, but it is still a real issue if you’re not aware that this can happen. A lot of people extoll the virtues of mirrorless cameras, because you can preview the exposure before you take the shot thanks to the EVF, but there are pitfalls to this approach too because the EVF may not always give you a completely accurate indication of the correct exposure. By being aware of the EVF effect and checking the histogram, you can make sure that the brightness of the EVF isn’t throwing your exposures and get it right in camera every time.

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