Why EVIL Cameras will Leave You Stranded

Never have the DSLR-bashers had it so good. Finally, there is the ultimate in point-and-shoot with sensors nearly as large as those in four-thirds DSLR cameras. And there is an electronic viewfinder to scan the world in ‘realtime’. Really high-tech. Why, you can change the lenses too! It is called EVIL, or the Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens camera. At the time of writing this the Olympus E-P1, a.k.a. the “PEN”, and the Panasonic GF1 are already hogging the eyeballs in the Internet space, if not the real world markets. Samsung too seems to have thrown the hat in the ring with the NX-10.

The whopping contraction in size has been acquired by hacking off the mirror mechanism altogether. In a typical SLR body, the light beams are reflected towards a pentaprism/pentamirror which in turn directs them through the viewfinder. Before you have mirror-prizm-mechanismthe feeling that this is an elegy on the bygone mirror and prism, I would like to point out that many pros are given to use “mirror up” in their DSLR’s before tripping the shutter for avoiding vibrations caused by the snapping movement of the mirror. Thus, mirrors do have a negative side effect. Is this a reason to rejoice, then?

Not really. Although reluctantly, I am willing to let go the pristine real-life view of the subjects before I take the image in favour of the real-time electronic view, if it offers better and sharper pictures. Theoretically, it does. But it also seriously reduces the size of the camera. The problem is, they have bloated the sensor (for the standards of a compact camera)! And bigger sensors need bigger lenses! A typical zoom lens has several groups of glass elements inside them. Precision mechanisms and long barrels are required to move these elements to change the focal length. What is the point if I still have to snap a converter and use huge professional lenses to dwarfish bodies. How do they remain petite anymore? If the industry has to mint an entire series of miniaturised lenses for the EVIL format, what is the point in having a large sensor?

The evolution from Film to Digital SLRs has been a gradual one. The likes of Nikon started with the DX format (1.5X crop factor to 35mm) when they launched the D1 in 1999 and it was not till 2007 when they came up with D3, their first FX (full format 35mm) DSLR. It should not take one long to realize that the professionals looking for higher quality look up to full format cameras rather than the cropped DX version.

Yes, small is beautiful. But excuse me, it somehow appears to be a case of ‘Honey I shrunk the DSLR’! Just as everything in life, you set the limit somewhere. Can you really enjoy a HD movie on the small screen of your mobile phone? How effective are the mega dollar thrillers like the Star War series, the Jurassic Park saga or recently, the Avtar, on your home television panels?

I am not seeking to establish that the new EVIL format will fail. Far from it, we should witness the established players like Nikon and Canon flooding the market with their models sooner than later. The technology, however, is poised to replace the point-and-shoot, or more specifically, the advanced compact cameras –or “bridge cameras”, if you have it that way — rather than the DSLRs. Incidentally, the existing entry level DSLRs have already been shrunk to manageable sizes for those who hate the bulk of the bigger brethren of the race. You only have to try holding a Nikon D3000 or a Canon 1000D in you hands to realize this. Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop the www.wired.com from coming up with “5 reasons to ditch your Digital SLR” :


Its an amazing piece of yellow journalism, indeed.


  1. Very nice article Uma ji…

    I agree with you that EVIL will uproot the higher P&S or bridge cameras but can not replace the DSLRs..

    moreover one person who owns a Pana. GF1 shared the experience with us that when it comes to size the compactness draws the victory, but when it comes to view finder things are worse..
    And judging the manual focus from EV is next to impossible..

  2. “If the industry has to mint an entire series of miniaturised lenses for the EVIL format, what is the point in having a large sensor?”

    You seem to have a false view of lens size and image quality. The large sensor is what gives high IQ. The lenses can be made smaller because of the lack of a mirror, which means the rear objective can be placed MUCH closer to the sensor. Smaller lenses does NOT equal significantly lower image quality (there is a very small theoretical difference, but it pales in comparison to the effect of sensor size).

    So, losing the mirror doesn’t just make the body smaller (important itself), but allows for shorter focal lengths in the lenses, which means smaller lenses. And by engineering a limited number of size-optimized lenses, you create a system which becomes the IDEAL travel/always with you/casual-use/stealth camera.

    No, it will not replace DSLRs, just as 35mm DSLRs do not replace medium format or even large format. No, it probably will not even supplant DSLRs (I highly doubt it anyway). But it WILL certainly create a class of camera that very many of us want and which will serve a real purpose.

  3. PS – I meant “allows for shorter back-focus lenses,” not “allows for shorter focal lengths in lenses.” The shorter back focus (distance from rear objective to sensor) is what allows for smaller lenses.

  4. I think EVIL cameras will grow and provide better image capture for an important market segment as the prices come down. (The $500 to $600 market segment seems to be where the bottom end of the µ4/3rds market is moving.) They will also provide new options for “the best camera is the one you have with you” proposition of carrying a camera most of the time.

    That said, I can not see that the current state of the art is anywhere near replacing a good quality DSLR. Among other things, the frame rate and shutter lag are not comparable with DSLRs. One would have to suspect that shutter life would be something less than even the lower end DSLRs. Ditch your DSLR? I don’t think so. Get an EVIL to go along with it? Probably so. Different tools for different tasks.

    The cameras that will have a difficult time as the price drops on the µ4/3rds cameras will be the likes of the Canon G11.

  5. Gabedamian I agree with you man! hence I would like to add one thing. Nothing beats medium format.

  6. Is it possible to convert a conventional optical SLR camera in into DSLR, by replacing the film compartment with sensor and storage? Thousands of SLRs can be restored.

  7. Actually Lalit, there are numerous medium format systems (some of them SLR-like) that can now take digital backs instead of film backs. Of course, a digital medium format back is usually very expensive, as in, $10,000+.

    As to 35mm-format SLR bodies, I don’t know of any aftermarket modifications, but I suspect they’d have to be so expensive and ad-hoc that there would be no point—it would likely be cheaper and easier to just buy a new camera. Besides, who wants to “restore” a lovely item like a vintage film SLR? 😉

    1. Lalit, Gabedamien is spot-on about the feasibility of digital backs of 35mm film SLRs. Kodak did it as early as 1991 when they hacked a Nikon F3 and replaced the film back with a 1.3 megapixel digital back and hooked it to a digital storage system. It sold for £15,000 back then. Digital has overcome the film world since. People have toyed with the idea of replacing the 35mm film backs at different points in time but none too successfully. Further, the phenomenal fall in the prices of DSLRs has ensured that any such exercise will never be taken up for the masses.

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