While the design of the Fujifilm X-T1 and Nikon Df hark back to an age when 35mm film was king and SLRs had few knobs and dials, do these digital models fulfil the desire of many photographers to return to that time?

One of the key differences between the Nikon Df and the Fujifilm X-T1 is their respective optical and electronic viewfinders. Both viewfinders offer 100% coverage, with the Df having a 0.7x magnification and the X-T1 0.77x magnification. In use, both viewfinders seem similar in size. At 2.36 million dots, the OLED electronic viewfinder of the X-T1 matches the resolution of other high-end EVFs. However, the larger magnification makes a real difference, with the view appearing as large as it does in the optical viewfinder of the Df.

There are obviously times when using an optical viewfinder is preferred. For example, when photographing fast-moving subjects, the refresh rate and fractional lag of an EVF can make a difference compared to using an optical unit. That said, the 56fps refresh rate of the EVF and 0.005sec shutter lag are impressive in the X-T1, and although the image presented still doesn’t quite look like an optical image, it does have its advantages.

The most obvious advantage of an EVF is being able to preview how your image will look even before taking it. The EVF of the X-T1 has a better dynamic range than the rear screen, so colour and contrast are improved. This means you can adjust exposure and colour settings, and see something close to what the final image will look like.

The size of the EVF in the X-T1 also offers some interesting new features. The best of these is the dual view mode. This shows the scene on the left-hand side of the EVF, and on the right is a 100% enlargement to make it easy to manually focus. The enlarged section can also be used with focus peaking or Fuji’s unique split-image focusing.

To test how easy it is to manually focus with each camera, I took a series of 10 images of the same subject. After manually focusing and taking an image, I set the lens to its minimum focus distance and focused on my subject again. Of the two cameras, I found that the Df was quicker for me to manually focus. It was easy to get the lens roughly in focus, and then tweak the focus using the AF indicator at the bottom of the viewfinder as a guide.

Although the X-T1 was slightly slower when I was manually focusing, I found that the split-image focusing, focus peaking and the 100% magnification meant that I was able to focus more accurately. Of the 10 images I took, nine were pin-sharp and I had just missed my point of focus in one image. Manually focusing on the Df, I found that seven of the images were pin-sharp, and I had just missed in three.

At some point in a future issue, I plan to conduct a larger test and comparison of viewfinder technology to what it means to photographers. Yet, from my simple test here, I would conclude that manual focusing with the EVF of the X-T1 has an advantage over using the optical unit on the Df.

As to which of the two viewfinders is more akin to using a film SLR, you would naturally say that it is the optical unit on the Nikon Df. However, the split-image focusing of the Fujifilm X-T1 is like using split-prism focusing on a SLR, so the decision isn’t as clear cut as you would expect. How photographers use their cameras is the biggest factor in deciding whether they should opt for an electronic or optical viewfinder.

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