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DSLR Camera Buying Guide: Optical Viewfinders

One thing that I noticed many guys got sorta wrong is with the optical viewfinders. It is true that lower end DSLR use pentamirrors to reflect the light that is coming through the lens and hitting the main mirror in front of the shutter so that it can be directed upwards, once the light is up there the pentamirror reflects it in a way so that everything is right side up and also from left to right. Pentamirrors provide a relatively poor view though the viewinder that is less sharp and a good bit more dim in comparison to pentaprisms. Pentaprisms do the same job as pentamirrors do, except they do the job far better. Instead of mirrors reflecting the light around between themselves to give you your accurately oriented view they use a prism that must be cut and polished properly to reflect the light. Its a good bit more expensive and labor intensive in comparison to pentamirrors. If the camera is intended to be higher end than the most basic and low end DSLR, it must use a pentaprism in its viewfinder. All my DSLR that I’ve bought over the year are higher quality models. The first DSLR that I ever bought was the Canon EOS-10D which I bought at the time before the rebel line even existed. As it isn’t a “budget” DSLR it uses a pentaprism. All my subsequent DSLR from that point on have been very high end models and they all use pentaprisms.

So the lineup of DSLR that I’ve purchased over the years now looks like this, and of course they have pentaprisms.

Spring 2003 – EOS-10D
Spring 2004 – EOS-1D Mark II
Winter 2009 – EOS-5D Mark II
Summer 2010 – EOS-1D Mark IV

If you have ever used anything higher end than the rebel line or a different companies equivalent low end line of DSLR its impossible to go back to them. Companies make low end cameras intentionally crippled in various ways such as the ergonomics including the location, shape, design, and function of the controls, just to force you into never being able to settle for something less than you are used to. Its amazing how much more comfortable and easier (assuming you know how to change things like ISO, shutter speed, and aperture to get the shot you want) it is to use the EOS-1D line of cameras just because of their superior ergonomics. The 8.5 to 10 fps that my 1D models are capable of, their very fast and accurate autofocus, and their more accurate and faster working metering systems, don’t hurt as well.

I’m actually very sad to see Canon abandoning the APS-H sized sensors and their 1.3x crop factor. As someone who has shot a lot of sports and wildlife, I really loved the compromise between the very restrictive 1.6x crop, and the little bit extra reach over a full 35mm sensor. The 1D Mark IV is so damn awesome that I know I’ll be using the thing for years to come so I’m sorta set with that for the time being.

Its also pretty damn crazy what lenses cost these days. I bet I could sell my nearly flawless condition EF 500mm f/4.0L IS USM for over or very close to the $5,500 that it cost me back in the day brand new from B&H with the Mark II version of it commanding an insane $10,400 at amazon and even B&H.

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