A Nameless EVIL

May 13, 2010

The introduction of Sony’s NEX-3 and NEX-5 has once again thrown a weird anomaly into sharp relief.

Even 20 Months after the introduction of the Panasonic G1, there is still no universally-agreed-upon term for this new class of cameras.

The defining aspects of the genre are a largish sensor size (as compared to typical compacts) plus interchangeable lenses. Yet by omitting any reflex viewfinder, and instead streaming a live digital image from the sensor, the body size can be reduced from the bulk of conventional DSLRs.


Name that Evil

Now, the most widely-known term (and the one I use) is “EVIL,”  meaning “electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lens.”

A few pedants object that the Olympus E-P1 does not have a “viewfinder” in the sense of something you hold up to your eyeball (nor do the Sony NEX models, so far). But you can slightly revise the phrase to be “electronic viewing” instead, if this bothers you.

Of course EVIL originally was just someone’s little joke—but one that caught on and went viral. (Mike Johnston at the Online Photographer puckishly coined “DEVIL” the other day, adding a D for digital.)

But most industry insiders consider EVIL undignified, if not outright repellent. So there’s been quite a lot of scrambling to come up with alternatives.

Imaging Resource (who I otherwise greatly respect) quixotically stands alone in using “SLD,” meaning “single lens direct-view.” That should probably be SLDV instead—although admittedly TLA’s (three letter acronyms) do seem to have an edge in becoming widely accepted.

Unfortunately the terminology “single lens” does not really clarify anything these days. “Multi-lensed” viewing systems (e.g. twin-lens reflexes or separate viewfinder optics) basically have disappeared from today’s marketplace. The distinction being made back in the 1950s with the term “SLR” is unnecessary today.

DP Review has tended to go with “mirrorless interchangeable lens camera,” or “interchangeable lens compact,” i.e. MILC and ILC.

Using the term “mirrorless” frankly bothers me. There’s little reason to doubt that electronic viewfinders will continue to improve; so eventually the term “mirrorless camera” may sound as silly as “horseless carriage.”  Also, including C for camera in the acronym seems like a recipe for redundancy. People will naturally be making comparisons between DSLR and MILC cameras, etc.

A problem with “ILC” is that among Panasonic’s entries, only the GF1 is especially compact. (Likewise if we consider the M in MILC to mean “mini” or “micro.”)

Now, I’m sure the camera marketeers of the world yank out their hair in fistfuls every time someone says “EVIL.” The Micro-Four Thirds consortium could have saved themselves a lot of grief by cooking up a more positive-sounding name for the category right from the get-go. (Instead, they blathered about “digital interchangeable-lens type cameras.” Riiight.)

Some have tried to push the name “system camera.”  That is both inaccurate (DSLR accessory systems are far more extensive) and completely forgettable. Meanwhile Samsung refers its NX10 as a “hybrid” camera, which is equally vague. Presumably it means hybridizing DSLRs and compact cameras. “Crossover” would have been just as unhelpful.

Realistically, EVIL is the term everyone recognizes today. The alternatives are too fragmented and unfamiliar; none have gained much ground. No one on camera discussion boards is talking about MILCs. Camera manufacturers might hate “EVIL,” but that’s not our fault.

An example from cosmology might be relevant here. The term “Big Bang” was actually coined by Fred Hoyle for a 1949 popular radio broadcast; it was a slightly mocking term, as Hoyle actually believed in a competing theory. Yet the term stuck; and eventually everyone just forgot about its original slightly negative connotations. A 1993 contest by Sky & Telescope magazine actually declared defeat in choosing a better replacement.

EVIL is accurate, catchy, and short.

I predict it’s here to stay.

5 Responses to “A Nameless EVIL”

  1. Huggs Says:

    How about “compact interchangeable lens camera”(C.I.L.C.)? Pronounced, “silk.” I think we have have a winner!

  2. Katrin Grunawalt Says:

    How about Lenses Interchangeable, Viewing Electronic (LIVE)? The nice thing about this is that we can rename DSLR’s (which have electronic viewing) by adding Reflex to the end. 🙂

    • petavoxel Says:

      But that word-order sounds so, so… French!

      Olympus should’ve thought of LIVE themselves for the E-Pen launch, after promoting LCD “live view” as a selling point of their 4/3 DLSRs. (They were first to market with that feature. I mean, they had a LIVER first.)

  3. robert e Says:

    My personal favorite acronym was ELVIS (electronic live view interchangeable system), but it left the building long ago.

    But, from my point of view anyway, the strategy used for composing is really incidentally important, more a means to an end (a necessary evil, if you will), the “end” being large sensors in small(ish) cameras.

    OK, interchangeable lenses are exciting to those who use or want to use multiple lenses, but it’s also nothing new, and anyway by itself does not necessarily make or break the deal for me (and others), even if I do own too many lenses. It’s remarkable only in the context of size.

    That some cameras rely on live video for framing (“video” being a perfectly good existing term for a video feed, and more pithy than “electronic whatever”) will become less and less significant.

    I don’t know what will take its place, but I hope “EVIL” will go away just because it’s got nothing to do with the really good part of all this, the important thing: large sensors in small cameras.

  4. Diceman Says:

    A necessary EVIL, note that the Wikipedia thought police have gone exclusively with MILC (pronounced “milk”?).

    I’d much rather be talking about an evil camera than a milk camera. I wonder if people would correct me (like when I say “line-ux”) if I said “mil-see”.

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