One of the innovative accessories that Olympus came out with that proves the company is serious about sports and wildlife photography is the EE-1 Red Dot Sight. Skilled photographers, particularly those using DSLRs, would see little benefit from it, and for non-telephoto work such a device is not needed. But for many others and particularly those shooting mirrorless at telephoto ranges, it it is an interesting piece of gear specifically designed to aid in continuous burst telephoto shooting a far away and/or moving target. The way it works is it projects a laser hologram target reticle on a plane of glass. Calibration dials allow the user to align the hologram to the center focus point of the camera. Once aligned, the user can look through the red dot sight with both eyes open to acquire the target and continue to track it while shooting. This eliminates the difficulty of looking through a narrow field of view telephoto lens to try to find a target, and keep it in frame as it moves. Locking, tracking and panning with an erratically or quickly moving target can be difficult when the view is limited through a narrow telephoto lens, and any movement on the photographer’s part or the target’s can lose it. The problem is further compounded with mirrorless cameras that utilize an EVF, which is subject to mirror blackout when using high speed continuous burst shooting and normal EVF refresh rate settings. As long as the sight was aligned properly beforehand and the target is kept centered on the red dot sight, the target will simultaneously be on the camera’s center focus point as well, more or less. I use it for shooting birds and flying insects. The Red Dot Sight can also serve as a sort of EVF for cameras that don’t have one, although I would by far recommend an accessory EVF such as the VF-4 instead.
The sight is well-made plastic with a closable housing and is weather resistant, but I wouldn’t call it durable. From its closed position, a switch on the back pops up the top half of the sight, unfolding the glass panel and opening the housing. I would think that if it fell hard, it would break in any number of areas; the glass, the pop-up legs that support the housing, not to mention the laser itself. A On-Off switch on the left side is also a knob to adjust the brightness of the target reticle. The only other controls are two dials on the rear lower corners, used for calibrating the sight. The housing mounts on the hot shoe by screwing tightly into place, but there are no electrical contacts, so the device can actually be used on any camera. The underside houses a small battery, and the device comes in a simple felt pouch with a velcro closure and a small velcro loop.
The most impressive aspect of the sight is that the hologram corrects for parallax error. This means that regardless of where you move your head, the holographic reticle will follow so that it stays superimposed over the target. It will do this from one side of the sight plane to the other, if need be. I don’t understand how it works, but it has something to do with it being a hologram projected on a plane of glass. Its a very important feature, because there is no eyepiece or front sight element with which to line up the shot. As it is impossible for the shooter to always have consistent form in holding the camera and the angle the sight is being looked through, with this parallax correction feature it won’t matter so much. Any inconsistent head position relative to the center axis down the sight is accounted for by the hologram. I wouldn’t say it is entirely foolproof, but it does mitigate an issue that would otherwise have rendered the device unusable, and is also probably one of the larger contributing factors to the device’s price tag.
Unfortunately, the EE-1 comes with woefully inadequate instructions, and it is not readily intuitive how to accurately use a dot sight. So, I will provide in-depth instructions here. I hope I am describing the rather esoteric underlying concepts in a clear and understandable way, but if I am not, just following the instructions on aligning the sight and how to hold the sight when using it should be enough to get by.
Aligning the Sight:
The red dot sight needs to be aligned any time it is put on the camera. Even though the sight’s mounting screw tightens into place on the hotshoe, it doesn’t always seat exactly the same way, and for the shooting distances it will most likely be used at, tolerances for error is nil and a little adjustment will invariably be needed. While doing the sighting, I also recommend using a tripod or other stable platform to keep the camera still.
The actual process of sighting is easy. Using the viewfinder or LCD screen, focus the camera on a stationary object downrange. Turn on the sight and use the up-down and left-right knobs to move the hologram until it is exactly centered on the same spot as the center focus point in the viewfinder. The only real question is, from how far away should the target be? In my experiments and research, I went back and forth about this. At first I thought changing focal length would change the alignment. It doesn’t, though it may seem like it. What does actually matter is the distances being shot at. The problem is the slight offset of angles from what the lens sees and what the red dot sight sees. The red dot sight sits on the hot shoe a couple of inches higher than the lens, and its angle of view to a set target is not parallel with the lens’ angle of view. The two will eventually intersect with each other. My rather crude diagram (I apologize for the low quality) below illustrates the point, albeit at exaggerated angles.
The left side of the triangle is the camera (the height represents the couple of inches from the lens to the red dot sight). The top line sloping down to the right (the hypotenuse of the triangle) is the angle of view of the red dot sight. The bottom line (the base of the triangle) is the angle of view of the camera lens. The circled point on the right labeled “Target” is where the two lines intersect, which is where the target distance and the distance the sight was calibrated for would be perfectly aligned. If the target was theoretically closer in, it would be to the left of the intersect point. If it were further away, it would be to the right.
So, the long dashed line in the middle represents the offset between the lens and the red dot sight if the target is closer than the distance it was sighted at. If you imagine that the target was located there, the red dot would either be aligned with or higher than the center focus point of the lens, but only by a few inches at most. The reason why the offset would only be a few inches at the most is because that is the distance from the lens to the red dot sight (the left-hand “leg” of the triangle). So, if the target shot was at point blank range (i.e., that target was really far to the left of the triangle diagram), the red dot sight would appear a couple of inches too high over the target as the camera sees it, and you would shoot too high. The offset will be less the closer the target is to the intersect point, and for most of the range, the offset will be too small to matter.
Conversely, the dotted line on the right represents what would happen if the target was further away than the distance for which the red dot sight was aligned. In that case, the red dot reticle would appear either aligned with or below the center focus point of the lens, and you would shoot too low. The amount of offset will be greater the further away the target is. Geometrically, this offset could potentially be infinite, but in all practicality that isn’t the case, since there is a limit to how far a lens can shoot at a given focal length.
What this is meant to show is that the best sighting method is to pick a target somewhere in the middle or further away from the distances you intend to shoot at.
If you have a good idea of a consistent distance (a relatively tight range) from which you will be shooting at, I would suggest aligning the red dot sight for a distance in the middle of that range. This would give you the least amount of offset (above or below). The further distances involved, the less severe the offset will be. You can envision that by mentally stretching the triangle diagram out a lot wider, and imagining how that would reduce the angles. What that means in real terms is that you will have a wider range from which to shoot where the offset will be too small to notice. If you are shooting bird photography where the birds are staying a good distance away, I think this is a decent approach. If you can’t tell a middle range to calibrate your sight, err on the side of picking a far one. The difference will be negligible.
If the range from which you will be shooting could potentially be more wildly varied and less predictable, however, choose a target on the far end of that range for which to align your sight, so that at most the offset will only be by a few inches. This is also good if you are sighting for much closer ranges, such as to photograph flying insects. Imagine shortening the triangle diagram instead of widening it, and you can see how the margin for error becomes much smaller. For that reason, you would want to pre-calibrate the red dot sight to the maximum distance you expect to shoot at in order to limit the offset to just the few inches between the lens and the sight. As long as the target was closer than the distance for which you originally calibrated the red dot sight, shooting a few inches too high is the worst that will happen. Remember that if the target is instead farther away, however, the offset can potentially be even greater (mathematically unlimited). Nevertheless, you don’t want to just calibrate the sight for some huge distance and just leave it there. While it is true that the sight would only be off by a few inches from any target at closer ranges, when you are shooting insects, an offset of a few inches could cause you to miss entirely.
Using the Sight:
It took me a while to get used to the sight and come up with a form that I was comfortable with. That said, I admittedly don’t use the sight that often. I’ve been doing bird photography enough that I am used to locating and locking onto birds without it. However, as I have been using the Canon 7D Mk II, which 1) does not suffer from EVF blackout, and 2) is attached to a 100-400 zoom lens that I can open wide to scan and zoom in to lock on. With the E-M1 and 300mm Pro prime lens, the EE-1 suddenly becomes a lot more attractive.
I would recommend using a large set of AF points, to increase the odds that the camera will lock onto the target. When a target is spotted, bring the camera up without taking your eyes away from it. You don’t need to have your eye right up to the sight, and you can use the red dot sight with both eyes open. I recommend using something that will stabilize your form, because you are holding the camera away from your face in a much less stable way than normal camera positioning. A tripod or monopod are good, but hand held with a shoulder strap also works. By pushing out with my arms, the strap creates tension that serves to stabilize the camera. The stabilization is not so much for the image (because of IBIS), but for tracking the target while it is moving. Keeping the red dot sight over the target when you are shaking can be tricky.
Don’t worry too much about having perfectly consistent hand-eye form when you use the red dot sight (looking straight down the middle of the sight to the target). The sight’s parallax correction should adjust that axis so that you are still more or less in line. If you are accidentally holding the camera at too much of an off-kilter angle, you will know because you won’t be able to see the red dot reticle well, if at all. That said, try to be as consistent as possible, because I do believe there are limits to the effectiveness of the parallax correction I mentioned earlier. When researching the use of these sights I came across debates in the firearms world about the efficacy of parallax correction. My own experience with the photography version is that shooting pictures won’t usually require the precision of shooting a bullet, but that there are still times that for whatever reason, my aim with the sight was off. It’s hard to isolate the exact cause, because there are so many variables involved, but limitations to parallax correction may be one of them. Of course, user error could very well have been the culprit.
Parallax error from head movement is different than the offset from the intersecting perspectives of the lens and the red dot sight. While I already suggested you shouldn’t have to worry about the first, I think it still can be helpful to keep the second in mind. If you are aware of whether you are shooting closer than or further away from the distance for which you aligned the sight, and by relatively how much, you can (theoretically) make a mental judgement of how much the red dot reticle may be above or below the actual focus point, and adjust slightly. With experience, you could mentally judge the distance, estimate the amount of offset, and make a slight aim correction. One technique that might help is to use the top and bottom of the circular part of the reticle as markers for adjusting to the changing distances. I am by no means practiced enough with the sight to be able to make on-the-fly mental corrections to my aim, but I don’t see why, with experience, one couldn’t achieve such a level of skill.
If tracking a target with the sight just isn’t working for you (perhaps the distances are so great that the target reticle completely obscures the target), you can take a hybrid approach. Find the target with the red dot sight, then switch to the viewfinder. I would think this would work best with a tripod, simply because the act of moving your eye from the red dot sight to the viewfinder could more easily throw off your aim and cause you to lose the target. However, I have seen images from DC Watch of the EE-1 Red Dot Sight mounted on the side of the camera as opposed to the top. Its an intriguing arrangement that I would like to try, as it might make the act of moving the eye from the sight to the viewfinder less disruptive, and leaves the hotshot available for something else (a flash or shotgun mic, for example). However, I suspect the side mount arrangement might get in the way of the lens buttons.
You can zoom in and out with your lens without affecting sight alignment. In theory, you can even change lenses without impacting alignment, but note that if you are dramatically changing the distances you are shooting at in the process, this will throw off the alignment.