RSS Twitter YouTube

Viewfinders

To the photographer, the viewfinder is the most visible part of a camera. Yet photographers barely want to notice it. What they are interested in is what they see through the viewfinder: their subject and sometimes a few unobtrusive indicators of the camera's status. Surprisingly, the viewfinder is one of the most controversial parts a modern camera. With the advent of digital cameras, the controversy has escalated.

To each their own

Practically all digital cameras sport an LCD (Liquid Crystal Display). For non-SLR digital cameras, it can be used to preview pictures taken and therefore serves the same purpose as a viewfinder. For several modern digital cameras, the LCD has become their only viewfinder. A growing number of digital cameras, particularly long-zoom and wide-angle cameras, use an EVF (Electronic Viewfinder) in addition to the camera's rear LCD. These miniature LCDs are the only eye level viewfinder alternatives for long zoom cameras. Just like their film counter-part, point and shoot digital cameras can have an optical-tunnel viewfinder. An optical tunnel viewfinder is a small tunnel going through the camera with a miniature lens which is fixed above or next to the camera's photographic lens. Finally, DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras use optical viewfinders which see through the lens using a pentaprism or porro finder just like their film SLR counterparts.

Viewfinder

What you see is mostly what you get

The percentage of a picture that is seen through a viewfinder is called coverage. The closer the coverage is to 100% the better.

Just like a viewfinder, an LCD shows the subject being photographed. In fact, it shows what will make it into the final picture extremely well. LCDs get their information directly from the camera's sensor. As such, LCDs can easily have 100% coverage. With respect to coverage, EVFs behave exactly like LCDs, 100% coverage is easily obtainable.

Contrarily to LCDs, optical tunnel viewfinders show a different picture than the one that will be taken. This is due to the fact that an optical tunnel looks through a different lens than the one used to take the picture. The closer the subject is to the camera, the greater the difference between what is seen and what will be pictured. This is called parallax error. Even at a distance, the coverage of an optical tunnel varies between 60% and 85%, which is far from ideal.

DSLR camera viewfinders look through the photographic lens and therefore show part of what will be pictured with no parallax errors. Due to manufacturing constraints however, most DSLR viewfinders don't show the entire picture. Typical coverage of DSLR viewfinders is between 92%-95%.

Stay focused

An LCD is a small display made up of a limited number of pixels; much less than the number of pixels that will be captured in a digital picture. This implies that even though LCDs can be quite large compared to a viewfinder, the amount of details they can show is limited. Of course, some LCDs are better than others. At 86,000 pixels, an LCD is very coarse, at 235,000 pixels it is much better, but this is still very far from what a camera's CCD can capture. This is where an LCD starts to fail the photographer, it cannot show the precise details that will be captured and more importantly it cannot show focus precisely.

Just like LCDs, EVFs can't show very fine details. On most prosumer cameras however, EVFs have much higher resolution than LCDs. This makes the problem less pronounced. Fuji, Kodak, Konica-Minolta, Nikon and Olympus each have several cameras with 220,000 to 311,000 pixels EVFs. The EVF champion however is the Konica-Minolta A2 at 922,000 pixels. This is equivalent to having a 0.44" TV right in front of your eye!

Optical tunnels do show details. They show all the details which our eyes can see. The only problem is that they don't show the details through the photographic lens. This means that what you see through an optical tunnel is not affected by changes to a camera's lens (except for zoom, which is simulated and causes parallax errors). In other words, you can't see the effect of focusing at all. Some optical tunnels even show everything blurry!

For visualizing focus, SLR cameras are the champions. They allow our eye to see through the photographic lens and pick up every slight change in focus. It turns out most SLR cameras default to keeping the aperture wide open until after the shutter is fully pressed. A larger aperture actually has a shallower depth of field (DOF) and therefore exaggerates the blurring outside the plane of focus. To see accurately what will be in focus, one must use the DOF-Preview function present on most modern DSLR and even some prosumer digital cameras.

Neocamera Blog is a medium for expressing ideas related to digital cameras and photography. Read about digital cameras in the context of technology, media, art and the world. Latest posts links:

Camera Bag

Clear

Your camera bag is empty. To add a camera or lens click on the star next to its name.

Your camera bag is empty.

Add cameras or lenses by clicking on the star next to their name.

Updates

    2018.02.09

  • 2018.02.09

    The Best DSLR & Mirrorless Camera For Every Price

    The Best DSLR & Mirrorless Camera For Every Price

    Neocamera shows which interchangeable lens cameras offer the very best image quality for their price. From $396 to $6500, find out which DSLR and Mirrorless cameras deliver the top image-quality.

  • 2018.02.06

  • 2018.02.06

    The Best Compact Camera For Every Price

    The Best Compact Camera For Every Price

    Neocamera shows which compact digital cameras offer the very best image quality for their price. From $0 to $3300, find out which compact camera has the top image quality in its class.

  • 2018.01.15

  • 2018.01.15

    Nikon D850 Review

    Nikon D850 Review

    Nikon Full-Frame flagship DSLR. 46 Megapixels, ISO 32-102400, 7+ FPS 153-Point AF system and 4K Ultra-HD Video. Professional weatherproof DSLR with dual control-dials and a extra-large 0.75X magnification OVF with 100% coverage and a built-in shutter. Illuminated controls, 3.2" LCD, WiFi and Bluetooth.

  • 2018.01.11

  • 2018.01.11

    Lens Features for B&W Street Photography

    Lens Features for B&W Street Photography

    Important lens features for B&W street photographers.

  • 2017.12.19

  • 2017.12.19

    Key Tips On How To Take Amazing Model Shots For Publication

    Key Tips On How To Take Amazing Model Shots For Publication

    Essential tips for starting portrait photographers to make professional model shots.

  • 2017.12.18

  • 2017.12.18

    Nikon D7500 Review

    Nikon D7500 Review

    In-depth review of the Nikon D7500 professional-grade APS-C DSLR with ISO 50-1638400 range, 8 FPS and 4K Ultra-HD video. Dual control-dials in a weatherproof body. Large 0.94X magnification OVF with Eye-Start Sensor. WiFi and Bluetooth.

  • 2017.12.07

  • 2017.12.07

    Think Tank Photo Spectral 10 Review

    Think Tank Photo Spectral 10 Review

    Review of the Think Thank Photo Spectral 10 photography shoulder bag.

  • 2017.11.29

  • 2017.11.29

    Fujifilm X-T20 Review

    Fujifilm X-T20 Review

    Highly compact mirrorless built around a 24 MP X-Trans CMOS III APS-C sensor and X-Processor Pro capable of 14 FPS drive and 4K Ultlra-HD video. Features dual control-dials and a 2.4 MP 0.39" EVF with 0.62X magnification and an Eye-Start Sensor.

  • 2017.11.23

  • 2017.11.23

    Digital Camera Viewfinder Comparison

    Digital Camera Viewfinder Comparison

    Global comparison of viewfinders from all digital cameras. Optical viewfinders (OVF) and electronic viewfinders (EVF) all in one easy to compare table.

  • 2017.11.10

  • 2017.11.10

    Best Digital Cameras of 2017

    Best Digital Cameras of 2017

    The Best Cameras of 2017 awarded by Neocamera: Best Travel-Zoom, Best Premium Compact, Best Ultra-Zoom, Best Mirrorless (Beginner, Advanced and Professional) and Best DSLR (Entry, Enthusiast and Professional), now including budget choices.