That’s No Way to Treat a Perfectly Good Viewfinder!


Living in a tourist town like San Francisco, I have frequent opportunities to observe how people use their cameras. Inevitably, these lead to “Why, oh why?” moments in which advanced technology collides with general cluelessness.

I’ll save gripes like inappropriate flash use and bazooka lenses for landscape shots for another day, because lately I’ve been noticing another type of foolishness: People with advanced cameras completely ignoring one of the hallmark advantages of an advanced camera, the ability to compose with a viewfinder.

I’m talking sunny day, outdoors and people still striking the arms-out Frankenstein position to compose with the LCD screen. C’mon — it’s bad enough that viewfinders essentially disappeared from the compact camera market due to consumer indifference. Now we’re going to let them wither away from neglect on the prosumer-and-up side?




OK, so some of the advantages of using the viewfinder, such as the inherent improvement in stability, might not be immediately apparent to a casual shooter. But I’m seeing tourist after tourist relying completely on their SLR’s viewscreen under conditions where that obviously makes it harder to see what they’re doing.

Obama doing it right with a Canon 5D Mark II

Obama doing it right with a Canon 5D Mark II

I truly don’t get it. Has the average consumer so completely habituated to smartphone photography that having the camera wobble a few feet from the face is part of their mental definition of photography? Is it just too much trouble to take off those designer sunglasses? Are these actually Rule of Thirds snobs who can’t abide the slightest cropping of their field of view? Or am I yet another kind of oddball with my average 10:1 ratio for viewfinder composing vs. LCD screen?

Image credits: Scenes From The MOMA: sometaithurts by LarimdaME, bonnie’s blurry by peteSwede, Live View by Dennis Vu Photography for Unleashed Media, Live-view Stare by Manny Valdes, Obama using a 5D Mark II by Pete Souza

  • Anonymoused

    If you look through the viewfinder, without chimping, it’ll tell you at least when your set metering is decent; it’s not perfect, but if you try to aim for the middle on the exposure you’ll almost never be disappointed.

  • Anonymoused

    Because sorry, with a swivel screen like the one on the D5100/D5200, if I can avoid lying in mud or awkward, uncomfortable camera-sutra positions (not to mention dangerous ones like lying in the middle of the street) then I’m going to switch to live view, swivel, and compose. :s

  • Anonymoused

    I was at Disneyland last summer for the first time in my two decades+ of life, and it was nearly ruined by these people.
    I’m a fairly short person, and was in the back of a crowd for a show; somehow morons think it’s acceptable to use iPads to take pictures/record video and 90% of the time, my view was blocked by two of these morons’ iPads.

  • Anonymoused

    Actually, they would have been overexposed, since her max shutter speed would have been 1/250.

  • Gettin’Old

    Some of us old farts wear glasses which are multifocal. Ever tried peering through a tiny view finder wearing them? Not easy! The LCD screen is actually a great tool for perfecting the shot. I only started using the screen in the past year or so, once I got the multipainfuls. Prior to that I used the viewfinder as if it were my old film camera. Those consumers who grew up with technology instead of the old film cameras wouldn’t have a clue how to use the view finder.

  • Spongebob Nopants

    They ALWAYS have a lot of content every day and have no need for these shoddy and almost entirely content free articles.

  • Stewart Doyle

    Really? Mine lets me oooohhhhh d’oh, I tend to have mine on manual constantly. Durr.

  • Avaviel

    I use my LCD liveview for focus adjustment with my manual lens. For framing, viewfinder all the way.

  • gerlos

    Most Magic Lantern functions that require Live View (I’m thinking of zebras, focus assist, …) are also most useful when shooting video than photos, while you will be stuck in live anyway.

    Anyway, there’s at lease one good reason to use live view instead of normal viewfinder: you want to experiment with white balance, and preview the the colors you’ll get (and don’t want to tinker with RAW files).

  • gerlos

    I always have fun on people asking them “take us a shot please!”, and them giving them my DSLR with the display turned off. ;-)
    Kudos to people that look directly in the viewfinder, ignoring the screen!

  • Mike

    I would highly recommend an EVF, it has everything that the LCD has, apart from size I guess – and is much easier & quicker to compose right up to your eye (IMO), acting more like an extension of your eye. Sony user :)

  • Anonymoused

    You said hers was on auto. Therefore, max shutter speed with flash would have been 1/250.

    And it doesn’t refer to what shutter speed you choose, it refers to the sync speed.. you COULD shoot with flash at 1/1000, but because of the mechanics of the shutter you’d get only part of the frame exposed with flash (and the rest without).

  • Marcus Sudjojo

    I teach a photography class (nothing fancy, just basic stuffs), and I always stress this issue (about using viewfinders).

    Unless for special occasions (like shooting very high or low angles, eyesight deficiency, etc), don’t use the live view of the camera.

    Some reasons:
    – Save battery power, by not using live-view, further more turning off the LCD, and using it only for previews of the picture taken. This can save considerable battery power. You can view some parameters, like aperture, ISO, shutter speed, light meter, battery power, etc, in the small LCD inside the viewfinder. That’s all we need to know in real time when shooting.
    – Back to the basics. We are blessed with technology advancement of live-views of DSLRs. But what happen when someone asked you (as a photographer) to take a picture using their (old) camera, which have viewfinder but no live-view? Will you froze up?
    – The lights that enter the camera via the viewfinder can actually throw off the metering system, giving inaccurate reading. You can test this by pointing a flashlight into the viewfinder, and see the light meter goes up. When using the viewfinder, we’re blocking the viewfinder of any stray lights.

  • GarageBoy

    So what about Large Format shooters?