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

  • Tommy Sar

    The average consumer can’t even be bothered to peel off the “12 MEGAPIXELS 4X ZOOM” sticker off their camera. Expecting them to use a viewfinder is a bit much.

  • thegeenster

    Obama doing it right… except he’s not holding the lens.

  • Travis

    Hey, the guy with the Cybershot has an excuse, tunnel viewfinders are tiny!

  • Obvious

    I suppose that since I can’t focus for beans with the viewfinder and can rely on live-view to nail the focus doesn’t count for anything.

    On the other hand, when I use the tilt on my tilt-shift lens, the focus is ALWAYS easier to accomplish with the viewfinder. I don’t know why I would ever use my live view.

  • art

    The fourth pic, the one above Obama’s is someone shooting video. You can’t use the viewfinder for that…

    Using liveview + manual focus also helps a lot when you’re trying to get critical focus on something and have the time for it.

    There are uses for both.

  • fahrertuer

    When shooting without a tripod, especially in bright situations, I usually prefer the viewfinder.
    But when I’m on a tripod I usually prefer liveview. Framing the shot and focussing is a lot easier when you can tilt and rotate the screen so that you can easily view it instead of having to distort you body into a form making yoga masters proud

  • Tommy Sar

    Listen, you must be new here. All PetaPixel comments are to be sarcastically cynical and as negative as the dark rooms of abandoned Kodakchrome developers.

    Your level-headed and fair voice of reason just doesn’t fit in this group of trolls.

  • davidonformosa

    Many people have been shooting with digital compact cameras for over a decade now. Composing via the LCD screen is the default mode for almost all of these cameras. Where they do have an optical or electronic viewfinder it is is usually of poor quality and therefore rarely used. When these people trade up to DSLR cameras they continue to have the same shooting style. It might simply be habit or more likely because they don’t really understand how a DSLR camera works. I don’t think Canon or Nikon could care less about how people use the camera as long as they keep buying new ones.

  • benorchard

    Most functions of Magic Lantern require live view. Its the one and only downside to ML….. So using ML makes me look like one of them to you? Hmmm…….

  • ripley

    One time, my friend’s younger sister (she was about 10 at the time) grabbed my Holga, held it up, looked confused and said “where is the screen?”.

    Most adults who borrow my DSLR ask me the same question.

  • Dandy Dan

    I always use live view when shooting close-up images. It is too difficult to track a moving insect when shooting at greater than 1:1 macro. Must keep one eye on the screen and one eye looking over the lens.

  • Albert

    I prefer to LCD monitor to shoot because WYSIWYG. You can get the right exposure 1st time. There’s no need to use optical viewfinder, check the result, change the setting then re-shoot again. dSLR ergo unfortunately is not designed for this.

  • Eugene Chok

    maybe they all understand parallax distortion when not using SLRs?

  • Jerry

    It’s a prime lens.

  • Paul Ferzoco

    I thought the LCD screen was for keeping busy in the waiting room of your doctor. People actually use it for composing? Interesting.

  • Spongebob Nopants

    “Are these actually Rule of Thirds snobs who can’t abide the slightest cropping of their field of view? ”

    You just answered your own question Proffessor. I shelled out over 2k for my 5d mk II and the viewfinder doesn’t show the proper field of view.

    You just reminded me what an idiot I’ve been using the inaccurate viewfinder all this time. I’ll be using the lcd from now on.

    Aside from actually being able to see the real field of view, it is easier to see if the camera is rotated properly.
    Ever since I moved back to using a viewfinder for battery considerations I’ve found it’s quite difficult to keep the camera properly level. I also find that the center is always off from where I think it is. All the time I half press the shutter button and the focus point is way off from where I thought it was. These annoyances NEVER happened with lcd screens.

  • Spongebob Nopants

    And not for nothing but what’s up with the string of noticably sub par articles lately?
    They’ve all SEEMED interesting enough to click on but just aren’t worth the time to read.
    You guys either need to change how you judge the acceptability of articles or just aggregate from other sources. The editorial decision process regarding these articles is just not working out.

  • 9inchnail

    But holding the lens gives you a more steady grip and reduces camera shake.

  • 9inchnail

    That’s not true, for every sarcastic comment there are at least 2 comments that didn’t get the sarcasm and try to reason with the author of that comment.

  • 9inchnail

    Why do you need your LCD screen to keep busy in the waiting room? Just read the late 70s magazines they provide.

  • 9inchnail

    Well, as a rule of thumb, you need to publish new content on your blog EVERY day or it dies. People will move on.

    So if nothing interesting happens in the world of photography, what are you going to publish to fill the void? Articles like this.

  • nameless

    Viewfinder with prism was invented to make framing easy(even possible) with a single lens arrangement. People tend to forget this – it’s a framing aid. Plus a focus aid. But it is not exclusive, at least currently. Liveview was not possible at the time of its invention. If there are other ways to do it, then let them decide which suits them best.

  • InJest

    Photographers are the first people to complain that new technology is ruining photography, and the first to run out and buy it, and the last to admit they were wrong when they eventually swear by said new technology. Pentaprisms are awesome, but, getting live exposure and clipping on your lcd is pretty useful if you are toying with exposure of shadows/highlights e.t.c. when someone sees a good photo, the last thing they think about is if the photographer used the viewfinder or not, we are usually too busy trying to figure out what camera they used, cause that’s the most important thing!


  • Genkakuzai

    Honestly can’t remember the last time I even used live view on my camera, a couple of years perhaps?

  • Dave

    Makes perfect sense to me: LiveView is WYSIWYG

  • Liam McFall

    People shooting with iPads/tablets…

    No, just no.

  • ietion

    LCD monitor might trick you into thinking you have the right exposure just because at that time, under say strong sun, it looks OK.

  • ietion

    I don’t care how others people shoot. Its the ‘Frankestein position’ that annoys me. They block everybody’s view! I am guessing they are also missing the fast phase detection SLR focusing using their LCDs..

  • BL42E

    Agreed. He’s holding it like a compact.

  • Marco

    Since when has being level-headed and reasonable ever not fit in to the dynamic of internet commenting? Grumble grumble your mom

  • Charlie

    “…Bazooka lenses for landscape…”

    Who’s the noob?!

    You dont need a wide angle to shoot landscape. Lots of professional landscape photographers use long lenses to achieve compression or for tighter crops.

  • ennuipoet

    Aside from the snark, it’s what people are used to. I started using a viewfinder and now I cannot compose easily without it. On the rare occasion I use a phone to snap a photo, I find myself trying to look through a non-existent viewfinder. I image people who started on TLR’s found it challenging to not hold their SLR’s at waist level and compose through the ground glass.

  • Cochese

    I’ve been shooting for about six years now and have never been “tricked” using the view screen. I have, however, been very tricked using the light meter on all of the DSLR brands that I’ve used (Canon, Nikon, Pentax). Also, I’m constantly disappointed in autofocus results when not a bright sunny day, so LCD it is. Magnify, focus, shoot. Is it the fastest way to take a photo? Not at all, but it does give me 100% full frame coverage and very accurate portrayal of how my resulting image will turn out in all but the darkest of shots.

    That said, I tend to switch on and off, sometimes, the viewfinder is just easier. It’s certainly faster to use.

  • kshapero

    As bad as that it, nothing is more rude and ignorant that the use of an Ipad as a camera in a large crowd. Rudeness defined!!!

  • Victor

    Prime lens doesn’t mean small or short. Also, I would suggest keeping both eyes open.

  • cmoney

    Condescend much?

  • Giulio Sciorio

    “I truly don’t get it.” I do. Whats great about people that just want to make a good enough photo is that they don’t care about the right way or wrong was (as defined by gear heads/camera nerds) they just want the photo.

    Seeing people shoot with iPads, using the screen on the back of their DSLR frustrates many gear heads but in the market of good enough what matters is if the user is happy.

    Also think about the point of consumption of the photograph – Facebook on iphone or iPad. How good does the image need to be for the average consumer? Most consumers buy a DSLR because they think it will make them a better photographer but as many Peta Pixel readers know it does now.

    The new school of photographer has one rule – Make it cool.

  • Rob Nuuja

    I’ve been a photographer for 30 years and I hate, hate, hate the viewfinder.
    Give me a bright, large, screen instead of dinky squinty viewfinder. It’s so much easier to compose and you can easily position the camera anywhere you can still see the screen as opposed to anywhere you can put your eyes. My composition has gotten so much better by not using the viewfinder.

  • tsayguy

    A lot of snobbery coming out of PetaPixel in pieces that should be labeled “Editorial”, lest someone think Becker speaks for the whole PetaPixel masthead.

    Unless he does speak for them all, in which case… I congratulate them, I guess.

  • Giulio Sciorio

    I’m with you Rob. I LOVE using the OLED screen on my GH3. I get a live view of what’s going on in the scene which lets me focus on being creative. I think a lot of snobbery these days comes from enthusiasts that are trying to emulate what pros were back in the 90’s.

    What many snobs don’t realize is that if our clients are happy, we’re making money and we are also happy then who cares how we get the finished image.

  • Antonio Carrasco

    I live in Hollywood and I always see tourists walking down the street with camcorders recording the most random crap… Oh look, it’s a garbage truck! Oh here’s more tourists! Look, it’s a Gap store!

  • Antonio Carrasco

    lol, unless your LCD monitor is calibrated with an ICC profile and viewed under daylight balanced light or in complete darkness, which it is not, then it is not WYSIWYG.

    Your histograms are much, much, much more valuable than the LCD. LCD is good for checking composition and showing others your shots but that is about it.

  • Antonio Carrasco

    yeah, Golf is even more exciting when it is magazine form ;)

  • Jason

    I once read on Nikonians some bloke asking how to turn off the noise of the shutter on his D300.

  • Jason

    Completely agree. People using phones etc now were once using 110 film cassettes (and the god awful disk camera). I’d wager that the quality of good enough now is generally much higher than it was back in the day.

  • Ron Hendriks

    Well a friend off mine said: Wow looking true the viewfinder, that is like using an old camera.

  • Jackie Wu

    The woman in the shot above Obama is recording a video, and the person on the top left corner is the only person holding the camera “right”…

  • Martin Anderson

    I always shoot with both my eyes open, problem is I’m totally blind in my right one lol

  • sheldonc

    So I use my screen for a variety of things, but one excellent benefit I find is using it for manual focus. If an object is somewhat distant, I merely have to zoom in on the screen, tweak the focus, and it’s perfect. Usually better results than autofocus and far easier than manually focusing in the viewfinder

  • Anonymoused

    Sorry, I’m guilty of this when I use my old Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4.
    I have an entry-level DSLR and can’t focus at f/1.4 (or f/2 for that matter) with my less-than-100% viewfinder coverage; I am forced to use live view in this case.