Camera Parts

Are viewfinders necessary?

Written by Gail Bjork

There are two types of viewfinders, Optical and Electronic, that are used to compose and frame a scene. They have other uses too.

Viewfinders, like digital camera LCD monitors, are used to compose and frame a scene. Viewfinders serve another important purpose. While looking through the viewfinder, you can steady the camera by bracing it against your face, making the camera less prone shake.

If your digital camera has a viewfinder, it will be one of two types:

Optical viewfinder

For a long time, the Optical Viewfinder was the most common viewfinder found on digital cameras. But increasingly they have given way to the LCD. Some Digital Single Lens Reflex camera still have Optical Viewfinders and most now also have a Live View LCD. Generally speaking, Optical Viewfinders work well in both bright and low lighting conditions.

ViewfinderIn compact digital cameras, the optical viewfinder shows only about 75-90% of what the camera lens actually sees, not the total area of a shot.

When looking through the eyepiece, there is a center auto focus bracket and parallax correction line at the top. Use the parallax correction line when taking close-up shots.

Optical viewfinders on DSLRs are larger, brighter and show all or almost all of the scene. Some DSLR viewfinders also display shooting information such as shutter speed and aperture.

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)

An Electronic Viewfinder is a small LCD, typically about 1/2″. While not as clear as an optical viewfinder, an EVF shows the total area of the scene you are photographing, and can be better for taking low light photos if it has the ability to gain up.

An electronic viewfinder also displays key camera settings. The advantage is that you don’t have to take your eye away from the camera to look at the LCD screen for settings and accurate framing.

compact-camera-viewfinderElectronic viewfinders with high resolution (higher number of dots) offer improved viewing over ones with low resolution. Some cameras have an orientation sensor so when you take your eye away from the viewfinder it automatically goes off and the LCD turns on (and visa versa).

An electronic viewfinder does have a few disadvantages over an optical viewfinder: it consumes battery power and it is usually not as bright and clear as an optical viewfinder. In addition, the resolution of some EVFs may not be good enough to focus accurately when using manual mode.

Electronic viewfinders are typically found on some high end compact digital cameras and DSLRs.

Are viewfinders useless?

Some photographers think viewfinders on compact cameras are useless and, to some degree they have a point as the quality of LCD screens has improved significantly through the years.  But others believe having a small viewfinder, even if it’s not so great, is important for times you really need it such as photographing in bright sun or steadying the camera when zooming.accessory-viewfinder

For some high-end digital and mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras with LCDs only, you can purchase a viewfinder as an accessory that attaches externally to the camera.

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.

6 Comments

  • When outdoors I look into the JVC Everio lcd screen I see myself and Not what I’m hoping to film. No matter how I move the camera I still see me and Not the target. Is this just the way it is with this camera and some others?

  • for me a viewfinder is an absolute must! As noted in the text, it is one way of steadying the camera. I bought a high end camera because it is bigger! Much easier to work all the buttons, etc.
    Hey! I am olde! 71. And I have to learn what works best for me; with less finger coordination and some tremours. But I adapt! thanks.

  • I have three digital point and shoot cameras and two have viewfinders.
    Thank goodness they do because trying to use just the LCD is very difficult in many situations as you pointed out. I think that they don’t put them on most point and shoot cameras now for cost reasons.
    I have no desire to purchase a new camera because of the lack of a viewfinder.
    Most of my pictures are outdoors and the LCD is awful outside in the sunlight. Indoors the LCD is generally fine but I also think its easier to frame a picture with the viewfinder when speed can be important such as pictures of kids or pets.

  • alibam, digital single lens reflex cameras have viewfinders. Some micro-four thirds and a few compact cameras have a viewfinder, or you can by a viewfinder as an accessory such as with the Panasonic LX5. You can find some in sophisticated cameras with viewfinders like the Canon G12 or Nikon P7000 and Superzooms such as those made by Sony, Canon and Panasonic. It’s best to ask about what’s available where ever you shop for cameras.