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Should I use the LCD or Viewfinder on my Digital Camera?

LCD or viewfinder

One of the things about digital cameras that makes them so appealing is the little LCD screen display on the back of them.

When I used a film SLR I used to take meticulous notes of the settings that I used when taking photos – noting frame number, aperture and shutter speed down after most shots so that a week or two later when I got my photos back from the lab I could compare my notes with the shots and work out how I might improve my photography.

The LCD screen on digital cameras cuts out the need for this process as images can be viewed immediately after they are taken and adjustments can be made to improve your shots straight away.

If you like to record your images settings for future analysis, most digital cameras will do this for you – to be viewed later either on your camera (using the ‘info’ function when in playback on many cameras) or on your computer.

LCD as a Viewfinder?

LCD or viewfinder

One question I get asked a lot by readers is whether they should use their digital camera’s LCD screen or viewfinder to frame their shots. I suspect that the majority of camera owners do use the LCD but there are a number of arguments both for and against it. Let me explore a few:

Why to use the LCD to frame shots

  • Convenience – Perhaps the main reason that people use the LCD is convenience. Rather than having to fire up the camera, raise it to your eye, squint through it (on many point and shoot models it’s quite small) etc… using the LCD means you simply switch the camera on and from almost any position you can snap a shot.
  • Size – As I hinted above – many models of digital cameras have very small view finders and when compared with the LCD (usually between 1.5 and 2.5 inches these days) there is really not that much of a comparison.
  • Instant Playback – shooting with the LCD means that after you take your shot you will immediately see the shot you’ve taken flashed onto the screen. You can see this if you use the viewfinder too by lowering the camera but it adds another action to the process.
  • Creativity – using the LCD opens up all kinds of creative opportunities for your photography by meaning that you don’t have to have the camera at eye level to be able to get your framing right. You can instead put it up high or down low and still be able to line things up well.
  • Framing Inaccuracy of Optical Viewfinders on Point and Shoots – one of the most common complaints about using the viewfinder on digital cameras is that what you see through it is slightly different to what the camera is actually seeing as the view finder is generally positioned above and to the left of the lens which means it is slightly different (a problem called parallax). Most viewfinders that have this will give you a guide as to where to frame your shot but it can be a little difficult – especially when taking close up/macro shots. (note that not all point and shoot cameras have optical viewfinders – some have electronic ones (see below).
  • Obstructed View – on some models of point and shoot digital cameras a fully extended zoom can actually obstruct the view from your viewfinder. This can be quite frustrating.
  • Glasses Wearers – if you wear glasses you might find using the viewfinder of your Digital camera more difficult. Many these days do come with a little diopter adjuster to help with this.
LCD or viewfinder

Why not to use LCD to frame shots

  • Battery Killer – the LCD on your camera chews up battery power faster than almost any other feature on your camera. Use it not only for viewing shots taken but lining them up and you’ll need to recharge a lot more regularly.
  • Camera Shake – when shooting with the LCD as a viewfinder you need to hold your camera away from your body (often at arms length). This takes the camera away from your solid and still torso and into midair (only supported by your outstretched arms) – this increased the chance that your camera will be moving as you take the shot which will result in blurry shots.
  • Competing Light – one problem that you will often have with framing your shots using the LCD is that for many cameras, shooting in bright light will make it difficult to see the LCD – leaving it looking washed out. Digital camera manufacturers are trying to overcome this with brighter and clearer screens but using the viewfinder instead of the LCD will generally overcome the problem.
  • DSLRs – most DSLRs do not give you the opportunity to use the LCD as a viewfinder at all. I suspect that this feature will become more available however as I hear it being asked for quite a bit. I’m not sure I’d ever use it though as DSLR view finders are generally larger and are a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) meaning you can be sure that what you’re looking at through the view finder is what the image will be when you shoot.
  • Electronic View Finders (EVF) – another type of view finder that is found on some point and shoot digital cameras is the EVF one. This overcomes the problem of your viewfinder and camera seeing slightly different things by giving you an exact picture of the scene you’re photographing in the viewfinder. This happens simply by putting a little LCD in the viewfinder.

Ultimately the choice in using the LCD or viewfinder will come down to personal preference. I have used a variety of digital cameras over the past few years and find myself using both methods depending upon the shooting situation and the camera. Some cameras have large and clear viewfinders (like my DSLR) and so I use them. Others have tiny viewfinders (in fact my latest point and shoot, the Fujifilm Finepix F10, doesn’t have one at all).

Given the choice between a great viewfinder and great LCD I’d probably opt for the viewfinder – call me a traditionalist but it just feels right for me.

Head over to our Flickr group to have your say on what you use – viewfinder or LCD?

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse

is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals.

He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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