Tag Archives: Viewfinder

The advantages and disadvantages of live view

• DSLR Camera •

• DSLR camera diagram (side veiw) showing mirror down position •
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Live view is here to stay.

What are the good and bad aspects of this technology? Should we be using it? What does it offer the DSLR user over the time honoured viewfinder system? In this post we look at the pros and cons.

The DSLR mirror system

If you are not familiar with the inner workings of the DSLR you can read more about it in this post: DSLR; Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera.

The essence of the mirror system is simple. The photographer peers through the viewfinder (see the diagram above) and the eye receives light directly from the main lens. Light reaching the eye has been redirected by the mirror up through the camera to the viewfinder eyepiece. When the photograph is taken the mirror flips up. Then the shutter opens allowing the digital image sensor to be exposed to light entering through the lens. While the mirror is up the photographer is unable to see through.

Live view…

When using live view the mirror is flipped up. You cannot see through the viewfinder. The view detected by the image sensor is instead created electronically on the camera screen on the back of the camera. In the most up to date mirrorless cameras the view is projected electronically into the viewfinder so you can use that instead of the screen-view on the camera.

The screens on the back of the DSLR, bridge cameras and point-and-shoot cameras provide a good, clear image on the screen. The displays offer a pretty good representation of the image seen through the lens. Reviews of the new mirrorless cameras suggest that electronic viewfinders are apparently not as good as those using mirrors. However, the technology is young and significant advances have been made recently. I think eventually electronic viewfinders will provide as good a view as the back screen.

Why do we need a viewfinder?

One of the problems of a back-screen is holding the camera steady. When you have a big lens on a camera the sheer unbalanced weight-in-hand makes it difficult to steady the camera with two hands held out in front of you. For a professional, or the keen amateur, the extra softness this induces is intolerable.

This is less important with light point-and-shoot cameras which can be held steady with one hand. Mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter than DSLR counterparts. Bigger lenses still make them relatively heavy. Pressing a camera-lens combo to your eye while also held in both hands gives a third point of stabilisation to your camera – a steady position. So, a practical consideration for more substantial combinations of large camera and lens.

Retaining a viewfinder also ensures the “eye-view” is actually available to the photographer. By this I mean that the camera can be placed where the eye actually is on the body. Then the photographer sees through the camera in the same plane and level as the eye. I find this leads to better composition. We are more used to using eye-level views in our everyday vision. I acknowledge that the free-roaming screen composition may provide a more unusual point of view. However, artistic considerations aside, when composing an image I find close scrutiny of the scene leads to cleaner images and a rigorous composition. OK, this is not for everyone. It is a point to bear in mind for the more discerning photographer.

In my experience doing a back-screen composition is difficult because the eye is distracted from the screen. This leads to limited, incomplete composition, or missed details. I have been guilty of this sort of sloppy composition and have seen it in the images of others. Personally, I think the viewfinder helps me to compose accurately and cleanly allowing proper examination of detail.

What live view can offer…

Despite the shortcomings of back-screen composition and lack of steadiness there are good reasons to use live view.

On a tripod… While using a tripod to compose for landscapes, macros, wide angle and fish-eye shots do a quick check in live view before the shot. I suggest you do your initial composition using a viewfinder on the tripod. Once composed quickly check the live view simultaneously scanning your scene by eye. This enables comparison of the lens-distorted view against the scene as the eye sees it. This cross-checks your composition against your vision for the final outcome of the shot.

Mirror lock-up… When using a tripod use mirror lock-up to help sharpness. This mode sets the camera to flip-up the mirror ahead of the shot. The vibration from the ‘mirror-flip-up’ then passes before the exposure takes place. This reduces vibration enabling a sharper shot. Most DSLRs offer the mode which is found in the menu screens. Live view also performs a mirror lock-up action on many cameras. If you have a “live-view” button, do your composition, perform a live view check and take a mirror lock-up shot in the same sequence.

Access to the viewfinder is restricted… Yes, sometimes I simply cannot get to the viewfinder. When doing macro work, complex close-ups suspended under a tripod and when holding the camera high all create situations when the eye cannot easily get to the viewfinder. In this case the live view mode is a definite advantage and enable otherwise impossible shots.

Depth of field… The viewfinder has its own optical characteristics additional to the main photographic lens. Normally viewfinder lenses are pretty faithful and do not affect the view through the main lens. When using a fast lens, say f1.2 wide open aperture, the depth of field may be distorted by the viewfinder. It’s said live view helps you better see the areas of bokeh. I am sceptical. I have not seen this effect accurately on my Canon 5D MkII to make any difference. I am prepared to accept it works on other cameras. Try it and see.

Horizons, converging verticals and straight lines… Live view offers a set of lines dividing the screen up into thirds (nine segments). This “rule of thirds” grid is helpful in composition. I find it most useful when checking converging verticals when lining the camera up. However, a good electronic display of focus points laid out in your viewfinder is excellent for most compositions. The focus points usually allow for rule of thirds composition and more. So, live view offers an option, but no better than the viewfinder. Other cameras may differ on this, make your own choice.

Live view histogram… Some cameras allow the display of a live view histogram. This enables you to check your colour and light intensity prior to the shot. This saves later examination of lots of frames online. However, I prefer “Chimping”. The post-shot histogram review is the best way to tell if you have a good shot or not. If you do use the live view histogram beware of poor composition. The histogram takes up screen space I prefer to use for composition. So, not to my taste, but the opportunity is there on some cameras.

Live view can be useful

More cameras are providing good live view mode and offering more facilities with it. I think there are some good reasons to use this mode especially with a tripod. It certainly provides some useful functions. There are some severe shortcomings with live view composition and personal stance when using it. The good old viewfinder still wins the day for me. However, a lot depends on your camera. I hope these points have opened your eyes. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

An old sailors trick to improve your photography

An old sailors trick can improve your photography

• Great Langdale •
• An old sailors trick can improve your photography •
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• Great Langdale •
• An old sailors trick can improve your photography • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

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Look carefully at your intended image.

Once you have your composition you should be able to check everything is correct. To do that effectively a good method for checking helps. We are going to look at a method to help you spot mistakes and problems.

What you need to check

In The fifteen second landscape appraisal I outlined a scheme for checking that the composition was all as expected. The scheme calls for a three step approach. First, check the frame. Next review the compositional elements. Finally, check the three D’s (Discordance, Disruption, Distraction). How you do that checking is critical.

I have often heard people say how they easily miss things when checking the viewfinder. Then, later in processing, the rogue element jumps off the image at them. So how can you carry out your ‘fifteen second appraisal’ and be sure not to miss anything.

A weird old sailors trick

My grandfather, a sea captain during WWII, ran freighters from Northern Ireland to London. These were most dangerous waters. They ran overnight up the English Channel to the Thames estuary hoping to escape enemy submarine patrols. They had a 24-hour watch on the ships bridge looking out for submarines. At night the chances of seeing a periscope was very low. Any search was better than nothing. The officers of the watch were taught that the most effective way to spot things that were out of place was to do the exact opposite to the way they normally read a book.

We are programmed to read left to right and as flowing as possible. We skip big sections of the text in interpretation jumps. According to research we actually use only the tops of letters to pick out the shape of the words. We read efficiently by missing out big chunks of the letters and text. Our eyes are actually trained to miss details when we scan as if we are reading.

It makes sense that if we need to look at things carefully and effectively we should be trying to do the opposite to reading. We should break the habit of skipping. In order to pick up the details, scan your composition through the viewfinder so that your eyes do the opposite to reading, scanning in the opposite direction. Work from bottom to top, right to left. As you sweep along unaccustomed routes through the scene you will be more likely to pick up details you would normally miss, things out of place and anything that falls within the realms of the three D’s.
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Routing diagram

I have drawn an eye routing diagram in the picture above. Your eye-scan starts bottom right. From there you follow the numbering and arrows in the order of the fifteen second appraisal. First the frame. Check your frame composition following the arrows…

  1. Bottom right to left frame;
  2. Bottom left to top left frame;
  3. Bottom right to top right frame;
  4. Top right to top left frame.

In my composition the mountains either side, the wall on the right and the white sky above act as barriers. They prevent the eye from straying out of the picture. The idea is to hold the eye in the shot so it can drink in the aesthetics – the beautiful, mystery-laden, misty valley. If the frame achieves your compositional design move on.

The fifth step (no. 5) is to check your compositional elements. You are going to work the layers of your scene. Start with the foreground. Scan across the foreground looking for compositional problems and check your layering and any elements you have chosen to help the eye (line 6).

In the mid-ground look for the compositional elements that help the eye there. The mid-ground layer is important – it draws the eye into the landscape. I have zoned it as a shadowed grey box. The end of the wall marks where the eye leaps into the picture. The road draws the eye to the mid-ground. The wall across the scene from the number five right down to the bottom of the valley marks a mid-point for the picture, as does the sweeping ridge in from the left.

Line 8 check allows for the composition check for distance zone. We look to see if it works for, in this case, holding the eye in the picture.

In the final sweep we follow lines 6, 7, and 8 again. This checks these zones for the three D’s. We are looking for detail not composition – stand-out errors; the discordance, disruptions and distractions.

By the time you have done these sweeps, and the way you have done them, you should have spotted the problems, errors, and disharmonies that may spoil your shot.

The fifteen second appraisal is a process that take a little personal training. Those short seconds will make the difference to your outcome photograph.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Can you really trust your camera battery? 12 ways to protect against battery failure.

A key component in your equipment is power.

Without power your camera stops. The battery is a most important link in the workflow of your shoot. Get it wrong, the shoot comes to an abrupt end. Here are some ways to make your battery power go further.

Cut the display time

The biggest drain on your battery is that big screen on the back of your camera. Modern LCD screens are pretty efficient compared to early models. They still use a lot of power. To cut power consumption reduce the time your shot shows on-screen. Most cameras are set to eight or ten seconds which is mostly a waste of power. Four seconds is plenty of time for a quick preview. You can easily pull the picture up to look again. The occasional ‘extra-look’ uses much less power than an extra four or six seconds of un-viewed screen time after every shot.

Live view

It makes sense to use screens less for other tasks. Where you can, use the viewfinder. Using ‘live-view’ is a really heavy drain on the battery. During live-view the screen is always-on. Also, if you have a DSLR, live view holds up the mirror. That too is a drain on the battery. Double whammy!

Here is another reason to use the viewfinder. The live-view screen shows much less contrast than your eye sees through the viewfinder. You cannot expect to frame a great shot when you can’t see the principle guide to ‘depth’ in your picture. Yup! Live view actually disables your ability to produce a great shot. Go figure!


If you have not heard the term ‘chimping’ yet, I wrote about it in “Examine Shots Before Shooting Again – Chimping“. Resist the temptation to re-examine every shot. Learn to trust your judgement. I am a great believer in chimping, but once you have your shot pattern and settings correct you only need to re-examine shots if you change things. Again, you will be saving battery charge.

Power-saving mode

Most cameras have a power-saving mode. Check your manual. Normally power saving mode will shut your camera down after a set period. It goes to sleep until recalled. Set power-saving mode to a reasonable time, say, 30 seconds or less. That can save a lot of power. Many cameras are set for a minute as default.

Continuous auto-focus

Cameras continuously monitor movement through the lens in continuous auto-focus mode. That mode is for times when your subject might move or is moving. If shooting still shots turn this off. Otherwise, the camera continuously hunts for focus, unnecessarily using power. If you’re using a tripod, continuous hunting for focus also causes vibration. You will actually soften your shot by running this mode on a tripod.

Pop-up or on-camera flash auto-mode

Pop-up flash is a really bad light. It also uses a lot of power. Sometimes you need it, most of the time you don’t. Turn it off, or use its manual mode. Then it will not fire when least expected, or when not needed.

Another point here… use an off-camera flash. It has an independent power supply. That way you can cater separately for the flash, get better control of your light and control the main battery power.

Mirror lock-up

Lifting the mirror in a DSLR takes power. So does holding it open in some models. So, if you are using mirror lock-up mode then use it sparingly. “Mirror lock-up” is one of the pro-techniques for sharp shots. It is really worth knowing about, but, be prepared for battery strain.

Turn off your camera

I have done it myself. Left the camera on in the bag. Not generally a problem – auto-power-save sets for sleep after 30 seconds – right? Wrong. Beware ‘shutter-button gremlin’. Depress the shutter half way, it wakes the camera. My friend charged his battery overnight then took a four hour coach ride. The vehicle vibration continuously pushed the button against his bag. No battery left for the wedding! Disaster. Turn your camera off before bagging it.


It’s a fact. Batteries use more power in cold conditions. Keep Your camera warm. Under your coat, in a warm car or engine compartment – anywhere. It helps keep things moving in the camera, preserving battery life.


Batteries get damaged or gremlins strike. Pro-photogs carry at least one spare, often a charger too. Hobbyists often don’t. One spare and some of the other techniques here will give you a decent shoot even if one battery had been used/damaged/lost. A spare is your cover.

Battery care

Prolonged storage can can cause batteries to break down. It’s prudent to remove batteries from the camera in storage.You don’t risk damage to your camera and can easily do a periodic recharge. I recommend you use and battery recharge batteries at least three times a year. Also, protect batteries from damp, chemicals, corrosives and contamination – especially salt. Protect them from hard impacts too. They can split and won’t work afterwards.


Batteries, including rechargeable ones, have a fixed lifespan. At the first sign they are not holding a full charge dump them and buy a new one. Some batteries fail rapidly. You don’t want to be caught at that ‘special wedding’ when the battery ran down after twenty minutes? Keep your spares in use. Swap it/them regularly with the working batter. One other tip… permanently mark every battery with the purchase date. It’ll keep tabs on its replacement age.

Look after your batteries and they will give you great service and long shoots.