What is a Viewfinder and How is it Used?

using viewfinder on a camera.

Have you ever taken a moment to think about your camera’s viewfinder? It’s a component of our equipment that is often overlooked and ignored. But it may be one of the most important parts of your camera! It is your view of the world through your cameras.

Every camera comes with one but there are some differences based on the camera brand and how you should use it. Even more, this article will explain how that little rectangle on the back of your camera works and how you use it to frame a picture!

Let’s explore everything related to this little box.

What is a Viewfinder?

By definition, an optical viewfinder is the component of a camera the photographer looks through to view a scene. Generally, there are two types of viewfinders found on cameras. The price point is one of the main differences, but there are others as well. Let’s break down the differences between each type here.

Pentaprisms

The Pentaprism is of a higher quality and provides a bright image in your viewfinder. Typically, this type of viewfinder is found on big DSLR cameras that professionals use. It uses a prism of glass which allows light from your lens to make its way to your viewfinder.

Pentamirrors

This is a lower-quality viewfinder that uses a series of plastic to redirect light. They are found on entry-level DSLR cameras and usually made out of plastic instead of high-quality glass like a pentaprism.

Viewfinders are either electronic or optical. When using a mirrorless camera they are electronic but when using a DSLR they are optical.

The Optical Viewfinder (OVF)

DSLR OVF - Optical Viewfinder.

Optical viewfinders are found on DSLRs and use an optical TTL (through the lens) viewfinder. In this instance, your camera lens projects light on your camera’s sensor and then bounces it off a mirror to show you the view. These types of viewfinders do not use energy or battery power because they are just bouncing light off of a series of mirrors or plastic.

Advantages:

  • Longer battery life because no power is required.
  • Allows the photographer to hold the camera close to their body and therefore less camera shake.
  • Easy placement of the eye close to the camera to block out external light while viewing a scene.
  • Fewer distractions allowing the photographers to focus on framing their picture.

Downfalls:

  • The mirror that pops up and down is more likely to break and more expensive to fix.
  • It’s more difficult to know how your photo will turn out since there is no live display.

The Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)

EVF - Electronic Viewfinder on a Camera.

An EVF or electronic viewfinder is usually found on compact digital cameras and especially on mirrorless cameras. This type of viewfinder displays the information directly from the sensor instead of bouncing it off a mirror. What’s interesting about this, is the image you see on your LCD screen is exactly the image you will take, whereas on an OVF viewfinder you are only seeing the scene but not your exposure settings.

Advantages:

  • Great for beginner shooters to learn how to adjust their cameras settings in real-time.
  • Large screen for your images to be viewed and frame correctly.
  • More angles available for shooting from the ground.
  • Shows more information including a separate live histogram and exposure warnings for highlight or shadow clipping.

Downfalls:

  • In bright light situations it can be difficult to view your LCD screen.
  • Battery dies faster and is related to illuminating the LCD screen constantly.
  • Slight delay between the action and when the image appears on the digital screen for review.

Diopters

photographer using a diopter on a DSLR camera.

Many optical viewfinders come with diopters built-in. These come in handy for photographers who wear glasses. With a simple small twist of a diopter, you can adapt your viewfinder to correlate with your eyeglasses. Generally, you can adjust from -3 to +1 to see better.

Keep in mind if you don’t wear glasses and everything looks blurry through your viewfinder it could be that you accidentally slipped the diopter in the wrong direction. Try adjusting this first before you adjust your lens’s focus. If you wear glasses, look through the built-in viewfinder and adjust the diopter until the image is clear.

Camera Lenses and your Viewfinder

effects of camera lenses on viewfinder.

Keep in mind that your viewfinder is also associated with your lens views. The viewfinder comes with a spec sheet that tells you the magnification range of the display. Image sizes will vary based on the lens sizes. Large telephoto lenses make subjects appear closer to your viewfinder and wide-angle lenses make the foreground subjects appear bigger to the human eye.

Lastly, if the camera’s spec sheet says there is a 1x magnification, and you use a 50mm lens you will see the image as if you were standing next to your camera and viewing it with just your own eye, live in person.

When to use an EVF or LCD Screen?

It’s best to use an EVF or LCD screen viewfinder when you are shooting indoors and there is no harsh sunlight that will distract your vision from the LCD screen.

Also, this type of viewfinder is normally found on mirrorless cameras which make no noise when shooting because they do not have internal mirrors like an OVF viewfinder. If you are shooting an event or concert where camera noise could be a distraction, it’s best to use an electronic viewfinder or LCD screen camera which allows for silent shooting.

Lastly, don’t forget that there is a slight delay between the action in front of you and when it appears on your EVF, so it might not work well for sports or other fast-moving events. However, recently this is rapidly changing with advancements in photography. Every photographer has a different opinion on this.

What is the Viewfinder on iPhone?

viewfinder for iPhone.

Currently, your iPhone does not have a viewfinder. But just like attaching a lens to your iPhone if you search long enough you will find that you can attach a viewfinder to your iPhone as well.

An iPhone screen is basically one large digital LCD image display. But if you want the focus and lighting of an optical viewfinder then consider investing in a photography attachment that you can find on Amazon. Type and results vary when used, so read the reviews first.

Conclusion

Viewfinders are important when you want to focus on your subject. The lens and the cameras don’t matter much if you can’t see the image before you take it. With advancements in the digital display world, it’s becoming easier to address photography focus issues of the past and feature more beautiful framed images in the viewfinder of your cameras.

Whether you choose to use live view or an optical viewfinder while taking images the most important thing is to hold onto your camera tight and change the settings as needed based on what you are seeing.

We hope some of the items in this article helped you to better understand the importance of a viewfinder in today’s world. Allow yourself time to decide which viewfinder should be used for your favorite type of photography.

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