Camera Buyer's Guide

Lesson 8/15 - The Viewfinder


Camera Buyer's Guide


Lesson Info

The Viewfinder

Something I've talked about before and I want to get into a little bit more precisely here is the viewfinder. The viewfinder is a very important point when using a camera. As I mentioned for the driver it's like the steering and the control of the car. Speed is nice but you need to have control, and the way you control a camera is through its viewfinder. Now the digital SLR uses an optical viewfinder. We talked about that earlier, the way it looks through the mirror and prism system so that you can see what the lens is pointed at. The mirrorless camera is gonna use an electronic viewfinder, which is a small screen comprised of a lot of little pixels in there, and both of these cameras are gonna have LCD displays on the back of the camera so that you can see what's going on as well if you're on a tripod or you want to hold the camera at arm's length from you. And so if we were to take a profile look through these, the optical viewfinder is optical. We're looking through lenses and prism...

s, and glass in that regard. The electronic viewfinder is gonna be a separate independent monitor. A very, very small monitor that's magnified so it's easy to see. So for those of you who are thinking about DSLRs, which we're talking about Canon and Nikon for the most part, and to some degree also can throw Pentax in that category as well. There's a few things you want to look at and consider for having a really good clear view for an SLR style camera. And I'm gonna have four different things that you want to think about here. The first thing is that you will get larger viewfinders with larger sensors. And so large sensors require a larger mirror in the camera, and that enables them to put a larger focusing screen, and a larger prism system, and the whole viewing system gets to be about 50% larger when you get to a full frame camera. So next time you get two SLRs, a crop frame and a full frame, hold them up to your eye one right after another and you will see that there is a much larger viewfinder in the camera that has the larger sensor. A brighter viewfinder can be had in many ways. One of the ways that's different is something that's called a pentaprism versus a pentamirror. A pentaprism is a glass block. A pentamirror is a mirror and not a glass block, and this is one of the important differences on the entry level Nikon and Canon cameras, and the intermediate level Nikon and Canon cameras, is that they start putting in a better quality prism system, which is gonna be just a little bit easier to see through. It's not a huge difference, but it is a small and noticeable difference. The brighter viewfinder can also be had by having a brighter lens on, and so you can improve the brightness in your viewfinder by getting a brighter lens, and so not only does the brighter lens enable you to shoot under low light conditions, it helps you see through the camera at all times with a little bit brighter image. A high magnification viewfinder is also of help, and this is where it's projecting and making a larger image for you to look at. And so as we look at say some of the Nikon cameras, the 5600 and the 7500, you go from a .82 to a .94. That's a notable difference. Now when you switch to a full frame, the numbers don't exactly correlate. The Nikon D750 has a much better viewfinder than the Nikon D7500, and it's because it's a full frame camera. As I mentioned before, full frame cameras are gonna have a bigger sensor. The effective magnification is .7, but what it looks like to your eye will actually be larger, so I realize these numbers can be a little confusing. You do have to compare apples and apples, and in this case, you need to compare cameras with similar sensor sizes. And so on the Canon side you have that same type of difference. When you purchase a higher end camera, you typically get a higher magnification, which is gonna be easier to see and spot your subjects with. Another factor is a large eyepoint, and this is particularly important to anyone who wears glasses while they are shooting. And so there are some cameras that have a better working distance between where your eye needs to be compared to the viewfinder. There are some cameras, and I don't like them, they have very, very small viewfinders. And you can't wear them very well with glasses because you can't see the entire scene that you're trying to frame up. So that is something that is best checked hands on, eyes through the camera to see how well it works for you. But generally the more money you spend, the bigger the sensor, the better the viewfinder is gonna be in your SLR camera. When you look through the viewfinder of your camera, let's take a look at some of the options you're gonna see. Obviously you're gonna see the frame of what's composed in the frame. You'll see the option of focusing points. With Canons and Nikons you'll have a variety of focusing points. We'll talk more about focusing in a little bit. You might see something in the middle, a circle for spot metering. You might have an optional level that tells you if you got the horizon correct. You may have a grid for compositional reasons. There is general viewfinder information that can be projected on-screen so you can have that information right at your fingertips. You can have warnings coming up telling you if something is going wrong, alerting you that some feature is turned on, and then down below that you're gonna see some LED information that's gonna have your exposure information, and various other features that are turned on. And these viewfinders have been getting more and more sophisticated as time goes on, giving you more and more options about exactly what you want in the viewfinder. This isn't what it really looks like folks. This is just with all the options turned on. You can have nothing turned on and just see your plain subject, which is what I like most of the time. Now let's take a look at the mirrorless cameras, because now they have an electronic viewfinder, and it's basically opened up endless possibilities for what's available for us to look at. So on the back of the camera, that's considered the LCD, and through the eyepiece it's through the EVF, and they can have exactly the same display between both of them. Now they can basically turn on any sort of graphic, any sort of numbers and letters, and put them anywhere on-screen they want, because that's the options you have when you have an LCD display. One of the more interesting options for people who want to get really accurate focusing is the magnification, where the camera will zoom in when you press a button, so that you can see your subject more closely for exact focusing, and you may have multiple levels that you can zoom in to make sure that you are absolutely perfectly focused. As a landscape photographer, I love this, because I can guarantee that my subject is 100% perfect in focus. I am usually using this when the camera is on a tripod. It is not applicable in all types of photography. Another feature is a focusing scale, and at this time right now this is pretty unique to Fuji. This is one of the things I love about the little Fuji cameras, is that they tell you where you are focused at in distance, and they are showing you your depth of field with the blue line. And it will go back and forth as you change the aperture and zoom of your lens. Next up is peaking. This is becoming more and more popular on cameras, and this shows you an area highlighted in a particular color of your choosing where the camera is focused, and so you can see very quickly and easily if you're focused in the right spot, or you're front focused or back focused. And, one of the problems with EVFs is that they are still not as sharp as SLRs, and so they kind of need these other tools in order for you to get precise manual focusing. They're very good on auto focusing, but sometimes people like to use the manual for a variety of reasons, and this is just one of those additional tools that is a very valuable tool to have for anyone who wants to do manual focusing. There is a lot of mirrorless cameras out on the market, and one of the important things that I look at with them is the quality of their viewfinder. And when I say quality, there's a number of things I'm looking at. First off is the resolution. How many pixels do I get to see? The more the better, all things being equal. I want to have a big viewfinder to look at, so a high magnification of that. Something also important for people who are shooting more action photography is the refresh rate, because what happens is sometimes these don't update very quickly, and as you move from side to side, you're not seeing exactly what the camera is pointed at. You're seeing what the camera was pointed at a half a second ago. One downside on all of these cameras is the fact that they do end up using more batteries, and this has been a bit of a gripe with the mirrorless cameras, is because they do not last as long on a battery charge. And so, one of the things that's happened is that, remember how phones, cell phones got really small, and then they got bigger? The phones we use today are not smaller than they've been before, they're actually bigger, and one of the benefits is battery size. Now with mirrorless cameras let me show you a couple examples, and I want to show you the a7 series, the R model here and the new a9 series. And so one of the complaints people have had about the a7 series of cameras is that you get around three or four or five hundred shots on a battery, and you've got to replace it, and because the battery we're using in here is a relatively small battery. So when they come out with the next model camera, which is here the a9, the new a7R Mark III is gonna use the same battery. They decided they're gonna rework the electronics and they're gonna put in a bigger battery that has about 50% more power on it, so that it's gonna last for about 50% longer. And so a number of manufacturers have had to change their battery size to try to get the balance right, so that you can get enough shots. How many shots you need, it depends a little bit on what you're doing, but it's nice to get several hundred shots on a battery. Now you can always buy more batteries, but you've got to buy them, and they cost money. You've got to charge them, and so you don't want to have too many batteries. And so, battery usage is something else to consider. I don't have a particular slide for that in this class, but you always want to have a spare battery in my mind. All right, now the other option that I'm not a big fan of is the no viewfinder option. And in this case there are some cameras designed to be very small in size, and/or very low in price, and they don't have a viewfinder on them at all. And they are very hard to work with under low light conditions, and so they're next to impossible to work with under bright light. They're very hard to check focusing, because you've got to zoom in on everything you shoot, and they tend to be less stable because you're not holding them in the stable position which is right next to your forehead, and so I really can't recommend one of these for most peoples' uses. As a backup camera, perhaps if you're a travel photographer and you want to have one camera that's really lightweight. These cameras do tend to be smaller in size, and one of the trends I've noticed in photography over the last two years is that there are fewer and fewer options in this category. Because most people in this category, they're just gonna use their phone. When they want a camera, they tend to want a real camera, so we don't see too many options here. When you're viewing your subject, the LCD screen on the back of your camera can be used. And there's a number of cameras out there that now have tilt screens, or full on flip screens, and so let me show you the difference between a flip screen and a full on tilt screen. And so the Sony here has a very quick to access flip, so if you want to shoot straight down, you can look straight down at this. If you want to hold it up above your head, you can tilt it back to a certain degree right here. Now the Canon, this one has a full on flip-out screen, and what I love about this is that you can close this and this keeps it very well protected. When you want to view it you have really a lot of use. You can view it out in front of the camera, so if you want to shoot some sort of video of yourself, you can see yourself right there in the side of the camera. And you can view it at any angle you want. Unfortunately, you've got to open up all the way, and then the whole contraption becomes a little bit bigger. And so these are the most common ones, and we're seeing this more and more. Just the tilt screen is nice, but you can't shoot verticals with it, and so if you try to shoot vertical, you can't flip it out this direction. Unless you get one of my favorite cameras which is the Fuji camera, which has, hard to do this backwards. It has your standard tilty screen, but it's got a special little lever here on the side and you can flip it sideways so that you can shoot really low down to the ground. Now this is the only camera on the market that does this one feature at this time right now, but this kind of gives you the best of both worlds. Pentax also has a very unique screen that does something like this that's kind of unique. And so those are some of the options, and the other aspect of these is that more and more of the cameras are now offering touchscreens on them, and there are some people that absolutely love touchscreens, and there are some people that are not as big of fans. I tend not to be as big a fan, because whenever you're touching the screen you're putting your fingerprints on it, and you're often covering up what you're looking at. But if you don't like using it, you can still use the rest of the controls on the camera for that. So those are three of the different options that you might find. I guess the fourth option is just a fixed screen. There's a lot of cameras that just have a fixed screen and nothing changing on it. The advantage to those is that they tend to be a little bit more durable. And so if you're gonna be in inclement weather as they tend to be a little bit better weather sealed in most cases. All right so comparing the optical viewfinder versus the electronic viewfinder. And if you're trying to figure out what I like most you are not going to figure it out. They both have their advantages here. All right so the optical viewfinder is sharper to see through, so if you want to manually focus with a lens and do it right, viewfinder without any magnification, you want an optical viewfinder. They tend to be more comfortable for long viewing periods of time. They're easy to see through under low light because you're using the power of your own eyes which is really good. And you're gonna get a much longer battery life, usually two to three times the battery life compared to most mirrorless cameras. The electronic viewfinder has the digital focusing aids that can tell you distance, they can show you if you're focused with peaking and highlighting. They can show you if your exposure is correct. They have more focusing options. The Fuji option where it's showing you the scale back and forth works really, really well. One of my favorite things about the electronic viewfinder and probably the best thing for people who are new to photography is it is a true image preview of what you are getting. When you compose the camera, you hold the camera up to your eye, you're seeing a digital version of the scene right in front of you. With an optical viewfinder, the light's passing through a bunch of mirrors. You have to shoot a photo and then look at the back of the camera to see what the digital version is. With a mirrorless camera, you get to see if it's the right exposure. You get to see if you have the white balance set correctly, and you will know immediately before you take the photo whether your picture is gonna come out right or wrong, and I love that aspect. There's less checking the back of the photo, back of the camera to see if the photo came out right. More customizable. There is a lot of different things that you can do with the viewfinder. I'm gonna pick out Fuji because they do something else that's kind of interesting. They allow you to see one big view of your subject, or you could have a medium view and a small view of your focusing area, or you can swap those around. You can have extra information in there or you can not have extra information in there. The electronic viewfinders are very, very customizable which is really nice. They tend to be a little bit more compact. A good optical viewfinder is what causes that big hump on a camera. And so like this camera like the 6D Mark II, this has a standard optical viewfinder and that's what causes the big hump in the viewfinder here. This has a really nice optical viewfinder. Picking this up and looking through it is a very pleasant experience on this camera, but it does raise the profile of the camera and make it kind of big. But that's the trade offs when you get to those optical viewfinders. With the electronic viewfinders you can do those in a much smaller size. For instance the Sony a6500 has an electronic viewfinder over here, and they're able to shoehorn a pretty good viewfinder into a very small area. And so it's a bit of a trade off. This is optically easier to see through, but there are some nice advantages to the electronic viewfinder. The other advantage with the electronic viewfinder is when you're looking through the electronic viewfinder, it is the same as what you see on the back of the camera. And so information back and forth from the back LCD to the top is exactly the same, and if you're shooting video, that can be a major advantage. Because if you're shooting video with an SLR, you have to hold the camera out away from your body, which is no fun. Let me just grab the 6D and show you. So if I'm shooting video on this camera, I have to flip the screen out and I have to hold it out here. Now I can hold it here and I got kind of two elbows into my body, and that's as good as I can do here. But when I shoot with the Sony, which has an electronic viewfinder, I can hold the camera up to my eye and I have a third point of bracing, and I'm gonna be able to shoot steadier video in that manner than having to hold it out here. If I want to hold it out here, I can just move my eye away, and it immediately kicks back here. So anybody shooting video, the mirrorless cameras have some major advantages. Not saying that they're always better but it is a major advantage for sure. We do have a question from our buddy, Cosmo, who is asking, he says, "I have trouble with the faint information display "in many cameras. "Are there some systems that are better than others?" Oh, faint information, Cosmo, that's an interesting question. I think he was referring to the electronic viewfinders. The electronic viewfinders, I'm trying to remember what Cosmo was last using, because I know what all my students use. He was last using Nikon but he might have gone mirrorless. With the SLRs, there really is no option for turning things brighter. There are some options in Canon and Nikon cameras about turning focusing points on and off, but when it comes to mirrorless cameras, a lot of the better mirrorless cameras will now have a customization buried deep in the menu system where you can change the brightness and the color of the LCD and the viewfinder itself, and so you can pump up the brightness if you want to. Normally I recommend just keeping it middle unless something has changed on you, but I know in some of the latest Sony cameras, and I'm trying to remember in some of the Fuji cameras as well, I'm pretty sure in some of the Panasonic cameras as well, you can go in and individually manually increase the brightness or decrease it in the viewfinder according to your needs.

Class Description

Buyer's guide will be your guide to figuring out the best digital camera for your needs.

Gear expert John Greengo dives into the major brands and lenses that are currently on the market.

John breaks down some of the more confusing aspects of mirrorless and DSLR's from focusing systems to sensor size; you'll get a better understanding of what the gear does so you can make an informed decision.

At the end of the class, John gives his recommendations for different types of photographers from the aspiring student to the filmmaker and everyone in between.


Samantha Locadia

John is a great teacher, and I've learned allot in this lesson. I already had an idea what camera I want to buy next but happy to know it was also what he recommended (for my field). Really love his free classes by the way where he talks with other photographers and discusses photos of viewers. Awesome!

Michael And Dawn

John has a very good way of explaining things to make them both simple and complete. His makes great use of visual graphics in his explanations. I highly recommend any of his courses, the material presented is well thought out and flows very well.

Kevin Li

Amazing course. So much education provided in these free classes. I will definately be taking more. I am so glad I watched these before jumping in and buying a camera. This is a much watch for all people who are new to photography and are looking to buy a camera.