LCD vs. Viewfinder

Choosing the right one can improve your digital photography

LCD screens are great, and the quality improves with each new generation of DSLR cameras appearing on the market. But, many professional photographers prefer to use a camera's viewfinder. We explain the benefits and disadvantages of each.

LCD vs Electronic Viewfinder
Viewfinder
  • Only shows 90-95% of an image.

  • A more accurate representation of what the human eye sees.

LCD
  • Displays the entire frame that the sensors capture.

  • More convenient than a viewfinder.

LCD screens have advantages, but so do optical viewfinders. When it's time to frame a photo with your DSLR camera, you need to decide which side of the viewfinder vs. LCD debate you lean. Unlike the optical viewfinder, the LCD screen displays the entire frame that the sensors capture. Optical viewfinders, even on a professional level DSLR, only show 90-95% of the image. You lose a small percentage on the edges of the image.

Viewfinder Pros and Cons

Advantages
  • Can hold the camera steadier.

  • Doesn't drain the battery as much.

  • Offers a more precise view.

Disadvantages
  • Can be very small.

  • More difficult to see through if you wear glasses.

Digital SLRs aren't light, and it's easier to produce a crisp, sharp image when you hold the camera up to your eye to use the viewfinder. That way, you can support and steady the camera and lens with your hands. But, viewfinders are generally smaller than LCD screens. Viewfinders are also less convenient to use, especially if you wear glasses.

At the end of the day, though, as intelligent as digital cameras are, the human eye can resolve more detail than an LCD screen. You get a sharper and more accurate view of your image by using the viewfinder.

LCD Pros and Cons

Advantages
  • More convenient than a viewfinder.

  • Bigger viewing area.

  • Can instantly playback a shot.

Disadvantages
  • Drains the battery.

  • Can overexpose the image.

  • Harder to view in bright sunlight.

The biggest drawback with LCD screens is probably shooting in sunlight. Depending on the quality of the screen, you may not be able to use it in bright sunshine because of the glare. All you see are reflections off the screen. Also, the crystals contained within LCD screens tend to flare in bright sunlight, making the situation worse.

Holding the camera at arm's-length while looking at the LCD screen—and then keeping the camera steady while zooming in on a subject—takes effort. When you use the LCD screen this way, you often end up with a blurry image.

Another significant issue is battery life. Using the LCD screen to compose shots drains the camera batteries more quickly than using the viewfinder.

Which Should You Choose?

No matter how good an LCD screen is, it's unlikely to give an accurate overview of the image you took. Most overexpose an image by as much as one full stop. It's best to acquire the technical knowledge about photography, rather than rely on the LCD screen to determine image quality. With this technical knowledge, you'll have the confidence your settings are correct, and your images are properly exposed. So, in most cases, it's best to use the viewfinder. But, if you like the convenience of an LCD, or you wear glasses, use the LCD. It's mostly a matter of personal preference.