What's an LCD? (Liquid Crystal Display)

Digital camera glossary: LCD

Digital cameras introduced a lot of great features to the world of photography, including the ability to look at a photo that you just shot to ensure that it looks right before you move on to another scene. If someone had his eyes closed or if the composition doesn't look quite right, you can reshoot the image. The key to this feature is the display screen. Continue reading to understand what's an LCD.

Camera with Mt. Fuji in the viewfinder

Yuga Kurita / Getty Images 

Understanding the Camera's LCD

LCD, or Liquid Crystal Display, is the display technology used to create the screens embedded in the back of nearly all digital cameras. In a digital camera, the LCD works for reviewing photos, displaying menu options and serving as a live viewfinder.

All digital cameras contain full-color display screens. In fact, the display screen has become the preferred method of framing the scene, as only a small number of digital cameras now include a separate viewfinder and are mostly for higher-end cameras. Of course, with film cameras, all cameras had to have a viewfinder to allow you to frame the scene. 

LCD screen sharpness depends on the number of pixels the LCD can display, and the camera's specifications should list this number. A display screen that has more pixels of resolution should be sharper than one with fewer pixels.

Even though some cameras may have a display screen that uses a different display technology than LCD, the term LCD has become almost synonymous with display screens on cameras.

Additionally, some other popular cameras can make use of a touchscreen display or of an articulated display, where the screen can twist and swivel away from the camera body.

LCD Technology

A liquid crystal display makes use of a layer of molecules (the liquid crystal substance) that are placed between two transparent electrodes. As the screen applies an electrical charge to the electrodes, the liquid crystal molecules change alignment. The amount of electrical charge determines the different colors that appear on the LCD.

A backlight is used to apply light behind the liquid crystal layer, allowing for the display to be visible. 

The display screen consists of millions of pixels, and each individual pixel will contain a different color. You can think of these pixels as individual dots. As the dots are placed next to each other and aligned, the combination of the pixels forms the picture on the screen.

LCD and HD Resolution

A full HDTV (FHD) has a resolution of 1920x1080, which results in a total of about 2 million pixels. Each of these individual pixels must be changed dozens of times every second to display a moving object on the screen properly. Understanding how the LCD screen works will help you appreciate the complexity of the technology used to create the display on the screen.

With a camera display screen, the number of pixels ranges from about 400,000 to maybe 1 million or more. So the camera display screen doesn't quite offer FHD resolution. However, when you consider a camera screen usually is between 3 and 4 inches (measured diagonally from one corner to the opposite corner). In contrast, a TV screen is generally between 32 and 75 inches (again measured diagonally), you can see why the camera display looks so sharp. You're squeezing about half as many pixels into a space that is several times smaller than the TV screen.

Other Uses for LCD 

LCDs have become a commonplace display technology over the years. LCDs appear in most digital photo frames. The LCD screen sits inside the frame and displays the digital photos. LCD technology also appears in large screen televisions, laptop screens, and smartphone screens, among other devices.

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