Live View versus viewfinder

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Do you take pictures using the Live View display or with your eye pressed to the viewfinder? Or maybe you are looking into getting a new camera? Regardless, both ways of shooting have some key advantages and potential disadvantages that are worth knowing about.


Taking picture using Live View mode.
The same image with different filters applied, seen in Live View mode.
The same image with different filters applied, seen in Live View mode.
The same image with different filters applied, seen in Live View mode.

There are two types of viewfinders for EOS cameras. Optical viewfinders, used on DSLRs, show the image directly from the lens. Electronic viewfinders, used on some of the mirrorless cameras, are essentially small Live View displays that show the image after it has had colour and contrast adjustments and any digital filters applied. Although optical viewfinders don't allow you to preview your photo in the same way, they provide a clear and uninterrupted view that can allow you to feel more immersed in the scene.

The ability to preview the image is one of the key advantages of shooting with Live View mode. It allows you to see the effects of camera settings such as Picture Style and Creative Filters, and fine-tune them before you press the shutter release. You can also view a live histogram and, with exposure simulation enabled, you'll be able to see the image get brighter or darker as the exposure is changed.


An image of a flower in Live View mode with autofocus point in the middle of it.
The same image with 5 times magnification applied.
The same image with 10 times magnification applied.

Autofocus using an optical viewfinder is much faster than with Live View, particularly when it comes to tracking moving objects. However, you do need to make sure that the subject is under one of the black AF points you see in the centre of the picture. Live View autofocus is slower but it covers a wider area, making it easier to focus on subjects that aren't in the centre of the picture.

If your camera has a touch screen, you can tap the part of the image you want to be in focus. With Touch Shutter enabled, tapping the screen will focus the lens and fire the shutter, which is a faster way to take a photo and can be useful in some situations.

Live View takes the guesswork out of manual focusing. You can magnify a part of the image by a factor of x5 or x10, enabling you to check that the tiniest of details are sharp. It’s a great tool for astrophotography and macro photography, although you’ll need to shoot with the camera mounted on a tripod to make the most of manual focusing in this way. If you are unable to magnify the image, select a different Live View AF mode in the menu and try again.


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It’s easier to hold a camera steady when you’re using the optical viewfinder; with Live View you may have to hold the camera away from your body in order to see the screen, and this can lead to blurred pictures. A vari-angle monitor can help here, as you can hold the camera closer to you for added stability while you use the display.

Using Live View on a vari-angle monitor also makes it easier to shoot from awkward angles, such as low to the ground or at arm's length above a crowd. If your camera has Wi-Fi, you can use the Camera Connect app to see the Live View image on your mobile device, which gives you even more freedom when it comes to shooting from different angles.


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In very bright conditions, it can be easier to see the image in the viewfinder rather than on the rear monitor. You can increase the brightness of the screen, but it still may not be enough to accurately check your focus, exposure and composition.


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Camera batteries last around twice as long with viewfinder shooting than with Live View shooting. If you’re going to be relying on your camera’s rear screen for extended periods of photography and movie shooting, then it may be worth considering a second battery. Live View mode shouldn't be used for extended periods anyway, in order to prevent the camera overheating. It is also not the best option if you want to take fast bursts of shots, as the continuous shooting speed is reduced.

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