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You're holding a camera, squinting at the screen on the back as you try to compose the perfect shot. You can't quite seem to get the angle right, and the glare on the screen makes it difficult to see the details clearly. It's frustrating.

Enter the viewfinder...

What is a viewfinder?

The viewfinder is the part of the camera that you look through to compose and frame your photograph. It helps you find the view of an image.

There are three main types of viewfinders:

  • Optical Viewfinder (OVF): Found in most film cameras and DSLR cameras and uses mirrors to project hte image seen by the lens directly to your eye.
  • Electronic Viewfinder (EVF): Found in most mirrorless cameras and uses a small display screen to show a digital image captured by the camera's sensor
  • Live View: Found on most DSLR and mirrorless cameras where the camera will allow you to use the main LCD screen as the viewfinder, commonly referred to as "Live View."
Camera viewfinder.

Why is it called a viewfinder?

It is called the viewfinder because it shows the photographer the area/view that will be included in the photograph - it "finds" the "view" and shows it to you.

How to use the viewfinder

By providing a clear and focused view of the subject, a viewfinder allows photographers to make informed decisions about composition, depth of field, and other important elements of the shot.

Whether you're using a traditional optical viewfinder or a more modern electronic viewfinder, mastering this tool is key to capturing great photos.

While using a viewfinder may seem straightforward, there are some techniques and tricks that can help you get the most out of this essential photography tool.

1. Grid lines

One important aspect is learning to use the grid lines or other focusing aids available in your viewfinder to ensure that your shots are properly composed and balanced.

2. Adjust focus

Additionally, understanding how to adjust the diopter or focus of your viewfinder can help you achieve sharper and clearer images. Here's how to do it:

Start by placing your camera on a stable surface or tripod. Look through the viewfinder and locate the small wheel or lever near the eyepiece. This is the diopter adjustment knob.

Adjust the knob until the image you see in the viewfinder appears sharp and clear.


If you wear glasses, make sure to adjust the diopter with your glasses on.

Once you've adjusted the diopter, double-check that your camera settings, including your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, are correct. Take a test shot and review it to ensure that the image is properly focused and composed.

3. Trust instincts

Finally, learning to trust your instincts and use your viewfinder to capture decisive moments in your photography can take your skills to the next level. In this article, we'll explore these and other tips and tricks for using a viewfinder like a pro.

Optical viewfinder vs electronic viewfinder

As you know, there are two main types of viewfinders on a camera (not including Live View), and this depends if you have a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

One is the electronic viewfinder (also called LCD), and the other is the Optical viewfinder. Each type has its own fan base that defends and encourages more people to join each side. Let’s start with the classic optical viewfinder.

Optical viewfinder

Almost every DSLR camera uses an optical viewfinder. Inside your handy camera, lies a mechanical glass mirror that moves up and down. This mirror is referred to as the reflex mirror. Surprisingly, the image that you see in the viewfinder is different from the image you saw while taking the image. This phase requires you to adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to produce the image in your vision.

One of the advantages of an optical viewfinder is its ability to adjust aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, which is good news for my fellow manual photographers. Giving photographers the freedom to manipulate their exposure to their heart’s content is truly liberating.

On the other hand, an optical viewfinder's glaring weakness is its complexity. People who have just entered the world of photography will have a tough time using it. Sometimes, they get images that are over-exposed or images that are under-exposed unintentionally. Regardless of that, everyone has to start somewhere, right?

DSLR camera and how it operates with optical viewfinder.
DSLR camera and optical viewfinder

Electronic viewfinder

The electronic viewfinder is the newest type of technology, readily available in almost every mirrorless camera.

Electronic viewfinders lie more on the simpler, easier, and faster side of image capturing. If you fire your shutter when you see the perfect moment, that moment is what you get.

Simply put, what you see is what you get. This advantage has made electronic viewfinders and mirrorless cameras skyrocket in popularity. They are easy to use and take decent images at fantastic quality. Every photographer would gladly take a mirrorless camera for their day off and take pictures on the fly. The catch to this amazing advantage is the battery usage and learning potential. Both of these problems were once debated all day and night, although not anymore.

So, let’s talk about it one by one.

Mirrorless camera and how it operates with electronic viewfinder.
Mirrorless camera and electronic viewfinder

1. Battery

Electronic viewfinders tend to consume a generous amount of battery (compared to optical viewfinders). This battery consumption is one of the issues that people loathe about them. It may be easy to dismiss the battery problem and call it a day, but it is less convenient.

People who just use their mirrorless cameras two hours a day will not complain, but photographers who travel and have limited access to electricity get the shorter end of the stick. It is like changing a sock every 30 minutes during a marathon run—not impossible, but just inconvenient.

Not the best analogy, but you get the point.

2. Learning potential

Another heated topic. Photographers just love the argument that using a mirrorless camera limits a photographer's ability and scope. While this may be true on the surface, there is room for debate. Studying photography isn’t easy in any way, shape, or form. There will always be consistent progress. It is like teaching adults some survival skills, you teach them through books, little by little until they can survive on their own in the wild.

Immediately dropping them off in the middle of a forest would do more harm than good. The same concept applies to photography. Mirrorless cameras help amateur photographers get accustomed to the many features of a camera.

Let them learn bit by bit until they know how most functions work. And that sums up the differences between an optical viewfinder and its electronic counterpart.

Do all DSLR cameras have a viewfinder?

Most DSLR cameras come equipped with a viewfinder, specifically an optical viewfinder (OVF) and is a defining featured of DSLRs.

Only some compact camera models or older budget models may omit the optical viewfinder, making the photographer rely on the LCD screen for shot composition.

Do any point-and-shoot cameras have viewfinders?

Yes. Both the point-and-shoot cameras and many digital cameras do use a viewfinder. It is a must-have feature in cameras. You can easily differentiate a point-and-shoot camera from looking at single-lens reflex cameras (SLRs) in some respects.

In point-and-shoot cameras, the photographers do not see the exact same image that passes through the camera's primary lens. Instead, the image in the viewfinder goes through a separate lens and not the primary lens.

In this article, we discussed viewfinders and their various types. So, let’s sum it up:

The viewfinder can be boiled down to a mirror that allows you to preview images you will take. Although different types of viewfinders will have their unique process and output.

A Viewfinder is named as such because it is an essential component required to help you frame your image. Hence a viewfinder’s main function is to pre-visualize images before the photographer hits the shutter. This allows optical viewfinder users to adjust the image to their liking.

Almost every DSLR camera nowadays has a viewfinder on it, including point-and-shoot cameras.

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