If you’re taking up photography as a hobby, or in a class, you’re going to need to learn some of the basic components of cameras, what these are called, what they’re used for, and how they function.


One of the most important, and basic components of a camera, is the viewfinder, whether optical or electronic. Today, we’re going to take a look at the differences between these two types of camera viewfinders, who uses them, and what their advantages are over each other.


What is a Viewfinder?

A viewfinder is the term in photography used to describe the part of the camera through which a photographer looks to focus in on the image they are about to take a picture of. Because of how important their function is, viewfinders can be found in many types of cameras, which include:

  • Film
  • Analog
  • Digital
  • Still
  • Movie

Before the advent of microelectronics and digital displays, the only kind of viewfinders that existed were optical. In essence, these viewfinders were miniature telescopes.


To use a viewfinder, the camera operator places their eye at the back of the camera’s viewfinder and looks through the magnification lenses to view the subject of the desired photograph.


Many viewfinders have lines on them to aid the photographer in lining up the subject of the photograph, to create a more precise frame for aesthetic lines.


Digital camera viewfinders are often electronic viewfinders, though some may also have an optical viewfinder as well. These are less commonplace, however, because most non-professional photographers do not need optical viewfinders.


An electronic viewfinder is a display-based device that electronically shows that image about to be taken onto an LCD screen.


Besides being used as a viewfinder, the electronic display can be used to view previously filmed material and as a means of browsing through menu options.


LCD Screens Versus Optical Viewfinders

There a few distinct differences between an optical viewfinder and an LCD screen viewfinder, besides the obvious media differences.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Electronic Viewfinders

An electronic viewfinder is easily identified as the LCD screen on the front of back of the body of a digital camera. Like all viewfinders, they are used to view and frame photographs to be taken.


Most commonly, electronic viewfinders are used by casual photographers, not professionals.


The electronic viewfinder gives an almost precise view of the image to be captured by the camera.


One advantage digital viewfinders have over their optical counterparts is for those who wear glasses. Those who wear glasses have to remove them to be able to properly use a viewfinder, which may also cause that person to adjust a manual focus improperly.


LCD screen viewfinders work at night, while optical viewfinders don’t very easily.


Electronic viewfinders are also easier to use with a tripod.


Another advantage that LCD displays offer is that with the screen you can make quick camera adjustments for what you are filming or photographing.


A distinct disadvantage of the LCD screen, however, is that it requires battery power to work, and can often cause digital cameras to lose energy at a rapid pace. An easy solution for this problem is having multiple backups batteries on hand.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Optical Viewfinders

Optical viewfinders are more typically used by professionals and strong hobbyists. This type of viewfinder is that smaller lens-like viewfinder nearer to the top of the body of the camera on the back. This is much smaller in size than the electronic screen viewfinder.


Optical viewfinders offer a variety of unique differences to their LCD counterparts.


For example, optical viewfinders perform better in bright sun than LCD screens do.


When taking pictures and viewing the scene or object that is the focus of the photograph, there is no lag in the viewfinder, and you can, therefore, see the scene as it is, where an LCD screen always has at least a hint of lag from true life images.


Optical viewfinders, when used in combination with longer lenses, also offer a more stable platform from which to take photographs.


Viewfinder Cameras

Since the beginning of mass production of digital cameras, optical viewfinders have been cast to the wayside on a majority of camera models. Manufacturers generally expect casual photographers and hobbyists to only use the LCD screen viewfinders to frame their photographs.


Some models, however, do include an optical viewfinder, and these are referred to as viewfinder cameras.


Give Optical Viewfinders a Try

While camera technology is shifting and changing every year, there are still some things that stay the same. If you’re only familiar with using an LCD screen for framing your photographs, you should see if you can borrow a camera with an optical viewfinder and see the differences for yourself.


You might just find yourself converting to use of a viewfinder camera instead.


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