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Photography 1.09: Camera Monitor or Viewfinder -- Which Is Best?

Updated on June 14, 2020
Photography Focus profile image

Here's another article in my series teaching the basics of photography. I have over 30 year professional photography experience to share.

Many modern digital cameras give you the option of using the viewfinder or the monitor to compose and prepare to take a photo. Which one do you use?

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the differences when using the camera monitor or the viewfinder for composing your photos.

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Using the Camera’s Viewfinder

Using the viewfinder on a camera is the more traditional way to compose your photos. This is how I prefer to look at what my camera is seeing because I am used to it. With film cameras, there is no option to use a screen on the back of the camera because they do not have one.

I like using the viewfinder because it removes any distractions. I can only see what my camera is seeing, through whichever lens I have attached to it. I can also see the relevant camera information inside the viewfinder that shows me what settings I am using.

With DSLR cameras have optical viewfinders. This means you are looking directly through the lens of your camera. As light reflects an image into your lens it meets a mirror inside the DSLR body. It then bounces up into a prism that flips the image before you see it in the viewfinder. If there were no prism, only another mirror, you’d see an upside-down image.

Optical viewfinders provide a clear view of your subject when the light is sufficient.

Mirrorless cameras have electronic viewfinders. When you look into the viewfinder you are looking at a tiny screen showing what your camera’s sensor is recording. Because there is no mirror the image your lens is pointing towards must be displayed electronically.

The quality of the image you see in an electronic viewfinder depends on the camera you use. Some are much more refined than others. Photographing in low light it can be easier to see through an electronic viewfinder.

Some mirrorless cameras do not have a viewfinder so you have to use the screen on the back of the camera.

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Using the Camera’s Monitor

All digital cameras have live view. This allows you to look at your screen while you compose your photographs.

Some people prefer to use the live view option and compose their photos using the screen on the back of the camera. The monitor is bigger than the viewfinder and can make it more comfortable to use.

Many cameras have articulated monitors. You can flip the screen out and rotate it. This can make it easier to use. When you want to hold the camera up high, you can pop the screen out and tilt it down so that when holding your camera up above your head you can still see through it.

Doing this can also save you from having to get down on the ground when you want to take a photo from a worms eye view.

One problem using the monitor can occur in bright sunny locations. In full sun the glare off the screen can make it difficult to see. At times like this, it’s better to use the viewfinder if your camera has one.

Wearing a dark-colored or black shirt helps to reduce distracting reflections on the monitor. If you’re wearing a light color this will reflect in the camera’s monitor when you hold it in front of you. This is why photographers often like to wear black.

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Photography Challenge: 1.09

Lens - Standard

Exposure Mode - aperture priority

Focus Mode – Any

Location – Outdoors (in the sun preferably)

Time – Any time of day


Both the screen on the back of your camera and the viewfinder have their strengths and weaknesses. When you practice using both in different situations you can discover which one you prefer.

For this challenge find a subject to photograph on a sunny day. Start by using the viewfinder on your camera (if it has one.) Compose a few photos and think about what you are seeing through the viewfinder.

Then turn on the camera’s live view and take photos of the same compositions again. Do this exercise a number of times in different locations and in different lighting conditions. Try it at night too.

Take some of the photos holding your camera as high up as you can. When you use the viewfinder you’ll be limited to how high you can hold the camera. Using the screen, especially if you can flip it out, you’ll be able to hold your camera up higher. Experiment to see which method you like best.

Also take some photos from a worms eye perspective. Hold your camera down very low to the ground. It will be very apparent how helpful an articulated monitor is when you try this.

Which option are you more comfortable with? Is glare or reflection off your monitor a problem in bright conditions? You’ll find in some situations the viewfinder is more comfortable and in others, the screen is more convenient to use.

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    • sparkleyfinger profile image

      Lynsey Hart 

      13 months ago from Lanarkshire

      Great article. I am an enthusiastic novice. I have a very basic photography qualification, and a fairly simple bridge camera. I have always preferred to compose my shot through the viewfinder, It just felt more authentic to me. My most recent camera only has a screen, so I feel as though I am cheating in a way and as you mention, it can be difficult to see what you're shooting in harsh light.

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