July 26, 2010

The bane of the modern viewfinder

You love the good, large, bright optical viewfinder (ovf) of a DSLR?
Sure you do!
You put your eye to the viewfinder and look at the scene you're about to capture in live-like size and with all the glorious detail. It looks like the real thing, like reality. The camera and its lens are transparent to you.

Much different from the ground glass in the finder of my Yashica-Mat 124G camera I once owned. It was a Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) and when you folded up the view-finder shield and looked down on the 6cm x 6cm ground glass the image projected there through the upper lens was looking much less like reality but like an artifact: It was small, it was mirrored vertically, it had grid-lines overlaid and the contrast was not too good under a bright sky. Even when you looked at it through the supplied loupe it was a far cry from the view through a modern ovf.

But it had one advantage: Your brain identified it easily as being an image, not reality. And that made it easier to compose because you saw important aspects of your composition faster than through an ovf. For example, the tilting lines you produce from tilting your camera upwards when shooting architecture just jump out at you when looking at the ground glass. Or the non-level horizon. The smallness of the screen also made important compositional elements like strong lines or large shadows stand out much more than the small details of the image. So you gave them automatically much more thought when shooting than when your eye is distracted by all the life-like details of an ovf.

So here's a case of pre-shoot abstractification that can help you take better photos because it helps your compositional skills. Even if you were to produce a most life-like image with glorious colors and sharp from corner to corner.

Today's DSLRs don't have something like this and unfortunately their standard matte screens don't even let you preview dof as it will turn out in the shot. Which is a real pity, because dof is one very important factor in composing a photo. And zooming in on the small screen on the back of todays DSLRs doesn't help to judge dof either.

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