The Importance Of A Viewfinder In Street Photography

This article isn’t meant to bash you or your camera,  I am a firm believer that the best camera is the one that fits your needs.  But I don’t believe the best camera “is the one you have with you”.  That’s some crap someone came up with to make someone else feel better because they complained about their camera (#Truth).  I’m writing this article because I believe that if you don’t already have a camera with a viewfinder you should save up until you can afford one and run, don’t walk, to the store (or your computer if you use Amazon like I do) and buy one.

I’d almost rather draw a picture of what I see than use a camera without a viewfinder, that’s how strongly I feel about the importance of a viewfinder.  I’ve yet to meet a LCD screen that didn’t wash out in direct sunlight.  Discretion is lost by holding your camera three feet from your face to see your LCD when trying to take a candid image.  Most people with LCD’s end up having to crop the dickens out of their images because they couldn’t frame properly using the washed out LCD in the sunlight.  Finally, you have to focus so much on the LCD screen that you miss the action around you.  Humor me if you will:

LCD’s And The Sun

Forget it, you may as well stare into the sun because you’re just reflecting the rays back into your peepers with the glass of the LCD screen.  I can remember using one of the Olympus Pen cameras years ago and trying to rely on its sole LCD screen for composing my images.  I was in Barbados and there were rarely any clouds in the sky which made using the LCD screen almost pointless.


It’s not discreet when you hold your camera three feet from your face and rotate around following your shot like a robot.  Pulling your elbows in to your sides and holding your camera close to your face reduces your profile and allows you to move through crowds without smacking into people with your outstretched arms.

In fact, holding your camera out so you can see the viewfinder is just poor form and impacts the quality of your images.  By tucking your elbows into your side when shooting you are helping to support the camera and reduce possible image blur from shaky hands.

Framing Matters

How you frame a scene makes all the difference in the world.  For instance, if you are shooting with a LCD that is washed out by the sun (happens more often than most would like to admit) you are likely to botch an important shot by cutting off your subject’s head because they were too far to the right, left, bottom, or top of your frame.  You may have a crooked horizon that, once straightened, you end up having to crop most of the shot and losing the ability to enlarge your photograph if you ever need to (I’ve been asked for photographs as large as 6’x7′).

Tunnel Vision

Because you typically focus on things three feet away from you with both of your eyes you lose your ability to see the world around you when you frame a shot.  With a viewfinder you can press your eye to the camera and leave your other eye open to see what’s coming into the frame, the camera acts as a lens for one of your eyes rather than the focal point.  Don’t believe me?  Try this, cover one eye and look around the room…  Still seeing everything without much trouble right?  Now hold your hand arms length in front of you and look at your palm (imagine it’s a LCD screen), and while looking at your palm try to look around the room…  Big difference.

Finally, am I saying you shouldn’t use a camera that only has a LCD screen for viewing your next shot?  No.  I know my sarcasm can be a little extreme but I am encouraging you to give up the notion that just a LCD screen is good enough.  It’s not, and you’re cheating yourself by convincing yourself that it is.  If all you have or can afford is a camera with a LCD screen then by all means keep using it and make the best of a tough situation.

I value your opinion, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below…  Keep it clean.


  • Didier H says:

    I can only concur.

    My usual setup is too much bulk/weight, so I usually don’t want to carry it around on my daily commute (although a K5 + 28/50/135 primes isn’t too heavy, it’s still quite big). Maybe the best camera isn’t the one you have with you, but put another way: the only useful camera is the one you have with you 😉

    When looking for a compact camera, I simply discarded all the ones that didn’t have a viewfinder (be it optical or electronic), because of all the reasons you mentioned here – mostly the poor display in bright light and the tunnel vision. I would also add that I personally find it very hard to follow a moving subject with anything but a viewfinder. This makes me miss what I’m looking for, while tunnel vision makes me miss all the rest…

    I ended up having a Fuji X20 as a sidekick to my Pentax.

    [My fist post here – but not on the Flickr page ;)]

  • Mike K says:

    I can’t agree more, with both John’s article and Didier’s comment.
    I’d like to add that I like a viewfinder for stability.
    I find that I can’t keep a camera as stable when holding it away from my body as I can when it is pressed against my face.
    I’m starting to get a ding in my nose, but I prefer sharp shots…
    My nose was never that pretty anyway!

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