My first camera was a Canon FTb film camera with an optical viewfinder to look thru. Optical viewfinders are small, hard to use with glasses, and they make it difficult to view the full frame (somewhat like tunnel vision). I loved the big digital screen on the back when I bought my first DSLR Canon T1; When I turned it on, my image appeared large enough for me to see well. I used it for too many years as just a big viewfinder.
It was several years ago when I upgraded to a Canon T6i and had to read the manual to use it. That is when I discovered the useful functions of the Live View screen. I regularly use many of them as part of my shooting routine. I hope this blog post will open your eyes (a vague reference to squinting thru the optical viewfinder) and cause you to become a Live View believer.
The Liveview screen displays your view with a brightness not dependent upon your shooting light. I can shoot in low light or with ND filters and still focus, compose, etc. on the brighter Liveview screen.
You can bring up a histogram display of your scene on the Live View screen. This will help you decide your exposure settings and the effects of changes you make to them. It is always best to be close on the exposure in the field, before fine tuning it in post processing. The histogram does not show on your image when you have pushed the shutter.
Besides the histogram, you can pull up data on your camera settings and display it on the Live View screen. On my Canon T6i, the “Info “button is just above the screen; push it once and it displays settings data along the lower edge of the screen. You push it again and it adds more camera data along the left edge of the screen. A third push brings up the histogram. Why is this useful? You don’t have to keep shutting off the Live View and go to another screen to see the settings you are using. Eliminating this switching back-and-forth saves time and allows you to keep your focus on the Live View image of the scene you are trying to capture.
Many of these same functions work in the Playback mode when you are evaluating the photo you have just taken. Especially the magnification 5x or 10x loupe which you can really zoom in on critical areas of the photo that you want right before you leave the spot.
By far the most useful role of the Live View screen for me, remember my glasses, is I can get much sharper images using the screen. My camera has a loupe feature that allows you to magnify in on where you want to focus; you choose between a 5x and 10x magnification. You select these by pushing a blue button way over on the back right. The button looks like 2 magnifying glass, one marked + and one -.
Here is how I use the magnification feature to get optimal sharpness in my photos:
Chose the spot in the scene you want to focus on, change the lens to manual focus, and magnify in (using the 10x most of the time). You turn the focus ring on the lens to get the sharpest image on the Live View screen. Remember not to touch it again until after the shot. This works great for shooting distant mountain sides, peaks, etc. I believe it also works well for macro photography but I haven’t shot many flowers lately. I will test it extensively on my trip to the Eastern Sierra Nevada area in June.
One of the most common composition problems is not getting the horizon level in your photo. In your camera’s menu, you can turn on a grid of lines which divides the Live View screen into 3 parts horizontally and 3 parts vertically. I leave mine on all the time. Use the top horizontal line and adjust the camera so the line is parallel with the horizon. You can use these grid lines to compose your photo with the “Rule Of Thirds” . If you haven’t heard of this rule yet in your photographic journey, you will.
Live View allows you to see the full frame of of your view, i.e. no tunnel vision. One should always check out the frame edges to ensure you aren’t cutting off something, or have something like a tree branch intruding in. You should inspect the background for obtrusive objects or buildings. And finally, check out the foreground, especially for “clutter “that would detract from your main object of interest in the photo. This is much easier to do on the Live View screen. I have a mantra I say to myself before I push the shutter; “One Last Look “.
One last positive aspect of Live View is that in order for it to see the scene, it has to “lock up “the internal mirror. This mirror reflects the image coming in thru the lens opening up to the optical viewfinder. Ordinarily, when you push the shutter, the mirror swings up inside the camera to get out of the way of the sensor. This slight movement can contribute to a slight blurring or loss of sharpness in your photos. Having it already locked up in Live View mode eliminates this degradation of your image.
Live View has one disadvantage, it will eat up your battery life. I take care of this by carrying 2-3 charged spares, which is a good practice, anyway.