Are We Missing Problems In Our Footage Because We Don’t Use Viewfinders Anymore?

I see it so many times on various forums and user groups – “I didn’t see it until I looked at it at home and now I find the footage is unusable”.

We all want our footage to be perfect all of the time, but sometimes there might be something that trips up the technology that we are using. And that can introduce problems into a shot. The problem is perhaps that these things are not normal. As a result we don’t expect them to be there, so we don’t necessarily look for them. But thinking about this, I also think a lot of it is because very often the only thing being used to view what is being shot is a tiny LCD screen.

For the first 15 years of my career the only viewfinders available were either a monocular viewfinder with a magnifier or a large studio style viewfinder (typically 7″).  Frankly if all you are using is a 3.5″ LCD screen, then you will miss many things!

I see many forum post about these missed image issues on my phone which has a 6″ screen. When I view the small versions of the posted examples of the issue I can rarely see it. But view it full screen and it becomes obvious. So what hope do you have of picking up these issue on location with a tiny monitor screen, often viewed too closely to be in good focus.

A 20 year old will typically have a focus range of around 12 diopters, but by the time you get to 30 that decreases to about 8, by 40 to 5 and 50 just 1 or 2. What that means (for the average person) is that if you are young enough you might be able to focus sufficiently on that small LCD when it’s close enough to your eyes for you to be able to see it properly and be able to see potential problems. But by the time you get to 30 most people won’t be able to adequately focus on a 3.5″ LCD until it’s too far from their eyes to resolve everything it is capable of showing you. If you are hand holding a camera with a 3.5″ screen such that the screen is 30cm or more from your eyes there is no way you can see critical focus or small image artefacts, the screen is just too small. Plus most people that don’t have their eyesight tested regularly don’t even realise it is deteriorating until it gets really bad.

There are very good reason why viewfinders have diopters/magnifiers. They are there to allow you to see everything your screen can show, they make the image appear larger, they keep out unwanted light. When you stop using them you risk missing things that can ruin a shot, whether that’s focus that’s almost but not quite right, something in the background that shouldn’t be there or some subtle technical issue.

It’s all too easy to remove the magnifier and just shoot with the LCD, trusting that the camera will do what you hope it to. Often it’s the easiest way to shoot, we’ve all been there I’m sure. BUT easy doesn’t mean best. When you remove the magnifier you are choosing easy shooting over the ability to see issues in your footage before it’s too late to do something about it.

4 thoughts on “Are We Missing Problems In Our Footage Because We Don’t Use Viewfinders Anymore?”

  1. I wear glasses so find viewfinders nearly impossible now. I used them before my eyesight deteriorated. now I tend to try and use a small attached monitor when possible (although FS5 with Shogun Inferno is great combo but not brilliant for a day of handheld), or else rely on focus magnification and peaking.

    1. I am short sighted and have been all my life, but never really found any problems wearing glasses and using a monocular VF. There are many thousands of glasses wearing camera operators that are able to work with proper viewfinders. Try adding an i-cuff or leather eyepiece they can really help. Another trick for glasses wearers is to get a pair made especially for shooting with a magnifier/closeup lenses. You will often see many top cinematographers with an extra pair of glasses on a cord around there neck specifically for use with viewfinders.

      Peaking is useful but also very dangerous as it is contrast based, not focus based. So it highlights the areas of best contrast, which often isn’t best focus. So be extremely careful with peaking, it fools a lot of people a lot of the time.

  2. I used to shoot through the VF 90% of the time but now with my FS5 I almost never use the VF. It’s not great for anything besides framing and exposing on a bright day. I bought an eyepiece for the LCD but the low-res screen is hard to look at. My $400 smartphone looks better! I wish manufacturers would offer an upgraded external VF option, I would gladly pay it. I’m sure third party VFs like the Gratical are great but that means extra weight/cabling/power that could have been avoided if the camera was better equipped from the beginning.

    I also shoot differently when using the VF vs an LCD or monitor. It’s a mental thing, I get drawn in to the shot and I don’t get distracted by what’s happening around me or my subject (of course, that’s a bad thing when you need to avoid oncoming cyclists)

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