Some notes on digital still cameras for bird photography: Part 5

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Subject: Some notes on digital still cameras for bird photography: Part 5
From: "Robert Inglis" <>
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2002 06:59:06 +1000
Hello digi-birding fanatics,

This is Part 5 of my notes and comments on using digital cameras for bird
In this edition I will discuss:
- Viewfinders and LCD screens.


Traditionally 35mm film cameras have used 'optical' viewfinders to enable the
user to frame and focus the picture to be taken.
That is, a system of glass (or plastic) lenses is employed.
SLR type cameras (Single Lens Reflex) also employ additional prisms that enable
the user to actually see through the lens before the picture is taken.
The cheaper, less complex (?) 'Compact' film cameras use a viewfinder that works
in parallel and independently of the main lens.

Many digital cameras use a different approach.
The SLR type 'pro' digital cameras use the same optical system of
'Through-The-Lens' (TTL) viewfinder as the film SLRs.
And many 'compact' digital cameras use optical viewfinders like in 'compact'
film cameras.
However, an increasing number of the 'consumer' type digital cameras are
employing 'Electronic' viewfinders similar to those used in video cameras.
Probably all of the 'consumer' digital cameras that bird photographers would be
interested in use 'Electronic' viewfinders.
The advantage of the electronic viewfinder is that it is a TTL system.
This means that "what you see is what you get" (almost) in the final image.
The disadvantage is that it is often harder to see what you want to photograph
than it would be using an optical viewfinder because electronic viewfinders are
not as bright as optical ones!
(That is, bright as in visually not mentally!)

Electronic viewfinders are low pixel-count Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) screens.
Even though they may be colour screens the colour reproduction can be poor (at
least it is on my Olympus C-700) and, because of the low pixel density, they can
be low resolution.
In other words, they do not provide the definition and clarity that most optical
viewfinders do.
Also, they do not react to a change in the scene as quickly as an optical
viewfinder will.
This is most noticeable if you are trying to focus on a moving object such as a

These features can be frustrating especially when using high levels of zoom.

An interesting facet with the C-700, at least, is that when set to certain
'modes' the initial view through the viewfinder changes markedly (brightness,
focus, depth of field) when the shutter release is progressively operated.
During this process the camera is assessing the required settings.
To obtain the best 'pre-view' of the subject it is usually necessary to press
the shutter release to the halfway point.
With film cameras it is generally possible to clearly see the subject in the
viewfinder without operating the shutter release at all.

A TTL type viewfinder is preferable to a non-TTL type and an optical viewfinder
is preferable to an electronic type but with the current batch of 'consumer'
digital cameras with high-power zoom lenses you will have to settle for the
digital TTL type.
This does make the digital cameras a bit harder to use than film cameras.

Some cameras have viewfinders with a diopter adjustment while others don't.
The diopter adjustment is to help correct for variations from 'normal' in the
user's vision.
It is worth checking if the camera you fancy has the adjustment.

One other aspect of electronic viewfinders is that they require electric power
which must come from the camera battery thus putting an added strain on the
power supply capacity.
Only the odd model of digital camera has the facility to turn of the electronic
viewfinder if the LCD screen is being used.
One model senses if the user's eye is in proximity to the viewfinder before the
viewfinder switches on.
Most models have the viewfinder switched on all the time the camera is 'on'.

LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) screen:

Most digital cameras these days are equipped with a second 'viewfinder', an LCD
This is a small 'TV' screen either on the back of the camera or on a swing-out
They are generally about 35mm by 25mm in size.
The resolution of these screens is usually quite good and they are ideal for
reviewing the pictures stored on the removable media card in the camera.
It is also possible to use this screen in lieu of the normal viewfinder when
taking a picture.
With this viewer it is easy to check that the picture you have just taken is
what you want.
That's something that is a bit hard to do with a film camera!!
There is usually a zoom capability when viewing the images; this allows you to
check the quality more accurately.
The degree of viewing zoom varies from model to model.

You must know by now that I am about to list all of the 'minuses' to LCD screens
on digital cameras?
So I will.

The worst enemy of LCD screens is bright ambient light, like normal daylight.
These screens are very often unusable out in the open sunlight where you will
want to be taking you pictures.
So you will generally have to resort to the less-than-perfect electronic
viewfinder when taking pictures.
Some cameras are actually coming out now with accessory screen hoods to try to
overcome this problem.
But if you have eyesight like mine you may also find it difficult holding the
camera at a suitable distance from your face to enable you to focus on the
screen as you try to focus the camera on the subject.
It is just not the same as using a normal viewfinder.
When re-viewing your images on a small LCD screen everything looks nice and
sharp and in focus.
Unfortunately, they often don't look so good on a larger Computer or TV screen.
A lot of the facilities of the camera are accessed through electronic 'menus'.
These menus are displayed usually only on the LCD screen (there are some models
coming out now where the menus are also displayed on the viewfinder) so you will
usually not be able to change the major settings of the camera while you are
lining the camera up on the subject as you look through the viewfinder.
(Working through menus looking for the setting or feature you want can be a bit
slow especially until you get used to the layout.)
If the camera is in bright sunlight you may find it difficult to read the menus.
LCD screens are power hungry and if left on all of the time will soon drain the
So you will either have to turn the screen of for most of the time or carry lots
of re-chargeable batteries and a means of recharging them.
One person can successfully review an image on an LCD screen but they are not
the best things for 'group viewings' in the field.

Still, once you have used a camera equipped with an LCD screen you wouldn't be
without one again!

More soon,
- Storage media:
- Flash:
- Accessories:
.....2/ Wide-angle converters:
.....3/ Close-up filters:
.....4/ Lens filters:
- Digiscoping:

Happy digitising,
Bob Inglis
Woody Point

Please note that these are my personal opinions gained from personal experience
and observation; other people may have other opinions and different experiences.
What I have written below is not intended to be absolute.
Anyone contemplating purchasing a digital camera for any reason or purpose would
be advised to seek advice from other sources as well.
Note that, except where a particular model of digital camera is mentioned, these
comments and notes are meant to be general by nature.
These comments and notes are not intended to be an endorsement for or a
statement against any particular brand or model of digital camera; they are
intended only to be a point of discussion for those people who may be
considering purchasing and/or using digital cameras for bird photography.
It should be realized that changes are occurring seemingly daily in this field
and therefore features and usability of digital cameras are changing also.
The types of digital cameras will change regularly as will the quality of image

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