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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Live View, Hype Or Benefit?

D-SLRs now can see what the lens sees directly at the sensor rather than only through the viewfinder

Click Images To EnlargeThis Article Features Photo Zoom
Live View
Because both of the flowers shown in this article were very close to ground level, the articulating LCD monitor on the Olympus E3 allowed for accurate composition of the shots.

When digital cameras entered the market, Sony had one of the first cameras with a rotating lens assembly, so you could see the LCD at different angles compared to the way the lens could see the world. I shot with it up high, down low, and I loved not being restricted to shooting right at my eye level. I could actually see what the lens was seeing when the camera was on the ground without lying on the ground myself.

I reviewed this little camera (just over one megapixel) for PCPhoto Magazine and later ran into a Sony PR person at a trade show. He told me that he had seen my review and was surprised. He thought the rotating lens was just a gimmick and wouldn’t be used for anything!

That was my first exposure to the creative use of a live LCD. Live View is simply the ability to see on your LCD exactly what your sensor is seeing in your camera. This is the way that point-and-shoot and compact digital cameras always have worked ever since they got LCDs. This wasn’t possible in the technology in D-SLRs in the past because the mirror blocked the sensor from any view through the lens.

As I began working with digital cameras, I couldn’t afford the D-SLRs of the time, so I bought advanced digital compacts such as the Canon PowerShot G series of compact digital cameras. These had a live LCD, of course, because they weren’t SLR designs.

What I liked about the G series was that it had an LCD that both tilted and rotated. I’d put one of these little cameras on my tripod, tilt the LCD for convenient viewing and suddenly I felt like I had a miniature view camera. I wasn’t simply looking through the lens at a subject; I was seeing a little photograph framed in the LCD. For me, this changed how I interacted with my subject and my photograph.

Even more, the swiveling LCD allowed me to use my tripod at a low height, and I could see what the camera was seeing without contorting myself to look through a low viewfinder. I also could set the tripod up higher than normal in order to see through the viewfinder. I tilted the LCD down, and there was my image, ready for me to make a composition. And I could put the camera down on the ground, tilt the LCD so I could see what the lens was seeing, and take new low-angle pictures without having to lay down and squash my head against the ground.

This worked well for awhile. I got some quality images this way, which ended up in OP and in my books, but there were limitations. While the Canon G series of digital cameras had accessory lenses, which I used, and I used achromatic close-up lenses for some very high-quality close-up work, focal length still was a limiting factor.

The other problem was that these little digital cameras had small sensors that were very susceptible to noise. At ISO settings of 100, the cameras gave high-quality results. Above that, and the results were real iffy if you wanted low noise. For me, results at ISO 400 were unusable except for special purposes.


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