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Friday, October 1, 2004

Gadget Bag: What A View!

Viewing accessories such as LCD hoods and magnifiers can vastly improve your photographic experience


One of the most significant benefits of shooting with a digital camera is being able to view your images immediately on the camera’s LCD screen. You can determine in seconds if you got the shot you wanted. If not, you can see whether the exposure or focus was off and quickly correct it in time to take the shot again. You also can use the LCD to make changes to settings such as white balance, as well as control other functions of the camera.

What A View!

So, you take your new digital camera out in the field on a beautiful autumn day, excited to get started on the fall color portfolio you've been planning for months. You get to your location, prepare everything and take the first test shot. Switching on the LCD to preview your image, you realize that the same sunlight that illuminated your shot also is making it impossible to view the screen clearly.

A problem with LCD monitors is that they can be difficult to see in glaring light. They require a separate light source, usually a backlight, which can be easily drowned out by bright ambient lighting. In such situations, the screen appears light and details are hard to make out. This can be frustrating when you're relying on the LCD to provide previews of your images and display crucial menu options.

You can try increasing the screen's brightness, but that can have its own problems and it may not even be enough to make the image sufficiently visible. You can look for a shady spot to view your images, but who wants to run to the shade after every shot? Another workable, yet inconvenient, option is to drape a towel or other dark cloth over your head and the camera each time you want to view your screen.

Some newer camera models address this setback by featuring larger, brighter LCD monitors that are easier to view in direct sunlight. They have brighter backlights, which better illuminate the display, but sometimes require more power, in which case, they'll drain your batteries even faster than standard LCDs.

A simple solution to looking at your LCD outdoors is using a viewing accessory. LCD hoods are inexpensive, lightweight add-ons that are easy to attach around your screen and can be removed when not needed. The four-sided hoods create a shaded viewing tunnel and eliminate the glare that makes it difficult to see in direct light.

There also are accessories that shade and magnify the screen by two or three times for additional clarity. These are helpful not only in bright conditions, but in everyday use for viewing details in your photos, menu options and other small-print information on your LCD. They work best with high-pixel-count LCDs, however. Screens with lower resolutions often don't magnify very well.


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