Acreage comparison between Fuji X-T1 screen and iPhone 6+ screen
Here's one small way that smartphones are better cameras than other cameras, which no one seems to ever talk about. What if you see—recognize—pictures better on a screen than through a squinty eyepiece viewfinder?
I suspect this of myself, although I'd really rather not admit it. If it's true I'd prefer not to know.
There are all different kinds of viewfinders. There's the old battle of rangefinder vs. SLR viewing—the difference between composing through a glass window with pan-focus and composing through a lens at its widest aperture with limited D-o-F. Now we have DSLR OVF vs. mirrorless EVF to consider too, with many flavors of implementation. In ancient times you could add TLR viewing and view-camera viewing on the groundglass.
Sportfinder on a Graflex Crown Graphic
There's even the nothing-but-air "sportfinder" on the old Crown and Speed Graphics, which consisted of a little ring of metal in the back of the camera to position your eye, and a rectangular wire frame on the front of the camera that puts boundaries on reality for you similar to what the standard 127mm "wide normal" lens will see.
We learn how to "see" (compose) with all of these, or rather with whichever ones we choose to use, but the question here is, are some people better with some types than with others? I think many of us are, given all the hot bother I used to read about rangefinder vs. SLR viewfinding. And is that just a preference, or does it have a qualitative effect too, an impact on how well we are able to compose pictures? That is, when we have a viewfinder that suits the way we mentally organize pictures, are the pictures better?
It's a small thing, but it must be admitted: the screen viewfinder on my iPhone is bigger and better than the screen view on any of my digital cameras. So if I do see better "flat," at some distance from my eye, rather than squinting into the tunnel of whatever kind of eyepiece VF, then that has to go down as a tick-mark in the "pros" column for phone cameras. I mean, if we're being fair. Much as we hate to admit that phones are better than real cameras in any way besides connectivity.
Of course, this is offset by the fact that in bright sunlight, you sometimes can't see the screen of a phone at all. Then it becomes a worse viewfinder, obviously. The not-so-obvious solution to this would be a hood of some sort, like the folding hoods on TLRs or film Hasselblads.
I can't quite envision how a "real," i.e. larger-sensor, interchangeable lens camera optimized for a large viewing screen with a hood would look. But picture this. Start with a body shaped like a cube, like a film Hasselblad body only smaller. On the front of it there's a lens mount. On top of it, so you look down on it when you're composing, TLR style, there's a large square screen. The screen has a fold-up, fold-down hood for in-use/in-storage modes. On the side of the camera there is a handle, adjustable in angle like the handle on my Rolleflex 6008AF, and somewhere on the body there is a dial for switching between square, vertical, and horizontal viewing/capture. It would be kinda like a digital TLR, with no need for the twin lenses of course.
As I say, I don't know how that would look; I certainly don't know how it would sell. (I just think about what photographers need to do good work, not as much about what products would impel customers to the all-important point of sale.)
But it would be an interesting design and engineering challenge to design a real camera that was optimized around a screen viewfinder, rather than having the screen be a secondary afterthought tacked on to the back of a conventional-looking camera, with no hood to shade it in the sun. The camera market provides lots of choices, but within a rather narrow range. There's nothing like this currently, just like there's no reasonably-priced B&W-only camera.
Sometimes I wish I worked for a camera company. I could be the Gyro Gearloose.
Getting back to the way my head works, it's perilous to my ego to consider that I might "see" (compose) better with a flat screen than with a more lifelike and dimensional eyepiece view. But I do have to admit that I suspected this using my old Exacta 66 (with waist-level finder) long ago, and again with the iPhone during my recent project which is now wrapping up. Or, concomitantly, that I might prefer EVFs to OVFs because they tend to "flatten" the scene, that is, make it look more two-dimensional rather than three-dimensional, which (I suspect) aids me in visualizing what the picture will look like as ink on paper.
But I don't want to know. I want to believe I can do anything, with anything! SuperMike, superphotog, no limits! Well....
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Ernest Zarate: "This is why I keep coming back to TOP—such a wondrous rumination on a tantalizing possibility: a camera designed around a screen! In my freshman high school beginning photo class, we used TLRs (Yashica, Mamiya and Rollieflex), so that design is very familiar to me and has a special place in my own history of photography. Not to mention the square format...bliss. I have no idea what your proposed VF-centric camera would look like (is your photo at the top of the article a starting point?), nor how it would sell...but it has the potential to be a sight to behold—literally. Thank you, Mike, Superphotog, for giving me a thoroughly enjoyable vision to ponder this weekend."
Jeff: "I probably learned the most about composition by using a large format ground glass. Turning an image upside down is a technique used in art classes (and one I still use with my prints and even when doing Lightroom edits. By the way, you can buy a mint first version Leica Monochrom for just over $3k, not cheap but a lot better than the original $8k asking price. Dealers have samples that have recently had sensors replaced due to a corrosion issue that has now been solved. And you get a fully checked out camera from Germany."
Kenneth Tanaka: "I think your wish is long since granted."
William Schneider: "While not quite a real-time viewfinder in the traditional sense, some studio shooters use yet another option—tethered shooting. Supported Nikon, Canon, or Leica cameras can be tethered to a computer running Lightroom and can quickly display frames as they are taken. There's nothing like having a large computer screen to view your work critically for focus, exposure, lighting, and composition. All it takes is a USB cable to connect your camera to the computer. A list of Lightroom-supported cameras is available at Adobe. In addition, there are Wi-Fi to tablet solutions available. These methods more closely mimic working with a view camera's large ground glass, but are used with a small camera that can be handheld. For grizzled view camera users, the best thing is that the pictures are viewed right-side up."
Kevin Willoughby: "Take this to the logical extreme: the iPad has a huge viewfinder. (The biggest iPad viewfinder is bigger than an 8x10-inch view camera's groundglass!) For me, the iPad does let me see the final composition in a way no squint-and-peek viewfinder I've ever used. The old Rollei TLR viewfinder, on the other hand, seemed to tell me more about the tonality of a B&W image than I can see with an iPad. Maybe because of the low-contrast ground glass?"
raizans: "I've been wishing someone would make a digital camera with a waist-level finder for years! I got the idea back when EVFs were still really bad. I always imagined a form factor more like the Rolleiflex 6000 series or HY6, but not cube-like. It would be mirrorless (preferably Leica M-mount) and flattened like the Hasselblad X1D, except there would be a tilting LCD with a folding hood. The Hasselblad V1D sort of stole my idea! :-) In an alternate universe, the American camera industry would be making stuff like this, along with digital panoramic cameras based on 1" to APS-C sized sensors, and also crop sensor technical cameras and tilt-shift lenses for amateur architectural photogs."
Hugh: "Am I unusual? I've 'seen' the picture (previsualised?) before I lift the camera to my eye. I’ve a pretty good idea of where the edges of the frame will fall at any distance, probably because I’ve used the same three prime lenses (35mm, 85mm, 135mm) for over 30 years. Possibly using zooms prevent that. Did anybody ever compose a photo using a Leica M series viewfinder? You just had to practice until you knew without looking where the edges of the photo were...."