Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I don't own a DSLR (yet), so i do not have an opinion on the question, but I'm really curious about the usefulness of a top LCD screen, as found on cameras like the Nikon D90 or d60 and up.

Does you feel you are more productive with this screen?

Do the people that do not have it feel like they are missing something ?

(I'm talking about the LCD screen next to the shutter button, not the one inside the viewfinder.)

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Just to be clear, are you talking about the little LCD screen next to the shutter button, or the display visible inside the viewfinder? –  jfklein13 Sep 22 '10 at 22:32
    
Hugely dependent on personal preferences. You will have trouble finding a definitive answer on this one. –  dpollitt Jul 22 '11 at 18:40

9 Answers 9

up vote 8 down vote accepted

It's hard to say really, I find it indispensable, but that's mainly because I'm so used to using it. But it's really the information that I rely on, not the location of the screen.

It's a bit of a hangover to the film days when there wasn't a rear LCD. You could say it's easier to pull back and look at the rear LCD screen than to pull back and rotate the camera to look at the top. In fact I believe some film cameras such as the Minolta Maxxum 7 had exposure information LCD screens on the back instead of the top.

I'm not sure I buy the point about the LCD screen being too bright when your eyes are adjusted to starlight. You can turn the brightness right down, and/or stick an ND gel over the rear screen when doing astrophotography if necessary.

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Even the top LCD (and the in-viewfinder status data) might be a bit bright in a night-shooting (my experience three weeks ago at new moon - milky-way-tryout at 16mm). But the top one can be at least illuminated by a fainter light to check settings/status (long time exposure taking post-processing time). –  Leonidas May 24 '11 at 13:22

The top LCD is very useful in the following circumstances:

  1. On a tripod
    The camera is often at about waist height. You can make/view changes to settings without having to stoop.

  2. Unobtrusive photography
    Lowering the camera from the eye to review settings on the top panel is less obtrusive than holding the camera aways from your body to view the back panel.

  3. Short sighted people.
    It is easier to lower the camera far enough to focus on the top panel than it is to hold the camera up and far out enough to focus on the back panel

  4. Night photography
    Under some circumstances it is important to preserve your night vision. The bright rear panel can reduce your night vision.

  5. Flower and insect photography from a tripod.
    For these subjects the camera is often mounted very low. Then using the top panel is very helpful.

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A comment by an anonymous user regarding the last point (originally proposed as an edit): It's true there are situations where tripod is low but at all those situations you have to move and bend down to look throught the view finder and you still have to look at the main LCD to check the result of settings you made so why do we need a seperate LCD to change a setting? I too agree to teh fact that this second LCD is just a continuation from old SLR cameras. –  Imre Sep 7 '12 at 14:30
    
The rear screen brightness on most DSLRs can be adjusted to almost nil. –  Michael Clark Feb 27 '13 at 6:17

And most of all ... , in addition to all these benefits listed above, extremely low battery consumption which will allow you to use your DSLR way longer without attaching bulky battery grips.

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This is probably one the most important factors. –  Fred Jul 24 '11 at 7:40

I wouldn't own a dslr without one. Not only is it much quicker to check and change camera settings, but when you are shooting at night without one, it really messes with your eyes to have to keep switching from the darkness to the bright LCD.

This seems like a small issue until you are trying to do star trails in pure darkness and the LCD keeps blasting away your night vision.

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Extremely useful. In face, you only look pictures and navigate thru menus on the main LCD. Everything else you do on the top LCD and these are the crucial tasks: exposition, sensitivity, aperture, etc.

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2  
I've always used DSLRs with "small" LCDs (starting with Canon EOS 350D) and trying 400D and 1000D that had to fire up main display or raise the camera to my eye just to see what kind of exposure I have set was sure annoying. –  che Sep 22 '10 at 21:52

I recently traded my K110D (which has the top LCD) for a K-x (which doesn't).

I really don't miss it at all - most of the information on the top LCD is also available thru the view finder, and the rest is available on the back.

So no, I don't feel like I'm missing anything.

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It's sometimes useful, at least in my own use. I personally find the viewfinder HUD more useful as you don't need to look away from the photo.

But the viewfinder HUD doesn't include all settings, which means it's still useful for changing mode settings, like metering and shoot mode.

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This is why I like EVF. Amount of data on viewfinder is adjustable and since you are already looking thru the viewfinder, why not have it all there? And still, topside info-lcd would be nice, even useful. –  Esa Paulasto Mar 16 '13 at 18:47

I find it repetitive and without any use in digital photography, at least some cameras have quite dark back lcd designs, causing no obstruction in night photography, has much more information, the menu thing is really not a thing when you do the same settings on the back lcd with the speed and ease of the top screen,since you use the same buttons.

I've used Nikon and Canon in film photography, nowadays I use Sony DSLR and I don't miss a thing about it. (yes, flame me, I use Sony, I like their pro entry level overall quality and price, besides, I had a huge range of minolta mount lenses and by the time I also had lots of bayonet adapters for other lens brands).

I think its just an anchor from film photography and makes no meaning in having it.

I even sometimes in nightshoots, use a 7'' screen attached to the hdmi to do precise focusing. BTW, imho, in nightshoots, you don't really need our eyes nightvision, instead, dealing with cameras sensibility and behaviour makes a lot more sense.

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With an extern monitor that can be turned up it might be different but I found it quite difficult to make out and focus the faint light of the milky-way through the viewfinder without relying on my night-vision at 16mm APS-C. –  Leonidas May 24 '11 at 13:26
2  
Welcome to photo.se Luis! You won't get flamed for your brand decisions here. –  fmark May 24 '11 at 13:29
    
Go Sony! They have some pretty impressive new models coming out soon. –  dpollitt Jul 22 '11 at 18:39

Less and less valuable.

But a truly professional camera will have it.

Take the Olympus E-5. The LCD screen rotates, so, sometimes your screen is rotated where the front of the screen is protected against the back of the camera (if you're in a packed punk-rock club during a mosh pit, crawling along a thorny outcropping in a warzone, etc.).

That is when the top LCD is extremely useful. Can't use the back one. Can't look through the eyepiece. Shooting from the hip to survive. Must check ISO. Must check WB. How many exposures are left. Make sure I'm in RAW. Make sure my shutter-speed doesn't suck. Make sure bracketing is on/off. Etc., without moving the camera.

Bright LCD on back will ruin your night vision. I.e. it will cause your retinas to compensate to bright light. Possibly give away your position.

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