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I own a 450D, and I am very satisfied with the image quality, features, and so on. The only thing that disturbs me is the viewfinder. I can barely see the whole image when looking through it (black blends in near the edges as my eyes focus the image) and as soon as I look through it slightly from the side, e.g. when I'm shooting near the floor, the whole thing gets to be controlled by luck. Manual focus is almost impossible to get right — especially with the crappy focus ring on the kit lense (it's slightly better with the 60mm/2.8). Later, when I view the photos on my PC, I can see details that I haven't noticed at all while using the viewfinder and therefore did not have control of.

Am I the only one having these problems? Is there any possibility to improve my viewfinder's image without buying a new camera? And last but not least, which cameras do have good, big viewfinders? Does it have something to do with the size of the sensor?

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4  
a lot of men have that issue... (sorry couldn't resist) –  Jakub Jan 6 '11 at 15:34
    
Are you sure the problem is your viewfinder is too small? It sounds like if you can't see the whole image then it's too big! –  Matt Grum Jan 6 '11 at 18:36
1  
Are you wearing glasses? –  Loren Pechtel Jan 6 '11 at 20:54
    
@Matt You're right - I'd rather say the viewfinder frame is too small, though ;) @Loren Yes, but I don't see a big difference between looking over my glasses through the viewfinder and looking through it without having my glasses on. –  eWolf Jan 7 '11 at 1:40
1  
Just don't react to dubious mails that promise you viewfinder enlargement - it will not work. –  his Jan 31 at 21:55

7 Answers 7

up vote 10 down vote accepted

There are a few things conspiring against you. First is the fact that your camera uses a pentamirror rather than a pentaprism to orient the viewfinder image so up is up and left is left. Mirrors are nowhere near as efficient as total internal reflection within a prism, but they are a whole lot cheaper. And unlike a prism, they get worse rather than better the further away from the normal angle you get. (The 60D, 7D, 5D, 1D and 1Ds all use a pentaprism.)

The focusing screen makes a difference as well. I don't know enough about the actual construction of the screens in the various Canon models to say for sure whether that's a contributing factor in your case, but I do know that back in the day the Minolta Acute Matte screen was brighter than other designs by a significant enough margin (nearly a full stop of apparent brightness compared to the screens Nikon and Canon were using) that Hasselblad licensed the technology for their medium format cameras.

The reflex mirror is only partially silvered these days as well (it used to be just an ordinary front-silvered mirror in the Dark Ages). Again, I don't know if there is a significant difference in transmissivity between the various models of camera, but it wouldn't surprise me if there were.

The image erector, the screen and the reflex mirror (not to mention the optics used at the eyepiece) are all places where a camera maker can save a buck or two when making an entry-level camera.

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Thanks for the detailed explanation! On the long run, I will definitely get a new camera. But when I buy a new one, I also want to make the switch to full-format. This means it's getting pretty expensive for me (I'll need new lenses, too), so I won't do this anytime soon. –  eWolf Jan 7 '11 at 1:45

To me it sounds that you are not holding you eye close enough to the viewfinder. You should be able to see the edges of the image in the viewfinder clearly inside the frame of the viewfinder, as well as all the digits and indicators shown below the image.

The viewfinder has a rubber lining, so that you comfortably can press your eye socket against it to get your eye close to it, but you should still be able to see the entire image in the viewfinder even without touching the camera.

According to this review, the viewfinder in the 450D is bigger and brighter than the one in the 400D, so there is nothing that suggests that your camera would have a particularly bad viewfinder. A camera with a full size sensor has a larger and brigher viewfinder, but you should certainly be able to get a good enough view in the camera that you have.

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I just tried again. I noticed several things: a) I feel more comfortable without the rubber lining; it allows me to get a little closer to the image when I take it off. b) When I shoot upright format, I can see the entire viewfinder without problems (with the rubber lining taken off), so the cause of the problem probably is that I can't get my eye close enough to the viewfinder as my nose hits the display.. –  eWolf Jan 7 '11 at 1:57
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@eWolf: I see. You might want to keep the nose, so try to place the camera more against your cheek rather than straight in front of your face. Try both eyes to find out which one feels more natural to use. –  Guffa Jan 7 '11 at 2:36
    
You specifically mention that you have a problem "getting your eye close enough". Canon does make what are called "Eyepiece Extenders) (models usually begin EP-EX) designed to both extend the diopter lens farther from the body, and to reduce the size of the image in the lens (thus allowing your eye to be farther from the lens). –  JerryLove Jan 31 at 19:37

Here is a list of DSLRs ordered by decreasing viewfinder size. You will see that yours is closer to the bottom than to the top which indicates it is on the small size.

The larger the sensor, the easiest it is to make a large viewfinder. That is why the largest viewfinders all belong to full-frame cameras even though the quoted magnification can be smaller. Among cropped-sensor cameras you can see that there are 4 cameras that tie for the largest viewfinder (Nikon D7000, D300S, D300 and Canon 7D).

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The Canon web site includes the viewfinder specifications:

Type Eye-level pentamirror

Coverage Vertical/Horizontal approx. 95%

Magnification Approx. 0.87x (-1m with 50mm lens at infinity)

Eye Point Approx. 19mm (from eyepiece lens center)

Dioptric Adjustment Correction -3.0 to +1.0 diopter

Focusing Screen Fixed, Precision Matte

Mirror Quick-return half mirror (Transmission: reflection ratio of 40:60, no mirror cut-off with EF600mm f/4L IS USM or shorter lenses)

Viewfinder Information AF information (AF points, focus confirmation light), exposure information (shutter speed, aperture, AE lock, exposure level, ISO speed, exposure warning), flash information (flash ready, high-speed sync, FE lock, flash exposure compensation), monochrome shooting, white balance correction, maximum burst, SD memory card information

Depth Of Field Preview Enabled with depth-of-field preview button

I think the most important parts regarding your question are the coverage and eye point.

The viewfinder on this camera is only designed to cover 95% of the area, so you will not see the entire frame. You have to keep that in mind. Also, they specify 19mm as the eye point, so for optimal viewing, you should have your eye within 19mm of the eyepiece lens.

As far as what cameras have a good viewfinder... You generally need to step up to the professional line to get 100% coverage, but if you look at the technical specifications, they will tell you what type of viewfinder is used.

Ideally you would want an eye-level pentaprism, with 100% coverage and 1.0X magnification.

If you want to learn more about all of the components of the viewfinder, there is a great reference at luminous-landscape (the examples a a bit dated, but the concepts are accurate).

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Thank you for the information. But although 100% coverage is certainly an advantage, I don't think the coverage, but rather the actual size of the viewfinder is the root of my current problem. –  eWolf Jan 7 '11 at 2:05

You are certainly not the only one with this problem.

To your last point: EOS 7D has a big and clear viewfinder with a supposedly 100% coverage. It is certainly an upgrade from my Rebel XT. Obviously, it has nothing to do with the sensor size.

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The sensor size does matter, as it decides roughly how much should be seen in the viewfinder. With a larger sensor it's easier to make a larger and brighter viewfinder. –  Guffa Jan 6 '11 at 17:00

If you are wearing glasses this would put your eye further from the viewfinder window and make it more difficult to see the edges of the image being projected by the pentamirror.

If you take off your glasses, and the image is blurry, try adjusting the diopter using the tiny wheel just to the top-right of the viewfinder window itself.

That should sort you out :)

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You might try a viewfinder expander, such as Seagull 2.3X Magnification Viewfinder. I've never used them myself, but I've heard good things about them in general.

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In my experience, they're great for critical focus at or near the centre of the screen, but they actually exacerbate the problem of edge/corner vignetting. Worth every penny, but it's flip up for composition and flip down for focus. –  user2719 Jan 6 '11 at 16:34
    
@Stan That's what the reviews say, too.. If there would be such a thing that did not only magnify but also enlarge the image area accordingly, I would buy it immediately. –  eWolf Jan 6 '11 at 16:38

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