Forgive this novice question, I am basically a complete newbie to photography. Really, all I've ever used for most my of short life have been point-and-shoots; I've only recently started to pick up some curiosity.

Anyway, from what I've gathered, reading through many of the questions, most serious photographers use the optical viewfinder as their primary tool to determine what makes a good shot. Live-preview isn't used much at all; it seems its help is to primarily set up the shot. Reading a Wikipedia article seems to confirm this view, adding that

[l]ive preview in DSLRs does not typically serve as their principal means of framing and previewing before taking a photograph, with this function still being mainly performed with optical viewfinder. While initially largely a novelty feature, live-preview functionality has become more common on DSLR cameras...

My questions are:

  1. What are the myriad advantages of using the viewfinder over live preview, what does it help one accomplish in achieving the goals of photography?

  2. What are some interesting ways serious photographers use live preview to take better shots they might have otherwise missed?


9 Answers 9


Using live preview means that the camera must be held out in front of the photographer... This is not inherently an especially stable way to hold a camera- especially if the photographer has to hold it that way for a while- because it offers very little additional support for the arms... Pulling the camera up close and using a viewfinder allows the photographer to stabilize the camera because it is closer in to the body. Additionally, live preview becomes more unwieldy the heavier the camera equipment gets, and DSLRs by their very nature are much heavier than the typical P&S... Add a large lens on the front of the camera, and it becomes nearly impossible to use live view handheld.

The other major drawback of live view is that because it requires the mirror to be locked up, it means that the auto focusing mechanism is unavailable. Live view actually uses a different AF technique- one that is quite a bit slower than a DSLRs main autofocus. Obviously this means that in environments where it is necessary to focus quickly and accurately, live view doesn't make for an ideal situation.

Where live view comes in very handy is when taking pictures where it's difficult or impossible to get ones eye up to the viewfinder. A good example of this might be the photographer at a wedding who wants to get shots of the crowded dance floor. Prior to live view he would simply hold the camera above his head, snap off pictures, and pray that some of them had decent framing. With live view it is actually possible to frame up a shot while holding the camera over the head on shots such as these.

Additionally, live view can be a great option where there is no need for the stability needed by pulling the camera in close to the body, such as when it is on a tripod, and/or where there is no requirement for speed inthe autofocusing of shots.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I've been watching this game for over a decade, and I have a hard time understanding how anyone has been able to sell a camera that doesn't have either an optical viewfinder or an eye-level EVF. Why anyone would want to hold even the lightest camera out at arm's length baffles me. That said, I like having the "view camera" experience when that's practical (including a reasonable approximation of a focusing loupe with zoom in live view). \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Commented May 3, 2011 at 1:50
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ @Stan - I personally don't like live view - but watching people around me (where at least 90% of the people wouldn't even think of using a viewfinder) makes me think I'm the weird one and the natural way to use a camera is to hold it at arms length and use the LCD screen \$\endgroup\$
    – Nir
    Commented May 3, 2011 at 14:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Some dslrs do allow you to use the phase detection AF in live view mode. It makes the screen go blank till focus is attained though. \$\endgroup\$
    – ab.aditya
    Commented Dec 26, 2011 at 8:49
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Canon 70D and 7DmkII have more advanced autofocus in live view. I suppose more will follow, and it may change our habbits: e.g. I'm going for a twin-lens look with camera at waist level. \$\endgroup\$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 0:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ IMHO, "Live View" would be worth the effort if the mfrs (I'm talking to you Canon) would put something remotely useful in it; i.e. focus peaking. I mostly use Live View for landscapes & "stills", and with a WA lens, focus is hard to determine, esp w/ T&S lens. \$\endgroup\$
    – Seamus
    Commented Oct 28, 2019 at 23:37

The original advantage of thru the lens view was that it provided an exact view of precisely the image that would be exposed on the film or sensor. Not an aproximation, but the same view, because you were looking thru the lens.

Some earlier cameras offered EVF, or electronic viewfinders. These had the advantage of showing what the sensor was 'seeing'. But the problem with them was they were of very poor quality, they were dark and not 'lifelike'.

Today, many of the live views are bright and very good quality. But, they are not 1:1 quality.

An advantage over the viewfinder is the ability to view the scene when looking thru the view finder is impractical. Like when the camera is being held above the head to get a shot over a crowd, or very low for macro shots. It also offers lots of information in the overlay, things like live histogram and other information important for taking the shot.

Many photographers use live view to aid in extremely precise focusing. This is important when you have very shallow depth of field and want to ensure that say the eye on the model in in focus. Sometimes, autofocus misses, front focuses, or back focuses, ruining a shot. By putting the lens in manual focus and using the live view, you can guarantee that your subject is in focus. This is very difficult via the optical viewfinder.

I have also seen this used often with macro photography, again for precise manual focus.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Several years later, EVF cameras are popular again, and much improved. Does that change anything in your answer? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 15:56

A couple of things I'd like to add to other answers:

  • In scenes with fast action, an EVF or LV will always have a slight lag behind reality, which is bad when you want to nail a certain moment (using the other eye as an optical input may help, though the delay between two eyes might give you a headache soon).

  • A professional photographer often needs the camera to be on for the whole day, not for a couple of shots now and then. With an electronic viewfinder, in addition to battery consumption, that would mean the sensor heat would accumulate, therefore increasing noise. Some smart algorithm might help the camera guess when it's safe to stay off, but the guessing is likely to fail in some less usual situations, missing some shots - a big no no for the user whose income depends on getting the shots.

  • On the other hand, Live View is a handy tool when shooting with an IR-converted camera as it shows you what the camera sees and you don't.


The biggest drawback in my opinion is the shutter lag. There is generally a delay in the shutter activating when you use live preview.


There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, and you should choose the right technique given the circumstances.

  • When shooting very dark scenes (night skies, for example), often times live view does not work. That is, you get a completely black image in the, whereas you can see a very dark image in the viewfinder.
  • When focusing manually, live view is often superior, since you can blow up the specific part of the frame you want to focus on to a very large size. It can be more difficult to nail focus through the viewfinder, which presents a much smaller image.

I won't repeat the other answers except to say that I mostly agree with them.

The key here is that they are different tools, a means to an end. There is no right answer, but knowing their relative strengths will help you choose the appropriate one.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ Live-view often works better in very dark conditions. One such condition occurs when I use an ND400 filter and cannot see through the viewfinder but the live-view shows an image. This is the most common reason for me to use live-view. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Commented May 3, 2011 at 0:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1. for the point about manual focusing especially when using a thin DoF (Depth of Field) \$\endgroup\$
    – MarkP
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 14:05

re: Why anyone would want to hold even the lightest camera out at arm's length baffles me.

Some people, it seems, can't envision the boundaries of the frame when looking through the classic eyepiece. That's probably because the eye is not a direct percepion; rather a mental image is built up. I recall being impressed that my 3-year-old nephew could compose a shot, while my Mom never could. For people who just can't understand the "edges", a viewscreen at arm's length is enabling, and I recall it being seen as a revolution. Others need practice and initial effort to grok the composition, and the viewscreen avoids that learning curve.


The optical viewfinder does not require any power.

Take a look at the numbers in the "battery" section of each of the following links (at the very end of the article): http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/canon-5d-mkiii/canon-5d-mkiiiA6.HTM http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/canon-t5/canon-t5A6.HTM http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/canon-70d/canon-70dA6.HTM

It seems like Nikon does not provide both numbers, which is why these are all from canon. (I could not be bothered to check all manufacturers)

As you can see, one can take (roughly) 2 to 4 times as many images when not using the display. Of course these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. And you obviously use the display to check the image.

But at the end of the day, this means you can take more images when you are using the viewfinder and not the display.

Fun fact: That's why this guy next to you with the view camera wasn't actually taking any pictures of that beautiful sunset. He was just enjoying the view through his lag free always-on live view. ;)


The viewfinder (optical or electronic) can be a PITA to use when the camera is used in certain positions, like at the end of telescopes, in macro shooting, or even sometimes on a tripod for portraits. Not only can an articulated viewing screen be easier to see, but it can even be beamed to computers, or mobile devices, for remote triggering, etc. Look at how cinematographers use electronic views; they aren't looking straight through a viewfinder like shooting a rifle. That's only one of many many ways to frame shots.

I have all types and I'd say the optical is most useful when I've got a low battery and need to frame something. Or in dark conditions, although in certain dark conditions live view can be better (some cameras essentially build the picture as you're viewing it). And in shooting some really rapid action.

And in live view focus peaking can be helpful as well.


One thing not yet mentioned is that using the "live-preview" requires you to look at something about two feet away, while the viewfinder of the DSLR can be adjusted for your near- or far-sightedness. Being far-sighted, I need reading glasses to use a P&S, while using the viewfinder of a DSLR is quick and natural for me.


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