I think the main features of a reflex's LCD are:

  1. size
  2. resolution (pixels/dots)
  3. vari-angle or not

So how important is each one of them? Which one is the most important? What number of pixels is considered enough?

My concrete problem is choosing between Nikon D3100's and Nikon D5100's LCD. The first has 230,000 pixels and is fixed and the latter has 921,000 pixels and is vari-angle. It's one of the differences which makes the D5100 around 200€ more expensive. The question is: is it worth it?

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    Just to point out, those specs are partially inaccurate. The D5100 lists its screen as having 921,000 DOTS, not pixels. Those dots are red, green, and blue sectors that combine to form 1 pixel. So, the real comparison is 230,000 pixels on the D3100 against 307,000 pixels on the D5100. – unexplainedBacn Aug 12 '11 at 16:59
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    @unexplainedBacn - but doesn't the 230,000 pixel LCD goes with the same logic? Or is it just a marketing trick? – ysap Aug 12 '11 at 17:03
  • Oh, wait, there's a typo on the DPReview specs that incorrectly lists the LCD as using 230,000 pixels instead of dots (Nikon's specs here: imaging.nikon.com/lineup/dslr/d3100/spec.htm). So, @ysap you're correct. What we're looking at is a roughly 320x240 pixel screen on the D3100 and a roughly 640X480 pixel screen on the D5100 – unexplainedBacn Aug 12 '11 at 17:10
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    Yes. 230K is dots but marketing calls it pixels. 920K as well. So 920k has 4X the pixels and hence twice of resolution linearly in each direction as 230K. – Itai Aug 12 '11 at 17:11
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    More dots is better but sufficient is subjective. When I got my first 230K dot camera it seemed so sharp. Now that I've had several 920K ones, 230K seems blurry. It's like going from VHS to DVD and then from DVD to Blu-Ray... There is no going back! – Itai Aug 13 '11 at 1:42

Resolution first, given that size does not vary much lately (2.7-3"). That lets you check sharpness and focus better, particularly if you use Live-View.

Rotating or tilting (vary-angle) can be useful for somethings but is also a liability since it can break. No Pro cameras have such displays because they need to be tough first.

You forgot the viewing angle. If the display is rotating that does not matter so much, but otherwise having a good viewing angle helps with getting odd-angle shots using Live-View.

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    You're right, the viewing angle is also important. Still, found no information about it at nikon's spec page. My actual sony h2 probably has the narrowest viewing angle, because if I'm a bit to the right it starts getting black or white if I go to the left. Thx! – dialex Aug 12 '11 at 18:20

Size and resolution of course. But vari-angle was a pleasant surprise for me. I didn't really care about the feature when buying my Canon 60D. I had a Pentax with a fixed LCD before I didn't really know why on earth would i need one. However. Can't comment on the Nikon, but... I use it on my Canon often now especially when shooting from obscure angles (above my head or on the ground, etc.) Where I love the variangle the most is when I shot landscape on a tripod. I use it to frame my scene and focus. I can magnify 10x digitally on the LCD then manually fine tune my focus to perfect sharpness. I can also rotate it and tilt it to prevent glare and neck pain from prolonged staring into the optical finder. On a tripod I now only shoot using the lcd and variangle. It will be a feature I must have on my next body.

It's also surprisingly sturdy. When you rotate and flip the image is always orientated correctly. If you are worried about scratches or are primarely shooting without the lcd you can flip it around and close it with the lcd facing the body.

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  • I think a vari-angle screen is a novelty if you're not using live view, and a necessity if you are. – mattdm Aug 14 '11 at 1:24

While size and resolution are important, the most important factor is probably maximum brightness. I've used several DSLR's that had beautiful screens, but could barely be seen in daylight. A big 3", million-dot screen won't do you much good if you can't really see it. Screens based on OLED will usually provide the best of resolution, contrast, and brightness. AMOLED screens are the best type, however I am not sure many DSLR's use them yet (I think a few samsungs do). I believe the Canon 7D uses an OLED screen, which while not quite as nice as an AMOLED screen (less-black blacks), it still offers great brightness and resolution.

Here is a simple video demonstration of AMOLED vs. TFT LCD. In this case, the AMOLED screen is a Samsung...both cameras are P&S, but the tech would compare the same on DSLR's:

OLED/AMOLED screens coming to a camera near you

As far as resolution goes, 920k or 1040k dot screens, which are pretty common on current-generation DSLR's, make it a LOT easier to see how sharp/unsharp or in-focus/out-of-focus your shots are. A 200k and 400k dot screens tend to be dimmer and far less sharp.

Articulating screens can be handy, if you need the functionality. They are often very useful for self-portraits, family/friends portraits that include the photographer, and for shooting video with DSLR's. On the flip side, they are an additional component that can break.

  • Not only is maximum brightness rarely quoted, it does not matter much in practice. Things like the quality of anti-reflective coating and whether the design is trans-reflective have MUCH more influence on the LCDs perception than how strong its light is. – Itai Aug 13 '11 at 13:41
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    @Itai: Brightness is never quoted, as far as I know. I was specifically referring to screen technology as a gauge of brightness. No matter how you slice it, LCD will never fare as well in the sunlight as OLED/AMOLED. A transflective LCD is better than an LCD, but usually doesn't have nearly the level of contrast as an OLED display. (Also, at the moment, I think the only camera with a transflective LCD is the Sony A900...most other brands seem to be gravitating towards OLED, hence my recommendation for it. I do not know of a transflective OLED display for any device as of yet.) – jrista Aug 14 '11 at 0:33
  • There are plenty of transreflective screens mostly on Olympus cameras and several Sony models. Although those brands like to give their own names to things 'Hyper Crystal III+' which makes things confusing. – Itai Aug 14 '11 at 1:54
  • As far as brightness matters, it is actually the simplest problem to overcome - just use a cardboard home made hood,possibly folding, to shade the LCD and have a snap. – ysap Aug 14 '11 at 18:37

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