I'm looking for a camera for low light shooting, and after some time have almost :) decided on Sony RX100. The thing that worries me is the lack of a viewfinder. How "practical" is shooting photos and expecially videos in badly illuminated spaces, while depending on LCD only.

On my Olympus SZ-31MR shooting photos is passable, but when shooting videos I practically cannot see anything on the LCD screen. Is it possible that things are better on newer cameras?

I'm interested in your general opinion on this subject, and your experiences, if you have been in this situation.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I suspect they will come after you for asking an opinion... - opinion seeking questions are (whyever) not liked here... \$\endgroup\$
    – DetlevCM
    Dec 1, 2013 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DetlevCM - I know. But, although I couldn've tried to rephrase it, in the end, it would've still be the same question, so I thought it not worth the time. All the same, I think it is a question that borders on the subjective/objective, since many knowledgeable users will surely have useful advice to give. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rook
    Dec 1, 2013 at 21:36
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ You could use a simple question such as "what are the advantages and disadvantages of an electronic viewfinder in low light shooting" - and then let the answers poor in. \$\endgroup\$
    – DetlevCM
    Dec 1, 2013 at 21:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ My answer added to with real world example \$\endgroup\$ Dec 2, 2013 at 9:50

5 Answers 5


(1) Real world example

The pictures below show

  • On left. Scene as would be perceived with with 'naked eye' or through Sony A77 EVF at this light level. It's reasonably dark! By no means 'pitch black' but below the level where photos would be taken by most people.
    This is under a desk with daylight entering from a window and desk-wall slot. EVF and raw-eye view were not absolutely identical but 'close enough' in these conditions. Camera could be adjusted to brighten this up a little if desired.

  • On right:
    Photo taken with camera set to 0.4s, f/3.5, ISO 3200.
    That makes the light level just under 0 EV. [ f^2x 100/ISO x 1/shutter_speed ) E&OE :-)
    Darkish regardless.
    EVF gave enough brightness to frame photo and focus intelligently. If taking video it would have been "adequate". A bare-eye would have seen about the same.
    A good optical viewfinder would have looked about the same.

At lower light levels a good optical viewfinder would be superior BUT it would in any case be extremely hard to see anything.

If you wish to take videos at light levels under 0 EV (and you may) you my need special magic. I understand Kubrick's f/1 lenses used for shooting 2001 ASO are available for rent at about $10,000/day :-). Depth of field may be problematic.

enter image description here

(2) Experience based ...

I have owned a goodly number of SLRs and DSLRs.
I currently mainly use a Sony A77 with EVF (electronic viewfinder) and a Nikon D700 with optical display.

The A77 electronic EVF display is noisy but useful at lights levels below what most people would consider sensible for photography (say 1-10 lux). [Needless to say keen photographers do not accept this limit :-). ] It is actually brighter than a good optical viewfinder at light level down to under 1 lux, but does become noisy.
In utterly dark conditions (eg stars) the optical viewfinder is superior in that it is easier to find very low brightness points when focusing.

I'd expect that a good EVF should be acceptable for low light video.

The A77 display is good to excellent in anything like daylight conditions - say until well after sunset.
As the light level get down to say under 10 lux where your eyes' cones tend to stop producing colour and the rods predominate, yielding a predominantly monochrome image , the EVF gives a similar result in the EVF to what they eye sees directly. The EVF image is grainy and noisy but usable. The resultant photo can be much brighter.

As you drop into the 0.1 lux - 1 lux range (dark room with vague image visible to above bright moonlight range) the EVF begins to get substantially worse than what your eyes can see. I'd expect it to be reasonably OK in bright moonlight, but noisy. If you point the camera at a medium populated starry sky you cam manually focus on stars using the focus highlighting feature but can hardly see the stars visually otherwise if not focused, and only brighter ones if focused.

The D700 optical viewfinder (using a f/1.8 lens) is of course not noisy or grainy at low light but is actually LESS optically bright than the A77 using a f/3.5 lens. In both cases the image will be with the aperture wide open so the EVF is actually boosting light levels substantially. [I did these comparisons just now to check my recollections and am surprised how good the EVF brightness is in a direct comparison].


Last night I wanted to take photos inside a matte black spotlight housing.
Light levels inside the housing were so low that I could not see the details I wished to photograph. I was pleasantly pleased to see that the A77 EVF display was appreciably brighter and with more detail than I could see by eye.
Presumably an optical viewfinder would have been less usable.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry for maybe a stupid question, but why is the EVF different from resultant photo? Shouldn't the tiny display in EVF show the same A, S, ISO as on the resultant photo? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 25, 2014 at 13:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @tomp (1) For the under-the-table example I'm not sure. More playing needed. (2)For the matte black housing the EVF display was brighter than what my eye could see - I mean, what I could see by eye inside the housing. The EVF & LCD both showed what the photo would show. In this case "correct exposure" was dealing with a light level that my eye-brain auto system had given up on. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 25, 2014 at 13:42

It depends. Unfortunately, I have not seen the RX100. So you have to try it out. The truth is that it completely depends on the implementation as some EVFs and LCDs are better in low-light than an OVF. Actually, Sony makes some of the best ones at least in their high-end SLT cameras.

With an optical viewfinder you see with your own eyes which are pretty good and hard to beat when it comes to low-light sensitivity. However, an electronic view can magnify the signal and show you a bright image even near darkness.

This was actually the first thing that made me start using Live-View on some cameras. In order to shoot long light-trails, I often use an ND400 filter. With that filter in place, the OVF looks black but on a good Live-View implementation, it remains bright according to the exposure set. With a bad implementation, it is blacker than through the ND400 :)

This is a tremendous advantage. Before this, I had to compose and calculate exposure without the ND400 on and then, extremely carefully screw it back on without changing focus or framing. This is not easy at all and so much simpler with a good Live-View.


Low light shooting is one of the primary advantages of an optical viewfinder. If you have an LCD or EVF rather than an optical one, you are only going to be able to see what the sensor can see in fairly short order. This will make long exposure photos particularly difficult to do since your eyes are generally going to be better than the sensor for any kind of short exposures.

That said, without a penta-prism (which is only generally on higher end DSLRs), you're still going to lose a lot of light. It's probably still better than an EVF even with high gain, but it probably shouldn't be the only thing you consider when picking a camera either unless you only are going to be doing low light shots.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Pentaprism is okay, but I'd choose EVF anytime over pentamirror OVF. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 11, 2013 at 6:46

I always shoot low-light without a viewfinder (I use a Sony NEX-5R, which doesn't have a viewfinder), and I find that in most cases, there's enough light for the LCD to show me an accurate preview, even if the scene looks dark to the naked eye. This is the case for more than 90% of the low-light photos I take, and I've taken more than a thousand.

If there isn't enough light, I open the aperture all the way, frame and focus my photo, and then switch back to the aperture I want to use. This trick works in most of the remaining 10% of cases. Only in extreme cases (0.1%, say) do I find that I have to shoot blindly, and then see what I got.

When I borrowed my friend's Nikon D5300 for a few days, I found that the optical viewfinder was in fact worse than the LCD because (as I was told) the picture on the LCD is amplified digitally, while an optical viewfinder shows me just a dim, dark picture, which is worse than what I see with my naked eye, and worse than what I see on the LCD. It doesn't let me see what I'm shooting -- I have to blindly press the shutter button and hope for the best.


In your particular case, you don't have to worry about it. Since you have decided on the RX100, but find you will be missing the VF for low light shooting, then just wait less than a month and get RX100 iii which will have a built-in viewfinder. It will be released on June 20 and will have a flash and a VF built in at the expense of the hot shoe.


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