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I find that tablets have one big advantage over other kinds of cameras: phones, point-and-shoots, and interchangeable lens cameras (like the NEX-5R, which I own).

And that advantage is the size of the screen, which lets me see the photo I'll get before I actually take the photo. Or after I take the photo.

By comparison, the 2.8-inch screen on the NEX, or even the 4-inch screen on the iPhone 5s, don't let me see what kind of photo I will take or have taken. I can zoom in to check for specific issues like blur (caused by camera motion or mis-focus) and ISO noise, but I find it hard to evaluate the composition of the scene as a whole. I have to come back to the computer before I can see it, by which time I may have returned to my country and it's too late to take another photo.

Is there a way in which I can use my tablet to help me compose better photos? I can think of a few:

  1. Take photos on the tablet itself. I'm not in favor of this, given the low quality of tablet cameras compared to the iPhone or the NEX.

  2. Use the tablet to compose the photo, what objects to include and then exclude, and then take the photo on the iPhone or the NEX (which are my primary cameras) instead of on the tablet [1].

  3. Similar to (2) but take a photo on the tablet AND on the primary camera.

How would you suggest I make use of a tablet to compose better photos? Or are all of these ideas impractical, in which case I should leave the tablet at home and learn composition the hard way: trial-and-error, over time?

[1] The focal lengths of the iPad, iPhone and my preferred lens on the NEX are all roughly the same: 30mm FF-equivalent.

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    By selling it and getting a DSLR? ;) – AJ Henderson Feb 8 '14 at 8:28
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    May be worth investigating whether the built in WiFi on the NEX-5R can be used to wirelessly tether it to your tablet/smartphone (as the spec sheet hints at) – dav1dsm1th Feb 8 '14 at 9:17
  • It can. But it will be hard to hold both devices at once, outdoors. With my suggestion, I can use my iPad to compose the photo, put it in my bag, and pick up the NEX (assuming I leave it hanging around my neck) to complete the shot. Holding two devices at once will be harder. Even if I manage to do it, it won't be steady, resulting in blurred photos. – Kartick Vaddadi Feb 8 '14 at 9:39
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    @KartickVaddadi - ah, good clarification, I misunderstood your second point at first. What you are referring to is called a Director's Viewfinder. It's primarily used in the film world where as composition is done more by looking at a scene in the photography world since we don't have to deal with complex movements. It can be a decent aid while learning though, just don't let it become a crutch. – AJ Henderson Feb 8 '14 at 17:58
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    @KartickVaddadi Why do you ask questions here if the only answers you are willing to accept are the preconceived ones you already have? – Michael C Feb 8 '14 at 19:15
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Small shifts in perspective can have small but important impacts on the final image (background tree "growing" out of someone's head vs beside them, cut off at the knees vs mid-shin, etc), which is an argument for composing on the device you will shoot with. Also the NEX-5R is an interchangeable lens camera, so the angle of view will differ from the iPad for all but a single focal length.

An EVF (electronic view finder) accessory for your NEX will allow you see an (effectively) much larger image that is also protected from glare. This can be very helpful for evaluating the composition of the image and is one reason why higher end cameras often come standard with an optical or electronic viewfinder.

Alternatively, you can get a camera connection kit for the iPad, and transfer photos from the camera to the iPad in the field so you can evaluate then on a large screen immediately, while you still have the opportunity to try the shot again.

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  • Regarding the EVF, please see my comment on AJ Henderson's answer. – Kartick Vaddadi Feb 8 '14 at 11:33
  • It sounds like the diopter adjustment dial on the EVF you tried wasn't set properly for you, resulting in a blurry image. – Icycle Feb 8 '14 at 18:47
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I think there is a bit of a misunderstanding here. A tablet doesn't really give you all that much of an idea of the actual image you will get compared to a good viewfinder in a DSLR. The resolution of a tablet screen is only going to be around 2 megapixels, if that.

A viewfinder up to your eye will actually let you see far more detail. That said, low end DSLRs might not give quite as much advantage since they don't have 100% viewfinders and thus there is a degree of guess work.

If you have a DSLR with a viewfinder that doesn't give 100% coverage, then using tablet tethering isn't a bad idea if you have a tablet that can tether (ie, a jailbroken iPad or a non-Apple device). Many cameras do have remote control software that will show you what it sees on a tablet and let you control it. In fact, some even allow you to plug it into your phone and have it beam the signal to your tablet wirelessly.

This doesn't get you a better overall view, vs an OVF, as it is lower detail and can't see anything the sensor can't pick out, but it does give you a reliable view of the way things are composed and may beat many EVFs, which are limited due to their small size. It is also a great option when you need to remote shoot and be able to see what you are shooting.

Fundamentally though, even if your composition is slightly off, cropping mildly in post isn't the end of the world as long as you don't also have to rotate. Rotating also isn't the biggest deal, though it does have a larger degree of quality loss than a minor crop job.

The first and third option wouldn't really be beneficial. The first, you already understand why, the third, the perspective difference between the two shots would cause issues that aren't easily resolved and so it's not particularly useful to you.

I misunderstood your second idea at first. It is basically using the iPad as a director's viewfinder. A director's viewfinder is a device used in film production to help a director preview what a shot will look like through the lens of a camera. It is basically an optical aid to add borders and other useful information. There is, in fact, a director's viewfinder application available on iOS that will add some of this kind of crop information and may be helpful as well.

It is worth noting though, that while this may be helpful for experimenting with different ways of composing, your end goal should be to be able to do it without the aid of the device. You want to get to the point where you can look at a scene and visualize the possible shots in your head and choose accordingly.

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  • Thanks, AJ. Since my NEX-5R doesn't have a built-in viewfinder, I tried out the Sony EVF, but I found it blurry, far worse than the LC. I don't know if that was a defective piece. I ended up thinking, "why would anyone use an EVF if it's so blurry?" – Kartick Vaddadi Feb 8 '14 at 9:18
  • When I said "far worse than the LC", I meant "LCD". – Kartick Vaddadi Feb 8 '14 at 9:41
  • Besides, the Retina iPad has a 3 megapixel resolution, while the Sony EVF has a 2.4 megapixel resolution ( amazon.com/Sony-FDA-EV1S-Electronic-Viewfinder-Digital/dp/… ) – Kartick Vaddadi Feb 8 '14 at 11:33
  • @KartickVaddadi - good point, an EVF could be beaten easily by using a tablet since screen densities aren't high enough yet, but for any camera with an even mediocre OVF, my answer holds. Eventually it will probably hold for EVFs as well since the apparent size should be bigger for the EVF, so you'll be physically capable of seeing more, but EVF tech isn't that far along yet. – AJ Henderson Feb 8 '14 at 17:46
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    Also I suspect for the purposes of overall scene composition, either 2.4 MP in the EVF, or 3MP at iPad viewing distance would be more than adequate, as I you are probably looking at things like overall framing, whatt is in/out of frame, orientation/perspective of straight lines, expressions on faces, etc. – Icycle Feb 8 '14 at 18:45

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