Benefits of Live View on DSLRs

Live View might not be a great feature, but it does have its benefits.

Since having first purchased my first DSLR in around 2004, I have become all-too used to telling people they need to look through the view-finder. Because it’s an SLR – a mirror exposes the film or sensor, quickly switching the input from the view-finder to the sensor. So, for quite a while, it was never possible to have an SLR which displays what the sensor will capture, due to the way SLR’s work.

In the past couple of years, this has all changed with the implementation of Live View.

What is Live View?

Live View allows the photographer to see what the sensor sees. With SLR’s that support it, digital video is possible (hopefully you can record that video feed – early Live View cameras didn’t allow this). But apart from video on my Canon 7D (and prior to that, my 500d, was my only other experience with Live View on a DSLR), i really never saw the point of Live View.

Overtime, things have changed a little, and Live View certainly has its importance. But first…

Disadvantages of Live View

  • Delay in pressing trigger to getting the shot
    • informal guess at 1/4 ~ 1/10 second. No good for anything that requires quick reflexes
  • Very poor focusing, as compared to ‘traditional’ view
    • relies on a contrast method which is at the mercy of the cameras CPU of detecting hard lines (i.e. edges)
  • SLR ergonomics are very suitable for placing the eye to the viewfinder
    • holding a camera away from body and viewing screen can be a little unsteady
    • not so much on a small camera, but more of an issue
  • Sensor overheating / over exposure
    • yet to experience this first-hand for photography, but have for video
    • Would be more an issue if Live View was primary method of shooting
  • Additional battery drain
    • obviously, powering a screen takes some juice

Putting the bad bits aside, technology will improve this stuff. Quicker response times, obviously will get better. Focusing is already getting better on more current models.

Benefits of Live View

While the feature has its downsides, in some circumstances can be of use. Pretty much, when you don’t need an instant shot, or have time to compose and focus your shot, with a tripod and an extra battery doesn’t hurt. Some times where I have found Live View useful.

The main benefit is being able to zoom in and focus at 1:1 resolution of the sensor with Live View.

Night Scenery / Subjects

At night in low-light, it can be quite hard to focus (autofocus can be useless). Depending on the situation, you could:

  1. switch to Live View
  2. bump up the ISO as high as possible (to see)
  3. zoom in with the Live View functionality (not with the lens)
  4. get the focus right with the focus ring
  5. Disable the Live View, high ISO and get on with it.

Another example where Live View is helpful is for time-lapse; this is when you need to take many shots of the same scene over a large period of time. When setting this up, it is crucial to get the shot (and focus) right. So, you have some time to get it right and Live View is just another tool in the kit.

In Conclusion…

Live View may be considered a feature, but I like to think of it more as a tool to help get the right shot in certain circumstances. It’s not great all the time, but when I need it, it’s there and helpful. As with anything, if the disadvantages aren’t relevant, then it’s probably going to work for you.

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