Rethinking Live View

Certain features are quick to catch my negative attention when released. Anyone who has followed me on here has probably noticed this. The list isn’t huge, but it is distinctive: L glass, video modes, LiveView…all have been common targets for my scorn.

Unfortunately – and I say unfortunately, because it’s unfortunate for my self-image if nothing else – as time passes I’ve been forced to change my mind about some of these features. For example, the time has come to re-evaluate the usefulness (or lack thereof) of LiveView.

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Yeah, it got a lot of attention when it came out: the ability to shoot using the screen itself. Finally a solution for all those poor soccer moms who bought DSLRs who didn’t realize that you have to look through the little window to make the picture. Now, at the press of a button, your expensive DSLR can perform just like a cheap P&S.

You get my point yet? My initial reaction to LiveView was that it was yet another marketing gimmick, another feature that appealed to the non-photographer masses without really adding anything truly useful.

Pass that cold crow, will you?

I’ll admit, I’ve hit the LiveView button on my 7D a number of times now. In defense of my own ego, I can tell you that I do NOT shoot LiveView often. Certainly not regularly. But now and then there are circumstances where it comes in real handy.

Like, for instance, when you’re working with a tripod at near ground level. Lacking a right-angle finder attachment, and not always wanting to lay down on swampy ground, LiveView can save a lot of hassle. I use the Exposure Simulation on mine, as well as the digital level. Sometimes it helps get the shot, and that’s what counts.

Moreover, it’s a definite help when it comes to manual focusing – something that modern cameras are notoriously poor at. Digital SLRs simply aren’t build with good manual focusing screens because the manufacturers all figure that we’re an AF crowd these days. So when the chips are down and you suddenly have to focus manually, good luck through the viewfinder.

Astrophotography - focused with Live View

Take astrophotography for example: with LiveView, it’s a simple matter of turning it on, driving the magnification box across the screen to the desired point of focus, and zooming in to 10x. The level of detail is pretty amazing. Certainly a heck of a lot better than squinting through the viewfinder and guessing.

And it helps you get the shot.

Bottom line: I still think that LiveView is a lousy way to regularly use your camera. It eats battery power, it’s probably hard on the sensor/shutter mechanisms, and frankly, it’s kind of lazy. But it’s a tool and I can’t deny that there are times when it comes in handy. Us doubters shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it out of hand.

(Unlike truly useless features, like video…)

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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  1. Jim McDermott

    A further advantage when tripod-shooting: the live view button automatically engages mirror-up, rather than obliging you to hunt through the menus (on my K-7) for it

    • Brent Pennington

      Excellent point! I hadn’t even thought of that, but you’re correct – it essentially gives you full-time mirror lock-up.

  2. James Leung

    I have been an SLR and DSLR photographer for almost my entire life. DSLR is still the best equipment for a pro-sumer like me to shoot decent photos without breaking the bank and sacrificing quality,

    But I think the comments here are extremely one-sided against LiveView. First of all, LiveView does not help me with shooting photos — so don’t get me wrong. But it is useful for me to shoot decent quality short HD videos to supplement my photos, without me having to haul around another piece of equipment (my videocam).

    Given time, I think DSLR video shooting will mature, just like everything else electronic. In case the writer didn’t realize there’s a whole sub-industry of professionals and advanced amateurs shooting FILM, TV, and commercial materials using EOS 5DMk2 and 7D. Look at the numerous cranes and loupes that engineers have developed to support this art form !! I think those people would find the comments on this page very insulting :-).

    • Brent Pennington

      I appreciate your comment, but I’m not sure I understand… The point I was making is that while I was originally against Live View, I have found several excellent uses for it, where it really functions as a useful tool for my photography. Rather than making one-sided comments against Live View, I’m admitting that it does actually have a useful place – not as a primary method of shooting, in my opinion, but as a feature to use on specific occasions (such as manual focus, etc).

      And the writer is well aware that there is a sub-industry of pros shooting video on DLSRs – he would be very happy if they’d go back to using VIDEO cameras and leave DSLRs alone, please. 🙂

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