A lot of digital SLR cameras now have live view, meaning you can see exactly what the lens sees in real time. However, as photographers have bought these cameras, I am finding that few are using this technology. I think you can benefit a lot from live view. I felt that live view, especially with a tilting LCD, was so important that I got into a complete Olympus system when they came out with the first tilting, live view in a DSLR with the E-330 (though, technically, it was using a secondary sensor for the live view).
Now rumors are that Canon will have a live view model with a tilting LCD for their DSLRs coming this fall. Nikon has had one with a tilting LCD, though not in the more robust cameras, and Sony and Panasonic also offer live view models with tilting LCDs. Since I am shooting a lot more now back with my Canon gear (because of video capabilities in the 7D), I am very excited about the Canon possibility of a tilting live view LCD.
So what's so great about live view? Especially the tilting LCD? First, here's what's great about any live view:
1. Better focus: On most cameras you can magnify what is seen through live view so you can very precisely focus on something in a scene. I use this all the time for focusing on details in a landscape or when I am shooting close-ups from a tripod. I have also used it for wildlife when they are in a constant location and distance from the camera. With a little practice, it is very easy to use this focus aid quickly.
2. Sharper photos with slow shutter speeds: One challenge we always face with slow shutter speeds is that as the mirror of the camera moves up and down, you get vibration that can degrade image sharpness. You are shooting on a tripod anyway for slow shutter speeds, so this is not an issue about camera stability, but about vibration. This is worst with telephotos. When you take these photos with live view, you have no mirror bounce because the mirror is already up. I consistently get sharper photos this way.
3. You see your image as a photograph, rather than something targeted by the viewfinder. You literally have a little photograph on the back of your camera to view, rather than looking through the viewfinder. This makes the camera act like a little view camera (I even know some photographers who throw a dark cloth over their heads to block light from the LCD and make the experience even more like shooting with a view camera). The difference between seeing a photo versus targeting a subject is significant. I see big gains in better compositions from photographers doing this.
- You can put your camera low and still see what the camera is seeing. You can even put the camera on the ground for an unusual point of view and you don't have to lay on the ground to see the LCD or look through the viewfinder.
- You can put your camera high and still see what the camera is seeing. It is not uncommon to set up a tripod that is perfect for the view, but the viewfinder is higher than you can see through. Tilt a live view LCD and that is no longer a problem.
- You can shoot at any height without straining your back. Good nature photography requires us often to put the camera at heights other than the easy eye-level. At other heights, it can be awkward and hard on your body to see through the viewfinder, so a tilting live view LCD is very, very handy.
If you have live view and no tilting LCD, there is an accessory that can help. I use it with my Canon 7D that has live view, but no tilting LCD. It is the Genus LCD Viewfinder. This fits over your LCD and has multiple mirrors in it so that you can look down (or up) and see what is on your LCD right-side up and correct left to right. Manfrotto Imaging (they used to be Bogen Imaging) is now importing this to the U.S. I got mine from Gary Farber at Hunt's Photo. I have tried right-angle attachments that attach to the viewfinder eyepiece and have never found one that worked all that well or that I liked.
All of the photos here were shot in the Ancient Bristlecone Forest outside of Big Pine, California, and all using live view.
Note: Outdoor Photographer editor at large and author Rob Sheppard teaches a number of outstanding online photo courses at BetterPhoto.com, including Creating Storytelling Photos and Composition Boot Camp.