/ Technology

Our digital camera viewfinder campaign continues…

The viewfinder leaflet we sent to manufacturers

When we first asked whether you wanted viewfinders back on digital cameras, we didn’t expect such a resounding response. So we’ve built a ‘viewfinder campaign’ and taken your comments to the manufacturers.

When our camera expert Rich Parris wrote about his longing for the return of the good ‘old-fashioned’ viewfinder back in August, at best he presumed a trickling of support.

But instead of silent nods and quiet ambivalence, his Conversation received a flood of encouragement – we’ve had over 200 comments so far!

To this day Rich’s ‘bring back the viewfinder‘ Convo has provoked more public support than any other issue we’ve written about. And I don’t know of any other that has so many ‘thumbs up’ and not one ‘thumb down’.

Bring back the viewfinder

Manufactures have seemingly discarded the viewfinder in favour of outdoing each other with ever more compact digital cameras. It’s now so hard to track down a compact camera with a viewfinder, that you’re basically limited to buying a chunky and expensive SLR. And you quite decisively want them back:

‘I have never owned and will never buy any camera for personal use that does not have a viewfinder… period!’ asserts Sue Jenner. Peter Jones agrees, ‘I’ve been holding off buying a new compact camera for nearly two years because I can’t find a suitable one with a viewfinder’.

And Roger B rounds it off quite nicely, ‘The viewfinder is the first thing I try when buying a camera. No viewfinder, no sale.’

At the same time, Rich was surveying Which? members. Of the 1,667 asked 70% said they struggled to use an LCD camera screen in bright daylight, and of those who didn’t own a camera with a viewfinder, 60% said they’d find it much easier to take photos if they did.

Support our viewfinder campaign

So armed with these survey results and your hundreds of Which? Convo comments, we’ve taken this issue to the manufacturers. A gleaming pamphlet stuffed with some of your comments (pictured below) was created and sent to all the major camera manufactures – including Panasonic, Sony, Canon, Fuji, Olympus, Casio and Nikon.

Your comments on our viewfinder pamphletOne page of our viewfinder pamphlet with comments from BBSlowcoach, Tom Pyne and Liz C.

We’re currently awaiting a response from each of the camera makers (and prodding along the way) so fingers crossed the humble viewfinder will make a significant return.

We’ll bring you their responses in the near future, but if you support our viewfinder campaign, sound off below and help us badger manufacturers to bring them back.

Update 29 March 2011: Five of the big camera manufacturers have now responded to our campaign to bring back viewfinders to compact digital cameras! You can hear from Canon and Olympus in this Conversation, with Sony, Panasonic and Fujifilm having their say here. Are you happy with their responses?

Comments
John Chaplin says:
22 May 2011

I use a six year olddigital camera with an optical viewfinder. I certainly won’t replace it until I can find a camera with a viewfinder. Apart from the bright light issue it is impossible to take pictures discretely if you have to hold the camera at an arms length. Incidently,many of the same arguments apply to videocameras. I suspect the manufacturers are keen to keep prices low, but not at the expense of usability, please.

James Napier says:
26 May 2011

I commend Which for this campaign – in fact I commend anyone associated with it. Never mind sharper viewing screens with anti-glare, my Nikon has a very reasonable screen but in bright sunlight it’s hopeless. One wonders if manufacturers have actually tried to use their products in the real world. They fit fantastic zoom lenses and fail to realise that it’s almost impossible to find a small subject quickly when the lens is zoomed without a viewfinder – you have to zoom in on it, by which time the bird has flown. Even if the subject is large composing a decent picture can be very difficult in bright light and it’s often impossible to tell even approximately how much zoom has been employed. As I am a long distance trekker a small camera is essential so don’t tell me to carry an SLR! While on the subject of the inadequacies of modern cameras the makers might also like to consider the fact that there is no electricity on the top of Ben Macdui so recharging the battery is impossible. There is nothing wrong with relatively inexpensive AA lithiums and spares work just fine!

Hi James – thanks for the commendations, and thanks also for adding your voice to this campaign!

I should add that the Canon A1200, the new model from Canon which features an optical viewfinder (at long last!), also requires AA batteries, rather than its own rechargeable cell. Could be just the ticket for keen trekkers!

heath says:
28 May 2011

Like many others, When the weather is bright or very sunny i just cannot take a photo using an lcd screen,just cannot see what i’m shooting.this proved a great dissapointment whilst desperately wanting to record memories of special trips to places like south africa. I subsequently have three lcd screen cameras which now languish in my junk room unloved and unused and i just dont bother taking a camera now to anywhere there is likely to be bright light/sun! I really wish the manufacturers would actually ask customers what features they want and look for. I am now on the hunt and will only buy a camera with a viefinder -so i can actually take some pics when i go to cuba!! any suggestions?

Robert Haxton says:
29 May 2011

I presume I am in agreement with the majority of your comments. My wife would love a compact digital camera, but, anti-shake not withstanding, she is so inured with the use of viewfinder that she wont countenance a change until a decent camera with a decent viewfinder is provided by the digital manufacturers. I wonder if they realise just how many people with spactacles need to push them onto their foreheads before being able to focus on the view display; how many times the viewdisplay is rendered unusable by sunlight, & how many snaps are ruined by the inaccuracy of the depiction of the scene on the viewdisplay.
I have been looking at your review of digital cameras with viewfinders & in almost every case you are critical of the capacity of the viewfinder to fulfil its function accurately. Thus I am put off buying such product.
Are the camera industry respctful of their market or are they just manufacturing the bare essentials
to try to keep a section of their public at bay. The latter is short sighted especially for a major industry & I would challenge a manufacturer to provide a rfeasonable product to address this gap in the market.

Terry says:
4 June 2011

I have been following the debate on viewfinders versus screens with interest, especially as we now have to purchase a new camera, thanks to the pre-mature failure of our current Canon camera, an A620.

This camera has the benefit of a true (but not very good) viewfinder and also a rotatable (swivel) screen. When the first cameras appeared without a viewfinder I was horrified at the thought of a camera without one (and still am to some extent). However, in looking at replacements for our current camera, what I am even more horrified about is the very few there are with swivel screens. Even more surprising, they are not even mentioned in the Which? review tables. I have to admit, after using the swivel screen extensively, if I have to do without a viewfinder or swivel screen, it would be (shock, horror!) the viewfinder – although it’s looking as though we will have to do without both (or return to a film camera!). The reason for this choice is that, looking back, it is probably true to say that the number of times the viewfinder has been used is very, very small but the advantage of the swivel screen has been utilised for virtually every shot; indeed, I can’t really recall using the screen as though fixed and holding the camera ‘at eye level’.

Why are there not more swivel screens – presumably lack of demand and cost. The lack of demand is no doubt due to users not realising the massive advantage of swivel screens, not helped by Which? who virtually ignore them. Perhaps it is because the testers haven’t tried using them long enough (or perhaps themselves aren’t particularly interested in photography) to come to appreciate their advantages. These include –

being able to held the camera firmly against your body or a solid object (like a wall) (as opposed to holding it at eye level away from the body – about the most unsteady position possible!) ;

being able to take a picture at an angle, thus ensuring the sun is not shining directly on the screen;

being able to see the screen clearly (without being a contortionist) when taking pictures above head level or low down (like actually looking up at a pet’s face or taking low level close ups);

being able to take surreptitious pictures by appearing to be not taking a picture!

I could go on!

The only disadvantage is that, due to the design constraints, the screen tends to be slightly smaller than a fixed screen – but this is trivial compared to the advantages.

Are there any cameras out there with swivel screens. I know Canon have 2 (fairly expensive) but I am dubious about buying another Canon after our current one failing after light usage so are there any others?

Meanwhile, can Which? take a little more notice of this fantastic feature and mount a campaign for swivel (rotatable) screens – and educate people in their advantages which far out weigh the (admittedly major) loss of a good viewfinder.

Hi Terry – thanks for your interesting post, what does everyone else think on this subject? Personally, I’m a big fan of rotatable screens, as they can really help you out when you’re setting up a shot at an unusual angle. Although my ideal would be for a camera which offers a viewfinder as well as a rotatable screen – there are quite a few superzoom bridge models and DSLRs which offer this combination now. Needless to say, they don’t come cheap!

I need to wear glasses, and have different pairs for outdoors/distance and indoors/reading, and that makes using a LCD screen difficult if I don’t have reading glasses on.

My camera, the Panasonic Lumix FZ38, allows the viewfinder to be focussed, and so I set it for my natural eyesight and this allows me to use it regardless of which glasses I’m wearing. Why don’t other makers add a viewfinder than can be adjusted?

Hi grenache – one of the cameras I’ve owned in my time is a predecessor to your Panasonic model, and I completely agree, the ability to adjust a viewfinder to your own preference (known as diopter adjustment) is just so helpful.

Also, in all the time of owning that camera, I must have only used the LCD screen to compose a shot maybe 5% of the time – it was viewfinder all the way otherwise!

PMW says:
10 June 2011

I decided it would be nice to have a compact camera instead of carrying around a more bulky slr. But the combination of bright light and the need to wear specs for closer work makes a a lcd screen practically useless. So it is great to see there is some action on this issue and I hope the choice of compact digital cameras with viewfinders will increase in the future.

Maggie says:
15 June 2011

I’m a bit late adding my view, but like Roger B it is emphatically ‘no viewfinder, no sale’. I haven’t and won’t ever own a camera without one. As a keen photographer, I regularly get asked to use other people’s cameras on their behalf and I really struggle to see any detail at all on an LCD screen, even if you can swivel it. Like Peter Jones I’ve been holding off buying a new compact camera for nearly two years because I can’t find a suitable one with a viewfinder. It’s the FIRST thing I look for when looking at new Which reports on cameras. As ‘Granache’ says the best viewfinders have an adjustable focus so that if you need reading glasses you can put them away and simply enjoy your photography.

And Roger B rounds it off quite nicely, ‘The viewfinder is the first thing I try when buying a camera. No viewfinder, no sale.’

Hi Maggie – no such thing as late to the party with this campaign, we want it to run and run until a real change comes about, so thanks very much for adding your comments and reinforcing some of the best remarks we’ve had so far!

Ian T says:
17 June 2011

I just do not get it. It is so difficult to take a picture with just an LCD. I agree that at times it can be useful, if you are trying to take a picture from an angle of position you can not get to naturally by moving your head, so the best option is both.

I thought companies were supposed to supply products people wanted? Is that not the case any more. Oh, hang on, I get it. They want to charge extra for an electrical view finder accessory. Ok, I get that. I want something more customised for me, so yes, may be I will buy that electronic view finder. But now I have something that sticks out and now makes my nice compact something that snags in my pocket and can not slipped in and out quickly. Oh, yes, silly me, I can detach the view finder. Hmm, now where did I put that nice electronic view finder I had.

Might just as well use the camera on my iPhone for happy snapping so I do not have to carry two almost identical objects around with me, actually I do. Lost camera sales anyone?

Hi Ian – it’s interesting hearing your thoughts on the optional electronic viewfinder accessories. To me, they seem more like an admission of a problem, rather than a natural solution. Surely the ideal would be an electronic viewfinder built-in, rather than jutting out? But perhaps the technology isn’t there yet to make them quite so compact

The attachable EVFs remind me of the first “cameraphone” I ever owned – a Sony Ericsson which had a camera accessory you had to attach to the end of the phone, adding about 50% to its size, as well as giving you something else to carry around and/or lose!

I will add that Olympus and Panasonic’s EVF accessories are very high quality, but there’s certainly a price to go with them!

Ian T says:
20 June 2011

Bought a Canon A1200 at the weekend from PC world for £89. I went to lots of dedicated camera shops but this was the only place I could find a small camera with a VF, I said to the shop assistant that I was hoping for something a little more sophisticated, She said, “but this is a perfectly good camera”, and do you know what, she is right it is. As well as having a VF it also, as previously mentioned by Rich, takes real batteries (2xAA) and a standard SD card.

Also, the nice young lady in PC World (Kingston) was trying to help me get what I wanted, a small compact with a viewfinder, unlike the other camera shops that saw me as a bloke and instantly tried to sway me towards an outfit with interchangeable lenses. Done that in the past and never used it.

I have my Olympus SP550UZ that I love (I even managed to repaired it my self when I cracked the LCD) and now my A1200 for slipping in my pocket. The SP55)UZ is great for want I want, out door happy snapping with a good optical zoom when I am out and about, had it for 5 years now. My only negative comment on it is that the shutter speed is a little slow at times. But I am sticking with it.

Hi Ian T – glad you snapped up the Canon A1200 at such a bargain price – after a couple of weeks of use, how have you found it? Particularly, how have you found that viewfinder?

Ian T says:
7 July 2011

It will get its main test in Scotland next week. But in general it is a great little camera. Heavy for its size, but I like the feeling of weight. It think this is mainly due to it having real batteries.

The View finder is quite basic and works in sync with the zoom. It is not the greatest optically, but it allows you to use it like a real camera, hold it up to your eye and take a shot.

Overall the camera has a well constructed feel, is easy to use and takes very good pictures.

Thanks for the hands-on comments, Ian, I’m sure these will prove really useful for others making a buying decision. Our own full test review is also available to read:

http://www.which.co.uk/technology/photography/reviews/digital-cameras/canon-powershot-a1200/review/

Best wishes for a sunny week in Scotland, where a viewfinder will prove more useful than ever!

Sallyd says:
2 July 2011

I was given an IXUS 130 for Christmas, having researched on Which, to replace my Nikon Coolpix which was defunct. Both cameras produce excellent photos. HOWEVER, when I took the new camera outdoors the lack of a viewfinder was a real problem. It’s impossible to see what you’re shooting on sunny day, especially shooting into the sun. Someone in the office was discussing buying a new camera and I said they should make sure it had a viewfinder and the response from those around me was a big ‘YES’!
Bring back the viewfinder camera manufacturers and show your commitment to customers by offering exchanges to unsatisfied customers. Even a ‘cheap’ camera like mine is a major purchase for most people.

Matt says:
5 July 2011

I’ve gone back to using 35mm compacts because of the lack of viewfinders on digital compact cameras. I won’t be buying a digital until viewfinders are reintroduced.

Also –

How about a fixed focal length compact, say 35mm equivalent?
How about manual or zone focusing, to reduce shutter lag?
How about reducing the megapixel count to around 6-8mpx, to improve low light sensitivity?
How about allowing us to shoot in Raw and add the white balance setting later, in camera?

The Perfect Camera – portable, fast lens and operation, VERY easy to use (too many features get in the way!!), not £400 at full retail.

Until then, Fuji and my local lab will be getting my money.

Hi Matt, thanks for your interesting post! The closest camera I’ve seen in recent years to those ideal requirements is the Ricoh GR Digital II – this one had a fixed focal length lens of 28mm and plenty of manual controls, but it was still compact

http://www.which.co.uk/technology/photography/reviews/digital-cameras/ricoh-gr-digital-ii/review/

No viewfinder though! Innovators that they are, Ricoh might be just the manufacturer to address this issue!

maria says:
29 July 2011

In bright sunlight without a viewfinder it’s just pot luck what appears on the photo.

I have a full spec Canon DSLR but I also want a compact digital, one that I can stuff in a pocket when travelling. My wife’s camera has just died so she needs a new one, that’s two to purchase – both needing a viewfinder. As with everyone else we have found that when taking summer holiday pics with an LCD screen is impossible to get the composition right as you can see nothing on the screen in sunlight!

Janice Goff says:
6 August 2011

I refuse to upgrade my aging cameras for ANY without a viewfinder. The designers of EVERY brand should know better. Again as always…follow the money trail. I have been attached to my Olympus pocket camera’s and had all three serviced at a price I could have bought a new one. I repeat…I will NOT buy without a viewfinder. I travel the canyon’s searching for the hard to find undocumented petroglyphs. Have these people hired designer’s who have never photographed outdoors in every hour light? NO VIEWFINDER NO NEW BUY !

My wife and I have just returned from a family holiday in France. We thought we would come home with lots of nice video of our grandchildren but alas, IMPOSSIBLE! The best potential scenes were outdoors in bright sunshine at the beach.
The LCD viewfinder on our Sony Handycam was totally useless. It was impossible to see anything on the screen which resulted in us not knowing what we were shooting.
Surely there is a legal aspect to this. Are we not being forced to buy expensive equipment that in fact is “not fit for purpose”

trev says:
7 August 2011

My old Olympus digital camera has a viewfinder but a shutter delay that feels like 2 seconds which renders it useless for many applications. I’ve been making do with the cameras in my phones for point and shoot but they clearly aren’t up the job. However I don’t really want to buy another digital camera which suffers from such a fatal flaw as having no viewfinder – most of us take a large number of holiday snaps in sunshine, and pointing in the vague general direction of your subject is woefully inadequate. Poor requirements analysis from the manufacturers….about time they sorted it out.

Martin Hickling says:
8 August 2011

The whole point of the veiw finder is that the camera is held to your body (head) and is stabalised.
If you have to hold the camera away from you to see the screen your arms are streached and camera shake will occur.

Martin Hickling says:
8 August 2011

I have an Olympus e-520. I read somewhere that Olympus were not producing any more SLR cameras with the standard mirrors.
I have everything geared towards Olympus and am going to find it expensive to shift to another platform.
I guess that I will have to bite the bullit and make the move next time I need to upgrade!

Stuart R says:
11 August 2011

These cameras have small sensors which do not work well at high ISO settings. They therefore work best in bright conditions. These are just the conditions which make it difficult to view the screen on the back of the camera. The good old viewfinder has always worked well, especially in bright conditions. Why remove it?