/ Technology

Digital camera viewfinders – pricey models aren’t good enough!

We’ve been fighting on your behalf to bring back viewfinders to digital compact cameras. But after waves of high-cost cameras with viewfinders this year, we’re still left frustrated by the distinct lack of cheap options.

Our viewfinder campaign has had a surge of support from aggravated consumers finding the only options available for cameras are expensive DSLRs and bulky bridge cameras.

Armed with your comments, we challenged the major camera manufacturers to address this clear demand. A number of compacts with viewfinders have since been released, but as you’ll see below, virtually all of them price out everyday users looking for a cheap point-and-shoot.

Electronic viewfinder accessories

Panasonic, Olympus and Sony have all released hot-shoe electronic viewfinders which can be attached to the top of certain cameras. While we’ve been impressed by the quality of these, they’re an added cost of £150 and upwards. Plus, they’re only compatible with cameras which cost over £350. They also make the shape of the camera alittle awkward.

Our verdict: neat technology, but a costly solution with questionable aesthetics

Fujifilm X100 – hybrid viewfinder

Fujifilm’s hybrid viewfinder is an exceptional innovation, offering a sharp-quality glass optical viewfinder which converts into an electronic viewfinder at the flick of a switch. There’s no doubt it has the looks, but the retro-styled Fujifilm X100 has an eye-watering price of £850.

Our verdict: an exciting innovation, but out of reach of most budgets

Fujifilm X10 – high quality glass viewfinder

This is more like it Fujifilm! A top-notch glass viewfinder with a built-in zoom mechanism to follow the zoom of the lens precisely. We tried out the Fujifilm X10 ourselves and the clear, bright viewfinder was a joy to use. However, at £450-£500 this camera is again aimed at enthusiasts rather than everyday snappers.

Our verdict: one of the best optical viewfinders we’ve seen on a non-DSLR, but still not cheap

Nikon V1 camera system

Nikon created a flutter by finally steering away from DSLRs and entering the compact system camera market, and the Nikon V1 offers an electronic viewfinder in a small body. The design is impressively portable, but with a price of £830 with a kit lens, this is far from a cheap option.

Our verdict: an interesting move from Nikon, but the price-tag leaves a sour taste

Sony NEX-7 with OLED viewfinder

There’s no question the Sony NEX-7 is a stunner – the OLED (organic light emitting diode) electronic viewfinder is staggeringly bright and sharp, and Sony have slipped it into an amazingly slim camera body. But the price? £1000 just for the camera body with no lens. Wow.

Our verdict: wonderful viewfinder technology, but ruinously expensive

Canon PowerShot A1200 – the holy grail?

Finally, this April saw the release of a new cheap compact from Canon with a small optical viewfinder. At just £80, the Canon Powershot A1200 feels like the answer to all of our prayers. However, the viewfinder is exceptionally small, and Canon refuses to commit to releasing future compact models with viewfinders.

Our verdict: the price is right, but the viewfinder itself is disappointingly small

So where do we go from here?

A year down the line from when our viewfinder campaign began, the camera market certainly looks different. However, the fundamental need for an affordable, compact camera with a viewfinder to suit all users has scarcely been addressed at all.

It’s true that technology which debuts on more expensive models will find a way of trickling down to more affordable versions over time, but sometimes this process needs a shot in the arm.

That’s why we intend to return to all of the major camera manufacturers to let them know there’s still an appetite for affordable cameras with viewfinders – so make sure you tell them what you think of their latest largely expensive offerings!

Comments
Guest
Peter says:
21 October 2011

Although I own a Nikon DSLR my preferred day-to-day camera is a compact. I am now on my 3rd Fuji FinePix 6800Zoom which has a viewfinder. The camera is only 3.3mps, about 8 years old but is very versatile and has its own charging base. My wife is long-sighted and finds holding a camera at arms length unsatisfactory so, being unable to find a suitable viewfinder camera to replace my original 6800Z, I looked on ebay and was able to purchase an identical replacement for only £25. When that failed, I bought another for a similar price. I will look at the Canon PowerShot A1200 but I am prepared to be disappointed.

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Guest

The Panasonic electronic viewfinder (LX5 and GF-series only) is still well worth the money. It’s key features are:

It works in bright sunlight
It saves power (extended battery life)
It is tiltable for low level shots
It has adjustable dioptric correction

The latter point makes it a winner for me. I highly recommend this for anyone who needs reading specs to compose their photos.

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Guest

Thanks for the comments, terfar, that’s a really useful insight into working with the Panasonic viewfinder

Just to explain for anyone unsure, “dioptric correction” or “diopter adjustment” allows you to adjust the “focus” of the viewfinder to suit your own eyesight – it’s a feature you’ll find on most high-quality viewfinders, optical or electronic, but typically not on the basic ones on small cameras

Guest
Brian says:
21 October 2011

I have the same problem in finding a good camcorder with a veiwfinder, it seems only available at the top end on the price range.ie £900 / £1000 +

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Guest

I wanted to move up from my compact so recently purchased a DSLR with a viewfinder. What a difference it makes! No more guessing when taking a photo in bright light. Viewfinders were once commonplace so I don’t know why they are so expensive on compacts.

As Brian above, I’m now wanting a camcorder with a viewfinder. The cheapest quality one I’ve found is the Canon HF M41 at around £600. I’m waiting for the new Which report before buying.

Why is it so difficult to have viewfinders as standard at a reasonable price?

Profile photo of Rich Parris
Guest

Thanks jonas, and Brian – amazingly, that Canon HF M41 is one of the “cheapest” camcorders currently available to offer an electronic viewfinder. At £600+, that’s a really poor indication of the state of the camcorders market! When we’ve spoked to Canon, Samsung and Sony on the viewfinders issue, we’ve challenged them about the lack of camcorder options, and will continue to do so!

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Guest

Tell the manufacturers I will not spend any money on a camera until there is a reasonably priced compact camera with a suitable viewfinder for use in bright sunlight.

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Guest

Personally, I’d be happy to drop the integrated flash to make room and suffer a smaller/cheaper rear screen in exchange for a decent viewfinder. The viewfinder is far more important than either for composing good pictures whether your just a snapper or a keen photographer.

Guest
Skipper The Eyechild says:
24 October 2011

Ditto. Tell the manufacturers I will not spend any money on a *NEW* camera until there is a reasonably priced compact camera with a suitable viewfinder for use in bright sunlight. P.S. I’m off to ebay to look for an older model that features an integral viewfinder!

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Guest

I have a Canon Ixus 800 with optical viewfinder which I can’t manage without because I need reading glasses, as well as the well known issue of trying to see an LCD screen in bright sunlight. I would like to upgrade my camera, but for me a lack of optical viewfinder is a deal-breaker.

It seems that Canon have responded to the demand for an optical viewfinder by producing a camera with limited capabilities as a sop to those wanting it, and not as a serious attempt to satisfy consumer demand.

Guest
SfromDevon says:
29 October 2011

I have a very satisfactory and versatile Nikon Coolpix P80 bridge camera and only use the viewfinder. It beats me how anyone takes a decent photo using the screen. It’s time to update but, as everyone knows, manufacturers have decreed that compact users don’t need viewfinders. It’s a ludicrous contradiction when the camera provides so many options for composition. Please keep up the campaign.

Guest

Are today’s camera manufacturers inferior engineers compared to their predecessors who had absolutely no problem in producing very workable optical viewfinders at a cost that was only marginal to the rest of the camera cost? My most usable digital camera ever was an entry-level Finepix purchased about 8 years ago. It had a 3x zoom and an optical viewfinder which more-or-less framed the shot that I was taking. Since then I’ve had a couple of entry-level cameras with supposedly better spec on zoom and mega pixels, but their lack of optical viewfinders meant that they were rubbish in comparison for taking outdoor picture especially. Are the manufactuers playing chicken with us consumers or are they just incompetent at meeting their users needs at an affordable price? Come on manufacturers, the technical problems were solved years ago. Build that technology back into your new offerings. I’m sure that there are millions of snappers like myself who will make a purchase decision on the key need of a useable optical viewfinder. However, we know that this feature should not add more than about £10 to the overall camera price. So stop trying to charge an unacceptable premium for this essential usability feature, and build it in to your entry-level snappers’ products. Pull your socks up! I challenge you to show that you know how to do proper engineering to meet valid customer needs!

Guest
wonkiewidge says:
24 November 2011

If you want to take a picture with a small camera without a view finder, most people have phones to do this.
Once you become an ‘Old Git’…. like me, 🙂 camera’s without view finders become unusable. I need my distance glasses to see the subject I want to take a picture of, then I need to switch to my reading glasses to be able to see the screen (that is of course if it’s not sunny). By the time you have put the camera down to change glasses either the composition has moved or the shot is lost.

BRING BACK THE VIEW FINDER!!!

…… and yes, I’ve tried varifocals. 🙁

Guest
BroKenny says:
30 November 2011

I am wondering whether a bridge camera like the cheap 100 pounds or 150 USD Fujifilm finepix s2950 with an electronic viewfinder will be an improvement over my older 4MP Kodak with a viewfinder?

I am presbyopic and need to get my reading glasses on to see the LCD on my newer Canon compact without a viewfinder

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Guest

I recently purchased the Fujifilm X10, and one of the big factors for me was the viewfinder (in fact, I wouldn’t have bought it had it not had one). However, I am a little disappointed because what I see through the viewfinder is NOT exactly what you get when you press the shutter. So now I actually find myself using the digital screen instead, because it’s a more accurate representation of what I’ll get. I am used to using a digital SLR and this is the first time I’ve used a digital compact, so I guess this is just a warning to DSLR users that what you see is not always what you get with a compact. Still, it’s better than no viewfinder at all.

Guest
topipani says:
10 December 2011

yes, I agree, viewfinders are essential! It is just so obvious.

My Cannon Powershot A630 is my favorite camera because it has a viewfinder PLUS a rare item, a rotating lcd viewer as on video cameras! It is very user friendly except…..

…….the camera has no proper warning of low power and the need to get new batteries- it just suddenly stops working. How could Cannon make such a basic mistake?

Guest
Oliver says:
17 December 2011

I’ve suffered for many years with a peculiar eye condition that makes looking at even the best and newest LCD screens in normal daylight (never mid bright sunlight) virtually impossible. A viewfinder is an essential for me.

Reading through the manufacturer comments posted here. I’m a little disappointed. For some years, all compacts had viewfinders (which I understood to be small LCD screens). They had their limitations but I understood and compensated. Like others here, I also enjoyed the extra battery life as I left the screen off. So I’m frankly annoyed to read that manufacturers are saying that they are starting to develop the technology to incorporate viewfinders. Why? It was there some years ago – you’ve just taken it out!

I’m also not entirely convinced by Canon’s recent introduction, the spec of this camera in this day and age is woeful (though it is exceedingly cheap). And whilst the high-end compacts with their extra viewfinder are luscious, they’re also outrageously expensive and don’t qualify as a compact.

Please can someone sell me a mid-price compact (100-300 GBP) with the usual range of features that one expects these days, that I can fit into my pocket and of course a usable viewfinder!

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Guest

I’ve a Canon PowerShotA720IS bought5-6 years ago which has a good view finder. Earlier this year after seeing my wife’s face disappointment from the results from her Panasonic 35mm, I decided to purchase her a digital camera. There was only one on the market with a view finder – the Canon PowerShotA1200 HD. I discovered that the viewfinder is very small (pinhole camera comes to mind) and although my wife doesn’t waste her money on films and printing anymore, she is almost as disappointed with some of the results from this retrograde offering from Canon. I know the PSA1200 is smaller than the PSA720, but whats this obsession with ‘smaller being better’, its certainly not true, especially in the camera/camcorder market.
Get your act together camera/camcorder manufacturers or lose out!

Guest

I too am wanting to replace my camera but will not do so until I can buy another good tiny camera with a viewfinder.
My first digital camera was a great Canon Ixus V with a good view finder but I had to replace it when it started getting hot! My next was a huge mistake. It was a Konica Minolta ‘SHOOT & GUESS’ with no viewfinder. This takes good pics when you do guess correctly but it was virtually useless most of the time in sunnier climes. It was a waste of money. My present Canon Ixus 7.1 has an annoyingly small optical viewfinder and it is not a patch on my old Ixus 5. Why are the manufacturers moving backwards?
Lots of folk want viewfinders. Lots of folk are waiting to buy decent cameras with viewfinders. Manufacturers could make them at one time. Why not now? The new Canon Power Shot is not going to be the answer. It is too big and too basic. If Canon reissued the Ixus V they would have a winner.
I want a really good point and shoot camera that fits in my handbag. I do not use many of the multitude of available features but I really would like a good viewfinder and a large LCD screen.

Guest
PatR says:
10 January 2012

I am in agreement with so many in this conversation. My tried and trusted (but old) Canon Powershot A510 had a great view finder. I am now looking for same with more mp, but there is nothing around. Without the VF in sunlight, its just a case of shoot and hope! I agree with TERFAR, I would gladly cope with a smaller rear screen and have a VF! Keep pressing these manufacturers, and let them know just how many of us are out there!!

Guest
blanko00 says:
12 January 2012

This is a huge pain. I’m a serious photographer, I use a DSLR but actually prefer a compact. My Ricoh GX100 died recently, which came with an excellent, if awkward electronic finder. I’ve replaced with a Samsung EX1, which meets my needs in every way… except no viewfinder, not even an optional add-on. I’ve looked at hot shoe finders of the sort used by Leica, but these cost more than my camera.

Pah.

So I’ve bought an old film point and shoot, a hot shoe cover, removed the finder from the camera and made my own finder. That’s ridiculous. This is an expensive market, I’ve spent far more than I wanted to in the first place, and I’ve still had to bodge together a home made contraption.

What makes this really annoying is that manufacturers continue to jam in megapixels that decrease not improve image quality, tack on useless features (how did I live before wink detection?) that no one asked for and no one uses, but ignore a feature that would be of genuine benefit to real users and cost little.

Guest
Jon says:
26 March 2012

Why is there no decent compact cameras with a viewfinder, with A and S modes at a reasonable price. Cameras are now overpriced !!

Guest
Maggie says:
28 March 2012

I have a Canon Ixus 800is which I love and need to replace as it is becoming unreliable. I have been searching for a year and still unable to find a suitable replacement with a viewfinder and a good long optical zoom at a price I can afford.

Guest
Mike Greenwood says:
12 May 2012

The Canon PowerShot A1200 is a waste of time, it uses silly AA batteries.

Guest
Jean says:
9 June 2012

I own a Canon Ixus 8oo and just like Maggie I have been extremely happy with it,but now with odd things not working as they should I fear it will pack up on me soon. Like everyone else I need a view finder, with sunshine on the screen taking photos is pure guess work. I find a view finder indispensable and will continue delaying buying a replacement until my Ixus packs up altogether.

Guest
Mary says:
16 June 2012

I am so tempted to buy the Olympus SZ-31MR pocket camera – it has great reviews but I just cannot bear to be restricted to screen view only. My current camera (kodak DX6490) must surely be one of the first digital’s made but it has an excellent viewfinder which I use all the time because I cannot get on with the screen view. I would stick with this camera if it were not so flipping slow! My budget is around £250 and all I want to do is take photographs and upload them onto my PC – Am I ever going to be lucky enough to buy a good camera for that price with a viewfinder? Who decided that we, the public, no longer needs or wants a viewfinder anyway – someone who doesn’t use a camera no doubt! or has X-ray vision, can see in bright sun-light and without specs! Please camera manufacturers, listen to your clients. I think I shall hold off buying a new camera until they do!

Guest
Steve George says:
9 May 2013

I have yet to find a digital camera that I both like and can afford. I have an old film Leica, but the price of a new digital Leica M9 is more than I paid for my car. I also have a Ricoh GR-1, an incredibly nice compact 35mm camera with a built in (not stuck on) viewfinder and an array of controls which makes it a doddle to use (one wheel controlling aperture – aperture priority automatic being the only option – one wheel controlling exposure adjustment, one switch switching the flash on and off, and two buttons -one to take a photo and the other to set the self timer). So when they brought out the GR Digital I thought “whoopee!”. But I was wrong. No viewfinder, and the only access to controls via a complicated menu system that you (or at least I) have to wear reading glasses in order to operate. Overcomplicated cheaply produced junk.

And by the way Mike Greenwood, the advantage of AA batteries is that you can buy them in a shop on holiday when you’ve discovered that foreign electricity and your rechargeable batteries don’t mix.