/ Technology

Digital cameras damaged by death of viewfinders

Taking picture through a viewfinder

Digital camera screens are getting larger and brighter – but what good is that if you still can’t use them in strong sunlight? Surely there’s still a place for the old-fashioned viewfinder?

There was a time when taking a photo was, by necessity, a matter of holding the camera up to your eye. A time when old film cameras didn’t have the glowing LCD screens we now see being waved overhead at every possible public event.

Instead, we peered into the small optical viewfinder on the back of the camera. Old-fashioned? Yes – but genuinely useful.

Even if waving a camera at arm’s length is the standard technique these days, it’s an unnatural position, and it can lead to blurry shots – especially if you’re zooming at the time.

It’s so much easier to grip a camera steadily when it’s held to your eye, and composing shots is a great deal easier using a small optical viewfinder.

Shooting blindly in bright sunshine

More than this, there’s a real problem that affects all LCD screens on digital cameras – take them outside in bright sunlight and they’re pretty much unusable.

If you’ve got a digital camera or camera phone you’ll know what I mean – you’re outdoors, taking photos in the sunshine, but because of reflections off the screen you can’t see a thing. The best you can hope for is to take a few shots in the general direction of your subject and hope that one works out.

And I’ve got the stats to back up my grievances. In our recent survey of 1,667 people, 70% told us they found it hard to use a camera screen in bright light conditions. Of those whose cameras didn’t have a viewfinder, 60% agreed that a viewfinder would make it easier for them to take pictures.

Death of the viewfinder

But in their rush to outdo each other with smaller and more stylish cameras, the big manufacturers have steadily abandoned the humble viewfinder. It’s got to the point where they’re now virtually impossible to find on new compact models.

These days, if you want a camera with a viewfinder your only options are chunky superzoom bridge cameras with electronic viewfinders, expensive advanced models like the Canon G10 or G11, or going all-out and buying an expensive digital SLR.

I’m not saying that everyone wants a viewfinder – plenty of people are content enough to rely on the camera’s screen. But for those of us who miss being able to hold a camera to our eye, surely we deserve the option of a few models that offer a viewfinder as well as an LCD screen?

Then we can wait for the sunshine to come back out and start smugly snapping.

Update 12 January 2011: We’re now taking your comments to bring back the digital camera viewfinder straight to the manufacturers, so find out more about our campaign here.

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?

carol says:
7 November 2011

Years ago I had a NIkon slr 35 mm but as I got older in dark rooms like at weddings I couldn’t see that well to take pictures, also wearing glasses didn’t let you get close to the viewfinder so when the digital cameras came out it was great. Then it became the opposite, in the bright light it was hard to see again to take the picture. Then I found the canon about 4 years ago with a view finder and I was thrilled. Now I am back to square one as I lost my camera and have been looking for another camera with a view finder as well. Not to get crazy but one with the screen on the front and a viewfinder would just satisfy me to no end. Tell the manufactures we need cameras that the public likes not what they want to sell.

I was horrified to see that the last bastion of viewfinders on compact digital cameras Canon have taken it off the Ixus range. These are brilliant little cameras and i was about to buy the latest 115 when i realised what they had done. They’ve joined all the other cheap skates; Don’t they realise that’s why a lot of people preferred canons ? – especially older people. You can’t see b*gger all on an LCD screen in bright sunlight and I’ll be b*ggered if i have to start putting on reading glasses to be able to see what the hell I’m taking a picture of.
If I can’t find an Ixus 95 which is now obsolete but was the last model with a viewfinder then I won’t bother buying anything. I already have a totally useless Pentax with no viewfibnder in the bottom of the cupboard.

Tom Hegarty says:
18 November 2011

Spot on !
I sold my little 5mp camera for the new super duper 14.1mp compact cyber shot. In no time at all, I was wondering if I should have kept my old camera for just the reasons you give !
I blame the manufacturer for short changing us!
Looking on ebay for an older style replacement.

Diana says:
20 December 2011

I’ve been waiting years to be able to replace “my oldie but quite goodie” with a compact that produces great photos with a good zoom ( x7 would be the minimum) and a viewfinder. The new Nikon 7100 looks good. Could this be the one I’m looking for or do you think waiting another year might produce an even better one?

Mike Syms says:
14 February 2012

Lack of Viewfinders on cameras: I’ve used a Canon Powershot A560 for years then we dropped it and decided we should replace it. However, I’d bought it because it had a viewfinder and dspaired when I couldn’t find a similar style, size and priced replacement as all the new ones were “use in cloudy conditions only”. So we’ve limped on and credit to Canon it still works! however we now don’t take as many photos and use the mobile more. So it was gratifying to read the articles on the comeback. Thanks.

Decided to get a compact camera with decent zoom as my DSLR is now feeling heavy in my arthritic hands. Oh dear, no viewfinder, devastated I am! Reading glasses on and off, sun on the screen I can imagine the frustration I will have to endure if I go ahead. Come on manufacturers support the large ever present ageing camera addicts.

Rod Jones says:
25 March 2013

I bought a Canon Powershot A1300 HD 16 Mega Pixels on the bases of my previous A1200. Two very good reproduction quality cameras. The A1300 has a larger Optical Viewfinder and Pixels than the A1200 – price at the time of around £90+. The only disappointing item missing in the menu on the A1300 is the “Trimming” feature. This allows you to enlarge what ever Jpeg picture taken and save it – No extra work on the Computer!
I did get a slight glimpse of a slightly larger Fuji camera at Dixons with a lot larger Optical Viewfinder. I expect it is a brilliant camera – Price over £200+ compared to the Canon A1300 price of about £60!

Yes I got this camera as well. I did a review of it on amazon. Seems pretty good so far and have seen it at quite a decent price in a few places. Think they had a load in asda for £60.00 a while ago.

The only thing really missing is it doesn’t have proper image stabilization but just some sort of mode which messes with the iso and shutter speed. I tend to take most of my pics outside in decent light so keep the iso down to 100 if I can to help avoid noise.

I am hoping they make a follow up to this camera with a few more refinements. I’m sure the view finder must be a good selling point for them.

Mordenman says:
25 March 2013

I’m sure I can remember not so long ago, small collapsible or folding bellows being offered as accessories that fitted over a screen, together with a suitable lens which enabled the screen to be viewed at eye level and in bright light. I think they may have been fixed with velcro, and collapsed flat to the back of the camera when not needed.
Such an accessory did the same job as the folding metal viewer fitted to the old Rollei twin lens cameras way back.
Would something like this make some of those redundant viewfinderless cameras useable again I wonder ?

Duncan says:
23 January 2015

I have given up using my digital camera. You give the reason above:
“there’s a real problem that affects all LCD screens on digital cameras – take them outside in bright sunlight and they’re pretty much unusable”
Yes, they are unusable!

I shall not buy another digital camera unless it has a viewfinder.